Kurnig – the first modern antinatalist

For one reason or another my contribution on KURNIG has just been refused by a publisher.
I am more than happy to make it available here:

Kurnig – the first modern antinatalist

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’tis early practice only makes a master!

Visited a relative the other day. She lives in a dementia community. An infant was also present. Someone’s grandson. He unerringly approached a rollator and held on to the handles. I said to the boy’s father: ’tis early practice only makes a master! The laughter got stuck in his throat.

Will he proceed acting in such a way that a second child will begin to exist?

Pollyanna in Top Shape

Should you feel like listening to my latest antinatalist song, here you are:

Pollyanna in Top Shape (Blind People Can See)

The lyrics:

You say blind people can     see

You can turn red lights to   green

You say that we learn from pain

I know that some fish can   fly

How                dare you         say:

It’s                   all child’s        play 

Some people love to conceal

The dark side of life which is real

Someone who’s deaf will not hear

The stagings of William Shakespeare

How dare you say:

It’s all child’s play 

You say when children do cry

This is something quite all right

You say old people just fade

I know what dying is about

Why do you deny?

How do you reply?

I’m not a merchant of doom

What about neighbours’ gun rooms?

You see through rose coloured glass

Beware of the snake in the grass

Why are you so shy?

In my mind’s eye 

You’re like Pollyanna in top shape

Reposing in blooming landscapes

Your glass is always half-full

You’re never anti-natal

How dare you say:

It’s all child’s play

You say I’m just chemistry

You claim it’s all entropy

Dub our feelings electric smog

There be no real dialogues 

Why are you so shy?

In my mind’s eye 

You say that love’s just a spark

Evoked by minor down quarks

Sympathy’s no real thing

Even so you’ll have offspring 

Why are you so shy?

In my mind’s eye

You say there is no free will

All bound by mechanical

Process reaction and stuff

So your mind, too, is hand-cuffed?

More Zapffe (Norwegian-English)

Antinatalisms in Zapffe’s book OM DET TRAGISKE (About the tragic):
‘You got me. But my son you will not get. You were committing a fateful mistake when assigning even procreation to my will. And you did not do this out of love…, but rather to burden me with the heaviest of all responsibilities…: Am I to perpetuate this species or not? And from now on I will ask no longer what you want; rather you shall ask what I want. And I will no longer offer further sacrifices to the God of life. I will punish you with the ability you bequeathed to me in order to torment me; I will turn my clairvoyance against you and thus bereaving you of your victims. And the abused millions will stand behind me like a plough… And evermore will two people create one human being… Thus you will feel your powerlessness begging me on thy bloody knees.’
[“Mig fik du, men min søn skal du ikke faa! En skjæbnesvanger feil begik du, dengang du agsaa la avlen ind under min vilje. Og ikke av kjærlighet gjorde du det, men for at jeg skulde møte dette værste av alle konkrete ansvar…: Skal jeg føre denne slegt videre eller skal jeg ikke? Og nu spør jeg ikke længer hvad du vil, men du skal spørge havd jeg vil, og jeg vil ikke mere ofre til livets gud. Jeg skal ramme dig med den evne som du frigav for at pine mig, jeg skal bruke min indsigt imot dig og berøve / dig dit bytte. Og de misbrukte millioner skal staa bak mig som en plog… Og altid skal to avle én… Da skal du kjende din avmagt og tigge mig, mennesket, paa dine blodige knær.“ (Om det tragiske, p. 239f)]

‘I will have to desist from the creation of new holders of interest. This decision would initialise a terminal epoch in the development of humankind; […] This renouncement, this refusal of a continuation represents the utmost cultural possibility of mankind.’
[„Jeg maa undlate aa skape nye interessebærere. Beslutningen vil danne en avsluttende epoke i menneskeslegtens utvikling […] I denne forsagelse, dette nei til fortsættelsen, ligger menneskeformens ytterste kulturelle mulighed.“(Zapffe, Om det tragiske, Pax Forlag 1996, S. 402)]

 

In an interview with the newspaper Aftenposten in 1959 Zapffe says:
“Above all, we must give ethical relevance to the issue of procreation. Before you give a beggar a coin, you will turn it twice carefull considering the case. A child, by contrast, is thrown into the cosmic grossness without hesitation.”
[„Fremfor alt må vi gjøre forplantningsspørsmålet etisk relevant. Man endevender en mynt under valgets kvide, før man gir den til tiggeren. Men et barn slænger man ut i den kosmiske råskap uten å blunke.“]

In the interview from 1959 – as opposed to his Om det tragiske, where each couple was supposed to have only one child – Zapffe does here suggest a two-child policy:
“The sooner man dares to put himself into a harmonious relationship with his biological conditions, the better. And this means to withdraw voluntarily, in protest against his conditions of life in this world; similar to other species of animals in need of warmth, that went extinct when the temperature dropped. The moral climate of the universe is effectively unbearable for us, and the withdrawal can be carried out painlessly through the two-child norm. Instead, we disseminate, appearing as conquerors everywhere since extreme hardship taught us to suppress the formula in our hearts. Perhaps most inappropriately, this hardening is reflected in the thesis that the individual has the “duty” to endure nameless suffering and a horrible death inasmuch as this saves or favours the rest of the group to which the person belongs.”
[„Jo snarere menneskeslekten våger å harmonere med sine biologiske forutsætninger, des bedre. Og det er å trække sig frivillig tilbake, av ringeakt for sine vilkår i verden, likesom varmehungrende dyrearter døde ut da temperaturen sank. Det er altets moralske klima vi egentlig ikke kan tåle, og avviklingen kan ske smertefritt gjennem to-barns-normen. Isteden utbreder vi oss og seirer overalt, fordi vi av nøden har lært å lemlæste formelen i vore hjerter. Det urimeligste utslag av denne styrkende forgrovning har vi kanske i tesen om, at den enkelte har “plikt” til å bære navnløse lidelser og den værste død, dersom det redder eller gavner resten av den gruppe han tilhører.“]

In an interview in 1984 Zapffe emphasizes the aspect of procreative irresponsibility:
“To have children, to let a fate come into existence – perhaps a whole series of fates without any limitation in time – is a project so heavily burdened with inevitable evils and enormous risks (physically and psychologically) that potential parents endowed with a fully developed sense of responsibility will tend towards passivity or show themselves incapable of acting. Especially at a time when immense threats close off the horizon silencing the yes to life.”
[
„…å avle barn, å starte en skjæbne, evt. en vifte av skjæbner uten begrænsning i tid – er et foretagande så ladet med både sikre onder og svimlende risker – fysisk, psykisk og sjælelig sett – att potensielle forældre med moden ansvarsbevissthet vil være disponert for passivitet eller handlingslammelse på dette punkt, især i en tid som vor, der overvældende truende aspekter fylder horizonten og lammer vort Ja til livet.“ (Zapffe in an interview with Geir  T.H. Eriksen, in: Gateavisa N° 102 (7/84), page 29–31, here: p. 30)]

In a late interview in 1989/1989 Zapffe confesses a rigorous no to life:
“From the no to life immediately follows that one stops procreation. I do not want to participate in the creation of new life.”
[
“Den givende handling som følger av et nei til livet, det er jo at man innstiller barneforplantningen. Jeg vil ikke være med på å skape nytt liv.“ (Zapffe in an interview with Av Bo Viuf, see: http://www.oslo.net/historie/MB/utg/9601/perspekt/1.html, visited on 14.9.2014)]

[Translated from Norwegian into English by Karim Akerma. The newspaper articles have kindly been made available to me by Andreas Moss]

 

Zapffe in translation

In his vast magnum opus OM DET TRAGISKE Zapffe describes man’s being as structurally and indissolubly tragic. In spite of this, man is capable of revolting against what nature and life have forced upon him. Here, Zapffe expresses this in poetic language:

‘You got me. But my son you will not get. You were committing a fateful mistake when assigning even procreation to my will. And you did not do this out of love…, but rather to burden me with the heaviest of all responsibilities…: Am I to perpetuate this species or not? And from now on I will ask no longer what you want; rather you shall ask what I want. And I will no longer offer further sacrifices to the God of life. I will punish you with the ability you bequeathed to me in order to torment me; I will turn my clairvoyance against you and thus bereaving you of your victims. And the abused millions will stand behind me like a plough… And evermore will two people create one human being… Thus you will feel your powerlessness begging me on your bloody knees.’

The existential dilemma of a self-conscious being that has been released from nature – equipped with a deeply felt need for meaning – can only be solved by the abstention from procreation:

‘I will have to desist from the creation of new holders of interest. This decision would initialise a terminal epoch in the development of humankind; […] This renouncement, this refusal of a continuation represents the utmost cultural possibility of mankind.’

[Translator’s note: As you may have noticed English is not my first language, and I may improve my translation eventually. I read Zapffe’s book OM DET TRAGISKE in the Norwegian original when writing my ANTINATALISMUS. There are quite a few people in the antanatalist community suggesting an English translation of Zapffe’s large book. With the above translated excerpts I try to make accessible for English readers what are –according to my reading experience – the most explicit antinatalist passages in Zapffe’s book]

An antinatal improvement paradox

Imagine a world with an ever diminishing number of sentient beings. In most antinatal settings such a world would become increasingly better. This is the case if we leave out of account such settings under which the suffering of the remaining sentient beings increases geometrically along with the diminishing number of sentient beings (due to diminishing mutual aid when there are only few humans left, this under the improbable premise that a human will be the last sentient being).

At some point in time this world will be inhabited by only one being capable of negative sentience – the famous ‘last of the race’. Such a world we would label as extremely good compared to a world inhabited by billions of beings capable of negative sentience.

Let us have a closer look though at how we are to evaluate this world with the demise of the last sentient being. No negativity whatsoever will be experienced in this world after the last death has taken place. Has this world become the best of all possible worlds under antinatal auspices? At first glance we’re inclined to saying yes. At the same time, however, rather than the best of all possible worlds, this world would have become ethically neutral in an antinatal setting (and not only within the framework of antinatalist moral theory but according to any ethics impregnated by utilitarian thoughts). Even though such a fictitious world would be open to esthetical evaluation, the raison d’être for ethical evaluation would have vanished with the last being capable of negative sentience.

An apparent solution to the antinatalist-improvement paradox would be pointing out to other inhabited worlds: With the demise of the last sentient being on our planet the universe would with all probability have become better since we have good reason to assume that there are many other planets inhabited by sentient beings capable of negative experiences. However, reading the term “world” as “planet” does not help much further if we proceed to interpreting “world” as the sum of all sentient beings in the universe: With the demise of the last sentient being the universe wouldn’t have become ethically the best of all possible worlds but ethically neutral. Still we seem entitled to say that such an ethically neutral world is better than a world inhabited by beings capable of negative experiences.

What about a UNIVERSE A inhabited by beings capable solely of positive experiences? Is such a world better than an ethically neutral UNIVERSE B void of all sentience? From the point of view of an IMPOSSIBLE OBSERVER (since self-refuting) of UNIVERSE B it is not the case that UNIVERSE A is to be deemed better – since there can be no motivation to create positively sentient beings for their own sake.

‘Paternalistic’ antinatalism

There was NOBODY there of whom it could be said that she/he was forced into existence – and thus harmed – when future parents procreated and a new human began to exist.

Once the new human exists, though, we are entitled to say  that the human being in question didn’t have the liberty (and couldn’t have had the liberty) to refuse the beginning of its existence. Persons can accept their existence when it would be too late to reject it. They can only reject their existence when it’s too late. This is where antinatalism comes into play as a kind of paternalistic moral theory. Among other things antinatalism takes very serious the chance – and enlightens about the fact – that a new person might reject her very existence.

 

Born without consent (Holbach)

In his System of Nature  we find Baron Paul d’Holbach (1723-1789) claiming in proto-antinatalist  fashion (he didn’t defend antinatalism) that

“[man] is born without his own consent.”

Let’s have a closer look at this: There was NOBODY there to either accept or refuse her own beginning. There wasn’t even SOMEBODY out there on whose behalf we could have been in favour of or against his beginnings. Still, once a new sentient being has begun to exist, its negative feelings or emotions will override its positive impressions (unless it dies shortly after having begun to exist, without having had bad negative sensations att all). Therefore one should never act in such a way that a new sentient being begins to exist.

Alongside Holbach’s observation we often find the claim that man is being harmed by his coming into existence (by his being born as we say in everyday-language). In everyday-antinatalist language this makes perfect sense. Things seem to look different, however, if we leave aside common language delving into the ontology of the expression COMING INTO EXISTENCE. Consider that an entity cannot be affected by its coming into existence, that is to say: by its very beginning. It needs to be there in order to be affected. If an elementary particle begins to exist it is not affected by its beginning; once it exists it can be affected. In a similar manner there was no (pre-existing) ME that was done harm to when I began to exist. The harm followed only later when I (the sentient foetus) had the first negative sensations.
For the above mentioned reasons I prefer saying: If people procreate or breed they act in such a way that one more sentient being will have negative sensations. There might have been some sentient beings though that never had negative experiences. Think for example of a foetus that recently had gained proto-consciosness. It perhaps experienced a trance-like feeling of warmth or a reddish colour or a sugary taste. Then the foetus died in the fraction of a second. At no point was there any harm being done to that foetus.
Let’s think of a second foetus whose first sensation was heat or a garish light or a bitter taste. Was this foetus harmed by its own coming into existence? No. Its very existence (and in this case: sentience) was a precondition for any harm to be there.

 

Natalist stalemate

When some antinatalists argue from the idea that
There was NOBODY who wanted to come into existence.

Pronatalists may claim with the same right that
There was NOBODY who did not want to come into existence.

While antinatalists speak of existence as being imposed on non-existers, pronatalists conceive of a deprivation of existence with respect to non-existers.

Both arguments seem to be wrong for ontological (semantic) reasons.

 

 

Harmed by coming into existence?

There seems to be a tacit agreement among antinatalists that someone is harmed when coming into existence. A closer look at the ontology of ‘coming into existence, however, seems to reveal that this might not hold. Since none of us was there before he had begun to exist, our having begun to exist cannot have made us worse off. We cannot compare (1) a state of the world which did not yet include us and (2) a state of the world which includes us and then say a harm was done to us in that very instance we had begun to exist.

The harm will follow only later unless we assume that already the very first dawning of sentience in a foetus in the womb is of a negative kind. But even then we shouldn’t say the human being was harmed coming into existence but rather: a new human being began to exist experiencing pain from the outset.

‘Coming into existence’ is a somewhat misleading expression for: ‘a new sentient being has begun to exist”. ‘Coming into existence’ does not alter the ontic status of a living being for good (as pronatalists claim) or worse (as antinatalists claim). Rather, ‘coming into existence’ changes the status of the world: from now on there exists one more being capable of suffering.

Rather than saying A SENTIENT BEING HAS BEEN FORCED INTO EXISTENCE we should say THE WORLD HAS BEEN ALTERED IN SUCH A WAY THAT ONE MORE SENTIENT BEING EXISTS.

The corresponding antinatalist imperative will read as follows: Do not act in such a way that a new sentient being begins (unless there are morally overriding other reasons).