Why is it so difficult for people to even discuss antinatalism? Aristotle and many others, well into the 19th century, didn’t accept the idea of a vacuum (the so called Horror vacui in Latin). Nature, according to those thinkers, abhors a vacuum. Probably many of those thinkers themselves, together with a wider public, abhorred the idea of a vacuum.
In a similar manner people seem to be haunted by some horror of non-existence. If antinatalism would reign, they assume, they would never have begun to exist. And, as a matter of fact, they think this would have been bad for THEM.
Nobody would have children if the walls of our maternity clinics, hospitals, and hospices were transparent.
Many pronatalists consider the suffering in the world as amounts of ill-being that can be compensated for by certain amounts of well-being.
While it will be difficult to defend this view it looks like any well-being can easily be diminshed or even nullified.
There’ll be no suffering if you stop procreating.
I readily admit there’s a lot of suffering out there. But then the suffering, pain and fear that people do experience is compensated for by the good things in life they do also experience.
Well, obviously it’s people like you – the defenders of procreation – who find themselves forced to resort to the logics of compensation. It’s you who have to defend your position since you want to change the ethical state of the world by adding more sentient beings. The supreme position is the antinatalists’ position as they don’t want to add sentient beings to the world whose ill-being or well-being we’d have to discuss. This suggests a certain weakness of the pronatalists’ stance.
Zygotes and early embryos appear to be the emblems of contemporary ethics. As non-sentient and normally invisible entities they have become telling symbols. While normally invisible zygotes and early embryos are made visible everywhere, normally visible old and sick people are made invisible. But it is them who would deserve to be in the focus of contemporary ethics as they are sentient and, in many cases, suffering.
Newborns are another Emblem of Ethics. In a telling manner Hans Jonas declares the newborn to be the most pitiful being being. According to him newborns do exude a direct ethical appeal which allegedly bridges the hiatus between what there is and what we are to do. Tellingly the same thinker is of the opinion that old people should clear the way for new arrivals.
Systematic and symbolic negligance of the end of life suggests a dimension of unethics within the realm of ethics. At the same time this unjustified negligence serves as a clandestine pronatal device.
When pronatalists turn antinatalist
Think of couple A+B. Their outset on life is overall pronatalist. They haven’t procreated yet but plan to have their first child in the foreseeable future. Within five years they plan to have two children.
Now horrible news is coming in: Because of a recently released polluting agent all children produced from today on will suffer unspeakably directly after birth.
The newborn will suffer incessantly and die a few months after birth.
The newborn will suffer intermittently and die a few months after birth.
The newborn will suffer intermittently and die within six decades after birth because of that polluting agent.
Chances are high that couple A+B will refrain from procreation under scenario 1. And probably the vast majority of all pronatal couples would refrain from procreation even under scenario 2.
How about scenario 3? We have good reason to assume that in the face of this scenario many pronatalist people will refrain from procreation on the ground that they do not want to expose their own children to that pollutant agent which with all certainty would cause their deaths. However, six decades is almost a „normal“ life span.
The morals behind these scenarios is as follows:
Pronatalist people seem to be inclined to refrain from procreation if it is the case that they would expose their children to horrible things. Now, virtually all parents are people who have exposed their children to horrible things such as dying and the deaths of the near and the dear. This morals is prone to make pronatalists see that procreation is wrong.
At any given moment most people don’t want to die. While many people fear the process of dying most people do probably fear to lose THEIR lives .
It looks like the fear of LOSING one’s life doesn’t make too much sense. This is so, because I or you will not continue to exist as a person who has lost her life.
In pretty much the same manner – and according to the same illogic – in which many people don’t want to lose THEIR lives most people do welcome that THEY once ‘won’ their lives. A common expression for this is: People are glad that THEY were given the ‘gift’ of life. However, when I began to exist there was no ME who gained the additional feature of life. For this very reason it doesn’t make sense when people try to refute antinatalism on the ground that THEY and others would have missed out ont he feature of life had their parents not procreated.
Whenever the term ANTINATALISM is mentioned or explained at least one of the following three defence systems will be activated:
A personal defence system: MY PERSONAL EXISTENCE/CHOICE IS BEING QUESTIONED / UNDER THREAT.
A familial defence system: THE EXISTENCE OF MY CHILDREN IS BEING QUESTIONED / UNDER THREAT
A societal defence system: OUR SOCIETY’S EXISTENCE/FUTURE IS BEING QUESTIONED / UNDER THREAT
The personal defence system is due to a kind of DEPRIVATIONAL FALLACY: “The antinatalist is questioning my very existence: Had my parents followed the antinatalist’s ethical advice I would still be NOTHING which is somehow equivalent to murder.”
Wherever I explained the antinatalist moral theory pointing to less suffering in the world as compared with pronatal actions, people (even otherwise humane people) were prepared to accept any amount of suffering if only mankind will persist. Only recently did I speak to members of a humanistic league who were prepared to accept a second Auschwitz if only mankind were allowed to continue.
While it looks like there is an updraught for antinatalism at least in English-speaking countries (we don’t know much about such contries China, India…) this moral theory has a problematic special status in Germany. I elaborated on this German thing in a blog post By the way, probably it was Théophile de Giraud who first used the term ANTINATALISM for the moral theory favoured by us.
In the face of these reactions the future of antinatalism may look rather bleak. But there is reason for optimism within this frame: As a consequence of the ever more visible antinatalist world league of which we form part, there will be an increasing number of individuals ready to confess their hitherto clandestine antinatalism – it’s a chain reaction.
One would expect Buddhists to be more outspoken antinatalists than Hindus. While many Hindu sects do believe in a persisting soul which may achieve higher incarnations with every rebirth, there doesn’t appear to be such a thing as a persisting soul in Buddhism. Against this background Aldous Huxley’s elaboration on Buddhist antinatalim seems reasonable at first sight:
“They were good Buddhists, and every good Buddhist knows that begetting is merely postponed assassination. Do your best to get off the Wheel of Birth and Death, and for heaven’s sake don’t go about putting superfluous victims on the Wheel. For a good Buddhist, birth control makes metaphysical sense.” (Aldous Huxley, Island)
On closer examination, however, we find that many a Buddhist will not defend antinatalism. Why? Mahayana Buddhism might develop the following subterfuge: Mankind has to continue to help with other beings that otherwise would be lost in samsara. But what about simpler forms of Buddhism, why aren’t they more outspoken on antinatalism?