Criminality of Begetting

To act in such a way that, as a consequence of one’s action, someone necessarily dies is (except in cases of self-defence) considered to be acting criminally. In order, then, to distinguish actions as a consequence of which an already-existing human being must die (real criminality) from actions as a consequence of which some additionally-arising human being must die, we speak of a “criminality of begetting”. There would belong to the general class of acts falling under the rubric “criminality of begetting” also all types of action ancillary to this latter, from the performing of artificial-insemination measures through to midwife services.

Fernand Calmettes on Léon Dierx

„… he will say to them that there is really only one form of crime which comprises the origin of all other crimes: namely, the crime of offering up victims to life, of allowing children to come into the world.”[1]

Mayreder (1858–1938)

A good sense for what constitutes “the criminality of begetting” is displayed by Mayreder when she writes of the offence of conception as a symmetrical form of the offence of homicide: “Since it counts as a crime to take life away from a human being, is it less of a crime to give life to him?” (Mayreder, Zur Kritik der Weiblichkeit, S. 192) People, who premeditatedly beget another human being do not just impose countless ills upon the begotten person but also arrange things so that, in one way or another, a human being loses their life. In her memoirs of her youth Mayreder describes how – despite a mistrust of and rebellion against her own father – she did not succeed in recognizing, herself, this “criminal offence of begetting” but had to have this aspect of the matter pointed out to her by a young friend. What Mayreder presents to us in her Critique of Fatherhood as her own insight was in fact nothing to which she felt, emotionally, inclined although, rationally, she could not but concur with this insight: “Despite the inner resistance I felt to paternal despotism within our family no thought so heretical as that of calling my father’s moral right to beget children into question ever crossed my mind. Imagine my shock, then, when a young man from a rather more exalted social circle than our own one day, in my presence, raised the question: ‘with what right do fathers bring children into the world and impose on them the expectation that they should endure existence in it – indeed even that they should show gratitude to their parents for this thoughtless and arbitrary deed? If it generally counts as a crime to take the life of a human being, is it really less bad to give such a human being life?” I was stunned to be presented with this way of looking at things: it seemed to me fundamentally false and yet at the same time irrefutable, provided only one ceased unthinkingly to feel and perceive life itself to be an incomparably valuable >Gift (Rosa Mayreder, Das Haus in der Landskrongasse)


[1] „… il vous dira qu’une seule forme de crime existe qui contient en elle l’origine de tous les autres, le crime de livrer des victimes à la vie, de faire naître des enfants…“ (In: Fernand Calmettes, Leconte de Lisle et ses amis, Librairies-Imprimeries réunies, Paris 1902, S. 155)

Time-Ignorance

A cognitive distortion which brings it about that the duration of a negative experience becomes, retrospectively, of relative unimportance, provided only that the stretch of time in question was not concluded by said negative experience and that at the end of this latter there occurred some relative improvement.

Dignity

Not least of the intentions behind the raising of “human dignity” to the status of highest principle of the current German constitution was surely a certain desperate aspiration to take actions leading to new human beings’ beginning to exist and make them appear, even after the terrible mass murders of the 20th century, ethically defensible. After the human species had once again degraded itself – and perhaps this time more deeply than ever before – in the course of the Second World War (àFall, neganthropic) the taking up of a supposed guarantee of human dignity into the German constitution represented an attempt to circumvent what was really the only appropriate and adequate reaction: a voluntary renunciation of all procreation as the only measure that could really prevent something so terrible from ever occurring again.

This general political-juridical commitment to “human dignity”; the fact that the demand for this dignity’s preservation has found its way, in the 20th century, into so many state constitutions and international declarations – these are, far from being expressions of mankind’s having risen to some new and higher level of moral awareness, rather to be ascribed to the fact that this century represented a culmination point in terms of infringement of just this human dignity (See F. J. Wetz, Die Würde des Menschen ist antastbar) F. J. Wetz argues as much in his book Human Dignity is Violable: “Today, at the end of the 20th century, which has seen two world wars, liberation struggles, tribal conflicts and revolutions on all continents, with millions of men, women and children of all ages dead, crippled, raped or otherwise robbed of their dignity, history continues to offer a spectacle of misery, a comfortless drama of suffering…” (Wetz, Die Würde)

While the constitutions and declarations, then, continue to describe “human dignity as inviolable” this dignity is in fact gambled with, irresponsibly, with each new birth. Because no institution or person in the world was or is in a position really to guarantee any new-born human being an existence with dignity. And every birth means the condemnation of a human being to a freedom which he can often only acquire by taking his own life.

The appeal to human dignity is part of that cultural immune system which is intended to preserve us from insight into the fact that, since Auschwitz at the very latest, the only morally defensible way to preserve this dignity is to remain without progeny. The author of the just-cited book appears also to intuit this truth; but he omits to make the antinatalist consequences explicit – something which also goes to show how deeply-lying and effective this cultural immune system continues to be:

“Humanity’s fate was always a difficult one and it is an illusion to believe that it was only in the 20th century that the world went ‘out of joint’ and that all was well and good before. Many places on the earth have always been sites of suffering and destruction, so that one cannot help but anxiously confront the question of whether life is not perhaps something which, rather than being lived with dignity, must, at best, be suffered through and put up with till the end (c.f. Wetz, p. 65) It seems impossible to fathom how, on the basis of this insight, there has failed to arise a general demand that distance be taken, in future, from the bringing of any more human beings into the world.

Nativistic Miracle

The fact that, even in the face of the history of the human species up till now and with the fates suffered by their respective relatives, dead near and dear ones and other acquaintances plainly there for them to observe, there are still people who become parents.

The Illusion of Being “Well-Born”

Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus arrives at the conclusion: “The word ‘well-born’ is a complete untruth. One would hear such an untruth from the mother of any baron if one were to ask her how things had gone for her during the birth of her son.” (Grimmelshausen, Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus

Value-Blindness

The existence of human beings, and the continuation of this existence, enjoy the status of an absolute value. The glistening of this absolute value renders us blind to the fact that the realization of this value is to be effected only at the price of the negation of many other values, indeed at the price of the collapse of whole value-systems.

The World and Ourselves

Instead of saying “XY is dead” it would perhaps be less open to miscomprehension to say: “The world is now without XY”. If we say “XY is dead” the amphiboly of the concept of existence suggests that this person is still – even if in some quite other state or condition – somehow amongst us. More correct is the form of words: “XY is no longer amongst us”. Analogously, it is not correct to say that we “enter into existence”; more correct is: “the world is increased by us” when we begin to exist.

Premeditated Begetting

In times and places which have already entered the >Era of Contraception it is overwhelmingly mostly premeditated >Perpetrators of Existence that become parents. Individuals take a conscious decision not to prevent the worst occurring: namely, that yet one more human being will have to suffer and die. They decide not to make use of contraceptive methods – which are nonetheless easy of access – in order that children that they wish for themselves begin to exist. Long before the start of the Era of Contraception Schopenhauer expressed what is essential about this fact of “premeditated begetting” when he wrote, in his Parerga und Paralipomena that “To bring a human being into the world without any subjective passion, without the drive of sexual pleasure or any other form of physical urge, merely by premeditation of the act and in cold-blooded deliberate intention, simply in order that the human being in question be brought to ‘be there’ – this would be a profoundly morally questionable action the onus of which only very few would take upon themselves; indeed, one might say that such an act of premeditated begetting stands in the same relation to the conceiving of a child due to simple sexual desire as a coldly planned and premeditated murder stands to an act of manslaughter committed in a moment of blind fury.” (Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena, § 167) But Schopenhauer clearly makes a fundamental error here. Even where we take due account of “subjective passion”, in times and places where contraceptive methods are quickly and easily available it would be impossible for conception to occur without a certain “premeditation and cold-blooded deliberate intention”. It is not, then – as Schopenhauer suggests – only a very few who take upon themselves the onus of such a “profoundly morally questionable action” but rather the great majority of the members of many societies. The great majority of people take it willingly upon themselves to act in such a way that a person (their own child) will have to die, after having undergone various moments and phases full of pain and suffering. The argument that every such person brought into the world experiences joy and pleasure as well as suffering does not hold water inasmuch as the prevention and diminution of pain and suffering weighs far more heavily, ethically, than does the bringing about of joy and happiness. Heinrich Heine also appears to have conceived the idea that “premeditated begetting” is something immoral. He writes: “Neither of us have any children. In order to beget children, a certain conviction is necessary.” (Heine, Aphorismen und Fragmente) Unfortunately, Heine does not specify in any more detail just what kind of “conviction” a person would need to have in order premeditatedly to beget offspring.

Thereness

Natality-critical category intended to designate an abrupt, usually diffuse coming-to-consciousness of one’s own having-been-placed-in-the-world, of one’s own heteronomy and one’s status as the effect of a cause that is not oneself, and of the non-necessity, in the last analysis, of the fact and manner of one’s existence.

Voluntary and Exploitative Fallacy

From the fact that most of us, at almost every point in time and in almost every life-situation (>Readiness for Misery) have, qua >Vitality, the bionomically-induced wish to go on living – i.e. from the fact that we are biologically driven – there is drawn first one erroneous conclusion, namely that new, other human beings ought to begin to live, and secondly a further erroneous conclusion, namely that procreation requires no justification:  

Since I believe that I know it to be true of myself that I would wish to go on living even in misery and that I would accept such misery rather than putting an end to my own life, I conclude that I can pass on life to others with a good conscience. But whoever thinks like this overlooks the fact that misery is decidedly something from which we try to escape. Analogous to this “voluntary fallacy” is the “exploitative fallacy”, which runs:

Since exploited human beings prefer to persist in their enslaved, subservient, exploited existence rather than take their own lives, exploitation must be something that is morally defensible.

Bernard Williams (1929–2003) – biological radicals weigh heavier than reason

Williams brings to expression here the idea that the rational reasons for persisting in our practices of procreation are so weak that, were this question to be decided by reason alone, humanity would long since have died out. “Humanity would quite certainly die out if the wish to live were not stronger than any reasons perceived to speak in favour of human beings’ remaining alive.” (Bernard Williams, retranslated from German edition)

Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

The impetus behind this movement for the voluntary extinction of the human race is , in the first instance, a consideration for the interests of other organisms and living beings and biotopes which are – such is clearly the intention here – to be left, after the ebbing away of humanity, to tear each other to pieces without any further human involvement or intervention.

Vitality – Guarantor of the Natural Life-Context

In the following passage the great Existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers concedes that the impetus behind our perpetuating our own existence from limit-situation to limit-situation is essentially an impetus of bionomic-vital nature: “Why do we remain alive? The simplest answer is: by virtue of the vitality which causes human beings, as creatures, to cling on to life even in states of weakness and sickness. […] It cannot be denied: vital force, the drive toward life per se, something which we possess in common with all other animals, retains us in life, even filled with specifically human, perceptions, feelings and thoughts.” (Jaspers,Wahrheit und Bewährung,[1]


[1] Already in the second volume (Existenzerhellung) of his three-volume PHILOSOPHIE Jaspers had asked: “Why do we remain alive? – Initially out of an unquestioning lust for life … by virtue of our vitality…“

Via Auschwitz

Those of us, at least, born after 1945 in an industrialized nation should reflect on Auschwitz as a conditio sine qua non of our existence: Auschwitz, we must realize, could only possibly not have come to be if the constellation of historical and social forces had been entirely different; but in such an entirely different constellation of historical and social forces we ourselves would not have come to be either, since our parents would either never have met or would have conceived a child at quite some other point in time, with quite another recombination of genes, from which not we ourselves but someone quite different from us would have resulted. In this sense it is indeed the case that all those of us born after 1945, at least, have entered existence “via Auschwitz”. Given this background, it should be easy for any one of us to perform a symbolic >Renunciation of Existence. But “via Auschwitz” also lays claim to our attention and reflection in quite another way:  Just as we speak of a Via Dolorosa so too can we speak of a Via Auschwitz – which shines a strong, harsh light on the fact that the path which we have taken in history has been a wrong path.

Illusion of Contract, Nativistic

It is constitutive of contracts that there should exist a freedom not to conclude them. But this alone suffices to prove that there cannot be said to be any contract, bearing on our existence, between ourselves and those who initiate this existence. It is precisely this “contractlessness”, or distance from all contractuality, that constitutes the quasi-dictatorial aspect of every begetting. Thus, Hans Blumenberg notes that: “The metaphor of a contract has contributed, perhaps, most of all to rendering the obligations of human beings comprehensible and worthy of assent […] It was only one’s relation to one’s own existence, it appears, that was insusceptible of taking on the binding nature of a contract. Who existed had not assented to do so. It was impossible for him to have been asked about it.” (Blumenberg, Die Vollzähligkeit der Sterne) Notwithstanding all this, however, there was generally assumed to exist a certain unwritten contract whereby children were to be grateful to their parents for their existence and to repay these latter by behaving as good and reverent offspring.

Ironically, it is only at the point at which children attain their “majority” that parents are relieved of the legal obligation to see to these children’s welfare while it is only once the children have attained the age of (limited) “capacity to contract” that they come into a position to appeal to the law in order to dissolve, retroactively, the unwritten – and indeed un-writeable – intergenerational contract with the effect not, indeed, of rendering undone the beginning of their own existence but of giving, at least, their parents to understand that they (the children) had never consented to their begetting and would place, therefore, the demand upon these parents that the latter should indeed see to their (the children’s) welfare their whole life long. In short, this moral obligation for parents to provide for the welfare of the children they have begotten becomes something that the children are able to legally enforce only at the very point at which the children’s becoming “major” relieves the parents of this same obligation. 

If, then, the contractual character of the begetting of a human being is to be rescued, this is possible only, as Blumenberg shows, by recourse to the notion – a notion of Schopenhauerian inspiration – of a pre-individual blind will which nonetheless individualizes itself in and through the act of begetting new life or, in other words, by recourse to the notion of an àInfinitesimal I-ness: “It was only when Schopenhauer turned ‘Will’ into a metaphysical First Principle and the conceptive act of two humans making love into the execution of this First Principle that the generandum of the nasciturus became, with its ‘will to live’, the agency by which the ‘agreement’ binding the two parties in the act of conception was established. Fundamentally, they were both one and the same contractual party, each of whom concurred in the decision of the other to enter into existence. This presupposes that one may impute to the “becoming party” – or rather to that party that is just beginning its process of becoming – a having agreed to all those obligations involved in and implied by life.  More or less in the sense of accepting, indeed even of cultivating, both itself and the cosmic conditions of its own existence.” (ibid.) – This metaphysical rescuing of the contractual nature of our existence is, indeed, a fine construction. If it were meant seriously, however, it would founder, already in the first instance, on the fact that the will evoked here is a blind one,  a detail which gives rise to the further question of how such a will could possibly be “godfather” at the begetting of a specific individual. Nevertheless, this remains, for Blumenberg, “the only way in which it is possible to conceive that a human being ‘owes’ the world something. Because the other view, namely that it is the will of a providential deity, before whom all those must abase themselves who live by virtue of this deity’s power and strength, displays all the characteristics of absolutism: retroactive submission to the inevitable, heteronomous capitulation before the verdict that one is not one’s own master.” (l.c.) To adopt Blumenberg’s own vocabulary: the fact that we are “kicked into existence”, through the choice and action of others, rather than stepping into existence ourselves is to be understood as an “absolutism of reality”, as an imposition vis-à-vis a subject that would, then, be no more than apparently autonomous. Metaphors such as “the light of the world” and mythologemes such as that of the “pre-existing I” are intended to make this imposition something that human beings can live with.

Guilt About Displacement, Nativistic

If it really were a matter of such great importance to every living person that he or she began to exist, then we would all go through the world all our lives labouring under a certain nativistic sense of guilt. Because had things been different by only a hairsbreadth then not we ourselves, but rather some other person, would have been begotten and born. But this in turn would mean – so runs this nativistic mythologeme – that because we came to be, someone else did not come to be. Through our becoming another human being began not to exist who otherwise might have partaken of all the happiness on account of which there exists, supposedly, a moral obligation to beget new human beings.

Responsibility, Nativistic

(Prospective) parents like to speak of “taking on” responsibility. The formulation implies that this responsibility is passed over to these parents from some place or person external to them. What is overlooked, in other words, is that this situation of “being responsible” is created only through the act of bringing into existence a new human being. That is to say, rather than being a responsibility “taken over”, it is a self-created responsibility. From this point on, it is argued, everything possible must be done for the child thus created; it is above all incumbent on one to protect him or her from all the adversities of life. This aspect of “the ethics of parenthood” strikes one as constituting a special case of that general mechanism that was pointed up by Nietzsche in his On the Genealogy of Morality: a human being is deliberately exposed to harm in order that help, thenceforth, can be afforded him, thus serving to prove the moral worth of the person affording said help.

“Calling someone into existence” in order then immediately to set about protecting him or her from this existence is what the Argentinian antinatalist Julio Cabrera calls a “second-grade morality”. It is quite rightly, then, that Cabrera raises the question: “why should one have called someone into existence in the first place if one must then immediately begin to protect him from this very existence?” Herein is founded nativistic irresponsibility. Cabrera reminds those willing and eager to procreate that it may be a moral thing, indeed, to want to love, care for and protect someone who is already in the world but that one can never be justified in first bringing about the existence of a human being in order then to set about loving him, caring for him and “saving” him. Paradoxical as it may sound, the person eager to procreate leaves ab initio out of account that true philanthropy manifests itself in the form of acting in such a way that no further human being begins to exist.

True responsibility consists in having no progeny for whom one might need to “take on responsibility” in the first place. Mechthild Zschau articulates this truth when she writes: “I am afraid of the terrible responsibility that is implied in ‘creating’ a human being. I feel no ‘vocation’ to motherhood. I am afraid of the great power that a mother enjoys over her child, who remains totally dependent on her for a number of years. Indeed, I am afraid of power in general and wish to exercise it in no area of life at all.”[1] Applied to mankind in general this same truth runs: “True responsibility for the future of humanity consists in sparing it any future at all”. (Kohlbecher to Akerma, February 2011)

Irresponsibility of Procreation (Hans Reiner, 1896–1991)

Some remarkable insights into the irresponsibility of procreation are formulated by Hans Reiner in his 1960 book Der Sinn unseres Daseins: “Which of us has ever really meditated on the question of how we are really to answer for and justify the bringing of a new existence into the world, that is to say, the begetting of a child? From the viewpoint of a believing Christian, indeed, this question is not an urgent problem: because, as Christians, we let ourselves be guided by God’s exhortation to “go forth and multiply”. But even for the Christian the question remains of why God wanted, how God possibly could want, such a problematical race of creatures as human beings to come into existence and to perpetuate this existence generation after generation. [>Antinatalism, Christian-Theological] But if we set aside Christian belief, be it either because we have no such belief or because this belief has become, for us, something problematical, how then can we continue to bear the responsibility for the persistent procreation of new human beings? Does there, once we find ourselves in this position, suffice as justification for this action the simple fact that we want to have children, either because children are a source of joy for us or because it saddens us to think that our line will die out with our own deaths?” (Hans Reiner, Der Sinn unseres Daseins. Quotation found by Guido Kohlbecher).

Reiner also expresses in this book the idea that nativistic irresponsibility tends to manifest itself most clearly precisely there where parents become acquainted with the notion “better never to have been”. The continued procreation of something which is now perceived to be without sense or meaning demands an >Anthropodicy without the availability of which the future of humanity would be, at least metaphysically, at risk and would not look bright: “If we take all this into account and if there arises in our minds, in the face of it, even just a serious doubt about whether it is better to be born rather than not to be, how then can we take upon ourselves the responsibility of being ourselves the cause of others’ suffering that fate of being indeed born into this world? [>Damnators] The problem of this responsibility tips us, then, once more, in aggravated form, into the question of a “meaning of existence” that would extend beyond the meaning inhering just in the goals that we set for ourselves day by day and the general longing for happiness in which these latter find their common denominator. But this problem reveals itself, on closer consideration, to be one which does not just concern the personal ethical responsibility of each individual but is in fact of the broadest possible consequence for the future fate of humanity as a whole. If it is the case that we human beings have no other reason at all to procreate beyond the wish of the individual to “have children” or mere animal sexual desire, this tends to open up very poor prospects for the self-preservation of humanity in general, and in particular for that of its most intellectually advanced, leading strata. Because the technology of contraception today offers, to a very great extent, satisfaction to the mere sexual drive without procreation having to enter into the matter. And the wish for children has, especially among society’s upper strata, been greatly weakened and diminished by various other factors and circumstances. All this being the case, a doubt arising regarding ‘the meaning of life’ in general could well be a coup de grâce delivered once and for all to this weakened urge to procreate.” (Hans Reiner, Der Sinn unseres Daseins).


[1] Mechthild Zschau, Sterilisation. Nirgendwo ein Kinderwunsch. Eine Erklärung.

Vegetarianism, Veganism and Antinatalism

The field of objects covered by antinatalist moral theory comprises not human beings alone but rather all beings susceptible of suffering. For this reason there are perhaps more practicing antinatalists than one would think. Mostly without being aware that they are doing so, vegetarians and vegans practice a certain antinatalism: the more human beings adopt vegetarian or vegan diets, the fewer animals kept as livestock are slaughtered, eaten, raised, born, fattened up and slaughtered again. – Correspondingly, there are fewer suffering animals. If all human beings adopted vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, then numerous breeds, such as the domestic chicken, the domestic pig, or domestic cattle, would die out. >Axiopaths see an ethical iniquity in such a development, since (so they reason) every living being, species and breed of animal is valuable in itself and the world would become a place much poorer in values if one were to voluntarily cease to engender the maximum amount of living beings and to preserve the maximum number of different types and breeds.

Don’t you find the world to be lovely? – Valentin, Karl (1882–1948)

Below we reproduce a brilliant humorous dialogue invented by the Bavarian comedian Karl Valentin which renders whole collections of essays on these topics redundant:

LANG. So, you are a pessimist?

KARL VALENTIN. And you? An optimist!

L. I am indeed.

K.V. So everything looks rosy to you?

L. Indeed – everything!

K.V. The roses too?

L. Well, I would imagine that the roses look rosy even to you!

K.V. The roses, yes – but apart from them, nothing much looks rosy!

L. So how do you see the world?

K.V. Well, not rosy, I’ll tell you that! – Even though the old song goes: ‘O how lovely is the world…’

L. But why not? – Don’t you find the world to be lovely?

K.V. Not at all! – What’s lovely about it? – Everything, from birth on, is the very opposite of lovely. Or do you find birth lovely? Ask a midwife.

L. Well, “lovely” it isn’t – but that’s just the way things are.

K.V. Yes, “just the way things are” – and that’s just what isn’t lovely. It would be “lovely”, in my opinion, if things weren’t the way they are at all.

L. But if things weren’t the way they are, then you wouldn’t be in the world at all!

K.V. And wouldn’t that be lovely!

L. But if everyone thought like you there would be no one in the world at all!

K.V. Still lovelier!

L. For whom?

K.V. For all the people who wouldn’t have to be in the world!

L. But people who were never in the world can’t decide whether the world is lovely or not!

K.V. But just that is the lovely thing: that they were never in the world.”

Here, Valentin wittily jumps over the Shadow of his own existence by declaring frankly and freely to his interlocutor that a course of the world without him, Valentin, in it would have been preferable to the actual course of the world. The interlocutor, on his side, proves practiced enough to retort that it cannot really have been a fine thing for those human beings who never existed to have indeed not existed.

Utopias

Utopias are indices, and sometimes eloquent expressions, of a fundamental refusal to condone and tolerate our Conditio in-/humana. In many utopias we find an implicit avowal of the neganthropic constitution of our existence.

Primal Guilt

In his 1979 book The Imperative of Responsibility Hans Jonas treats the presence of human beings on the earth as indeed an unconditional imperative. Which is as much as to say that human beings ought to be, and are to continue to be brought into being, quite regardless of whatever conditions they might have to live under. Some years later, however, we see Jonas begin to express some doubt regarding this ruthless principle of an absolute imperative to exist, under all and any circumstances whatever. That “responsibility vis-à-vis Being”, as the “guardians” of which Jonas had long conceived us, begins to take on the form of a guilt:

Jonas’s Confession of Primal Guilt

“What exactly is it that justifies our imposing existence on a being – a being that cannot possibly have had any part in this choice – by bringing it into the world? There is a sort of primal guilt involved in the begetting and bearing of a child. Because we do not just give the child the >Gift of Life; we impose it upon him [>Diktat of Birth] without his having asked us to do so. We do simply presupposing that this child will surely “want his own life”, that is to say, that the life we are bringing into the world will surely be one that will embrace and affirm itself. But this is, in a certain sense, to be monstrously presumptuous.  Every one of us must be prepared to respond to that cry which once issued from the mouth of the prophet àJeremiah: “O Mother, why did you bear me?” And the response to this cry can only be: “Because the order of things in Nature will have it so, that it is only under this condition that human beings can be – although this being is a gamble, inasmuch the bearing of children means that the beings born are not only empowered to be human beings but also condemned to it”.

– The burden of existence is heavy, and perhaps those human beings whose existence has been the most worthwhile have been those who have suffered most under this burden. I remember once asking Martin Buber, who had known Kafka personally, what kind of impression this great writer had made. I will never forget his answer: “I can say one thing for sure: he was the unhappiest man I have ever encountered. Nevertheless, that a man like that should have existed is surely worth all the suffering. This is a terrible thing to say, I know, but his sufferings surely were ‘worth it’. [>Damnators]. Let me rather turn the question around. The problem, surely, consists not in what we owe the new-born baby in order that he or she might survive – this, we may say, is the aspect of positive responsibility – but rather in how far we may legitimately go in imposing existence upon a child that has been begotten by us.” (DIE ZEIT, 25.8.1989 Nr. 35, p. 9–12)

Just a few years before his death in 1993 we begin to see the re-emergence in Jonas’s statements of those >Gnostic themes and sentiments in the examination of which he had first made his name as a scholar. Jonas openly concedes that existence is an imposition; it is not so much “given as a gift” to the child – as the metaphysics favoured by all parents would have it be – as “dictated” to the child, and the child “condemned”, without his consent thereto, to take the burden of existence upon himself.

In the case of human beings who have contributed a great deal to human culture, such as Kafka, Mozart, Beethoven or Van Gogh, this “suffering from existence” is often at its most intense – but it is a suffering, Jonas suggests, that can be seen (at least retrospectively) to have been “worth it”, since the imposition of existence upon these men has resulted in their giving so much to others that has, perhaps, made existence easier for these many latter to bear: great books, great music or great painting. Jonas is performing, here, a crude utilitarian calculation in the worst sense of the term “utilitarian”: “condemnations to exist” are necessary because, without such condemnations, there could not only be no “useful” human beings but indeed no human beings at all. The question of just why there should be human beings remains, however, no more elucidated by Jonas in this context than he succeeds, elsewhere in his work, in justifying the imperative that there be a human race. Instead of this, it begins at least to dawn on him that the condemnation of human beings to an uncertain existence might be something irresponsible. Whereas in most of his writings Jonas tends to aspire only to equipping human beings, using the tools of metaphysics, to deal with present and future outbreaks of barbarism – to render them, in one image used by him, “Auschwitz-proof” – so that human existence is not sacrificed to the anticipable horrors of what it is to be human, here at least Jonas raises the key question of the >Limit Value, inasmuch as undertakes to consider “how far we may legitimately go in imposing existence upon a child that has been begotten by us”

Eye-Witness Evidence of Suffering Imposed, Parental

Most parents begin to become sickly and frail only at a point in time when their children have already become parents themselves. This means that parents generally come to live through those nightmare aspects of the Conditio in/humana to which they have condemned their own children only when it is too late. To experience these terrible aspects “in good time”, in this context, would mean: being an eye-witness to the sufferings of old age and sickness, as these become manifest in one’s own parents, early and vividly enough to shrink back from imposing these things on one’s own children, so that one rescinds any pronatal decision one might have taken, or takes no such decision in the first place.

In Fabio Volo’s novel The Road Home two brothers visit their aged father, who is slowly dying of dementia. Of one of the brothers Volo writes: “He knew that his father’s present state was the future that awaited him himself. When he looked at him, then, he saw not just ‘him’ but a ‘we’, a collective fate.”[1] – It is high time that human beings, through moral action, put an end to this grim collective fate!


[1] „Sapeva che il presente di suo padre era il futuro che lo attendeva, per questo quando lo guardava non vedeva solo un ‚lui‘, ma un “noi”, un destino collettivo.“ (La strada verso casa).

Immemoriality

Each of us, we may say, lives in “time immemorial” in the sense that we are unable to envisage a world in which we would not exist: as soon as we attempt to do so, we find that we are indeed present in the world that we envisage. This “immemoriality” may well go to nourish the effectiveness of the  >Natal Myth even on into our modern age: of that myth, that is to say, whereby we come from far away and were, at least in the form of an “infinitesimal ‘I’”, always already somehow “there”.

Principle of Universalization, Mortalfugal Antinatalist

Whoever is horrified at the idea of having to die, or simply puts the idea of dying out of their minds due to the uncanny feelings it inspires in them, ought not to beget other human beings, since it must be assumed that they will be equally averse to dying. In other words, whoever begets human beings even despite his being, for his own part, far from indifferent as regards his own existence’s end, contravenes the principle fundamental to all ethical systems: that of universalization.

The Unethical in All Ethics

The fact that Man is a being so evidently and constantly in need of ethical control and guidance, a characteristic that ensues directly from Man’s freedom, reveals him as a creature whom neither members of his own species, nor members of others, can reasonably be expected to live with. This is an insight which not even pronatal ethicists make any attempt to hide:

“When one speaks of freedom one usually means the replacing of fixed, inflexible modes of behaviour with individual reactions which are no longer determined by genetic programmes but are rather able to orient themselves by cultural norms. There can be no doubt but that the reduction of the sway of instinct has made it possible for human social life to develop in entirely new ways. (…) But this same reduction has made human beings capable of acting not just independently of genetic programmes but also contrary to the norms of their own moralities (…) Such a being as this, that no longer has to do anything but can do a great deal, is indeed in dire need of morality… (…) We need, for example, to be alarmed by the falling away of that inbuilt inhibition preventing the killing of another member of the same species which exists in many species of animal but no longer in  Man (…) Man is that living entity which brings life’s tendency to consummation by developing the capacity to negate life.” (Vittorio Hösle, Moral und Politik)

This passage brings out very clearly how far any ethics is “playing with fire” that simply presents human beings as “beings in need of morality” without having first raised and decided the fundamental question whether it is morally reasonable to expect human beings – not to mention other animal species – to put up with each other. Those concerned with ethical questions, above all, should be aware that human beings, as animals in whom instinctive inhibitions have been considerably reduced, represent, where no ethical principles restrain them, a constant danger for members of their own species. Like animal-tamers, ethicists make it their business to look for universalizable maxims that might clarify ways of preventing that emergence of an inhuman monster which they know is possible at any time in any human being. It constitutes the fundamental root of the failure of all ethical enquiry – constitutes, so to speak, what is unethical in all (positively understood) ethics – that the question is never posed by the ethicist of what ethical principles can possibly be used to justify the bringing into being of these beings so sorely in need of ethics and morality who can still at any time, be it without or even with the corrective of ethical or moral principles, begin to commit immoral acts. 

In the worst imaginable case the perpetuation of the human race means that people are subjected to torture by other people – something which, for the tortured persons, means the destruction of the ethical structure of the world: tormented by pain, they can no longer act ethically. Every human finds his limit when confronted by instruments of torture and in the application of such instruments there is collaboration by every ethical organization in the world. Because, once filled with physical pain, we find ourselves no longer capable of abiding by any set of ethical principles, be they Kantian, Utilitarian or Stoic; rather, we are thrown back completely on ourselves; when torture reaches its maximum, we are simply incapable of even perceiving the interests of other human beings. (For more details see Cabrera)

Any ethics which does not self-reflectively work through this whole set of problems inevitably becomes the accomplice of those actions counter to morality that necessarily ensue from the free, and thereby partially tendentially inhuman, nature of Man – a point which Paul Ricoeur makes very succinctly when he writes: “To affirm freedom is equivalent to taking the origin of evil upon oneself.” (Paul Ricoeur) Any ethics which, being a theory of morality, fails to question back critically behind the apparent moral self-evidence of continuing to bring new human beings into the world – and thereby of ethics’ true object – becomes, due to this deficiency in self-reflection, obsolete – a kind of “un-ethics”. Considering things from this point of view, Nietzsche is surely not entirely wrong when he advances the following thesis: “All the methods which have hitherto been applied with the intent of rendering Man more moral were, in fact, fundamentally immoral.”

Wrongful Life

The reproach of “wrongful life” is one that is made by parents against parents, or doctors, or indeed, on the metaphysical level, against anyone and everyone who contributes to the creation of new human beings. Thus, already the Adam of Milton’s Paradise Lost complains that he had never asked to be brought into the world but had rather been created without having been consulted beforehand. A similar complaint was somewhat later to be uttered by the artificial human being imagined by Mary Shelley as having been created by Dr Frankenstein.

But the suggestion that a child might sue his or her own parents for “damages”, and claim “compensation”, for having been begotten without his or her consent is one which one encounters, perhaps, for the first time explicitly in the novel “Rien n’est…” by the French writer Georges >Poulet. Nevertheless, where negligence or omission on the part of medical practitioners led to the existence of a human being who had reason, on account of some grave disability, to curse this existence, such a human being had, until recently at least, little alternative but simply to curse, in the style of the ancients, the fate that had befallen him in coming into the world. Here, then, one must note and bear clearly in mind a certain striking disproportionality: it appears that one is much more inclined to acknowledge the validity of the lawsuits brought by parents who have become such as a consequence of some medical blunder than to recognize the validity of charges brought by children who have begun to exist without having wanted to do so or even burdened by serious illnesses or disabilities. Thus, a decision passed down by the German Supreme Court in Charge of Civil Cases includes the judgment that “a child must, in principle, accept his or her life in the form in which Nature has produced it and cannot lay claim to a right to have been prevented from being born, or otherwise removed from existence, by others…” (BGHZ 86, 254, quoted from Picker, l. c.). The child would thereby also have no claim to compensation, since the recognition of such a claim would presuppose that the child’s non-existence would be a state or condition preferable to his or her existence, that is to say, that the child’s existence would constitute a “harm done” to said child (see Picker, >Amphiboly of the Concept(s) of Existence). We surely are confronted, then, with a significant moral-logical discrepancy if, on the one hand, parents are to be permitted to sue for compensation where medical malpractice has led to the arrival of a child that has forced an alteration in the lives they had planned for themselves while, on the other hand, it is also judged that a child who wishes to bring a lawsuit with regard to his or her own existence must be obliged rather to respect this existence as the highest and most sacrosanct of values.  

It has, however, in the meantime become the case that such a child can – albeit with only a minimal prospect of success – bring a lawsuit against those medical practitioners who gave (from this point of view) “bad” advice or medical treatment to said child’s mother and, for example, cast their vote against the termination of the pregnancy. After a series of such àExistence Lawsuits had been brought, during the second half of the 20th century, without in any of these cases the suit proving successful, there occurred finally, in the year 2000 in France, a lawsuit brought by a seriously disabled person claiming compensation for his own existence in which the right to such compensation was acknowledged and the compensation awarded.   But let us look a little farther back: In 1960 a US court tried the case of an individual who had been born with serious disabilities due to a traffic accident occurring while it was still in the womb. The claim to compensation submitted in this case argued that “[…] justice requires that the principle be recognized that a child has a legal right to begin life with a sound mind and body.” (quoted from Gragl)

In 1967 the Supreme Court of New Jersey rejected the lawsuits brought by three plaintiffs which demanded, albeit for three different sets of reasons, a right to compensation for the beginning of the existence of one and the same physically disabled human being. This person’s mother, Sandra Gleitmann, brought a civil suit for pain and suffering demanding compensation for the emotional stress which had been caused her due to the terrible state of the health of her child;  the father, Irwin Gleitman, brought a civil suit demanding compensation for the costs incurred in caring for and seeing to the other needs of this same child; finally, the child in question himself, Jeffrey Gleitman, demanded compensation for his own existence – an existence which he himself had never asked for. As the Gleitman family succeeded in proving to the court, Sandra Gleitman had informed her gynaecologist, in the second month of her pregnancy, that she had just recently suffered from a case of the measles and asked him whether this was likely to have an effect on her child. The gynaecologist had assured her that the recent measles infection would not affect the child’s health. But the child Jeffrey, born in 1959, proved in fact to suffer from serious sight and hearing problems, as well as problems of limb articulation.

The court did not decide in favour of this lawsuit – in which the plaintiffs also cited the above-mentioned lawsuit brought by the individual born disabled as a consequence of a traffic accident during pregnancy – since, so the court reasoned, there had never existed any possibility of the child’s being brought to birth in a non-disabled condition. The suit, then, was rejected with the following justification: “The infant plaintiff is therefore required to say not that he should have been born without defects but that he should not have been born at all. In the language of tort law he says: but for the negligence of defendants, he would not have been born to suffer with an impaired body. In other words, he claims that the conduct of defendants prevented his mother from obtaining an abortion which would have terminated his existence, and that his very life is ‘wrongful’.” (Quoted from Gragl) In order to allow the family’s claims, continued the court in its judgment, it would have had to do something that was in fact onto-logically impossible: namely, weigh up the value of the individual in question’s actual existence with all his disabilities against his possible non-existence. Instead of this the court referred to the Conditio in/humana to which both the striving for life and the persistence in it belong (>Tyranny of Biology): “By asserting that he should not have been born, the infant plaintiff makes it logically impossible for a court to measure his alleged damages because of the impossibility of making the comparison required by compensatory remedies. […] It is basic to the human condition to seek life and hold on to it however heavily burdened.” (quoted from Gragl)

Let us look back now at the case from the year 2000, the judgment in which constituted, at least up until the year 2008, the only judgment according to a disabled person compensation for their own existence. In this case too, a previous German Measles infection of the mother’s had resulted, in her child (Nicolas Perruchet, b. 1983) suffering from disorders of the nervous system, deafness in both ears, and compromised visual abilities, so that the mother in question would surely have terminated the pregnancy if she had been informed beforehand of the extent of the damage that her previous infection was likely to do to her child.  With regard to the child, Nicolas Perruchet, the court recognized that he had indeed suffered “a certain harm through having been born” (“préjudice d’être né”). French legislators, however, found themselves obliged, shortly after the announcement of this judgment – due to criticism of it both from the side of the public and from the side of various politicians – to revise the findings expressed in it, so that a new judgment was issued stating that “no one enjoys a legitimate claim to compensation for harm or damages merely on the grounds of their having been born.”  (quoted from Paul Gragl, Wrongful Life – Gibt es ein Recht, nicht geboren zu warden? For the above, see the same author)

On what, then, can someone base himself who undertakes to make certain medical practitioners, or his own parents, responsible for the existence which he did not ask for and which he finds unbearable and to bring a lawsuit against these parties on these grounds? Whoever already exists cannot claim, obviously, that he/she is now in a worse position than he/she was in before the beginning of his/her existence. Normally, in order for a lawsuit of this sort to be successful, the plaintiff must indeed be able to demonstrate that a certain alternative action or course of events would have been more to his advantage, which would in this case mean: that it would have been better for him himself never to have existed. But since existence is a fundamental precondition for taking up any different position at all on the scale of “better” or “worse”, no lawsuit evoking any such thing as “being worse off” due to the beginning of an existence can ever hope to be successful in a court of law except where there succeeds in asserting itself an essentially irrational metaphysics whereby it would have been better for me, had I never begun to exist.  

Nevertheless, it remains the case that a certain claim to compensation for the fact of his existence should, after all, be accorded to whomever is not in agreement with his own having-been-begotten. It may indeed be the case that I was not harmed by certain persons’ acting in such a way that I began to exist. It is correct, however, to say that there was imposed upon a person – a person who was eventually to become me – all those things of which it was already known that they were unacceptable: an “unacceptable gift” consisting in such things as the wearisome living-out of an entire existence, in sicknesses, in one’s own inevitable death as well as the necessity of witnessing >the Deaths of Near and Dear Ones.

The argument is often made that it is immoral to beget a human being whose life will (by reason of genetic predisposition or in view of the social situation in which he will find himself) in all likelihood be a miserable one. This conclusion may, as a basic matter of principle, be expanded to take the form: the decision to beget progeny should be rescinded in every case in which it cannot be absolutely excluded that these progeny will ever undergo suffering and in every case where it is not absolutely certain that they will be able to die in the “epic” manner of passing away having had their fill of life and with full serene assent to this death.

Nativistic Anonymity

It is true, of course, that parents can in such cases have recourse to nativistic >Anonymity and retort to their children, should these latter begin to complain about their own existence: “When we decided to have a family we did not decide specifically to have you but rather to ‘have a child’ quite generally. You cannot, then, accuse us of having done something to you through our engaging in procreation.”  But to this the child discontented with the fact of his own existence can object: “Even if it is indeed the case that you did not convey me from one state into some other state by bringing about the beginning of my existence, the fact remains that without your deed of procreation I would not exist: I, who must now drag myself through this life for many decades, suffer illnesses, and finally suffer death. It is correct, then, to say that you begot ‘someone’ and could not have envisaged me as this ‘someone’ as you did so. But it is also correct to say that you ought to have reckoned with the certainty that you would beget thereby a human being who would not take it kindly that you acted in such a way that both the beginning of his life and its end became inevitable. It is for this reason that I demand of you that you render me, for so long as I am alive, as content as possible with my own existence.

But to this, in their turn, the parents might retort: When we begot you we were – as so many tend to be – too young and inexperienced to be able to conceive such thoughts. The provision of compensation for existence is rather a task that the >State ought to take over and bear: namely, in the form of an unconditional securing of a good existence for everyone and the commitment to render content with their material lives all citizens who demand that they be so made content (>Existential Money) and also in the form of an uncomplicated assistance provided by the state to all those who, after careful consideration, choose the path of freely ending their own life as a way of reversing and removing the >”Diktat of Birth”.

Wrongful Birth

The reproach of “wrongful birth” or “wrongful progeny” is one that is made by parents against doctors who have neglected to prevent the beginning of the existence of a child suffering from a detectable or predictable (genetic) defect, even though the medical-technical resources and/or the relevant better knowledge were in fact to hand that might have obviated such an eventuality.  Often, the parents in question even make to these doctors the reproach that, had they wanted to, they could have helped them to bring to birth another child: a healthy one.

In response to such complaints from parents one court judgment passed in Germany – namely in the Higher Regional Court in Bamberg in 1978 – argued that the birth of a child never constituted, even in part, a “value negation” but rather in every case a “value realization”. A different judgment was passed in 1980 by the German Federal Supreme Court which recognized that there did indeed exist a right to compensation in cases where, as a result of a medical error, a child has ended up coming into the world – and this even in the case where the child in question is a healthy one (see Eduard Picker, Schadenshaftung für unerwünschte Nachkommenschaft) This judgement put into circulation a certain “buzzword” – “the child as compensable damage” – which drew attention to how “the value of human life”, hitherto posited as an absolute, has recently become subject to relativization and even to reconceptualization as a negative.

If a child begins to exist as a consequence of a pharmacological or medical error, and if a doctor or a chemist is compelled to pay, as it were, “maintenance payments” for the child thus erroneously brought into the world, there may occur to any child who gleans that his birth may have occurred contrary to his parents’ wishes and desires the thought à”Pardon me for having been born!”

Will to Survive, Survival Instinct

Whoever acts in such a way that a human being begins to exist attaches a being that, ideally, should be autonomous, their whole life long to the chain of a “will to survive” the claims of which reside in strata of existence that lie far from all that is mental and, by this same token, far from all that is autonomous. There where fear of death retains us in life even when we have long since understood that it would be better to cease to exist we surely have reason to speak of a “biologically guaranteed amorality of survival”. Ilse Aichinger indignantly notes: “My mother was a doctor and I was very often witness to how people took eight days to die: ways of dying. At such times I thought to myself: this surely is out of all proportion at the end of an existence that one had not asked for in the first place. To speak of ‘suffering’ is inadequate in such cases! Dying is a bodily process. And the body, which reacts like an animal, resists it absolutely, powerfully and desperately.” (Ilse Aichinger)

Overstrained by Antinatalism?

It is often objected to antinatalism that its moral theory describes a morality which overstrains human moral capabilities and is, already for this reason alone, a questionable one. Instead of preaching antinatalism, it is argued, one does better to contribute to the actual improvement of the world. To this we retort: is “the improvement of the world” not a far more utopian undertaking than the mere resolution not, oneself, to procreate? And is it not fitting, if one is concerned about one’s progeny, to first bring the world into such a condition that they would feel comfortable in it?

Evil of Non-Existence

To whomever expresses regret over the burdensome fate he is suffering, and most certainly to whomever reproaches his parents with having imposed this fate upon him, the retort is always ready to hand: “Be content that you have come into the world as a test-tube baby/as deaf and dumb/as someone sick with AIDS/as a future casualty of war/as an unemployed person/ as someone sick with cancer. Because the alternative would be your not having existed at all – and surely you would not have wanted that?” But anyone who makes such an argument is committing an onto-ethical fallacy. They are falling under the spell of one of the great myths of modernity, whereby we were, “pre-existentially”, some sort of àquasi-existent or >infinitesimal “self” which was “freed” from this most pitiable of all “conditions” only by the act of conception or the experience of birth.   

If, in the case of such a myth as this, any greater degree of existence is morally preferable to a lesser degree, then “no existence at all” – which is surreptitiously enhanced to become a “quasi-existence” – must represent a great evil which needs to be remedied at any cost.

Tyranny of Biology and Counter-Revolt

Human beings who act in such a way that a new human being begins to exist expose this latter to what has been described by many as the tyranny of biology:

Revolt Against the Tyranny of the Gene

Contrary to what is suggested by Richard Dawkins’s book title The Selfish Gene, Dawkins does not believe that human beings are merely executing agents of what is genetically programmed into us. On the contrary, Dawkins advpcates “rebelling against the tyranny of the selfish replicators… We, that is our brains, are separate and independent enough from our genes to rebel against them. As already noted, we do so in a small way every time we use contraception. There is no reason why we should not rebel in a large way, too.”

The transition from small-scale contraceptive rebellions to a “general strike” against the tyranny of the gene leads to nothing less than the ebbing-away of humanity.

Transhumanism

In transhumanism dissatisfaction with the Conditio in/humana has come to express itself in the form of a belief in the technological perfectibility of the human being. Just like the (somewhat more conservative) belief in a species-wide optimizability of the human being by means of genetic engineering, transhumanism can be understood as the ultima ratio and the final rearguard action of a humanity staggering on unsustained by any viable anthropodicy and thus as a last escape strategy in the face of the growing inevitability of embracing a moral theory antinatalist in nature.

Tragedy of Woman

As Nemilow convincingly argues in his book “The Biological Tragedy of Woman”, that constellation which lies behind the tragedy of woman is especially tragic by reason of its being a biological one. As Nemilow states toward the end of his book, an overcoming of this biological tragedy of woman is possible only via the route of her remaining childless. In Nemilow’s day, the artificial uterus which plays a role, today, in the consideration of this problem, was not yet imaginable.

Interestingly, it seems hardly possible to speak of a “biological tragedy of man” analogous to that of woman. A man is prisoner of his biological “housing” only to a much lesser degree than is a woman. Instructive here is the following passage from Balzac’s Père Goriot: “How lucky we women are to have nothing to do with duels! But we have sufferings to deal with too. We bring children into the world and the sicknesses associated with motherhood are wearisome!” (Balzac, Père Goriot) Without intending to Balzac expresses here the idea that women bear, in great pain, those human beings who then inflict even greater pain on one another as they destroy each other.

“Murderer” Argument

A sin-based antinatalist argument – one to which we do not subscribe – might emphasize the moral taint of the background to our own existences: “We are all the descendants of a long line of murderers. Murder lurks in our bones.” (David Buss, Der Spiegel, 35/2005, p. 146) We do not subscribe to this argument because the moral dignity of a person is not passed down between generations. But we nevertheless insist that is indeed morally negligent, in the face of what history has proven to “a long line of murderers”, to beget progeny who might either fall victim to such murderers or become such themselves.

Lifelong Sentence of Death

Every bringing of a human being into the world goes implicitly hand in hand with the passing of a sentence of a death: one more human being that has to die. What must be emphasized about this inevitable dying is that all parents must be aware from their own experience that almost nobody actively wants to die. They themselves, it must be supposed, want to go on living. Nevertheless, they accept the unintended consequence of their progenerative decision and beget this human being who will have no chance of escaping a having to die. They will perhaps already during the pregnancy have played out in their minds how they will answer those questions with regard to the abyss of death that will be posed to them by their surely already partially aware progeny – among these the question whether everyone must really die. “Why did you beget me if I must then afterward cease to live” – have the couple posed this question to themselves ad hominem and do they know how to answer it?

Feldmann, Arthur (1926–2012)

Following Arthur Feldmann, we might express this notion through the image of a “lifelong sentence of death”: “Already before being born I was given a life sentence and also a sentence of death. Only the exact date of the execution remained unspecified.” On this same terrain he dismantles all the talk of “the gift of life”: “One exposes a child to death in giving him ‘the gift of life’”. (Kurznachrichten aus der Mördergrube)

Walser, Martin (*1927)

With regard to this sentence of death that goes hand in hand with every conceiving of a child Martin Walser feels justified in describing parenthood as “unforgivable”. In an interview with the magazine Psychologie Heute he candidly states that he himself has passed four such sentences of death:

“This is also the really base and wicked thing: that someone was once a child and then later has to die. What is unforgivable in parenthood, I find, is that every time one becomes a parent one passes a sentence of death on someone else. I have passed such sentences of death myself. PH: Four, in fact, no? Walser: Yes, and it is only gradually that one becomes aware of what one has done. This too belongs to the inalienable conditions of human existence.” („Meine Mängel sind mein Denkanlaß“. Der Schriftsteller Martin Walser über Kindheit, Psychoanalyse und sein Selbstverständnis als Deutscher, in: Psychologie heute. March 1993)

Imprisoned, apparently, within the fleshly housing of the Conditio in/humana, Walser leaves unconsidered the most fundamental principle of philosophical anthropology: that act of becoming a parent which founds another existence, and which is also necessarily the passing of a death sentence, is, in the case of human beings, not that mere inevitability that it is in the case of other animals but is rather left up to the choice and discretion of that constitutively cultural being that Man is. We are not condemned to procreate but rather – as Sartre famously recognized – “condemned to be free”. And thus also to be free to produce no progeny.

That the founding of another human being’s existence goes hand in hand with the passing of a death-sentence on this human being is something, Walser states, “of which one becomes only gradually aware”. And indeed it does seem to be the case that, even despite all the massive catastrophes that have befallen it, our human species remains so mentally dominated by one or another variant of pronatalism that almost no social >learning progress in the direction of antinatalism is yet to be registered. Until some radical new development occurs, then, the situation will remain that Walser and all other individuals will have to try to push forward alone and unassisted to a recognition of the moral value of antinatalism and that countless human beings will have to continue to be born only to die.

Rescuer From Death, Rescue From Life

Every person who takes a decision not to procreate is a person who acts in such a way that fewer people will have to die. A similar thought has been enunciated by Huysmans, who speaks of what a meritorious action it is to preserve, through an act of abortion, an innocent being from having to live: “One must add,” thought Des Esseintes, “that for justice’s sake it is not the careless man, who rapidly vanishes from the scene, but mostly rather the woman, the victim of this carelessness, who must do penance for having preserved an innocent from having to live!” (Joris-Karl Huysmans, À Rebours)

Child as Buffer Before Death

Confessions of parental guilt are rare and are likely only to be expected in certain limit-situations. For example, in the case of the Dutch author van der Heijden, whose son was killed in a traffic accident. Whereas Schopenhauer still supposed that no one who was thinking clearly would ever decide to beget a child, van der Heijden confesses: “We took the decision to have a child. I conceived it wilfully and knowingly with her… And now Mirjam and I are left here, until our respective dying days, with a loss the size of life instead of a living son. It was all a lie, then, this sense of safety and protection that a family of our own had seemed to guarantee. It was a stinking lie to imagine that our child would be a kind of buffer before the lonely chill of our own deaths.” (van der Heijden, Tonio) Van der Heijden’s nativistic frankness deserves great praise; but he appears not to be fully recognizant of the fact that, in begetting a child as a “buffer before death” – one that unfortunately “died before his time” – he had in fact exposed this child himself to the “lonely chill” of the inevitability of dying.

Threat of Death, Symbolic

If someone is told that his or her own children did not necessarily have to come into existence (and thus would not necessarily have had, in future, to die) this person will, in most cases, construe this as a calling into question of these children’s right to go on living. And whoever questions the basis of these children’s existence by posing the question “Why do you have children?” will, unfortunately, be looked on as someone seeking to take these children’s lives. For this reason alone, even if for no other, whoever tries to persuade his fellow men of the truth of antinatalist moral theory should proceed very carefully.

Animal Antinatalism

In view of the sufferings – for the most part underappreciated, because literally unimaginable – not only of livestock animals but also of animals living in the wild we advocate also an animal antinatalism, whereby one should strive, so far as possible, to act in such a way that no further animals should begin to exist.

Theodicy as Cryptic Anthropodicy

By enunciating the insight that God is just a projection of human ideas the critique of religion undermines, at the same time, that notion, still resonant even in our present day, of all human beings as >“Children of God”. Human beings become more and more clearly visible as what they have, in fact, always really been: children of other human beings. With the driving of God out his place in the psychical economy of human beings those critical questions and accusations which had accumulated in all the attempts at theodicy undertaken in the course of many centuries come now to be directed no longer at God but rather at procreating human beings themselves. Since there was once a time when human beings permitted themselves to see themselves as God’s compliant agents (“Go forth and multiply!”) these same human beings must now be called to account for all that pain and misery supposedly facilitated and “allowed” by this God. Every accusatory cry of suffering once raised against God now falls back upon human beings as God’s >Accomplices, since without such accomplices’ own will to parenthood we ourselves would soon no longer exist, and consequently evil, suffering and death would no longer exist either. Two important differences, however, between theodicy and anthropodicy must be recognized:

1. God can compensate us for all our sufferings by means of the àParadisal Compensation; the human individuals alive at any given time, however, in their capacity as “Mini-Demiurges” (>Parents as Mini-Demiurges), have nothing comparable to offer to their progeny other than a postponement of the hoped-for “good life” into the generation of these children’s own children and thus of the “earthly Paradise” into some indeterminate future. After the collapse of those great promises for the future that flourished throughout much of modernity human beings now find themselves bereft of any plausible justification for their imposition of suffering and misery on billions of beings born without their consent.

2. As accomplices of God human beings can shift, in substance, their own responsibility off onto an almighty Creator who created us out of love and who commands us to put up with all our suffering as the price to be paid for eventual eternal salvation.[1] In light of these considerations we may paraphrase Epicurus as follows:

“Either human beings wish to eliminate evil by ceasing to procreate but are unable to do so; or they are able to do so but do not wish to do so; or they are not able to do so and also do not wish to do so; or they are both able to do so and also wish to do so. In the case where they wish to cease to procreate but find themselves unable to do so, this means that they are weak-willed, which is surely true of many people. In the case where they are able to do so but do not wish to do so, they knowingly condemn their progeny to suffering and death, something which also cannot be put past many human beings. In the case where they neither wish to cease procreating nor are able to do so, they are both >Damnators and unfree, something which cannot be true of human beings. But in the case where they both are able to cease procreating and wish to do so – which is really the only one of these possibilities that is really acceptable for morally acting beings – there will soon be no evil of any sort upon the earth.”[2]


[1] This entry is based, in part, on certain formulations of Guido Kohlbecher (September 2012).

[2] The model for this paraphrasing is to be found in: Epicurus

Thanatalistic Compensation Principle – Room for the Young

In the work of many writers, and specifically in that of Hans Jonas, we encounter – something that will surely surprise and shock many of those familiar with this author – a vulgarly Darwinistic and to all appearances extremely brutal “thanatalistic compensation principle”. “Now, just as it is clear,” writes Jonas, “that mortality tends to be balanced out by natality, natality acquires the latitude it needs through mortality. The dying of the old makes room for the young. […] Given that this is the situation, should we really attempt to extend the lives of the old still further by tinkering around with that biological clock of our mortality that has once been set by Nature – by attempting, as it were, to outwit Nature and thus to reduce still further the room for youth in our ageing society? I believe that the welfare of humanity bids us answer: ‘no!’” (Jonas, Philosophische Untersuchungen und metaphysische Vermutungen, S. 96)

This passage might indeed be described as “vulgarly Darwinistic” inasmuch as what counts here as the highest value is clearly not the wishes or the dignity of already-existing, ageing human beings but rather that principle, alien to all kindness and benevolence, of new generations pushing bionomically forward and demanding room for their existence, to which the older are summoned to cede and yield. It would surely have been more rational if Jonas had allowed space for asking why new generations should be pushing forward when there are already sufficient older people there whose wish it may be to grow still older.  

Jonas’s attempt to “balance out” mortality with natality comes to grief on the double Diktat of thanatalism: an involuntary having-to-die cannot be “balanced out” by any natality if for no other reason then certainly at least for the reason that it is not possible, except post festum, to acquire the consent to existence from any existing human being.

Thanatality Blindness

“Thanatality blindness” refers to the fact that parents, and all those who acclaim procreation, generally pay regard only to the beginning of a new human being’s life, not to that entirety of this life which must inevitably be sealed by death. When looking at a baby suckling at a mother’s breast the dominant thought tends to be: How wonderful that people acted in such a way that such a being came to be. But in the face of a person dying from a mortal illness or an extremely old person wasting away in a care home it is seldom, if ever, that we hear the thought expressed: What moral irresponsibility was shown by the people who begot you in order for you to die this way. To the enthusiasm associated with the beginning of life there corresponds only an awkward silence in the face of life’s usual end, whereas the most justified reaction would surely be: Who caused this horror through the act of causing you to be?

Thanatality

Thanatality designates the fact of our existence’s being to a greater degree an “existence forward towards death” than an “existence forward away from birth”. The pronatalist invitation to a celebration of natality, whereby we live, being each of us a respective new beginning, much rather forward from birth than forward towards death is an invitation which may, with some justification, be directed at new-borns or very small children (see, however àRölleke’s Daughter), but it cannot reasonably be directed at self-aware, adult persons certain of their own future. The following writers, all of them meditators on thanatality, question back behind the apparent self-evidence with which parents, even in the face of the certainty of their own children’s deaths, nonetheless act in such a way that these latter begin to exist.

Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph (1742–1799)

“Tell me why thousands are born with grave disabilities, struggle and groan through a few years of life and then die? Why the child full of hope, the joy of his parents, dies just when these parents are at an age where they begin to need his help? Why others are forced to leave this world when they have only just entered it and are born only in order to die?” (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Über Physiognomik; wider die Physiognomen)

Leiris, Michel (1901–1990)

“As soon as I became an adult I felt no longer able to tolerate the notion of having a child: to bring a being into the world that, per definitionem, never asked to be brought into it and that is destined to die after it itself, perhaps, has seen to it that this chain of procreation is prolonged.”

 

Bernhard, Thomas (1931–1989)

“Who was it who had the idea of letting human beings go about in the world, or in what we call a world, in order then to bury them in a grave, in their grave?” (Thomas Bernhard, Frost)

Fels, Ludwig (*1946)

“Whoever brings children into the world/However oblivious to the future he may be as he does so/Is offering up victims to himself/ As a murderer deserving of ostracization. / Being born means, today/Having been ‘aborted into life’” (Ludwig Fels, Knüppelwiege. Ins Leben abtreiben. Ein langes Gedicht)

Thanatal Hiatus

Evocation of the “thanatal hiatus” (the long period of time elapsing between having-been-begotten and having-to-die) serves pronatalists as a way of repudiating antinatalists’ evocation of “thanatality” as a component part of the Conditio in/humana: For the great majority of people the unwelcome necessity of having-to-die lies in so far, or at least in so abstract, a distance that thanatality does not count among the factors that diminish or compromise the happiness of existence.  

Pronatalists generally provide the thanatal hiatus with the following factor of proportionality:  the longer the period of time a person has left to live, the more acceptable is their having-to-die. The corollary of this is: where younger people die, be it in a natural catastrophe, in war, or in traffic accidents, this is usually portrayed in news reports as something especially tragic (with very little distinction being made here between a death in great pain and a painless one).

In contrast to the claim that pronatalists make upon the thanatal hiatus we antinatalists advance the following formulation: ceteris paribus, the shortest possible interval of time between  the >Beginning of Life and the >End of Life is to be preferred; what counts, for us, as especially tragic is an agonizing death after a long life full of experiences of care and misery.

Thanatal Conflict of Conscience

Few people are able, or would wish, to look the necessity of their own death in the face. But these people beget children, nonetheless, or applaud when others beget them. – Subliminally aware, perhaps, that they are expressing verbal approval of something that they themselves could not bear, they must strive, henceforth, to come to terms with a thanatal conflict of conscience as an inhabitant of their psychical household.  

When questioned as to how they can condone the begetting of beings who are doomed to die, those with a firm foothold in existence reply that this having-to-die is something that lies in the distant future (>Thanatal Hiatus). But these same people will lament, at the next opportunity, the brevity of life.

Tantalus Feeling

Symbol for the situation of the human being whose religious faith has been shaken but who nevertheless stands in need of meaning and consolation and who is therefore obliged to wish for the impossible. A foundation for meaning and significance in the form of God seems close enough to grasp but evades his grasp, nonetheless, in all his lived existential limit-situations, leaving him in the lurch. The Tantalus Feeling is at its most intense in the case where the person longing for meaning and consolation not only imagines himself to have been left in the lurch but also believes that he perceives, behind the senseless torture of humanity, a God who takes malicious pleasure in it – after the model of Zeus who, in the mythical narrative, took delight in the torments of the punished Tantalus.

We may describe the “Tantalus Feeling” as an existential experience in, as it were, the antechamber of antinatalism, an experience preparatory to the àAccusation of God. Belief in a “good God” is gradually dismantled and what remains is a wicked àDamnator, whose immorality is communicated, in the end, to the parents.

Suicide Cynicism

One of the most frequently-encountered reactions to antinatalistic moral theory is “suicide cynicism”. We have to do with this latter in each case where there is retorted to a person protesting against existence something like: “So why don’t you just kill yourself, then?” We are justified in describing this attitude as cynicism because, in the first place, we are retained within our existences by powerful bio-psychical bonds that lie far beyond the power of our wills and, in the second place, no one ever began to exist by his own will or request. Schopenhauer has an apt reply to this “suicide cynicism”: “But who would choose to linger in life, life being what it is, if death were just a little less terrible than it is?”

Suicide Argument

According to the Global Suicide Report published by the WHO[1] around 800,000 people put, every year, an end to their own existence. From the fact that this figure is not much higher opponents of antinatalism conclude that the great majority of human beings are quite content with having been born. This conclusion, however, is open to challenge, since we must take into account the existence of a kind of biological àSound Barrier as a àBrake on Suicide. In order to bring about an end to their existence human beings must overcome their fear of death. That they fear their dying is far from being proof that they love their life. Whoever prefers the prolonging of an unwanted existence to putting an end to this existence by one’s own hand has very good grounds for this preference: namely, an instinctive shying away from death, the anticipation of terrible pain, the uncertainty as to whether the attempt at taking one’s own life will succeed, along with the wish not to cause pain to relatives and friends thereby.[2]


[1] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/suicide-prevention-report/en/, accessed on 18.5.2015.

[2] Vgl. Sarah Perry, Every Cradle Is a Grave. Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide, p. 158.

Substitution

Whoever poses the demanding question “Is it justified to act in such a way that further human beings begin to exist?” must be prepared for the possibility that the person he poses it to will not answer the question as posed but will prefer rather to respond to a quite different, and simpler, one and to say: “Everyone should have the right to live”.

The Bringing About of Death

“Never act in such a way that a human being will die as a result of your action!” What good, decent, ethically acting human being would not want to append his or her signature to such a statement? What kind of person would one have to be in order for one’s right to append one’s signature to it to be legitimately called into question? The answer: every father or mother can have their right so to append their signature legitimately called into question, since all fathers and mothers have indeed so acted that a human being will die as a consequence: this human being being their own child.

Fear of Dying, Fear of Death and the Catastrophe of Dying

If one really wishes to proceed to such precise differentiation, “fear of death” needs to be distinguished from “fear of dying”. The former is the fear of no longer “being there” in the future; the latter is the fear of the event or process of dying itself. “Fear of death” is really as devoid of foundation as is >Fear of Never Having Been. But we have good reason to be afraid of that event or process of dying to which we were condemned by those who brought about the beginning of our existence. As regards our own selves, we can contemplate our entry into death – the beginning of our non-being – with complete equanimity. We are quite justified, on the other hand, in being anxious with respect to the final years, months and weeks of our existence. The fear of this closing phase of our being, then, is by no means devoid of foundation. The authoress Ilse Aichinger rightly replied, when she was asked if she feared death:

“Everyone fears death. But really it’s not death that I’m afraid of, it’s dying. Because one cannot know what will occur there on the biological level, how strong a biological will to remain alive will break forth and what sort of terrible prolonged death-struggle will result therefrom.” (Ilse Aichinger, Es muss gar nichts bleiben)

Having to die and being allowed to live

In terms of the logic of argumentation, having to die is necessarily preponderant over being allowed to live. If a couple conceives a child then there is thenceforth someone there who will have one day to die. But if a couple conceives no child there is no one there of whom it might be said that they were not allowed to live.

If someone states that they find themselves unable to accept their own having-to-die, it is no valid retort to say to them: “But you wanted, after all, to exist, didn’t you?” Such a retort is invalid because, pre-existentially, there was in fact no one there who was striving or pushing to exist.

Having to die

Whoever laments the necessity of our dying should not be permitted to avoid talking about the non-necessity of our conceiving / having been conceived!

One’s own children’s having to die may, indeed, be an unwished-for consequence of progenerative decisions. But it is not an unforeseeable consequence but rather an already-known, because unavoidable, consequence of every act of procreation. Procreation itself, however, is avoidable.

The “Sunburn” Allegory

In an apartment-house courtyard bathed in the strong rays of the afternoon sun, four grown-ups are standing around playing ball with a small child of an age such that he is just about able to toddle but not yet to speak: “The sun is much too strong for you,” says one of the parents to the toddler. “If we don’t put some sun-cream on you, when you’re 80 you’ll die an agonizing death!” With these words the parent in question at once concedes a certain co-responsibility for the welfare, or otherwise, of his or her child while at the same time drawing a veil over a more fundamental level of this responsibility: namely, the responsibility for this small child’s existing and for his having – like almost all human beings – with great probability to die an agonizing death.

Spielhagen’s “Never Having Been Born” Dictum

“That no human being has ever yet seen the light of day for whom some hour did not come in which he wished that he had not been born.” [1] This dictum of Friedrich Spielhagen’s (1829-1911) makes clear the extent to which every procreation is an imposition and touches upon the >Parent Taboo. One might be tempted to dismiss Spielhagen’s dictum with the contention that it expresses just the mood of a passing moment. – But this is to forget that such a wish never to have been born may be the culminating point of some despair of much longer duration. Alternatively, one might take the attitude that “once in a while, in a long life, one is bound to feel that way” – an attitude, in our view, which lies at the root of nativistic >Ruthlessness.


[1] Friedrich Spielhagen, Problematische Naturen. Zweite Abteilung (Durch Nacht zum Licht)

Scandal of Existence / Existentialism

No one has ever resisted the beginning of his own existence; indeed, it is impossible to imagine how such a thing would be possible. It is only possible to wish that one had never been once it is too late for the wish to come true. But a certain metaphysical scandal inheres, nonetheless, in the existence of every human being: namely, in the fact that he did not begin to exist autonomously. With the rise of Existentialism there emerges a philosophical tendency which attempts to draw our attention fraudulently away from this scandal inherent in our own existence by declaring the individual to be essentially a product of his own freedom. But even >Sartre’s famous phrase “we are condemned to be free” faintly betrays the underlying truth that we did not choose our own existence: we are only unfreely free.  

In this regard Hans Blumenberg succeeds in bringing out the fact that “human self-experience of our own facticity shows that it is – or could be, indeed must be – a fundamental vexation to every one of us that he was never consulted in this most important matter of his own self-determination. Existentialism has tried to remedy this problem by declaring each individual to be the product of his own freedom. Existence (so it is claimed) means: to be causa sui ipsius. But what is being raised here to the status of a form of human dignity is, in reality, no more than a renunciation, a passive acceptance of the inevitable.” (Blumenberg, Ein mögliches Selbstverständnis) Existentialism, then, generates its notion of human dignity only by devious and illegitimate means. If one traces out the logic of Blumenberg’s argument, then it is seen that human dignity, instead of being something sacrosanct and inalienable, is rather undermined from the very start by reason alone of human existence’s always being heteronomously brought about. Without himself being an antinatalist, Blumenberg promotes with this argument a certain existential >Disobedience.

Sisyphusist

Someone who feels himself quite content to be condemned to travail and death, or who presents to others, as a kind of good fortune, a life which consists essentially of senseless travail, and who acts in such a way that new human beings come to begin such an existence.

Condemnation to Lingering Illness

Parents wish a long life for their children and tend to forget, when doing so, that whoever does not die young is usually condemned to experience the ageing, decay and incurable sickening of their own body and mind. All this is aggravated further by the >Shame of Old Age, the tormenting thought of having become a burden on others. Ageing, sickness and death are morally disposed of by naturalizing them (>Naturalization) and seeing in them that “inevitable course of things” which may, indeed, have been in part the cause of the conception of the individuals suffering these things.

Already the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (365–290) had deplored the fact that Man is condemned, already through his very begetting, to suffer through lingering weakness and illness in old age: “At the birth of a man suffering is born as well. Therefore, if a man attains a great age, he becomes thereby only dull and stupid and his long suffering does not die. O what a bitter thing is this!” (Zhuangzi, The True Book About the Southern Land of Blossoms)

>Forgetfulness of Ageing

Renunciation of the Self, Symbolic

Certain utterances only succeed in convincing if they are accompanied by a symbolic renunciation of the self. Utterances of this kind are: a. Would that Auschwitz had never happened (>Auschwitz-lessness Through Self-lessness); or b. I would give anything not to have to die (so as not to have to witness the dying of my spouse, my child, my friend or my life-partner).

Utterances of the type of a. require a different course of history, one in which one never, oneself, began to exist; utterances of the type of b. reject what is in fact an inalienable part of the Conditio in/humana. Some further examples of situations which require a symbolic renunciation of the self are:

Right of Accusation and Symbolic Self-Renunciation

A symbolic renunciation of the self is required in every case where a child wishes to bring an accusation against his parents by reason of their having been the ones who initiated an existence (namely, his own) which he feels to be intolerable and not reasonably to be expected to be tolerated by anyone. Doctors, judges and the parents themselves will give the accusing child to understand that excepting in that state which he now finds to be so disagreeable there is no other state in which he could possibly have existed and will put the question to him of whether he would prefer, then, that his existence had never been brought about at all. This enquiry, then, would indeed demand a symbolic renunciation of the self.

>Right of Complaint and Symbolic Self-Renunciation, >Claim to Empathy and Symbolic Self-Renunciation

Right of Complaint and Symbolic Self-Renunciation

Whoever undergoes profound suffering has not just “been unlucky” but is rather experiencing something structurally unavoidable. Someone who suffers and complains that this suffering is something completely undeserved by them is, where things are considered more closely, only justified in making such a complaint if they are prepared at the same time to declare that they would have preferred events in the world to have taken a course such that they themselves had never begun to exist. Since there can be no existence without experiences of suffering, any such complaint must involve a symbolic renunciation of one’s own existence whereby neither said experiences nor said existence itself would ever have come to pass. Instead, then, of simply complaining: “why did this misfortune, this loss, this sickness befall me?” one would need rather always to complain: “why was my existence brought about?” Against the background of the Conditio in-/humana a person complaining of their profound suffering can only be authentic in doing so if they arrive, through a symbolic renunciation of their own existence, at the conclusion that  >It would be better if they had never begun to exist.

>Paradox of Self-Excuse, >Proof of Self-Renunciation

Claim to Empathy and Symbolic Self-Renunciation

No one can bring it about that he himself, his own children, or indeed anyone else should never have come to be. Anyone, however, can imagine the never-having-come-to-be of himself, his children or any third party. The question thus arises: in what kind of a state would we ourselves, our children, or a third party need to find ourselves in order for us to be able to make use of this capacity for existential abstraction in such a way that we might wish that we ourselves, our children, or some third party might never have begun to exist? This is the question regarding the neganthropic àLimit Value for ourselves, our children, third parties (or humanity as a whole).

Here, we need to expand this question regarding the neganthropic limit value by drawing into it a certain reflection relative to the ethics of empathy. Anyone who – being presently, for his own part, free of suffering – speaks for himself and, speaking purely theoretically, says that he would subscribe under no conceivable circumstances to the view that it would be better never to have lived, he thereby proclaims, on this level of reflection, his renunciation of all empathy or pity of which he might be the recipient. Because there surely count among these “conceivable circumstances” situations, for example, in which the person in question might find themselves grievously injured without access to pain medication or locked away for years in a cell without having done anything wrong. By having refused in his unafflicted state the symbolic-metaphysical option of having never existed and therefore having never suffered, he thereby also renounced any claim he might ever have made on others’ compassion. He set his pure existence above all else and considered it to be impossible that those same things might befall him which had caused countless others to cast a curse upon their existence.

Much the same applies in cases where parents informed about the genetic risks run by their genetically defective children-to-be express a preference for the existence of these children over a world in which they would never have come to exist; in contrast to the children in question themselves, these parents cannot, prima facie, hope for compassion; rather, they deserve the reproach that they are, as àPerpetrators of Existence, initiators of that suffering on the part of the children which, to their own benefit as people wishing to be parents, accepted, at the children’s expense, as “part of the deal”. Someone who, when completely personally intact, entirely refuses the notion of a symbolic self-renunciation, thereby renounces all claim on our compassion, much as that person renounces any such claim who commits himself beforehand to a refusal of all euthanasia, whatever the circumstances. He knowingly ignores the fact that his physical pain might one day become so terrible, and grow so far beyond any medical power to mitigate it, that he himself might plead for that assisted suicide which he refuses, today, to accord to anyone the right to demand.

The Imperative of “Having Suffered Oneself”

The imperative of “having suffered oneself” goes hand in hand with the “prohibition on universal empathy”. It denies the possibility that someone might really be able to suffer empathically along with the world’s great mass of suffering beings and, consequently, denies also the legitimacy of someone’s postulating, in view of these experiences of suffering allegedly necessarily strange to him, that these beings would better never have existed or that it would be best not to beget, in future, any new beings at all. The argument, in other words, is that, in order to pass judgment on existence, the judging party must himself have undergone all the suffering which appears to him to provide the reason for denying the goodness of said existence.  

This imperative of “having suffered oneself” is a cynical attempt – “cynical” inasmuch as it is clearly made with the intention of increasing suffering – to discredit that moral doctrine of antinatalism which aspires to forego later suffering.

Presumption of Self-Affirmation

Parents proceed on the presumption that their child will affirm his or her own existence once he or she is in a position to take up any stance toward this existence at all. But contrary to this presumption of a “parental metaphysics” one may not in fact interpret such an affirmation as evidence in support of the view that it was morally correct to act in such a way that another human being began to exist. Because all self-affirmation is in the first place bionomically dictated and occurs without any contribution from rational reflection. It is only once the begotten individual concerned has become capable of, and has actually conducted, an enlightened nativistic >Reflection upon him- or herself – that is to say, a reflection distanced from the spell of bionomic imperatives – that the question can even be discussed of whether it was morally right that the beginning of an existence was brought about.

Self-Burdening

Whoever acts in such a way that progeny come to exist thereby imposes him- or herself on these progeny as a burden.  In the normal course of things ageing parents become a more or less onerous burden upon their children – and this remains indeed the normal course of things, regardless of how willing or unwilling these children prove to be to actually take this burden actively upon themselves.

Social-Historical Index of Culpability and the Progression of Guilt

Parental guilt is not an ahistorical constant. It varies depending on social position and historical circumstances. The easier the access to contraception and to information regarding the past, present and likely future of humanity, and the more self-determined the manner in which women are able to live their lives, the greater will be parental culpability for the neganthropic consequences of procreation

The degree of parental guilt must be assessed as especially high where the begetting of children is advocated despite a well-founded knowledge of a most likely problematical future for these latter. Thus, the French author Amin Maalouf states his belief that it is likely that already our children and grandchildren will feel the grave effects of climate change while pleading, nonetheless, for a persistence in “the adventure that is humanity”: “Despite my irritation and perturbation, I continue to be fascinated by the adventure that is humanity. I love it, I revere it, and I would not exchange it, for any price in the world, for life as an angel or as a beast.”[1]

The condition of possibility for a continuation of this “adventure that is humanity” is the engendering of new human beings – an activity to which Maalouf persists in exhorting even in the face of a catastrophe which he holds to be very likely imminent. Even if one were to offer him the form of existence of an angel which might preserve him from the coming climate catastrophe Maalouf (born in1949) would prefer existence as a suffering human being. And it is unequivocally clear from the lines cited above that he considers it reasonable to expect of all those born after him that they live in a world degraded by climatic catastrophe.

Contraceptive Culpability Index

The contraceptive culpability index is the product of the degree of women’s self-determination on the one hand and the accessibility of effective contraceptives on the other. Thus, for historical periods and regions of the world in which the contraceptive pill is freely available at no charge and women enjoy more or less equal rights with men, this contraceptive culpability index must clearly be set very high. Every birth, in such periods and regions, is a contraception that has been consciously forgone. Whoever, then, was born in any largely secularized industrial nation of the Western type may more justifiably raise against his parents the reproach: “why did you beget me?” than may, for example, someone whose parents – and most particularly whose mother – lived in a society or an era more thoroughly permeated by religious convictions. In industrial nations of the Western type the processes leading to the conception of a child are much less coercive and inevitable than they are in traditional cultures.

Abortion-Related Culpability Index

All that has been said above with reference to the contraceptive culpability index applies here as well: the more safely and less onerously (i.e. less painfully) both for the pregnant women and for the foetus an abortion can be carried out, the greater will be the moral weight of that reproach of any individual born into the world which has been articulated over and over again in the form of the “Mä phynai” and all its cultural successors. Here, however, the reproach takes on a form which has no such tradition behind it, namely: “why was I not, if circumstances were such that I had to be conceived, at least aborted before the conception could result in a birth?” For this particular reproach it will surely be difficult to find much evidence of literary-aesthetic articulation down the millennia of human culture, since the practice of preventing the birth of an already-conceived foetus was, for a very large part of human history, experienced as something far more perilous and threatening than the prevention of conception in the first place. In these remarks made on an online forum, however, we see just such a reproach directed, anonymously, to someone’s mother for having omitted to terminate her pregnancy: “Often, she left me alone for whole nights on end. If I came to her with a problem, she just yelled at me. Today, I suffer from anorexia and depression and wish that I had been aborted in the womb, so that I would not have to suffer as I do now.” As proof, however, of the invincible optimism of the human race we find another contributor to this discussion replying with the words: “Personally, I think you ought to be happy that your mother did not terminate her pregnancy. However many problems you have, life is the most beautiful thing. Keep your chin up, then. Most problems have a way of working themselves out and then life is usually even better than it was before the problem emerged.” (http://www.pro-leben.de/feed/forum_3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=22&view=previous, accessed on 26.5.2014)


[1] „En dépit de mes irritations et de mes inquiétudes, je demeure fasciné par l’aventure humaine; je la chéris, je la vénère, et pour rien au monde je ne l’échangerais contre la vie des anges ou des bêtes.“ (Maalouf, o.c.)

Dissipation of Guilt

Even the prime ontologist of the human race’s “obligation to be”, Hans Jonas, concedes that the begetting of new human beings is something laden with guilt. He does not, indeed, seek to eliminate this guilt – something he would consider to be guilt’s suspension – but rather to disperse throughout the supra-individual medium of the species. To arrive at an exculpation of those who procreate Jonas conceives of the species as itself a community of procreation. But in doing so he neglects the fact that said community has also been, for many millennia, a growing community of communication and one which, in recent centuries, has developed in ever greater degree the capacity to take up argument-backed stances either for or against procreation.  Human beings can the more easily refuse bionomic claims – “biological radicals” – the farther a culture, and its members capacity to “reflect themselves out of Nature”, have progressed. Jonas, therefore, writes:

“An element of impersonal guilt inheres in any causation of being (the most radical of all the forms of causation of which a subject is capable) and permeates all personal responsibility vis-à-vis the object of this causation, which was not asked beforehand whether it wished to be caused. But this guilt is shared by all, because the deed of the procreators was a generic one, not one thought up by themselves alone (indeed they might not even have known they were committing it) and the potential accusation of children and grandchildren to the effect that this deed was morally irresponsible – the most comprehensive and, in practice, pointless of all accusations – is one implicitly directed toward every person presently living. As, indeed, is any gratitude that might be expressed by these children and grandchildren.” (Jonas, Das Prinzip Verantwortung)

It remains mysterious, however, why all presently-living human beings should be collectively guilty here, i.e. even those who take a position against the so-called “procreative drive” and do indeed refuse to procreate because it has become clear to them that no one can, in fact, live up to the responsibility involved in begetting a new human being. But perhaps Jonas only means: it is only those who have actually procreated that are collectively guilty. Then, however, the question arises of why, pointing to the “species nature” of the procreative act (“the deed of the procreators was a generic one”) he attempts to exculpate those who commit it without ever going into the issue that Man, being a cultural being, can always find ways and means of resisting “biological radicals”, or at least of sublimating them.

It is only at very few other points in Jonas’s work that one encounters a comparable degree of scepticism regarding procreation, i.e. a degree of scepticism that threatens to undermine Jonas’s own onto-ethics of a moral duty of humanity to exist. Instead of as the Summum bonum procreation now counts as objectively burdened with guilt. Burdened with guilt because it remains constantly questionable whether the responsibility that parents take upon themselves by procreating is a responsibility that can ever really be met. Both gratitude for existence and the imprecation cast upon existence can, Jonas frankly admits, be directed toward any one of us. Further clarification of Jonas’s puzzling text is provided by a footnote:

“The child cannot, indeed, actually ask his parents, reproachfully or otherwise: ‘why did you bring me into the world?’ because the parents in question cannot be said to have had any influence on the specific “thisness” of the “me” that is making this reproach to them; rather, he can only ask them: ‘why did you bring a child into the world?’ and the answer to this is the incurring of this guilt was itself an obligation – not, indeed, one vis-à-vis the not-yet-existing child (no such obligation exists) but rather vis-à-vis the morally binding cause of humanity as a whole. Of this we shall speak later.” (Das Prinzip Verantwortung) One seeks in vain, however, in Jonas’s book for this “later”.

Put very simply, there is opened up, with every birth, a credit and a debit column. It is incumbent upon the parents to fill up the credit column of their child’s life to such an extent that he is content with this life. Even Jonas concedes that this almost never occurs and that the >Saldo natale all too often is a negative one, signalling parents’ failure to meet their responsibility. But instead of simply admitting, at this point of maximum philosophical exposure, that human responsibility is here always and necessarily overstrained, so that his own pronatalism at this point ethically collapses, Jonas performs a veritable >Salto natale, extinguishing the guilt of the parents by adducing a barely argumentationally-supported “obligation” of these latter not to let humanity die out. Whatever meaning one may assign to the lines cited from Jonas above, the fact is hardly simply to be dismissed that he avows, at this point, that his “principle of responsibility” flips over here to become a principle of the irresponsibility of human procreation.

Burdening of Children With Guilt

No human being can close himself off entirely to the pain of others. Not even the most ingenious form of emotional self-insulation that the human psyche is capable of can fully succeed in doing this. There is imposed upon each of us, through a birth occurring without our consent and with a view to benefiting people not ourselves, an inevitable co-experiencing of others’ suffering.

In his 1946 book The Question of German Guilt Karl Jaspers derives from the involuntary (!) testimony of each German contemporary some far-reaching moral consequences. His fourth category of guilt, the metaphysical, makes “every one of us co-responsible (…) for all that is not right and not correct in the world, and quite especially for crimes which occur in our presence or with our knowledge. If I do not do whatever I can to prevent them, then I share in the guilt.”  (Jaspers, Die Schuldfrage / The Question of German Guilt) To the extent that Jaspers’s reasoning holds true we may say that all parents make their children co-responsible for all the wrong and evil that they witness. Through his category of “metaphysical guilt” Jaspers illuminates the Conditio in/humana, albeit without drawing any antinatalistic conclusions therefrom. Since he has never protested against the indefinite prolongation of the chain of new births he implicitly imposes on billions of human beings a burden even greater than just that of their own existence. This inasmuch as his principle of  àCo-Responsibility demands openness and engagement with regard to the burdens of existence borne by others, burdens which every individual human being who is “open to the world” to the degree that Jaspers demands is obliged to collaborate in bearing. As an existentialist of deep moral insight who proves nonetheless not to be open to antinatalism Jaspers becomes an objective accomplice in the reasons for that very guilt which he imposes on all those born into this world.

Dilatation of Pain

Many are eager to point out that the pains undergone by living beings serve to protect the organism. When it is asked what pain is good for it is replied that feelings of pain prompt us to actions, or omissions of action, which preserve the organism from being harmed. What can be observed everywhere is a “living it up” of pain. To fulfil the function of a “warning sign” just a few strong bursts of pain would suffice. Instead, however, we see living beings twisting and writhing in long-enduring agonies, as in the case of the injuries caused by being bitten, stabbed, struck, crushed or burned. It is striking how we observe vis-a-vis this great temporal extension, or “dilatation”, of pain – something entirely unnecessary from the point of view of the preservation of the being feeling it – typically very much shorter temporal extensions in the cases of very pleasurable feelings.   

Pain

Philanthropic efforts have hitherto attempted to diminish or entirely to remove the suffering of already existing human beings. Antinatalist moral theory, however, makes an appeal to each individual to refrain from bringing into existence any further human beings, who will inevitably live lives of pain and suffering. With its humanistically motivated intervention in favour of a cessation of all procreation antinatalistic moral theory encounters resistance not just in the form of a traditional notion of procreation’s being a “natural” thing. Another reason, besides this, why antinatalism has difficulty getting a hearing is that there has always run, parallel to that strand in human history which has consisted in the struggle to diminish suffering, another strand which has consisted in a resistance to all measures tending precisely to this end. One very telling example is the following: Carl Ludwig Schleich – the inventor of local anaesthesia – remarks, in his memoirs, with great bitterness that he had had to suffer scorn and mockery at one medical congress attended by 800 of his colleagues simply because he had made available “something which later came to be absolutely recognized as a great good deed done for all those who suffer”  (Schleich, Besonnte Vergangenheit). Schleich was not alone in being made acquainted with this basic trait of human cultural history: a negative attitude to any progress made in the direction of lessening human pain. Millions or even billions of people have fallen victim to an attitude of merely looking away from human pain, while turning off all human empathy, which has extended even into the medical profession itself. What is it that sustains this attitude? It may be that there lies at the root of it some false idea that pain does people good, an idea rooted in its turn in certain ancient cultural and religious ideas.

It does not bode well for a future recognition of the truth of antinatalist moral theory that there is imbedded even in the medical profession a certain readiness to allow people to suffer in ways that might be avoided (for example, the practice of withholding their medication from them). Because such unrecognized atavistic ideals as that of “the benefits endowed by pain” tend to make people less receptive to the demand not to bring further human beings into the world, knowing that these latter will necessarily have to suffer much pain.


The Badness at the Basis of All Good Deeds

Many parents, while recognizing the evil in the world, attempt nonetheless to justify their wish to procreate, or their actual deed of procreation, by telling themselves that their child, among all others, might become a doer of good things – or at least that they intend to educate him in such a way that this has the best chance of coming to pass.

One may say of such an undertaking that it wagers, in the first place, to such an extent on unknown factors (biological and social >Lottery) that it can hardly serve as a justifying reason for the begetting of a new human being. In the second place this attempt at legitimation fails to recognize the ground of badness which alone renders the doing of good things needful. That immeasurable demand for good deeds (without which it would not be possible for parents to imagine their child as some future doctor, crusading lawyer or brilliant researcher) exists precisely because the quantity and quality of evil in the world, anthropogenic or otherwise, is so immeasurable. Whoever wishes, through the begetting of a child, the best for both this child and the world thereby takes out, as it were, like all such begetters before him, a loan that can never be repaid and thus exposes his own child to the evils both of Nature and of society.

Sleep as Brother of Death and Sister of Never-Having-Been

Whoever is tired or exhausted seeks out sleep and welcomes it. One would think, however, that anyone reflecting soberly on sleep and its nature should rather fear it, since, the deeper we slip into sleep the closer we draw to a zero-point of consciousness, with nothing existing for us any more. Indeed, at such a point we no longer even exist for ourselves. Whoever is sleeping deep and dreamlessly has no longer any consciousness either of himself, of others, or of other things. If it is true that we are, in essence, just the consciousness produced by our brain then it must also be true that, in phases of sleep without consciousness, we cease to exist. But is non-existence not precisely that which is most generally feared? Praise of sleep, then, is always at the same time a highly telling praise of non-existence!

That temporary non-existence that goes hand in hand with deep and dreamless sleep is relevant not just to post-existential non-existence (sleep as the brother of death) but also to the mindfulness of pre-existential non-existence (sleep as the sister of never-having-been).

Shadow of One’s Own Existence (Jumping Over the Shadow of One’s Own Existence)

Whoever propounds an antinatalist position, or comes close to doing so, must have succeeded in pulling off the not unimpressive trick of jumping over the shadow of his own existence. And whoever hopes to persuade others of the ethical superiority of this antinatalist position must be prepared for the fact that he will need also to teach this extremely difficult trick to those he wishes to convince. When someone meditates back before the start of his own existence, he is always pursued thereby, even in his meditations, by the actual lived time of this existence. This time before our own existence is really, for every one of us, “time out of mind”. All attempts to imagine states of the world without my presence in it, to envisage the world as it was without me and as it will be when I am no longer in it, necessarily fail. The world remains constantly under the meditative shadow of my own self. There can easily arise from this a certain nativistic fallacy: in my meditation I “roll back the film” to a time before my own existence and yet remain, nonetheless, somehow present in this world envisaged as existing before me, no matter how many subtractions I try to make thereby from my own self. Thus – and herein lies the fallacy – I must, in some “shadowy” way, all along have been “inherent” in this world as an entity that already half-existed, or “should by rights” have existed, or was “meant to exist”. 

The trick of jumping over the shadow of one’s own existence consists in arriving at the simple insight that, really, nobody and nothing was “there” that might be said to have been “deprived” of something (àDeprivation of Existence) if one had never begun to exist. People grateful for existence, however, do indeed conceive of themselves as having been such pre-existentially already àhalf-existent entities who were helped into full existence by their parents. – Or they conceive of themselves in terms of a “self-potentiality” that was somehow “activated” or “freed” through the actual beginning of existence. Thus, to be able to jump over the shadow cast by one’s own existence is a precondition that must be fulfilled if one is ever to embrace and affirm antinatalism.

Satanic Rule (Version of the Golden Rule Implying Coercive Imputation)

A neganthropic version of the familiar “Golden Rule” – which runs “do not do to others what you would not wish to have done to you” – that grounds our Conditio in/humana.

It has rightly been objected to this rule that different people can willingly consent to very different things. One person may require no anaesthetic when they go to the dentist while for another person the very thought of having dental work done without one is terrifying. The “would not wish” contained in the “Golden Rule”, then, always implies also a dimension of tolerance, acceptance, “putting up with”. The things “that I would not wish to have done to me” are indeed things that I myself would not tolerate, accept or put up with. But there are also things that, while being tolerable for me, might possibly be absolutely intolerable and unbearable for someone else.

This transformation of the “would not wish” clause into a “personal tolerance” clause is only one of two transformations which the “Golden Rule” permits. There corresponds to the defensive ban on the inflicting of that which I, for my own person, refuse a second aspect of imposingly imputing, as reasonable, to others a tolerance of these very things. In other words, construed in this way, the Golden Rule states that I can reasonably impute to others a readiness to accept and put up with whatever I, for my own part, feel and consider to be tolerable. This transformation of the Golden Rule yields, then, the following:

“You may impute to others an obligation to put up with anything that you personally, for your own part, will put up with having done to you”! If one applies this “coercive imputation” version of the Golden Rule to the question of the begetting of progeny, the following maxim results: “If I myself hold to be tolerable the things that are done to me in and through my existence, this means I have the right to impose existence also on further human beings.”

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) – Suicide Cynicism

With his Christmas play Bariona, or the Son of Thunder, composed in 1940 during his time as a prisoner of war, Sartre can be said to have become the author of a drama portraying the ebbing away of humanity. The senior Roman proconsul is making a tour of his region of the empire and arrives in a village in Roman-occupied Palestine where he sets about conducting a census. The census completed the village is found to contain 800 people and he announces that the taxes must, consequently, be raised. The head of the village, Bariona, decides: “We will pay the taxes so that our women will not suffer. But the village will bury itself with its own hands. We will beget no more children. I have spoken.” (Bariona)

This decision of the head of the village to the effect that his community will practice natal continence until its extinction is an allegory of world history. Within the framework of this Christmas play Sartre is exploring the question of whether the presence of (human) freedom – which is necessarily always also the freedom to make others unfree, to enslave, to do evil – is really worth the suffering that must go hand in hand with it. As had, of course, to be expected, Bariona’s command that no further children be conceived or born meets resistance and refusal. To this refusal he replies: “Do you really want to refresh the endless agony of this world through new human beings?”

Bariona does not except himself from his own command: he orders his own pregnant wife to undergo an abortion in terms that prove him to be indeed a representative of a philanthropic antinatalism: “This child that I have wished for so much and that you now bear within you – it is for this child’s own sake that I do not wish him to be born.” Bariona’s wife does not concur and declares herself ready to expose her child to all the sufferings of the world:  

“Even if I were sure that he would betray me, that he would die on the cross like the lowest thieves do and would curse me thereby, even then I would still bring him into the world.” Sarah proves herself, with these words, to be a >Damnator who is prepared to nail her own child to the cross of existence. But her husband replies once again in his capacity as philanthropic antinatalist:

“No one can undergo the sufferings of this child in its place; in suffering, in dying, each being is alone. Even if you knelt at the foot of the cross he was nailed to, he would still be alone with his terror of death. It is for your pleasure, not for his, that you want to bring him into the world. If you love him, take pity on him. Allow him to sleep the peaceful >Sleep of those who are never born.” (…)

Sarah: “I beg you, let a child be born; allow, once again, a chance of better things to come into the world.” […]

Bariona: The die are already cast. Misery, despair and death await this child at the crossroads.” What follows is Bariona’s great antinatalist discourse:  

“Woman, this child that you wish to bear is, as it were, a new edition of the world. Through it, the clouds and the waters and the sun and the houses and all the suffering of human beings will come to exist yet one more time. You will create the world anew; it will form itself like a thick black crust around a single terrified consciousness which will live therein, imprisoned in this crust like a worm. Do you comprehend how massively improper, how monstrously tactless it would be to create new copies of this failed world? To beget a child means to warmly and unconditionally approve Creation; it means to say, to the God who is tormenting us: ‘O Lord, all is good and I thank You for creating this world.’ Do you really wish to sing this hymn? Can you really take responsibility for saying: ‘if this world were to be made all over again, I would wish it to be remade just as it is’? Face the facts, my sweet Sarah, face the facts. Existence is a terrible leprosy that is eating away at us all and our parents are culpable for inflicting it on us (>Parental Guilt). Keep your hands clean of all this, Sarah; act in such a way that you can say, on the day of your death: ‘I am leaving no one behind who will perpetuate human suffering’”.

Although Bariona’s stance appears a fixed and firm one, he does in fact allow himself and his people a sort of postponement of sentence: “He turned to God and said to Him: ‘Give me, before daybreak, some sign; if You do not do so, I shall forbid all my men to have sexual commerce with their women.’ And Bariona does indeed receive his sign. An angel instructs Caiaphas to go to Bariona and say to him: “Peace on earth to all men of good will.” Bariona, however, simply scorns this sign: “O the good will of those soldiers whom one drives out to be massacred and who fight without knowing why! Why does your angel not come here and carry out the task he’s assigned you himself?”  “I will keep a careful record of my own sufferings and those of other human beings. I want to be the witness to the suffering of all and the balance in which this suffering is weighed. I shall gather it and preserve it in me like a blasphemy […] And even if the Eternal One had showed me His face from between the clouds I would still refuse to hear Him – because I am free, and even God is powerless against a free man.”

At this central point in his Christmas play Sartre’s existentialism manifests itself in what is surely the most radical of all its possible forms: a form which goes to the very root of human Being: not only how human beings exist is left to the discretion of these latter but whether human beings are to exist at all. – In other words: not only the individual’s own existence, which this latter can cancel out by suicide, but the existence of all individuals, since these individuals can collectively freely decide to forgo all posterity. Thence Bariola’s formulation, whereby the dignity of Man lies not in hope but rather in despair: “Look your misery directly in the eye because the hope of Man lies in his giving up hope.” For the gospel of Christ Bariona has only mocking contempt: “Say ‘thank you’, always ‘thank you’. ‘Thank you’ for a slap across the face, ‘thank you’ for a kick. Have children so that there are new behinds ready to receive new kicks. (..) Children who will be born, just like ourselves, explicitly to suffer.” Quite palpable here, although it is not explicitly articulated, is a sharp critique of the view that one must be grateful for life since it is a “gift one has received”.  

In the sixth scene of this Christmas play we find Bariona in Bethlehem. He has gone there with the intention of strangling the new-born Saviour in his crib. There he meets Balthasar, who informs him that Christ has a message also for him (Bariona):

“He came to tell you: let your child be born. The child, it is true, will suffer. But this does not concern you. Take no pity on his suffering; you do not have the right to take pity on it. His suffering will be his concern alone and he will do with it exactly what he will, because he will be a free being. Even if he is lame; even if he must go to war and loses there his arms or his legs… You said to me, before, that even God is powerless against a free man, and this is true. But how is it, then, that if, now, a new freedom rises into Heaven like a great iron pillar, you want to try to prevent this? […] You do not have the right to forgo the begetting of children. Because even for the blind, the unemployed, prisoners of war and cripples, joy still exists.”

With shocking failure of nerve, the play undergoes an apparent sudden conversion to pronatalism, the justification for which appears woefully insufficient and is doubtless owed in large part to the extraneous circumstances under which the play came to be composed. As Sartre tells us: “It was a question of agreeing, together with the priests who were also being held in captivity with us, on some subject-matter that could create, on that Christmas Eve, the maximum sense of commonality between Christians and non-Christians. For me, the most important thing about this experience was that it would allow me to go to other prisoners of war and talk with them about the problems we had in common.”

But who were these prisoners? Human beings whose existence had been brought about by the actions of other human beings.  This is the blind spot of Sartre’s existentialism. “Do you really want to refresh the endless agony of this world through new human beings?” Sartre has his Bariona ask. And Sartre’s existentialism replies “yes” to this question, even though in the Christmas play we have examined he casts a very bleak light upon the costs that go hand in hand with this affirmation of existence and with pronatalism in general. Nor is it possible to say that Sartre’s existentialism was ruined, during his captivity, by the priests. He was surely right in saying that there had simply been no question “of the direction of my thought having been altered even for a moment during my captivity.”

In fact, Sartre’s position even in his 1943 “Being and Nothingness” is still that of a “dictator of existence” who insists, almost scornfully, vis-à-vis human beings who have been begotten without having asked to be so that the responsibility for their continued existence, and for the world as a whole, is theirs alone, since they enjoy, after all, at every moment the freedom to quit this life through an act of suicide:

“What follows most essentially from what we have said above is that Man, as a being ‘condemned to be free’, bears the whole weight of the world upon his shoulders; he is responsible both for the world and for himself as a ‘way of being’.” (Being and Nothingness)[1] “If I am called up to fight a war, this war is my war; it is a war according to my image and I deserve it. I deserve it in the first place because I always have the possibility of extracting myself from it, be it by suicide or by desertion.” (Being and Nothingness) This degree of >Suicide Cynicism can hardly be surpassed. The only thing that can be said in Sartre’s defence is that he could not, at that time, have known that in German concentration camps suicide itself was being forbidden to the inmates through maintaining them, by means of highly perfected methods, in such a state that they were too weak to put an end to their own lives.

Sartre, however, states: “From the moment of my emerging into being on, I bear the weight of the world for myself alone, without anything or anyone else being able to lighten this burden for me. But this responsibility is of a very special sort. It will certainly be objected: ‘But I did not ask to be born’, which is simply a naïve way of emphasizing our facticity. I am indeed responsible for everything, except for my responsibility itself because I am not the founder of my own being. Everything is as if I had been compelled to be responsible.” (Being and Nothingness) “In the end, I always bump up solely against my own responsibility; for this reason, I cannot ask: ‘why was I born?’, cannot curse the day of my birth and cannot declare that I did not ask to come into the world.” (Being and Nothingness)

Sartre attempts here to unburden parents of that responsibility and  >Parental Guilt with which, in Kant’s philosophy, they remain at least partially burdened. But his existentialism fails because he closes his eyes to the bionomic hurdle that everyone who becomes tired of living has nonetheless to clear: IT wishes to live even if I MYSELF desire to die!


[1] One might see in Sartre‘s famous formulation that “Man is condemned to be free” his own way of working through the  àKantian Natal Theorem: We never enjoyed the freedom either to accept or reject existence as a free being.

Salto Mortale, Nativistic

Antinatalists are adherents to a moral theory which àon the one hand prescribes that actions should be omitted the consequence of which will be that human beings begin to exist while on the other hand considering that it would have been preferable if none of the presently living human beings had ever been begotten. This part of antinatalistic moral theory runs a constant risk of being misunderstood as a kind of moral-logical death-leap, namely in the following manner: Since the antinatalist prefers a state of the world in which I would not have existed, this means he must – since I do in fact exist – be for my ceasing to be. That is to say, the antinatalist must either positively demand it, or at least condone it, that I either kill myself, be killed or perish in some way or other.

The unease manifested here with respect to antinatalist moral theory or its representatives is unjustified inasmuch as the concern of antinatalism in fact consists in nothing more than this: that no further human beings susceptible of feeling pain and suffering should come into being.

Salto esistenziale

A “salto esistenziale” is committed by anyone who, in speaking of someone’s being harmed or benefited by non-existence, necessarily makes reference to an indeed non-existent, that is to say, entirely imaginary “person”. Günther Anders, for example, can be said to be speaking in this way when he speaks of his own good fortune of being admitted into this world, a good fortune that falls to the lot of only a few. The “salto esistenziale” is here, as it were, a self-subreption. (>Gratitude for Existence >Günther Anders).

We see especially egregious cases of “salto esistenziale” where arguments are built upon a supposed state (!) of non-existence in which one has no right to “leave” unborn children.  Often, non-existence is conceived of as a deep sleep or a darkness from which children need to be freed or awoken through their begetting. Frank Wedekind (1864–1918) draws our attention to such a “salto esistentiale” in his drama Spring Awakening: “We see parents bring children into the world simply in order to be able to exclaim to them: ‘how fortunate you are to have parents like us!’ – and then we see the children go and do the same thing.”

Saldo natale

The “saldo natale” indicates, in some imaginary existential bookkeeping, the disparity between the credit and the debit side of a human existence.  On the debit side there are entered all the things that parents wish for their children from these latter’s birth on: happiness, health, long life, intelligence, beauty. Also entered on this debit side are all that the United Nations, for example, have listed as the minimum standards that need to be met if there is to be any sense in speaking of a human being’s having “a good life”.  In the credit side, on the other hand, there is entered whatever has actually been fulfilled at the end of a human life.

An indication of the fact that the “saldo natale” always leaves behind itself a certain “debit” is, for example, Martha Nussbaum’s contention that no life can be spoken of as a truly successful one that if even a single one of the points on a 10-point list drawn up by her has failed to be met and satisfied[1]. In terms of the “existential bookkeeping” proposed by Nussbaum the general balance of all births will, considered as a whole, always turn out to be a negative one. The irony is that, although Nussbaum is, judging by her own criteria, fully aware of the extreme precarity and fragility of any kind of “success” in life, she still counts a right of the individual to reproduce as one of said individual’s inalienable opportunities for self-realization – apparently oblivious to the fact that through the very according of such a right the foundation stone is laid for the creation of new human existences which will then, in their turn, surely fail to meet Nussbaum’s own criteria of “successful existence”. Through her explicit inclusion of procreation within a catalogue of all that which characterizes “the good life” Nussbaum thus becomes, precisely as an ethicist of a “good life” so conceived, an objective accomplice of future suffering and failed and ruined existences.

Saldo natale as Current Account for Reincarnation Purposes

In cultures which have been marked by doctrines of karmically-determined reincarnation the “saldo natale” is a kind of bank account of personal merit.  Whoever was reborn into a relatively favourable incarnation, be it as a human being or even as a god, will tend to gradually empty out, as he proceeds through this present existence, this “personal-merit account” – that is, in the case where he does not maintain its balance, or increase it, by his good deeds. Max Weber explains this “saldo natale” as follows: “All the (ritually or ethically acquired) merits and demerits of the individual go to form a kind of ‘current account’, the ‘balance’ of which then inevitably determines the further fate of  the soul upon rebirth, and this precisely proportionately to the degree of debt or credit shown by the one side of the ‘account’ or the other.” (Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie)


[1] „… we can argue, by imagining a life without the capability in question, that such a life is not a life worthy of human dignity.“ (Nussbaum, Frontiers of justice, Pos. 929)

Sadism, Involuntary Nativistic (Albert Schweitzer)

As a doctor and a friend to animals the great merits of Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) seem impossible to contest. Schweitzer’s writings, however, tend to be reduced, nowadays, to just two ideas. “Reverence before life”[1] is the most universally known of them; but often cited also is his formulation: “I am life that wishes to live and that finds itself in the midst of life that wishes to live.” But, as is so often the case, Schweitzer’s ideas repay a second and closer look, and an examination of whether these fine-sounding ideas do in fact concord with other statements of Schweitzer’s and whether they do in fact promote the welfare of animals.

I am life that wishes to live and that finds itself in the midst of life that wishes to live.

Schweitzer calls this proposition “the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness” and thus the proposition from which all philosophy must necessarily proceed.  What he overlooks here is that the following proposition also holds true:

I am life in the midst of life that HAS to live.

No human being and no animal was ever in a position to say “yes” or “no” to the beginning of its own life.   Each was obliged to live because his or her parents wanted it so or, in the case of animals, because these latter are simply driven by Nature to procreate. Whereas human beings who have become unwilling to go on living have, in principle, the option to put an end to their own existence, an animal, even if it is gravely ill or seriously injured, must go on existing until the bitter end, since an animal has no free will and is unable to distance itself from itself sufficiently to commit an act of suicide. This diktat of life applies particularly to our farm and working animals. Above all in a livestock compound it would be entirely reprehensible to raise such a claim as “I am life that wishes to live and that finds itself in the midst of life that wishes to live”. The only appropriate thing to say in such a place would be: “I am a human being in the midst of creatures that must live because they have been bred and raised to live in order that someone can make money from their living.” Here one might object that, in speaking of “life that wants to live”, Schweitzer had not been thinking of livestock animals but rather of animals living in that oft-evoked “freedom of the wild”. Schweitzer, however, himself makes mention of the fact, in his publication Culture and Ethics, that the lives of countless animals “in the wild” is likewise plagued by distress, sickness and pain. Schweitzer wishes, nonetheless, that as many living beings as possible should come to exist. He mounts a plea in favour of “there being as many wills-to-life as possible upon the earth” and writes that “it is a good thing to preserve and promote life and an evil thing to destroy or to hinder it.” (Schweitzer, Kultur und Ethik) This is Albert Schweitzer’s imperative to “go forth and multiply”.

On the topic of “reverence for life” Schweitzer says: “This reverence bids us to look out, together, for opportunities to bring succour to animals in the midst of all the suffering that human beings inflict upon them, in order that, even if only for a moment, they might step outside of the incomprehensible horror of existence.” He himself cared, as a doctor, not only for human beings but also for sick animals. Schweitzer, then, recognizes both: an imperative for all creatures to “go forth and multiply” and the horror of creaturely existence. It is for this reasons that his ethics are deeply problematical. On the one hand, he wishes that as many new living beings as possible should come to exist. To hinder this counts, for him, as “evil”. On the other hand, however, his ethics of reverence for life is required so as to mitigate the horror of creaturely existence. By affirming the numerical increase of all living beings he also affirms, as its unconscious accomplice, that very horror which he wishes, through his ethics of reverence for life, to limit and oppose. First to wish that a maximum possible number of animals, be they living in the wild or kept as livestock, should enter into a horrific existence, and then to offer succour and support to them on the specious basis of an “ethics of reverence for life” – this is an unconscious and involuntary sadism.

[1] The expression “reverence for life” was not coined by Schweitzer but rather, already in 1902, by the important animal rights activist  Magnus Schwantje (1877–1959).

Ruthlessness, Generative

In response to the question of how God could have set about the work of creation at all, W. D. Schnurre said: “Creation can only arise out of guilt. Because the creator must be ruthless.” (Der Schattenfotograf) “Generative ruthlessness” designates the fact that the huge majority of human beings tend to welcome the creation of new human beings quite regardless of the conditions under which these latter are going to have to live. In everyday life this “generative ruthlessness” is confirmed by such placatory pronouncements as “Children cry, it’s natural!”, uttered in response to any worried enquiry from another adult about what has upset a child. To the child, meanwhile, there are directed such >paternihilistic dicta as “Just put up with it!”

Flashback Before the Beginning of Life

A philosophy of natality is sometimes praised as an antidote to a supposedly death-dominated philosophical existentialism, represented above all by the Heideggerian version of this latter which, so it is said, places life in the shadow of our eventual ceasing-to-be. The way to proceed, so it is argued, is rather to conceive of existence from the perspective of its beginning with a birth, instead of thinking of being as a “being-toward-death”. But a philosophy of natality can only become an antidote to the irrevocable necessity of dying if it questions back before the beginning of a person’s life. Such a flashback to before the start of my own existence serves to make it clear to me that it was not necessary for me to come to be at all. If being-toward-death places life in the shadow of no-longer-being-existent, this flashback to before the start of one’s life illuminates one’s own existence as something that, together with my own having-to-die and that of those near and dear to me, did not necessarily have to be. Every “existence as being-toward-death” appears superfluous and contingent. Because every “existence on the way to death” is at the same time an “existence from the beginning of a life” and this “beginning of life” is something that, with the progressive loosening of the grip of tradition on our culture and the increasing autonomy of women, passes more and more unequivocally into the sphere of what we can either do or leave undone – that is to say, into the sphere of responsibility of freely-choosing persons. The ->egofugal “flashback” before the respective beginning of each person’s life can be considered as a core element of a philosophy of non-natality.  

If one understands the philosophy of natality as a thought which “flashes back” before the beginning of a person’s life, the positive character of this thought becomes clear: It is no longer in thrall to death inasmuch as its ethical imperative now runs: do not burden others with having to live a life in the shadow of one’s own having-to-die or of the having-to-die of one’s near and dear ones.

Metaphysical Revolt

The true homme revolté is not Camus’ anti-hero, who confronts the absurd with a cry of “nonetheless!”, but rather that person who, by means of natal continence, rises up against bionomic and socionomic imperatives and thereby sees to it that no more humans are exposed to the absurdity of being-in-the-world. If there only develops out of Camus’ individual “revolt” a truly all-encompassing revolution, then “the absurd” will vanish with the vanishing of Man himself.  

Nativistic Remorse

Let us imagine that medicine makes a sudden enormous leap forward in its diagnostic capacities, so that parents are able to receive a diagnostic report on the entire future health of their children as soon as these children are 15 years old. Parents who take advantage of this offer would be informed of the specific organic failings from which their children would eventually die and they would also receive photos of the children in question’s faces as they grew older, at intervals of around 15 years, right up to extreme old age. Would we then see, in these parents, the emergence of something like a nativistic remorse?

Retrojective Devaluation

In the face of death even a utopian spirit such as Ernst Bloch gives up all hope and formulates the notion of a retrojective devaluation of existence along with all its aspirations: “The jaws of death grind all and the maw of decomposition gulps down all teleology; death is the great dispatcher of the organic world – but to this latter’s catastrophe.” [>Catastrophe of Death] “The grave, darkness, decomposition and worms once had and still have, when the awareness of them is not suppressed, a kind of retrospectively devaluing force.” (Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung) For Bloch “death, considered as the axe of nothingness, is the hardest of all non-utopias.” (Prinzip Hoffnung) The only strange thing here is that Bloch does not trace out further all the consequences of that foundering of the “principle of hope” upon the àHardness of Reality which he here admits does take place.

Retroactive Confirmation

Expressed succinctly, what a >Perpetrator of Existence retroactively confirms is:

– that it is a good thing to be thrust into the world without one’s consent;

– that the world into which he was thrust is a sufficiently good one that one may, with a good conscience, bring further human beings into it;  

– that he himself has turned out sufficiently well mentally and physically, and is sufficiently well suited to the task of raising and educating, that it is a good thing that he should allow parts of his genetic heritage to take on form and substance in a new human being and should set about educationally moulding this new human being with the means at his disposal.

Retrojected Death

A non-explicit attitude discovered by G. Kohlbecher that, paradoxically, connects the thought of one’s own past non-existence with a threatening prenatal annihilation.  

Retrojected (Backward-Facing) Longing for Death

Volker Jehle, the author of a comprehensive history of the work of Wolfgang Hildesheimer, identifies as one of this latter’s most fundamental thoughts that of “never having been born, a backward-facing longing for death…” (Volker Jehle: Wolfgang Hildesheimer. Werkgeschichte. Found  by: GK) That this backward-facing wanting-never-to-have-been is classified by a reflective person as “death”, much like a forward-facing wanting-no-longer-to-be, is something that is far from standing to reason; on the contrary, it prompts to serious reflection. That even the longing for never-having-been tends to be judged by the measure of our death – i.e. of our future no-longer-being – is in fact astonishing and leads one to expect that the most basic propositions of antinatalism – “it would have been best if no one had ever come to exist at all” and “it is morally reprehensible to act in such a way that someone begins to exist” – may in fact be interpreted by certain addressees as if their own lives were thereby being placed in question and their deaths demanded. 

[>Antinatalist Imposition and Resistance to Antinatalism, >Preconceptive-Retrojective Symbolic Suicide (also: Symbolic Retrojective Suicide)]

Religion as Protest Against Existence

Constitutive of religion in the broadest sense is human beings’ dissatisfaction with the quality and the finitude of their existence. When the human being hungry for bread or the human being hungry for meaning in all times and regions of the world creates religions and post-mortal paradises for himself as post-mortal compensation-institutions and begins to believe in these latter, he declares thereby the insufficiency of the reality into which his begetting has brought him and into which, equipped with religious power of attorney, he nonetheless brings children himself. Religions, with their paradises, are the hedged claims to that which is owed to every person begotten without consent as compensation for their own  >Givenness.

The more diligently a person, a group or a sect aspires to Paradise, the more marked will be their subliminal protest against having been called against their will into this existence: if existence at all, then only a paradise-like existence with one’s claim to happiness guaranteed.

Reincarnation Test

Reincarnation is a complicated topic because we most often have great difficulty expressing just what we mean by the term. Because, if it is really “me” who is reborn in such a case, would this not mean that I would have to be able to recall my previous existence? On the other hand, however, we have no doubt that, in the case where we should develop grave senile dementia, it would still be “we ourselves” and no one else who would continue to exist, even though we would no longer be able to remember anything. If we were able here and now to take certain measures which would bring it about that in such a condition of senile dementia we would not have also to suffer certain further pains, we would, it must be supposed, indeed take such measures; we would not say: what happens to me some decades from now is a matter of indifference, if the “I” that exists then will have no memory and will, consequently, be a different person from me. This phenomenon of grave senile dementia is clear evidence that our continued existence is not necessarily linked to the ability to remember. With a little imagination, then, one can envisage how a “second existence” (after one or another form of reincarnation or rebirth) might likewise not necessarily have to involve any memory of the past. For this reason, it would seem not to be entirely unreasonable to try to develop a “reincarnation test” for the purpose of testing nativistic theses and beliefs.

 

Eduard von Hartmann (1842–1906)

One interesting model for such a “reincarnation test” was developed by Eduard von Hartmann in his “Philosophy of the Unconscious”. This involved taking away all his memories from the test subject, without said subject ceasing thereby to be himself (a phenomenon which we do indeed encounter in the most serious cases of senile dementia):

“Imagine a man who, though no genius, is nonetheless a man of up-to-date general culture, equipped with all the material goods of someone in an enviable social position, in the prime of life, and fully aware of the advantages he enjoys over the members of the lower classes, the inhabitants of more primitive nations, and the subjects of more savage times, and who in no way envies the man placed above him who is tormented by all the discomforts that he himself has been spared – a man, in short, who has neither been worn out and made blasé by excessive pleasures nor been oppressed by any especially heavy blows of fate.

Now imagine Death stepping up to this man and speaking as follows: “The time allotted to you has run out and in this very hour you shall fall prey to annihilation. But it is up to you to decide in this moment whether or not, after completely forgetting all that has hitherto transpired, you live through once again, in exactly the same way, this life of yours which is just now coming to an end. Now choose!”

I doubt that the man in question will prefer, to non-being, this repetition of all that has already played out once before – assuming that he considers the matter quietly and without intimidation and that he has not lived his life in a way so lacking in thought or reflection that, unable to perform any brief critique of his own life-experiences, his answer will give expression only to the will to live at any price or his judgment will be entirely distorted thereby. How much more, then, would this man have to prefer simple non-being to a re-entry into a life which would not guarantee to him those favourable conditions that his former life had and which would, on the contrary, leave it entirely up to chance what new conditions of life he might find himself entering into – that is to say, would, with a probability verging on certainty, provide him only with worse life-conditions than those that he had just scorned.

But the unconscious would itself be in the same position as this man at every moment of a new birth, assuming it really had the possibility of making such a choice.”  (Eduard v. Hartmann, Philosophie des Unbewussten)

Even a generally contented man, Hartmann supposes, would not cherish the wish to be reborn in the sense of having, after having forgotten his past life, to live this life through once again.  All the more, then, would a contented man decline to accept his own rebirth under altered conditions: namely, if it were left up to chance (>the Lottery) or to the unconscious just which social or biological condition he would be reborn in. Against the background of the necessity that ethical principles be universalizable we must now ask: if I decline to accept that in my own case my life should be lived through again – let alone that the journey through life should be made anew under biological and social conditions that remain unknown to me – how I can reasonably impose such a life-journey on someone else by begetting him and surrendering him up to the unknown?  Were that “unconscious” (which in Hartmann’s philosophy is blind) endowed with foresight, it would flinch back in horror from every such begetting. We ourselves, however, do possess such foresight, for which reason – and this is the logical antinatalist conclusion of Hartmann’s own exposition, a conclusion he does not share – we should not act in such a way that new human beings begin to exist.

Right to Progeny as a Basic Right to the Free Development of One’s Personality?

The right to beget one’s own progeny is generally held to be a part of the basic right to the free development of one’s personality. The notion of such a basic right is flawed already by reason of the fact that it is not clear why or how the expansion of one personality would be compatible with the generation of a second personality (the child). However broadly one individual (something “un-dividable” by definition) might develop himself, this does not imply any second person.

But if the right to progeny is, nonetheless, still after all considered as a part of our basic right to the development of our own personality, then this means: I am to have the right, with a view to the free development of my own personality, to instrumentalize another personality (one which is unable to adopt an attitude either of affirmation or of refusal vis-à-vis my progenerative behaviour or which, in other words, is unfree with regard to the start of its existence) in such a way that I cause it to begin to be. But there follows in turn from this: whenever any of my progeny find themselves unsatisfied with a state or a phase of their life I need to face the fact that I have practiced the free development of my personality at their expense. My right to progeny of my own as part of a basic right to the free development of my personality results in wrong done to some other person in every case where the basic rights of this person, instrumentalized by me, are not respected. These latter basic rights have been collected and recorded in the UN Convention on Children’s Rights; they relate to health, free time and play, upbringing, education and training without violence, and parental care.

Where we pay attention to the words, which are hardly casually to be dismissed, of the author Friedrich Spielhagen who writes that “no human being has ever seen the light of day for whom there did not come an hour in which he wished he had not been born” (>Spielhagens Sentence) it becomes clear that, by the exercising of my “right to progeny of my own as part of a basic right to the free development of my personality”, I am bringing it about, in an irresponsible way (i.e. in a way that indicates I am only concerned about myself) that someone else gets repeatedly into serious physical and/or mental difficulties. My supposed basic right conflicts in an absolutely non-negotiable way with the equally fundamental imperative to forgo all actions which bring it about that human beings land up in existentially intolerable situations of need and distress. But even where such a situation of existential distress arises, neither the UN’s Children’s Rights Convention nor any other human-rights convention or institution can currently function as a court of appeal before which the persons suffering harm can lay claim to compensation for those harms that these conventions and institutions supposedly exist to defend against. This being the case, Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany certainly requires some supplementation. Currently, the text runs:

“Every person shall have the right to the free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.”

We propose supplementing this as follows:

Nobody shall have the right to freely develop his personality in such a manner that in the course of such a free development a person shall begin to exist whose rights shall sooner or later be infringed.

Pseudo-Humboldt

Memoirs claiming to be those of Alexander von Humboldt were published in 1861 by a hitherto unknown author. We cite below, from this supposed forgery[1], an antinatalist passage: “I was not made to be the father of a family. What is more, I consider marriage to be a sin and the begetting of children to be a crime. I am also of the belief that that man is a fool, and still more a sinner, who takes the yoke of marriage upon himself. A fool because he thereby throws his freedom away without receiving any fitting compensation; a sinner because he gives life to children without being able to give them the certainty of happiness. I despise human beings in all their various strata; I foresee our posterity being much more unhappy than us – ; would I not be a sinner, then, if, despite seeing things this way, acted in such a way that progeny, that is, more unhappy people, came to be?–

Life in its entirety is the most utter nonsense. (…) If we just knew, at least, why we are here on this earth. But everything is and remains an enigma to the thinking man and the greatest of all good fortunes is to be born shallow and stupid.” (Quoted in: Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie der Erlösung. Erster Band) Interestingly, the French philosopher Rémi Brague says of this passage that it is, in the end, a matter of no importance whether the text is a forgery or not, since nihilism was, at that period, a very widely-held view. (see Brague, Les Ancres dans le ciel). In fact, however, we have to do here with antinatalistic formulations of a very emphatic nature which cannot have been widely subscribed to even in nihilistic circles – although it is certainly true that so-called nihilistic currents of thought may have promoted the emergence of just such an emphatic antinatalism such as that which we encounter in >Kurnig.

[1] The decisive role in this discovery was played by Kurt-R. Biermann: Die „Memoiren Alexander von Humboldt’s“, in: ders.: Miscellanea Humboldtiana. Berlin 1990, p. 257 – 264 (Beiträge zur Alexander-von-Humboldt-Forschung 15).

Proto-Self

Before “I” was, there was “it”: the consciousness-less, functioning, embryonic organism, generated either in vitro or directly by the parents, which succeeded in forming for itself a nervous system and a brain which then, at some point, brought forth indeed a consciousness, through which “I” began to exist. When might this have been? We will surely never be able to measure it nor indeed to learn anything precise about it at all. Perhaps we can agree on the fact that a certain knot of nerves, or a brain, is an indispensable precondition for a larva or an embryo’s acquiring a basic consciousness or awareness. A good candidate for the point marking this transition both in human beings and in the higher animals is perhaps that stage of development that is designated by the word “foetus”. When the embryo developed this minimal consciousness or “proto-self” and became a “foetus”, at this point “my” existence began. Had that still-consciousness-less embryo which came later in fact to constitute ME been destroyed before this occurred, then “I” would not have been killed thereby (since “I” did not yet exist). What was destroyed would rather have been an inanimate embryo, although this destruction would have prevented a killable “I” (an “I” capable of dying) from beginning to exist (>Abortion).

Where one takes into account this pre-natal “proto-self”, that “new beginning” so celebrated by advocates of natality (and so vehemently insisted upon against a supposed “stream of death” in philosophy – not just at the point of our birth but already some months prior to this. We can clearly see from this that the attempt to oppose, to the supposedly death-obsessed philosophy so far produced by Man a “philosophy of natality” suffers ab ovo from a certain important flaw. If we begin, in fact, to live already some months before our birth – namely, as soon as a “proto-self” emerges from a merely embryonal “it” – then what ought to give occasion to celebration is this initial constitution of “I-ness” and not the birth occurring several months later.

Pronatal Meta-Level of Ethics

If one is to draw a distinction between ethics and morality, then one may say that ethics is a philosophical questioning of the presuppositions of morality with a view to grounding and justifying this latter; or, in other words, ethics is a theory of morality. For this reason, it is to be expected of an ethics that it take up a distanced and reflectively examined perspective upon those moral notions that count as “self-evident” for a society, or for an era, or for humanity as a whole. It is all the more astonishing, then, that, with the exception of Utilitarianism (more precisely: negative Utilitarianism) no system of ethics has ever thought even to address the question of whether there ought to exist at all those human beings the moral rightness of whose actions then go on to form the objects of ethical debate. Instead of beginning, in a distanced and reflective manner, with this most basic question of whether subjects susceptible of doing good and having good done to them, and of suffering evil, should exist in the world at all, traditional ethics concerns itself with how all the other ideas we have about morality – excepting this question about whether the subjects of ethics should exist at all – can be rationally justified. An example: When Peter Singer writes that there should be chosen “that course of action which, when the books are finally balanced, has the best consequences for all concerned” (Praktische Ethik, S. 24) there remains as a “blind spot” in the reasoning leading to this proposition the issue of whether there should exist people “concerned” by our deeds and misdeeds at all. But an ethics that fails in this way to reflect, besides upon the problems it is aware of, also upon its own “blind spots” is justifiably to be described as “unmindful”.  This, indeed, is what we may call “the unmindfulness of ethics”. Any ethics which fails to take up into its questioning the question of whether there ought to be a human race at all (and which therefore offers no anthropodicy, be it implicit or explicit) necessarily becomes objectively an accomplice in all those misdeeds that those freely-acting subjects, the existence of which such an ethics simply presupposes, are capable of committing. An “unmindful” ethics in the sense we have described implicitly surrenders human beings over to all these terrible misdeeds. All systems of ethics justify (albeit mostly merely implicitly) the facilitation of the contravention of their own norms in ways likely to occasion suffering inasmuch as they are obliged to posit as their highest value a freedom which is also a freedom to infringe values. They are subject, therefore, to the same accusation – in the form of the pointing out of their lack of an anthropodicy – as God is subject to in the form of the pointing out of a lacking theodicy, i.e. of the pointing out that God Himself must somehow be complicit in the existence of Evil.

Inasmuch as our ethical systems have proven so rarely capable of distancing themselves from, and of reflecting upon, our traditional notions of morality to a degree sufficient for the desirability or otherwise of the engendering of new human beings to enter into the field of their considerations (have proven, in other words, so rarely capable of rising into the sphere of meta-ethics) the suspicion must necessarily arise that a certain “biological radical” – namely, the life-instinct driving toward procreation – may have remained spared by all reflection and that there may have occurred, as yet, little or no pushback against its imperatives. In this case, then, we would have to reckon with a biologically-anchored pronatal fatalism in all systems of ethics. In contrast to this, anything deserving of the name of “human dignity” would consist precisely in a reflective self-distantiation from all biological imperatives.

Pronatalists

It may serve, perhaps, as an encouragement for some pronatalist to compose a handbook on pronatalism if we briefly review the ideas of several convinced pronatalists:

Holtug, Nils

Holtug attempted to establish a pronatalist position. In his essay “ON THE VALUE OF COMING INTO EXISTENCE” he propounds the “Value of Existence View”. According to this view the beginning of a person’s existence can either benefit or harm said person and it can be better (or worse) for this latter to exist than not to exist. Holtung thus defends the bold idea that someone can be harmed by reason of their having never come to exist. He is indeed aware that these claims of his must immediately raise the question of how one can possibly either harm or benefit some non-existent “something” by bringing about an existence paradoxically said to be “its” (“something” and “its” are placed in inverted commas here so as to indicate that that neither term really has any ontic referent to which anything could really be done – i.e. they are not referents at all in the strict sense). Holtug appears to understand, then, that the beginning of an entity’s existence is not something that happens to said entity but rather a precondition that must already obtain if anything is ever to happen to said entity at all. It is clearly against this background that he explains his notion that a person can be harmed or benefited by beginning to exist. He does so as follows:

“The thought is that a person is benefited by coming into existence if, on balance, his life is worth living, and harmed if, on balance, it is worth not living.” In this light we can see that what we are meant to understand here by a benefit/harm ensuing from the beginning of an existence is not at all that which one tends, irresistibly, to think of but rather something else entirely. The “benefit” or “harm” in question here corresponds to the answer given by an already-existing person to the question of whether their life Is worth living or not (or to the judgment of the value of the life of such a person by others).

Holtug attempts to “smuggle in” a certain harmful or beneficial quality of existence’s beginning by means of a sort of trick which illegitimately presupposes a continuity between non-existence and existence, as if “I” were to pass out of the state of non-existence into that of existence just as I pass from a state of illness into one of health. Thus, for Holtug, the fact that a certain Jeremy prefers his own existence to his potential non-existence suffices to prove the proposition that he has benefited from the beginning of the former: “Since, then, Jeremy prefers existing to never existing, he has benefited from coming into existence. Had he preferred never to exist, he would have been harmed instead.”

We may be said to have to do with a metaphysical “smuggling in” here inasmuch as Holtug decides to give to the results of a survey taken of already-existing human beings the final deciding word regarding the question of whether “someone” is harmed or benefitted by the beginning of their own existence. Holtug omits to consider here the fact that, if someone consents post festum to his own existence, he does not thereby make any meaningful enunciation regarding whether HE has benefitted or not through the beginning of this existence.  Holtug levels the problem down to the question of whether someone is glad to exist or not and leaves out of account the fact that the question of whether SOMEONE is harmed or benefitted by the beginning of his own existence is really a question without sense.

As regards the moral imperative to create more human beings Holtug argues as follows: Because it is the case that it may benefit human beings to begin to exist there exists a certain moral obligation to bring human beings into the world, provided only that it is to be expected that there will fall to the lot of these human beings a life that is worth living. But since it will never be possible to establish in advance whether such a coming into the world will benefit or harm a human being, Holtug’s pronatalism would have an extremely weak foundation even if one saw no problem with the deliberate misrepresentation at its base.

Parfit, Derek (1942–2017)

After detailed discussion of “never having been”, and of the starting and the ceasing of existence,  Parfit sums up, in his book “Reasons and Persons”, as follows: “I have suggested that, of these, starting to exist should be classed with ceasing to exist. Unlike never existing, starting to exist and ceasing to exist both happen to actual people. This is why we can claim that they can be either good or bad for these people.” „We can similarly claim that causing someone to exist who will have a life worth living, gives this person a peculiar benefit.“

But clearly Parfit is in error here: everything that happens to me presupposes my existence; for this reason, the start of my existence cannot be an event which befalls me. For me myself, therefore, the start of my existence can neither be a good thing nor a bad thing; as long as I have not yet begun to exist, no “I’ is there for whom beginning to exist could be “good” or “bad”; but if I exist, then the beginning of my existence already lies in the past and the question can then only be: “Is it good for me to exist?” The start of my existence can only be something good or bad for that which enfolds and comprises my existence in its entirety. This we express through the impersonal term > “it”. We can say: “it” was good or bad that I began to exist. That the start of my existence cannot be good (just as it cannot be bad) for me becomes clear as soon as we pose the question of what the actual point of commencement is for that action which brings about the effect of a new human being’s beginning to exist. This point of commencement is not the human being him- or herself but rather the entire structure linking humanity and the world that was there already before his/her existence.

 

Singer, Peter (*1946)

Like other metaphysical >Damnators Singer would prefer – had he the choice – a world with beings susceptible both of suffering and of happiness over a world without sentient beings. He points to supposedly imminent improvements in the human condition which he believes confirm him in his choice: “I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now.“ (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/should-this-be-the-last-generation/) Singer does not consider the notion of a >Trial Period of the human species to be worth even wasting a thought on.

 

McMahan, Jeff (*1954)

McMahan dismisses out of hand the very idea of an ebbing away of humanity: “My own view, though I won’t argue for it here, is that the extinction of human beings would be the worst event that could possibly occur.“ (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/predators-a-response/)

We might name, as examples of pronatalists among contemporary philosophers, such figures as Dieter Birnbacher, Vittorio Hösle, Hans Jonas, and Saul Smilansky.

Pronatalism

There may arise in the mind of someone reading this handbook on antinatalism the question of why we have not presented the pronatalist position in stronger terms. Instead of making any great effort to justify ourselves here, we prefer simply to urge that someone undertake to author a correspondent handbook on pronatalism.

 

Pronatalism Argument

There appears prima facie to be a watertight argument for pronatalism in a world containing   àLiving Beings whose constitution would permit only positively evaluated experiences. Would it not, in such a world, be a bad thing not to call into being further so-constituted beings? But initial appearances are deceptive here. It is surely a good thing not to beget beings susceptible of suffering (in this case there will be suffering beings); but it is not a bad thing to refrain from begetting beings that are susceptible exclusively of happiness and pleasure (in this case there will be no suffering beings).

Pronatal Suspension of Reason

According to an insight of Jonathan Swift’s the sole reason why humanity has not yet died out is because God on the one hand equipped this rational being, Man, who forms the crown of His creation with a certain pronatal rational “blind spot” and on the other hand implanted in him a certain centrifugal force with respect to death which causes him to feel his life to be so precious:

„Although reason were intended by Providence to govern our passions; yet it seems that in two points of the greatest moment to the being and continuance of the world, God has intended our passions to prevail over reason. The first is, the propagation of our species; since no wise man ever married from the dictates of reason. The other is, the love of life; which, from the dictates of reason, every man would despise, and wish it at an end, or that it never had a beginning.“

Trial Period of the Species

Of one thing, it seems, we can be certain: the “trial period” of the human species is by now fully elapsed. Elapsed because we have not yet shown ourselves able to find a way of applying all those intellectual and material riches which – along with all the suffering – our millennia-long species-history has accumulated in a way which is useful and beneficial to all. Matters may be expressed as follows:

With the Russian and Chinese revolutions and their countless millions of victims, with Auschwitz and the Gulag, with the World Wars and the Congo Wars, with the genocide perpetrated on the Armenians and that perpetrated on his own people by Pol Pot, along with that further genocide, which might so easily have been prevented by the global community, perpetrated on the Tutsis in Rwanda, humanity’s “probation period” has plainly run its course. The experiment “continuation of humanity’s history” – in which many billions of human beings have been involved – has proven a failure too many times (in the form of these civilizational ruptures) for it to be reasonable to push on with it. And whoever advocates, in view of the course of history up to the present day, that this experiment be indeed pushed on with necessarily accepts and condones that the past and present which have been, for billions of human beings, of unbearable pain and horror, should be extended on into the future.

The assessment that we must today, after the elapse of this probation period, ourselves accord to ourselves runs as follows: let us retire, in mutual agreement, from the course of the world; let us quit our >Service to the Species and send a human-being-less existence on its way with all our best wishes that it should never again bring forth such failures as ourselves.

Priority of Mortality

All men are mortal but not all men are necessarily “natal”.

Attempts to elevate human natality into the same metaphysical rank as human mortality must necessarily fail because natality is not an indispensable or structural factor in existence. Many foetuses die, unborn, in utero. And what woman will, after the invention of an artificial uterus – and after the ebbing away of an initial wave of worldwide protest against this latter – want still to take upon herself the pain and effort of pregnancy and giving birth?

Priority of Perdurability

That there should be, and will be, in future a human race is the absolute priority, which is almost never questioned or examined, of all ethics and of all sketching out of scenarios of the future. Even where it appears certain that future generations will have to suffer from the actions and omissions of past and present human beings, this “priority of humanity” continues to be held sacrosanct.

This “priority of humanity” is thrown sharply into relief by the so-called “greenhouse effect”, of which Amin Maalouf writes as follows: “We know already that the existence of our children and our grandchildren will be dramatically affected by it; it is probable that the generations born in the second half of the 20th century will still have, if I may put it like this, the time to suffer from it themselves.” (Amin Maalouf, Le Dérèglement du monde) We must note here the total absence of any notion that natal continence might be the appropriate means of preventing further human beings from having to suffer the consequences of climate change.

Preconceptive-Retrojective Symbolic Suicide (Also: Symbolically Retrojective Suicide)*

For many people the notion of “wanting never to have been at all” seems comprehensible only in terms of a “wanting no longer to be”: that is to say, as a painful dying rather than as an anticipated wish to have never become a being capable of death in the first place. For anyone for whom their non-being appears conceivable solely and exclusively in terms of a no-LONGER-being (death), all touching on the idea of “not having been born” necessarily presents itself as an implicit threat of murder. Thus, resistance to the ebbing-away of humanity draws no insignificant part of its impetus from something that might be called “symbolically pre-conceptive suicide”.

*(Concept outlined first by Guido Kohlbecher)

Poulet, Georges: From the Imprecation of Existence to the Accusation Against Being: Antinatalism in Georges Poulet’s Unknown Masterpiece “Nothing Is…”

Georges Poulet was perhaps the first to show that the bringing forth of new human beings fulfils the defining conditions of a criminal offence.

In Poulet’s novel Rien n’est… that traditional topos of an imprecation cast upon existence, which recurs again and again throughout European intellectual history, achieves a literary culmination and takes on new form: that of an accusation against being directed specifically against one’s own parents.

Poulet, then, is most likely the first to transcend, in his 1913 Bildungsroman (not yet translated into English) Rien n’est…, the topoi of a hitherto rather impotent and ineffective imprecation upon, and reproach to, existence and to outline that personalisation of the accusation against existence (i.e. an accusation juridified and levelled against one’s own progenitors) which, in former years, allowed secular courts to deal with that metaphysical question of a “right to non-existence” which lies, still today, outside the ambit of the law  (àUnwished-for/Unasked Existence.

In his novel – highly praised in its day by the Nobel-Prize-winning Belgian author Maeterlinck – Poulet demonstrates how the substantial basis for such an accusation can be acquired by following out the logic of the French Code Civil. Turning his back on all “gratitude for existence” – that gratitude which most human beings imbibe with their mothers’ milk (insofar as they do not count among the millions of children who have, since time immemorial, died every year of hunger or of easily avoidable infections) – Poulet draws, as it were, a cork from the bottle of the Napoleonic Code Civil. The genie that thereby escaped from the bottle plainly failed, however, to exert any influence on the forma mentis of humanity during Poulet’s lifetime. Despite the praise received from Maeterlinck it is only in our own day that the idea sketched out by Poulet – that of a juridification and personalization of the ancient imprecation cast upon existence – is beginning to gain some resonance. Certain individuals suffering from serious disabilities – people conceived and borne, necessarily, without their having asked to be and existing without any request on their part to do so –  are now beginning to understand themselves as victims of a misdeed and are, in some cases, setting about defending themselves against those who initiated these existences or against the medical misdiagnoses that contributed thereto (e.g. pre-implantation or ultrasound diagnoses which overlooked serious illness or malformations) using means which already lay, in rudimentary form, to hand in the French Code Civil.
Where it is read and interpreted in the light of Poulet’s analyses and considerations the significant modern legal corpus that is the Code Civil might serve as a model and driving force for those formal “accusations of existence” which are finally, in our present day, being mounted. In other words: precisely within one of the most determinant modern “immunity systems”, through which a civilized future for humanity was intended to be guaranteed, Poulet discovers, under the auspices of “liberty, equality and fraternity, a key weak point in our otherwise barely-questioned social synthesis – a weak point which makes it possible for each individual to legitimately bring a juridical charge against the initiators of his or her existence. Thus, for a humanity the component individuals of which have been enlightened regarding the coercive nature of their existence, there is opened up a legal-metaphysical perspective which promises nothing less than a great wave of such juridical charges – a prospect which should serve to prompt couples thinking of indeed engaging in such existence-initiating action to take some distance from such decisions and thereby contribute to ebbing-away of human existence on this earth.

The progress from the traditional “imprecation cast upon existence”, traceable back to deepest antiquity, to the modern juridical charge against existence can be observed in the following passage, in which the young Andoche attacks his father Galipat (and which we give here both in the French original and in English translation):  

Je sais bien que j’ai l’air de dire une bêtise quand je déclare que je n’ai pas demandé à naître. C’est cependant vrai.
Connais-tu l’article 1382 du Code civil?
– Non, fis-je, surpris de l’arrivée de Code civil dans cette histoire.
– L’article 1382 dit textuellement: «Tout fait quelconque de l’homme, qui cause à autrui un dommage, oblige celui par la faute duquel il est arrivé à le réparer.» Eh! bien, Galipiat a pu prendre un certain plaisir, le jour où ma mère a consenti à le distraire; mais c’est moi qui ai payé la casse, si j’ose ainsi parler. Il y a eu de sa part dommage causé à ma personne, puisqu’il m’a transmis la vie et, avec cette servitude douloureuse, toutes les maladies que lui, sa femme et leurs ascendants à l’un et à l’autre ont recueillies et collectionnées au cours de leurs débauches, de / leurs aventures et de leurs fatigues, sans compter celles que je vais gagner moi-même dans mes propres excès et mes catastrophes personnelles.

I know that I must sound very stupid when I declare that I never asked to be born. But such is in fact the case. Are you familiar with Article 1382 of the Code Civil?
– No, I said, surprised that the Code Civil entered into this matter at all.
– Article 1382 states quite explicitly: “Every human action, of whatever kind, obliges, in the case where said action causes harm to another human being, the person responsible for this harm to compensate the person harmed.”  Galipat, then, may have had a certain pleasure in my mother’s consenting to entertain him. But it was me, if I may say so, who suffered the harm ensuing therefrom. He is the agent of a damage inflicted upon my person, since he passed on life to me and, with this painful servitude, all the sicknesses that he, his wife and their forebears have acquired in the course of their debaucheries, their adventures and their exertions, not to mention those that I am going to acquire myself in the course of my own debaucheries and personal catastrophes.

With this passage Poulet makes a plea for a truly consistent application of penal law, in the sense that all progeny, not just those who turn out to suffer from some serious disability, should be allowed to legally prosecute their progenitors. Poulet has his Andoche defend the idea – which has re-emerged in present-day antinatalist philosophy – that our being brought into being is a harm inflicted on us. My progenitor is taken to count as the “person responsible for a harm done” to me. Should one directly accept the logic of this line of argument, the compensation for the damage done here (the imposition of life being considered here to constitute a “damage”) could only consist in life being taken away again from the person who has thereby suffered damage. But as is evident, life can neither be “given to someone” nor can “someone” be “deprived” of it. In order to form a clearer picture here let us think of an “elementary particle” (rather in the original sense of this term drawn from physics than in the metaphorical sense given to it by Houellebecq) which is resistant, indeed, to all ethical considerations, since, although it is impossible to either improve or cause to deteriorate the condition of such a “particle” but only to alter its position in space, there can nonetheless validly be applied to it that more general notion of “being affected”. Is such an elementary particle “affected” by entering into existence? Not at all. Analogously, “giving the gift of something” to someone presupposes that the “someone” in question already exists. Consequently, an action the effect of which consists precisely in bringing someone into existence cannot be said to be an action that “gives the gift” of anything to anyone at all. And to take something away from someone likewise presupposes that the “someone” in question continues to exist; an action the effect of which consisted in the person affected by it’s ceasing to exist would “take nothing away” from this latter.

Attempts, therefore, to legally prosecute one’s own parents by reason of the fact that they caused one harm or damage by begetting one are ultimately bound to fail due to their lack of rational underpinning: we find ourselves, as a result of our being “called into existence” (though it would be more correct, of course, to say that “one acted in such a way that we arose”) no worse off than if “we” had remained unbegotten. There surely can, however, by tracing out the logic of Poulet’s remarks, be postulated a duty to desist from begetting new human beings for so long as it is not yet guaranteed that these latter will be spared sorrows, hardships, and torments ending in a miserable death-rattle.

Momentum of Positivity and Pollyanna Principle

The “momentum of positivity” is constitutive for nativistic àSystematic Self-Blinding. By this phrase we mean on the one hand the tendency for negative events and experiences to undergo, in retrospect, “positivization” and to be evaluated and described as less negative than they were lived as being when first experienced. A locus classicus for this insight is Eduard von Hartmann’s Philosophy of the Unconscious, in which he explains the “momentum of positivity” to be the result both of the obscuring effect of  >The Spectacles of Memory when looking back at the past and a certain instinct of hope that constantly optimistically anticipates the future.  Also contributing to this “momentum of positivity” is the finding – albeit a disputed one among researchers – that it is generally easier to recall positive things than negative ones.[1]

 

Pollyanna Hypothesis and Principle

Boucher und Osgood (1969) use the phrase “Pollyanna Hypothesis” to introduce their observation that people have a natural inclination to form positive ideas and draw positive conclusions. Boucher und Osgood remark that “there is a universal human tendency to use evaluatively positive (E+) words more frequently… than evaluatively negative words (E-).” (quoted from Baumeister et al.). Across all languages, “good” appears to be the most frequently applied evaluating term (see Rozin/Royzman).

In their 1978 study “The Pollyanna Principle: Selectivity in language, memory, and thought” Matlin and Stang argued that positive information can be more easily called up out of the memory than negative. It was this that they called “the Pollyanna Principle”.

For what reason are negative events or experiences more difficult to recall than positive ones? The reason lies, perhaps, not in the fact that negative things imprint themselves on the mind less firmly than positive ones; rather, this phenomenon seems to be traceable back to the fact that negative experiences are, over the course of time, at least neutralized, where they are not actually transformed into something positive. àWorking-Through of the Negative.

 

The Novel “Pollyanna”

The notion of a “Pollyanna Principle” is inspired by certain views expressed by the eponymous heroine of a novel written by Eleanor Hodgman Porter (1868–1920). The best example of this “principle” is the scene in the novel in which the young girl Pollyanna discovers, in the forest, a man with a broken leg and tells him that she is happy. Happy about what? Well, she explains, that only one and not both of his legs are broken. Pollyanna calls this attitude to things the “game” that she has learned from her now-deceased father: “’Oh, yes; the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what ’twas,’ rejoined Pollyanna, earnestly.“ (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pollyanna/Chapter_5) In fact, Pollyanna finds herself prompted very often, in the course of the novel, to play this “game”. And life itself plays such nasty tricks on her that her ability to maintain this “playful” attitude is put to a very hard test.

The aunt with whom Pollyanna lives gives an explanation, very much in antinatalist spirit, of why Pollyanna is obliged to undertake all those attempts to compensate for daily experiences of suffering that are recommended by adepts of positive thinking and other pronatalists:  “…just because I happened to have a sister who was silly enough to marry and bring unnecessary children into a world that was already quite full enough…” (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pollyanna/Chapter_1). It remains unclear, however, whether the stance expressed here is a matter simply of a demographic-political antinatalism or rather of a breakthrough to an actual moral-theoretical antinatalism.

What Pollyanna calls “the game” is a competence in mastering existence which children early on acquire through practice or – in the case where they do not succeed in doing this themselves “by imitation” – is “beaten into them” by others. Whoever declines to participate in this “game” of fending off all negativity and refuses to don the >Spectacles of Memory is regularly accused of being a “spoilsport”.

[1] Baumeister et al. (2001) arrive, in their study of memory performance, at the conclusion of a certain dominance of the negative; Shelley E. Taylor (1991) and Rozin/Royzman (2001), however, assume a dominance of the positive.

Dissipation of Positivity

Whoever acts in such a way as to bring about, or contribute to bringing about, the coming into existence of a human being, is also acting in such a way that a being begins to exist whose states of happiness dissolve and dissipate much more quickly than his states of misery.

Person-Free Argument

Opponents of antinatalism might advance the argument that there cannot be ascribed to this latter’s intended object – a universe without beings susceptible of suffering – the predicate “morally good”, since in such a universe there would no longer be present any being for whom anything might be “good” or “bad”. Such a universe, so runs the argument, would be ethically neutralized. But the conclusion that an ethically neutral universe is a better one does, therefore, indeed result from a comparison between this universe and ours. We may indeed say: a world in which there are no beings susceptible of suffering is better than a world in which there are such beings.

Definitive Justification in Performative Mode

Whoever advances the claim that it is impossible to definitively reflexively justify a position thereby asserts the very thing that his argument purports to deny: it is once and for all established (so might one reformulate what he is saying here) that nothing can be established finally and once and for all.   

But besides this reflexive form of definitive justification there must also be considered a definitive justification in resultative or performative mode. The ebbing-away of humanity is the definitive onto-logical justification of certain ethical principles (i.e. of negative >Utilitarianism or antinatalism). We may look, for clarification of this resultative form of definitive justification, to Hans Schafgans’s “Der letzte Mann von Paris”:

“For centuries, the whole Western world was struggling over the right path to salvation and we continued, deep into modernity, to deal with the legacy of these struggles. Today, however, paths are no longer important because there is no more ‘going’.” (Schafgans) A definitive performative justification is achieved where the last human beings capable of procreation remain without posterity and judge that “it is good that it should be so!”

Alloted Task

Parents force their children to bear not just the little package of weights and burdens that result from family life but also to carry out, above and beyond these, an immense number of socially allotted tasks.

A certain protest, albeit a seemingly impotent one, against the compulsion to perform all these tasks is to be found in the work of Hugo Ball: “But we are not, in the end, on a treadmill! One is not in the world simply in order to sweat and strain oneself to death!” (Hugo Ball, Flametti oder Vom Dandysmus der Armen). The protest seems impotent because the guilty parties here are not named by their actual name.

Stalemate, Nativistic

No one ever consented, or could possibly have consented, to the beginning of their own existence.  Many antinatalists derive from this fact the proposition that existing human beings had their existence “imposed” on them when they were “taken out of the state of non-existence” and brought into existence. Such an “imposition of existence” (so it is claimed) clearly reveals the moral reprehensibility of procreation.

Conversely to this, however, one might seek to establish the reprehensibility of the omission to procreate by claiming that, where procreation does not occur, existence is being withheld from certain not-yet-existent individuals. The pronatalist wants to persuade us of the moral superiority of procreation and therefore speaks of àDeprivation of Existence and of the >Gift of Life; the antinatalist, by contrast, points to the moral questionability of procreation and speaks, therefore, of the >Diktat of Birth. Ontologically considered, both positions are fundamentally flawed, since there was in fact no one on whom life was imposed just as it is impossible to identify anyone who might either have been “deprived” of existence or to whom the “gift” of existence could be given. Existence is not one attribute among others but rather the precondition of all attribution. In order to refuse or to lack something, or to have something imposed on one, one must already exist.

If the proposition has hitherto sometimes been advanced in antinatalist literature that “no one” ever wished to be begotten, one might just as easily say that “no one” ever wished not to be begotten.  Talk, then, of a “Diktat of existence”, or of a “deprivation” of this latter, leads into a checkmate situation which can be traced back to an onto-ethical fallacy.  When antinatalists say that someone was compelled to exist they are committing an onto-ethical fallacy inasmuch as originally there was no one there who could possibly have been “compelled” to anything. Likewise, however, pronatalists are committing an onto-ethical fallacy when they contend that someone has had existence “withheld” from them through their not having been begotten, because there is likewise no one there of whom such things might truly be said. “Diktat of existence” and “gift of life”: the two expressions appear to convey diametrically opposed ideas and yet, when it comes down to what is most essential, they have something in common. Or rather, what they have in common is what both essentially lack. Both lack a referent, a subject to which their enunciations could actually apply.

Paternihilism

Given the >Thanatality that is the fate of all human beings as well as the inevitability of experiences of the deaths of near and dear ones along with our own powerlessness in the face of these deaths, parents can be said to surrender up their children – partially blinded by parental joy, perhaps, but certainly not entirely blind to what they are doing – to terribly negative experiences and finally to absolute nothingness.

Parallel Worlds

As if it were not already enough for there to exist a large number of planets in the universe inhabited by beings capable of suffering, we must also reckon – at least if we are to trust Kant’s account of this matter – with a large number of different universes which stand in no causal connection one to the other. Thereby clearly increases exponentially the conceivable number of suffering beings. In 1746, while still a young man, Kant formulated, in his Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces, a hypothesis which was later to be discussed in science fiction and in quantum physics under the title “multiverses”:

“Not correct, then, is the doctrine one hears expounded in the lecture halls of our wisest scholars to the effect that, in the metaphysical sense, there can only ever be a single world. It really is possible that God may have created many millions of worlds, even where ‘world’ is understood in its metaphysical sense; for this reason it remains an undecided matter whether these worlds really exist or not.” (Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces, § 8). And in 1770 Kant develops this thought in his Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World. According to Kant’s argument in this work “multiverses” are possible precisely if it is not the case “that there exists only one single necessary cause of everything” (Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World § 21) Since such parallel worlds exist in no causal relationship to our own reality we will never know how the beings that inhabited them fared.

Non-Being as State of the Self

Jumping over the >shadow of one’s own existence proves such a difficult feat to perform that we, mostly, cannot envisage our own non-being except as some state of our own self. If one holds to what is implied by the following translation from the Chinese, we return, when we die, to the “state” in which we were before we began to exist – a claim which allows us to draw the conclusion that something did indeed befall “us” when “we” were called into life:  

“To die means to have no more feelings at all and to return to the state one was in before one’s birth” (Chunqiu, Spring and Autumn of Lü Bu We). Such a “state” imputed to obtain prior to the beginning of existence seems to demand to be interpreted as a kind of impetus toward being: a minimal self or quasi-self which presses, from its side, for its own actualization through the action of >Perpetrators of Existence. The necessary corrective to this notion is provided by Lichtenberg – even if his formulation of it remains obscure – in his Sudelbücher: “Only a very few people have given the thought that it deserves to the value of not-being. When I think of not-being after death what I envisage is the state in which I found myself before I was born. This is not correctly to be described as ‘apathy’ since apathy is, in a sense, still something that one feels; rather, it is simply nothing. If I pass into this state – although, in fact, neither the word ‘I’ nor the words ‘state’ fit the case at all here.” (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aus den Sudelbüchern)

The “Falling Due” of the Self

The event of a human being beginning to exist is one which has been occurring over and over for many millennia. But is it determined (and if so, how) that an individual should begin to exist at one particular point in time? Clearly, each individual was “due” at some particular point in time or other. Our organisms are strongly determined by the genes of our parents and forefathers. Partially, our psyche is genetically determined along with these organisms. But what is it that explains the fact that each of us began to exist, precisely at the time of his or her falling “due”, AS THIS PARTICULAR EXPERIENCING BEING? If the combination of genes is so decisive, why did I “fall due” specifically with this combination and not with some other, at some point in the past or in the future?

Parental Revision (Symbolic Revocation of Burdening by Parents)

Parents impose upon their children not only the world but also themselves, the parents. “Properly raised” children must face the prospect of having to care for fragile or terminally ill parents. Without being able to offer proof of such things here, we must suppose the existence of exclamations in which parents, when it becomes clear to them what a burden they must necessarily become to their children, revoke and rescind this burdening obligation, for example with the words: “Oh if only I had not burdened my offspring with my own self” – something which amounts to an embracing of the antinatalist position.   

Paradox and Significance of Concluding or Culminating Experience

Retrospectively, we often tend to judge unpleasant experiences persisting over long periods much less negatively than one might expect in light of an evaluation of the aggregated negative experiences. As experimental psychology has shown, this is especially the case when the concluding or culminating experience in such a series is a positive one, or at least brings with it an improvement of the general situation.

Clearly, it would be paradoxical to want to apply this lesson about “concluding experience” to the life of an individual. Because with regard to a whole life the person concerned will always, at the moment of such a “concluding experience”, have ceased to exist and will have no more to report to us. Let us nonetheless mount a thought experiment whereby one might, even after the onset of an irreversible cerebral collapse, continue to communicate, as some sort of “post-mortal consciousness”, before ceasing to exist even in this form. We might then ask, in the knowledge that a life’s “concluding experience” exerts such a significant influence, a large number of such “post-mortal consciousnesses” to evaluate the lives that lie behind them. What would they tell us? To the extent that it is the case that a “peaceful going to sleep” at the end of a human life is a myth or a rare exception, the “concluding experience” of the great majority of such “post-mortal consciousnesses” will surely have been a terrible one (>Catastrophe of Dying) So that, under such circumstances, such consciousnesses would come to a negative conclusion about their past lives even if these lives had been, in general, only lightly burdened with suffering.

What does this thought-experiment tell us? In the first place it functions, in accordance with >Ovid’s Rule, as a corrective to that general contentment with life that is to be observed all around us and that draws on the proverbial wisdom that “on rain there always one day follows sunshine”. With death, the sun goes down once and for all – and goes down, indeed, for most of us in a very painful way. If one were to question, then, such “post-mortal consciousnesses” they too would draw the very likely negative experience of dying into the general judgment passed on life and thereby undermine the possibly positive judgments passed by those for whom “sunshine” has indeed often followed “rain”.

>Diktat of the Recollecting Self

Paradises as Compensation-Institutions

On account of their >Deficit of Narrativity we find paradises portrayed less concretely than we do hells. The productive imaginative powers of the species seem to have made a pact rather with evil than with any state of joy.

 

Metaphysics as Insurance-Institution

In the course of, and after the exhaustion of, the religious it is metaphysics that serves as the bearer of hope that the existence of human beings might be equipped with a moral imperative capable of prompting to the perpetuation of that long history of suffering that this existence has hitherto been. There should be recalled here that dictum of Max Scheler’s whereby “metaphysics is no insurance-institution for weak human beings in need of moral support.” (Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos, p. 92) Scheler said this against the background of his metaphysics of a human struggle and collaboration in the process of the creation of a God not yet brought to full completion. Without the support of such a metaphysics, however – and this is something that Scheler neglected to consider – the moral imperative grounding Man’s continued existence implodes and undergoes, in the absence of any mechanism compensating for suffering, an inversion into an imperative that rather forbids the generation of any new human beings.

Presence of Panempathy

Classic bearers of panempathy are the Jains, who light no lamps in the dark so that small insects are not burned by them, or the bodhisattvas as they are portrayed in Mahayana Buddhism: enlightened individuals who choose to delay their own entry into nirvana until every suffering being on earth has been redeemed.

 

Eich, Günter (1907–1972)

A rare example, and advertisement, for panempathy is the following poem by Günter Eich, “Consider, that Man is an enemy to Man”:

“Consider, that Man is an enemy to Man / And that he thinks constantly of annihilation. / Consider this constantly, consider it now / During a moment in April / Under this overcast sky / When you believe you hear growth as a fine rustling / And the maidens cut thistles / amidst the songs of the larks / In this moment too consider this! / Consider that, after the hours of great destruction / Everyone will prove that he was not among the guilty ones. / Consider that Korea and Bikini lie nowhere upon the map / But rather in your heart. / Consider that you yourself are guilty of all the terrible things / That happen far away from you.” (Günter Eich, GW, Bd. 1: Die Gedichte – Die Maulwürfe, p. 220f)

If the Categorical Imperative, at least from the moment of Auschwitz onward, has to run: “Every one of your actions must be such as to be able to be accompanied by the thought of Auschwitz”, Eich’s poem can be read as a “postlapsarian” exegesis of this imperative and the question be asked: ‘How can, where what is evoked in this poem is borne in mind, new human beings be begotten?’

 

Wells, H. G. (1866–1946)

A presence of panempathy directed toward the past is to be found in H. G. Wells. In his novel Mr Britling Sees It Through, first published in 1916 in the middle of the First World War, Wells has the eponymous protagonist, drifting off into recollections of his readings in Gnostic literature, articulate the idea:

“Life had a wrangling birth. On the head of every one of us rests the ancestral curse of fifty million murders.” (Mr. Britling Sees It Through, p. 290)[1]. Was the beginning of our existence really worth this price? Would each of us not rather have to exclaim: “Looking backward, I symbolically renounce the beginning of my existence – and each human being ought to do the same if it is really the case that millions of murders might have been prevented had everyone done so – our raison d’être is a folie d’être; looking forward, this can only mean to take one’s distance from it and to beget new human beings on the backs of an unknown number of future victims of murder.”  

>Neganthropy-Profiteers

[1] The number proposed may be a little high, if one takes into account that some 100 billion human beings have existed up to this point.

Panempathy Deficiency and Apathy Regarding the Suffering of the Species

Generally speaking, parents and parents-to-be display generative àRuthlessness, or at least a conscious resistance to all anticipative neganthropic imagination (that counterpart to historical culture that, as a variation of productive imagination, is directed rather into the future), which latter should make them aware that, through the progeny that they generate, they create a chain, the length of which it is impossible to foresee, of successive, ramifying generations, among whom, sooner or later, certain unspeakably suffering individuals will necessarily arise.

Parents, furthermore, have before their eyes the (short-lived) happiness of their own children and put out of their minds all the negative aspects for which they, the parents, are the decisive causal factor. With respect to humanity at present and in future, there predominates a definite apathy vis-à-vis the sufferings of the species.

Panempathy

Characteristic particularly of those religious movements indigenous to or emerging out of India, and quite especially of Jainism, is an extremely high degree of “panempathy”: i.e of empathic sympathy with all those suffering beings who have come into existence without being asked or desiring to. Indian spirituality goes out to meet each living being with a gesture of pity and regret:   ‘unfortunately you exist; may you cease to exist without having to be born and die once again; may those concatenations of cause and effect which reach back deep into the past and stretch forward into an unforeseeable future not manifest themselves,  once again, as a being susceptible of suffering.

Antinatalism is the secular consummation of the religious aspiration to quit the cycle of birth and rebirth. Instead of being born again, and then dying again (regardless of the various different conceptions of the soul with which these may be associated) antinatalist moral theory argues rather for simply ceasing to forge new links in the àChain of Procreations.

An example of the occidental form of panempathy is provided by Chateaubriand’s story “René”, the protagonist of which does not allow himself to be blinded by the light of the world: “Looking at the lights blazing in people’s apartments, I transposed myself mentally into the world of pains and joys that they illuminated.” (Chateaubriand, Atala)

Optimism

Optimism is a form of mobilisation of our mental and psychological resources which is most likely not just philosophico-cultural but actually bionomic (>Diktat of the Recollecting Self) and which acts as a kind of buffer protecting us from any close contact with reality. If this psychological option of optimism had not existed, would procreation not have become a deeply problematical thing at least to those human beings who have, in the centuries since the Enlightenment, been deprived of any prospect of a “world beyond”?  But in accordance with what might be called the basically optimistic attitude the future is expected to be not just as good as the present but far better than it. Where this attitude is applied to the individual it results in the widespread tendency to imagine that oneself and one’s immediate milieu are immune to all strokes of ill fortune. People tend generally to underestimate the probability that they will become unemployed, fall ill with cancer, or give birth to only moderately intelligent children. In view of the murderous nature of human history up to the present day it is hardly possible to describe the optimistic attitude as a rational or realistic one. Also in light of past history the continuing wide prevalence of optimistic attitudes to the world a further reason to suppose that we are dealing here at least in part with a set of mental and emotional responses which are biologically-based and independent of the individual will and which serve to secure the species by helping us to fool ourselves regarding the actual nature of reality.

By now, however, the question of how it is possible that so many people continue to maintain an optimistic attitude even though reality ought in fact to have long since disabused them of this latter appears to have found a natural-scientific answer. Examinations were made of the brains of individuals while they were processing partly positive, partly negative information about their futures. It was found that, whereas on learning these pieces of news the neuronal networks could be relied upon to code desirable information conducive to an optimistic attitude, this was much less the case where the information to be processed was information that proved unexpectedly undesirable. Put simply, our brains are wired in such a way that an optimistic attitude is the natural one for us. And indeed, such an optimistic attitude does indeed appear to be promotive both of the perpetuation of the species and the survival of the individual – even if this attitude is not a realistic one and can consequently have results that are ethically difficult to justify. Especially in the area of procreation. The neurologist Tali Sharot notes: “The brain’s illusions have to be identified by careful scientific observation and controlled experiments and then communicated to the rest of us. Once we are made aware of our optimistic illusions, we can act to protect ourselves.“ (Tali Sharot, Guardian Weekly, 20 Jan. 2012, p. 25-27, here: p. 27) One must add to this finding the condition that all, without exception, of those affected by this optimistic illusion are to be taken into account. Paradoxically, even those human beings are to be “protected” from a merciless optimism who, had this optimism not exerted its powerful effect, would never have begun to exist in the first place.

From what we have said it is clear that Man’s process of self-cultivation – contrary to what the guiding principle of philosophical anthropology leads us to suppose – is still a long way from having come to an end. Man might be described as “a cultural being by nature”. We carry around with us – not least in the form of the reality-distorting optimism that we have been talking about – a legacy from our existence as merely natural beings which demands to be constantly examined and questioned in a spirit of genuine enlightenment.

 

Optimism, Unrealistic Nativistic

If one puts to a relatively large number of people the question of whether their own life has contained more positive experiences, and fewer negative experiences, than the average human life most of those asked will say that their own lives contain more positive things, and fewer negative things, than the average. But a majority which situates itself in this way far from the average must necessarily be suffering from an unrealistic self-assessment. A similarly unrealistic optimism must also be reckoned as regards the offspring of such people: their parents will assume that this offspring will naturally experience more happiness, and less misery, than the average.

 

Diderot, Denis (1713–1784)

Diderot practices a fundamental onto-ethical critique of all forms of optimism that underestimate human suffering when he writes that nothingness is to be preferred to a world in which happiness is to be acquired only at the cost of pain:

“Regardless of what the optimists tell us we will always retort: if the world cannot exist without beings susceptible of feeling and if these beings susceptible of feeling cannot exist without some degree of pain, then everything ought rather to have remained in that condition of perpetual peace. After all, an eternity had already gone by without any foolishness of this sort’s existing.” (Diderot, letter to Sophie Volland of the 20th of October 1760, S. 127)

Optimistic, Life-Loving Antinatalism?

Are we, if we consider our existence to be a tolerable one – i.e. if we are rather of a sunny disposition than “tired of life” – thereby obliged to subscribe to the proposition that it was a good thing that we were begotten? Such a refractory attitude to non-being is defended by Micha Brumlik: “We too, if we find ourselves to be content, under the given conditions, with our lives must thereby also implicitly be of the view that it was a good thing that we were conceived and born.” (Brumlik, Über die Ansprüche Ungeborener und Unmündiger)

But what reasons of moral logic would render it impossible for us to prefer a course of the world in which we would never have begun to exist while at the same time defending the notion that our life at present is worth living? There appear to be no convincing arguments against the moral-logical possibility of even a happy, committed individual’s defending an antinatalist position – even if he were to do so merely out of empathy with those billions of others who may be less happy or fortunate than him. With reference to early Christian antinatalism Hieronymus Lorm (1821–1902) expounded, in a book from 1894, this possibility of a combination of moral commitment and advocacy of an ebbing away of humanity:

“It is perfectly possible for me to sacrifice myself, my fortune and my life, motivated by pity or by love of my neighbour, for the sake of a person, a group, a class, a people or even some cultural cause while all along having the feeling that it would be better for the latter and more in their interest if they had never existed or if they were to be painlessly extinguished. The notion has, in recent years, now and again been weighed of whether one might wish for, or even actively facilitate, the bloodless suicide of the human race through a cessation of all new births. And one may entirely accept and embrace this notion without ceasing to be a good Christian. Indeed, one may even interpret it to be an idea derivable from the Gospel.” [1] (Hieronymus Lorm, Der grundlose Optimismus)

[1] For a later defence of the combinability of both positions see also: Saul Smilansky,10 Moral Paradoxes, Blackwell Publishing 2007, chapter 10, p. 100ff: Preferring Not to Have Been Born.

Ovid’s Principle

“Praise not the day before the night!” is an old saying that is still often heard today. Its original form, which takes a still darker view, is perhaps to be found in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”:

“Nor should we say ‘he leads a happy life’

Till after death the funeral rites are paid’

(Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 3, 1)

If we take this principle of Ovid’s seriously then a human life can only count as “happy” if the death that concludes it takes no catastrophic form – that is to say, if the person in question’s dying occurs in such a way that we may also call the person “happy” in respect of this dying. But how many people does such good fortune befall? One among 100,000?

Ontopathological Syndrome

The person who experiences a sense of horror whenever he tries to grasp the notion that the universe might never have come into existence can be said to suffer from “ontopathological syndrome”[1]. Whoever is susceptible to such an ontopathological syndrome is quite probably likewise susceptible to the >Fear of Never Having Been.

[1] The concept was coined by Grünbaum, see Jim Holt.Why does the world exist

Imposition Error

The false notion that life is something that is imposed upon a somehow pre-existing person. The “imposition error” committed by many antinatalists is the counterpart to the “gift error” committed by many pronatalists, who believe that life is a “gift that is given us”. But just as “no one” was there beforehand upon whom existence might have been “imposed”, there was likewise “no one there” from whom existence might have been withheld or to whom it might have been “gifted”.

>Stalemate, Nativistic

Swooning

For Schopenhauer “just as sleep is the brother of death, so is swooning its twin brother” (Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung). And the swoon, indeed, is closer to death than is sleep, inasmuch as the former is entirely dreamless.  The French author Daniel Pennac has documented a kind of childish striving toward non-being: a friend squeezes tightly the narrator’s chest after this latter has completely expelled his breath, giving rise to a transitory non-existence (unconsciousness) which is what had been desired. “We played at inducing swoons in one another…it was assuredly a delightful experience!”[1]

[1] „Nous avons joué à nous évanouir… En tout cas, c’est vraiment délicieux !” (Journal d’un corps, eBook, Pos. 277-78 and 281)

Livestock and “Humanstock”

Within the line of sight of antinatalism as a moral theory lie not just human beings but also non-human animals. Animals too begin to exist, are born, and suffer. Billions of animals, indeed, begin to exist solely because human beings wish to consume either them or their glandular secretions (milk and products derived from it). This, for example, is the only reason for the existence of many billions of cattle, to speak here only of them. In order to quench the world’s thirst for milk calves must continue constantly to be born. Because only animals who have just given birth can provide human beings with the milk that they desire – milk of which the calves are largely deprived, often to the point of becoming anaemic. Instead of being raised by their mothers and nurtured with these latter’s milk, the calves are taken away and brutally slaughtered so that they can be served up as tender meat on our plates. It is something very peculiar that parents not only expect their children to eat, without demur, the flesh of mercilessly slaughtered lambs and other animals but also never tire of urging their sons and daughters to gobble down more and more of such fare. Were it not for our thirst for milk, eggs and meat many billions of animals would have been spared beginning to exist whose fate, in this existence, consists in being, at the end of an existence already rich in terrible pains, brutally slaughtered or even cooked while still alive (as happens to hundreds of thousands of pigs in slaughterhouses, who are barely stunned beforehand). But there will always be an >Axiopath to hand who will subscribe to the view that the life of an animal that is dedicated wholly to the increase of the supply of meat is better than no life for this animal at all.  And as regards, at least, the meat on people’s plates, one must, unfortunately, number among these “axiopaths” that Esther Vilar whom we have mentioned, elsewhere in this handbook, as someone engaging in a thoroughly antinatalistic reflection:

 

Vilar, Esther (*1935)

“We slaughter animals, then, and eat them. But precisely our pitiless behaviour here is all that ensures that these animals get to see the light of day. And if one had, oneself, the choice between not being born at all or being born and living for a short while, after which one would be executed without too much pain – would not each one of us prefer the option of a short life ending in execution and being consumed for our flesh? But perhaps this line of argument assumes too vigorous and general a love of life. Perhaps the result of such a survey would turn out, in fact, very differently – since the question, it is true, has never yet been put to people in this way.” (Vilar, Die Erziehung der Engel)

What Vilar undertakes here is nothing less than a >Zoodicy. More precisely: an agro-zoodicy: a justification of the existence of billions of livestock animals on this earth that, had there been no demand for their flesh or for their glandular secretions, would never have been begotten. Looked at in this way, agriculture would be a massive industry dedicated to bringing beings into the light of the world; every farm and every factory-farming institution would be devices for liberation which would indeed bestow the gift of this “light of the world” on creatures who would otherwise never see it.

But Vilar must face the question: what was the alternative for these beings to having this “light of the world” bestowed upon them? Had this not occurred, would these creatures then have languished in some dark Limbo or Hades? Vilar adopts the maternalistic? attitude of believing herself able to speak for all the livestock animals of the world when she finds that a short existence that ends in execution is preferable for them to no existence at all. Indeed, that which she believes she can decide on behalf of these livestock animals she then transposes onto human beings, thus formulating also an anthropodicy: we human beings too, she imagines, would prefer a brief painful existence – though “without too much pain” (!) – ending in execution to no life at all. Vilar performs here a classic Salto Natale. Because the question is not whether a human being or an animal ought, or would want, rather to remain in some state (since non-existence is not a state of a living being) but rather whether a new entity is to be created which is capable of experiencing states at all.

Perhaps it is Vilar’s own àAffinity with Existence which makes it impossible for her to carry out a àRewind back before the start of her own existence, from the point of view of which the question of whether she, Esther Vilar, would prefer to exist or not makes no sense. In any case, she is clearly unable, in this passage, to see that the beginning of the existence of a living being represents no change from a “being-that-way” to a “being-this-way” on the part of an entity which was somehow already in existence prior to this but rather represents a beginning of being in the most radical sense, prior to which there can have been no “being-this-way” or “being-that-way” at all. Vilar’s own wanting-to-begotten and wanting-to-be-born (which she also imputes to others than herself) is a wanting so constituted that she would be willing to accept as part of its price her eventual execution and consumption as nourishment by others. If, in accordance with the general principle underlying ethical systems, we universalize this personal stance of Vilar’s, we end up with the following position: a world in which human beings are killed and eaten by their fellow human beings is to be preferred to a world in which no more human beings are born. We have to do here, then with a cannibalistic “affinity with existence” – with a >Fear of Never Having Been of such magnitude that it prefers to play with the thought of being murdered and eaten by others than to give space to the thought of never having existed.

 

Salt, Henry Stephen (1851–1939)

Perhaps the most important critic of  >Zoodicies of the sort developed by Vilar is Henry Stephen Salt, who wrote: “The argument advanced by many defenders of meat-eating, as by defenders of fox-hunting, to the effect that the pain that it is inflicted on the animals at the time of their death is more than counterbalanced by the pleasure that they will have experienced in the course of their lives, since they would never, had it not been in order to play the roles they do play, have been brought or permitted to exist in the first place [>Proto-Self], is an argument that is more ingenious than it is convincing. This by reason of the fact that it is none other than the well-known, already-discussed fallacy, the arbitrary ruse [we have called it: Salto natale] of making ourselves spokesmen and interpreters of our own victims. […] Instead of committing the absurdity of speaking of non-being as a state which is good or bad or in any way comparable with being, we would do better to consider the fact that the rights of animals, assuming we concede them to have rights at all, must begin with their birth and persist until their death and that we cannot, therefore, get around our established responsibility by means of ingenious speeches about some invented prenatal choice in some invented prenatal state. 

The most sinister consequence of meat-eating is that it degrades the coming into being of countless thousands of living beings. It brings them into life to no better end than to deny their legitimate right to existence.” (Salt)

We may transpose this natal-ontological clarity acquired by Salt through examining the example of livestock animals into the sphere of human matters, something which will lead us to quite other results than those we have seen Vilar arrive at above. It is impossible that the begetting of a human being should ever be committed for this human being’s own sake. If such a begetting serves a purpose at all, this purpose is always only the fulfilment of the wishes or the plans of parents or of society. So as to lend to this state of affairs all the crude clarity that it deserves, there ought really to be introduced into our language, on the model of the term “livestock”, the term “humanstock”.

 

Johnson, Samuel (1709-1784)

As his biographer Boswell tells us, Samuel Johnson drew a clear antinatalistic line of association running from those livestock animals who are known to be bred for an existence full of suffering to the countless human beings begotten without being asked if they wish to be.  From Johnson we learn that that fundamental pronatalistic argument – the one adducing a supposed goodness of existence which makes up for all its suffering – which is still to be heard in our own day was already advanced by Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746). We know of only one passage in Hutcheson which matches the passage quoted from Johnson (below?):

“Don’t we see that the weaker tribes of ‘speechless’ animals are destined by nature for the food of the stronger and more sagacious? Were a like use of inferior animals denied to mankind, far fewer of these animals fit for human use would either come into life or be preserved in it.” (Hutcheson, Philosophiae Moralis)

Johnson will not let this logic stand: the supposed goodness of existence does not compensate for the sufferings undergone in it. No more than are those animals who are created explicitly for the use and pleasure of Man are human beings themselves – begotten by other human beings but often eagerly described as “ends in themselves” – compensated, by the happiness that they may happen to experience, for all the misery that goes hand in hand with an unchosen existence. Boswell reports Johnson as arguing just this, citing in his support the authority of Madame de Sévigné from the preceding century:

“’There is much talk of the misery which we cause to the brute creation; but they are recompensed by existence. If they were not useful to man, and therefore protected by him, they would not be nearly so numerous.’ This argument is to be found in the able and benignant Hutchinson’s Moral Philosophy. But the question is whether the animals who endure such sufferings of various kinds for the service and entertainment of Man would accept of existence upon the terms on which they have it. Madame de Sévigné, who, though she had many enjoyments, felt with delicate sensibility the prevalence of misery, complains of the task of existence having been imposed upon her without her consent.

‘That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little while. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.’” (James Boswell, Life of Johnson)

Niobean Principle

Excessively proud of her seven sons and seven daughters Niobe took it upon herself to mock Leto, who could call only two children her own: Apollo and Artemis. To avenge their mother these two then killed all Niobe’s children. As the women’s rights activist Hedwig >Dohm is surely right to point out, almost every mother has something “Niobean” about her, inasmuch as “Fate” tends to take all mothers’ children away from them: “Almost all mothers have a ‘Niobean’ trait within them. Even if no Apollo comes to murder their children, they lose them all the same, one way or another: a son finds a way to ruin his own life or a daughter stays trapped in an unhappy marriage. Others may settle down far away from the family home. Or another, perhaps especially well-beloved one may die. And even if only happy destinies fall to her children’s lot, they grow more and more distant from her just the same, because ascending and declining lines never meet. The daughter who becomes a mother stops being a daughter. And now the young mother’s hopes for the future are focussed on her children, while her mother, become a grandmother, recognizes that the children in fact promise nothing.” (Dohm, Die Mütter) Clearly, antinatalism is a proven remedy against this self-woven thread of suffering which, rising out of the past, stretches far into the future.

Nihil inhumani a me alienum puto

Neganthropic motto formed on the model of the traditional Nihil humani a me alienum puto (Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto / Nothing human is alien to me) which occurs in Terence’s comedy The Self-Tormented. Kohlbecher alters this to: „No inhumanness is alien to us“.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844–1900)

Nietzsche is neither an antinatalist nor an anthropofugal thinker. He must, however, be mentioned in this handbook, namely as a “fatalist regarding humanity” – as a “poet of thoughts” of truly global significance who conceived, long before many others did, the notion that Mankind must not necessarily be:

“Many species of animal have already vanished from the earth; were Mankind also to vanish, there would be nothing in such an event that would justify our speaking of the world’s coming thereby to lack something. One must be philosopher enough to admire even this ‘nothing’ (– Nil admirari).“ (The will to power)

The Wish Never to Have Been Accompanied by Prenatal-Paradisic Regression

In the instances cited below in evidence of the existence of a semi-antinatalism what those who “wish never to have been” aspire to is, paradoxically, a return into the body of – or at least a lingering in the greatest possible bodily proximity with – that person to whom, in decisive measure, they “owe” the very existence which they reject:   

 

Burckhardt, Jacob (1818–1897)

Jacob Burckhardt, to whom we owe a à “balancing of the books”, in the sense of a àMä phynai, of Classical Greek existence, remarks with regard to his own life: “My life has not been such a cloudless one as it may seem to you to have been and at every moment I would gladly exchange my life for a never-having-been and, were it only possible, would return into my mother’s womb – and this even though I have committed no crime and was raised under the most congenial conditions.” (Burckhardt, letter to Johannes Riggenbach, Basel 28.8.1838)

 

Ardelius/Jersild

“Were we somehow to know in advance what awaits us at the end of life we would perhaps attempt immediately after our birth, despite all resistance thereto, to scrabble our way back into the moist, dark, soft interior of our mothers’ bodies and to stubbornly insist on our right to remain there.” (Ardelius/P. C. Jersild, Gedanken über den Tod)

Imprecation Invoking a “Never Having Been”

In the case of the “imprecation invoking a ‘never having been’” it is not one’s own existence which is a cause of antipathy but that of another person. On closer consideration, however – and contrary to the intention of the imprecator – a curse invoking the “never having been” of another individual proves to be the very contrary of a curse. Whoever wishes that some other person might never have existed wishes, in fact, nothing negative for this latter; rather they wish only for some course of history alternative to the actual one, a course of history from which the person in question would be, as an entity susceptible of being affected both for good and for bad, simply absent.

Dickens, Charles (1812–1870)

„I wish the blessed old creetur had never been born.” (Dickens, Barnaby Rudge)

Eliot, George (1819–1889)

„There was a half-formed wish in both their minds – even in the mother’s – that Harold Transome had never been born.” (George Eliot, Felix Holt, the Radical)

Blackmail Through the Notion of Never Having Been

The authors of a certain dictionary of philosophy, Kirchner/Michaelis, make use of a very subtle method in order to maintain their readers in an attitude of inclination toward existence:  Whoever is perturbed by the thought of having to die, argue these authors, proceeding like metaphysical blackmailers, shows by this perturbation that he would really rather not have been born. They imagine that, with this objection, that they can stifle all counter-arguments raised by any reader who feels repugnance at the notion of having to die:

“That the individual human being dies is a natural, and thus a necessary and rational, thing; whoever becomes perturbed at the thought that he must die regrets thereby his being a human being at all, regrets, that is to say, having been born.” (Kirchner/Michaelis: Wörterbuch der Philosophischen Grundbegriffe) The authors imagine that they have created a metaphysical scenario sufficient to intimidate all objection in creating one which says: if you are not in agreement with your own inevitable death then you are obliged to accept that it would have been better if you had never begun to exist. They demand, in other words, of the people who have a problem with their own necessary demise to perform a symbolic àRenunciation of Existence. They fail to see that there is no one there for whom “never having been” might constitute a harm – and thereby the metaphysical scenario of intimidation that they construct simply implodes. It no more occurs to the authors that human procreation (occurring as it does on the basis of decisions) is a matter of reason and no mere natural occurrence than there occurs to them the idea that the notion of “never having been” might be retrospectively acceptable for one or other of their readers.

The Fear of Having Never Been

The fear of having never been is a weak and subtle form of the fear of death. This fear of having never been arises in all those cases in which it suddenly becomes clear to a person that he was, as it were, within a hairsbreadth of having never existed at all. For example, where the realization dawns on him that, had history taken an only slightly different course from the one it did take, his parents might never have met.

The fear of having never been is a psychological defence mechanism which makes it more difficult to accept antinatalism. Because the spatially and temporally universal precept of antinatalism is: it is better to beget no new human beings. Now, if, at some earlier point in history no further human beings had been begotten, then one would not have existed oneself – something which is seen by many, irrationally, to amount to a death-threat. The coming-to-be of this irrational death-threat might be reconstructed in the following manner: “A compliance, at an earlier point, with this ethical precept on the part of the people who were to become my parents would have led to my not now existing. But since I do in fact exist, then my non-existence can only mean that I have to die.” – The fear of never having been arises essentially out of the incapacity of engaging in >Reeling Back of the Film to a point prior to one’s own existence and represents a case of >Nothingness-failure.

In contrast to Dieter Henrich, Hoimar von Ditfurth shows himself to be free of that fear of never having been in which, for Henrich, all >Gratitude for Existence is based. As Ditfurth argues, very much in the manner of Lucretius: “Repulsive as the thought of a premature end to my conscious existence is to me, I feel remarkably little terror at the thought that I might never have been born. Simply not to have ever left that nothingness into which one is bound, in any case, to return – this is a thought which contains, for me, neither horror nor regret.” (von Ditfurth, Innenansichten eines Artgenossen)

The middle position between Henrich and his gratitude for existence and Ditfurth, who is clearly indifferent to this latter (>Neutral Natalism) is taken up by Thomas Nagel. According to him, the notion that one was very nearly never begotten tends to give rise to a kind of “queasy” sensation: “If you concentrate hard on the thought that you might never have been born – the distinct possibility of your eternal and complete absence from this world – I believe you will find that this perfectly clear and straightforward truth produces a positively uncanny sensation.“ (Nagel, The View…)

Altruism in the Service of Nothing

How metaphysically limitless egoism can be comes clearly to light in the case where a àPerpetrator of Existence points to one of his progeny and claims that he begot this individual not for his (the perpetrator of existence’s) own sake but for the sake of the begotten individual and goes on to insist that, for this reason, very decidedly not an egoist but rather an altruist. Since, however, this begotten individual had not existed before he began, as a consequence of the act of begetting, to exist, no good deed was done him by someone’s acting in such a way that he began to exist. That which the limitless egoist believes himself to have done to is in fact nothing. One might call this an altruism “in the service of nothing”.  

Recalcitrance Vis-à-Vis Not-Being

The refusal to think through to its logical conclusion the thought that, had the natural constants been different or had world history taken a slightly different course, one’s own self, or humanity, or living creatures in their entirety might never have begun to exist, without this having had any significance for anyone. 

Friends, spouses or parents who find themselves confronted with the (indeed easily conceivable) Never Having Been of some person close to them tend to say something like: “Then we would have missed you very much!”. But they overlook, in saying this, the fact that someone must have been actually known to us in order for us to be able to “miss” them  (an exception here is formed by the type of the “Redeemer”).

“Recalcitrance vis-à-vis not-being” is a bastion composed of attitudes of defence and of metaphors which is aimed at shielding us from the insight into the fact that we once were not, and that no one suffers any harm, nor indeed any good, if we cause the existence of no one to begin.

Non-Proportionality in Revisions of Pro-Generative Decisions

In cases where it looks certain, or very probable, on the basis of diagnostic tests, that, if a couple were to beget a child, this child would suffer from some serious disease, then this couple themselves, along with the doctors advising them and members of their social circle, very probably be inclined, or be urgently advised by those around them, to go back on any decision to have children that they may already have taken. 

In a definite ethical disproportion to this situation, there are surely very many fewer couples, doctors or social circles who would incline, or advise, to give up an already-formed wish for children, or to go back on a pro-generative decision already taken, simply because it has become clear to the prospectively procreating couple – for whatever reasons or due to whatever exceptional circumstance or life-situation – that every human being must sooner or later become sick, suffer and die and what terrible forms the process of dying can sometimes take.     [Catastrophe of Dying].

This is all the more astonishing given that having to die counts, for many, as the greatest of all evils. Pro-generative decisions are often gone back on in the face of comparatively much lesser evils. But a drawing of attention to something that is, for many people, the greatest evil of all is rarely if ever accepted as sufficient reason for going back on a pro-generative decision once this latter has been taken. It is clearly, then, not always the case that, the more grave and certain the evil is that can be expected to befall a new human being when action is taken such as to cause this human being’s existence to begin, the more willingly the action that brings about the beginning of his existence will be forgone. This we call the non-proportionality in revisions of pro-generative decisions. It fulfils the condition of an act “with malice aforethought”: the procreating parties implicitly accept and approve, among other things, the necessity of the death of a human being (their own child!) because this is the only way that they can come into possession of a child. 

Relief from Care About Never Having Been

It was not only of care and anxiety regarding death that Epicurus wished to relieve us but also of care and anxiety regarding never having been: “What evil would there have been for us in never having been created? Should one imagine that life stagnated in darkness and sorrow until there dawned the procreative origin of things? Each of us indeed, once born, will want to remain alive for so long as the flattering desire to do so holds him tight. But if one has never tasted of the love of life, and never counted among the number of the living, what hardship would it be to such a one never to have been created at all?” (Epicurus, On the Overcoming of Fear)

Epicurus’s relieving us of the care about never having been contains within itself an antinatalism: if there is no one for whom never beginning to exist could be any sort of disadvantage, must it not, then, be ethically imperative not to beget in the first place human beings whose fear of death would then subsequently need to be placated in the way that Epicurus tries to placate it?

Non-Compensatability of Suffering

Karlheinz Deschner formulates one of the key supporting pillars of antinatalism: “I would have been content if I did not exist, if I had never been born. The joys of life, all taken together, are not sufficient to counterbalance a single great sorrow. No, they do not counterbalance it, say what one may to the contrary, they do not counterbalance it; whoever contends that they do can never have experienced a great, a truly great sorrow. […] Man is an organization of despair.” (Die Nacht steht um mein Haus)

Asymmetry of Non-Existence

If we cast ourselves in imagination back before the beginning of our own existence, we enter the periods of pre-natal (or, more precisely, pre-foetal, since even the foetus forms a kind of  >Proto-Self) non-existence. And if we look forward far enough into the future, we find ourselves dealing with our own posthumous non-existence. No qualitative differences can be distinguished within the non-existence of an entity x. Non-being knows no nuance or gradation. This being the case, the mere reminder that we once were not – that is, of our prenatal non-existence – should be an effective way of relieving us of all worry about our inevitable eventual death: “you” will become merely what you once were: non-existent, nothing. Since my non-existence is nothing that concerns me myself (since, at the time at which it comes to effect anything, “I” will not be, as Epicurus teaches us) the more correct way of speaking would be: a world which existed, for billions of years, without me in it was succeeded, for a few decades, by a world with me, which world will then in its turn be succeeded by  a world which will go on existing, for more billions of years, without me. If there is nothing frightful in a prenatal non-existence which endured for many aeons (see, however, >the Fear of Having Never Been), why should there be anything frightful in an eternally enduring non-existence after death?

Lucretius attempted to justify, by reference to this absolutely equal value of prenatal and posthumous non-existence, an unconcernedness in the face of death. But this “consolation of philosophy” does not work; it remains a bitter medicine. Because what concerns us most of all is not the “me”-less world that precedes and succeeds the time of our existence but rather the fact of having to die: the fact that, in our dying, something beyond our comprehension will befall us. We have to do here with an event of which we assume that it cannot possibly be “practiced” in advance (although we do in fact, each time we fall into a dreamless sleep, anticipate death in its essence and  it is demonstrated to us, each time we reawaken from such a dreamless >Sleep, how “it” was not to have existed for a few hours at a time). The reason why we fear our impending non-existence more than we do the non-existence that lies behind us may well be rooted in the simple fact that, however much we reflect, we cannot rid ourselves of the idea that something will befall us at the end of our lives (that we will have to suffer through the actual process of dying) and that we will undergo something very unpleasant before the world becomes once again a “world without us”.

Whereas the reference to “going to sleep” is an impotent attempt at appeasement with regard to the actual process of dying, the following is an attempt to soothe our fears in respect of our impending non-existence: with our death it is being that becomes ontically “poorer”; we ourselves are not affected by it; likewise, with the beginning of our existence it was being that became ontically “richer”; we ourselves did not become richer or gain anything thereby. Death subtracts us from that remaining part of being to which we were added with the beginning of our existence. The beginning and end of our existence are things that befall not us ourselves but rather the being that surrounds and bears us. As embodied consciousnesses we fall over and over again into the “error” of seeing the beginning of our existence as a gift that was given to us and our death as a loss which befalls us ourselves. Being mind-endowed entities whose existence, nonetheless, rests firmly upon the persistence of our physical organisms, it is inevitable that we have, as it were, “a taste for being” and that we are subjected to the tyranny of the body (>Bionomic Principle). Where IT is and bionomically raises its claims, it is only with the greatest difficulty that I can assert myself and have my way. These observations throw a harsh, clear light on how justified is the description of >Suicide Cynicism for remarks of the kind: ‘whoever is not satisfied with life is free to send him- or herself- back into the condition they were in before they began to exist”.  

 

Friedrich Theodor Vischer (1807–1887)

These matters were also reflected upon by Friedrich Theodor Vischer in his book Auch Einer: eine Reisebekanntschaft, namely in the following way: “Whoever is made unhappy by the thought that, after his death, he will no longer be alive needs to be reminded of the demands of logical consistency. No one ever feels unhappy over the fact that it was only at a certain point that he began to live, that is to say, that before his birth he was not alive[1]; he should be no whit more unhappy, then, over the fact that he will at a certain point cease to live. Admittedly, one great difference exists here: in the meantime, the individual in question will have become accustomed to life – and life, as is well known, is a dish that is decidedly ‘more-ish’!” (Vischer, Auch Einer. On the asymmetry between our attitudes respectively to past and to future non-existence, see also Nagel, The View from Nowhere)

[1] Or rather, to speak more precisely: that before the beginning of his existence he was not alive.

The Wish Not to Be, Typology of

1. The wish never to have been (natally preventive): Mä phynai

1.1 Egoistic: Oh would that I had never been born – life is, for me, unbearable.

1.2 Altruistic: Forgive me for having been born – I am unbearable for others.

1.3 Altruistic symbolic self-renunciation: Had I never existed, then this non-existence might have been part and parcel of a different setting of history’s points: a setting of the points which might possibly have involved also the non-occurrence of history’s terrible genocides.

  1. Intermittent:

2.1 Hypnophilic: Sleep as an abolition of conscious existence (a temporary one, indeed, but one that is accorded by Nature every night and one that is striven for and willingly extended and savoured by those to whom it is accorded).  

2.2 Consumption of narcotics etc.: Striven-for shadowings of the self within a spectrum that stretches from mere dimming of our consciousness into the very antechamber of suicide (suicidal lifestyle).

  1. Risky

Voluntary practice of various types of extreme sport and semi-voluntary exercise of professions with high mortality rates.

  1. Deathwish

4.1. Wishful longing for one’s own natural death (passive death)

4.2. Suicide (active realization of the wish not to exist)[1]

[1] The basic idea for this schema comes from Guido Kohlbecher.

New Beginning

A central theme in “last man” novels and stories, which deal with the figures of “last human beings left alive” after a global catastrophe and in which the notion of a “new beginning” is often affirmed. This genre is problematical because it is based on the false assumption that such great catastrophes have the effect of a “species-catharsis”.

Neronic Principle

Against an unreflective procreation Kierkegaard offers the reflection: “… I would, all the same, recommend to no one that he believe that he could never become a Nero” (Kierkegaard, Either-Or, S. 477) This means: nobody who procreates should believe that he could never beget a Nero.

Permanence of Negativity

Shakespeare was of the view that the evil done by human beings tends to be more enduring than the good done by them: “The evil that men do lives after them, / The good is oft interred with their bones.” (Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesa)

Processing of Negativity

By “processing of negativity” we mean people’s – partially involuntary – inclination to reinterpret negative events or experiences into at the very least neutral and often even outright positive ones (see Shelley E. Taylor, The Mobilization-Minimization Hypothesis). When a human being comes to be there comes to be an entity that will look back on a childhood and youth that will appear increasingly wonderful the older the human being in question gets. This is so because the human ego has succeeded in processing into positives all the negative aspects of its own biography. The fact that crises and sicknesses may have had to be undergone during these early years changes nothing in this regard. The more successful the processing of negativity, the greater the probability that the human being in question will procreate or urge others to engage in procreation.

Negativity Dementia

When someone speaks in favour, while being in full possession of his mental powers, of the bringing of a new human being into the world it may be assumed that this person is suffering from a serious condition of “negativity dementia”. Negativity dementia is a psychical mechanism which allows the Conditio in/humana to appear more bearable to us than it would be without this mechanism. Negative events, indeed, tend to mobilize an organism, in the first instance, to a greater degree than do positive ones; after the negative reaction, however, a mechanism sets in that dulls and mutes the negative experience or even erases it from the memory entirely. People tend to reinterpret negative events, retrospectively, into neutral or even into positive ones (see Shelley E. Taylor, The Mobilization-Minimization Hypothesis). – But this does nothing to alter the actual negativity of the events in question. There counts as an aspect of negativity dementia that phenomenon of “repression” which falls within the sphere of psychoanalysis.

Diversity of Negativity

Whoever contributes to a new human being’s beginning to exist is co-responsible for the existence of a being that lives in a world in which negative entities and events display a broader spectrum of variation than do positive ones – a being, in other words, whose repertoire of reactions corresponds to this greater diversity of the negative and who appears, therefore, better able, also conceptually, to represent negative things and occurrences than positive ones. When their children begin to talk this is always an occasion for the parents to celebrate. But these children become members of a community of language whose vocabulary for the description of corporeal pain is clearly a much subtler and more variegated one than that which describes the more pleasant bodily sensations (see Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman, Negativity Bias, p. 296–320, esp..p. 310f.) Already Wilhelm Wundt wrote, in his 1896 “Outline of Psychology”: “Clearly, language has created a far greater variety of names for negative affects than for positive, pleasurable ones. And in fact all observations suggest that it is probably the case that these negative, unpleasurable affects do indeed display a greater diversity in their typical manners of running their course, that is to say, they probably really are of a greater variety.”

Negative Contamination and Purification Through the Positive

Whoever acts in such a way that a new human being begins to exist is responsible for the existence of this latter in a world where contamination through the negative greatly outweighs the possibility of purification through the positive. A drop of mineral oil will pollute some 600 litres of drinking water – but a drop of drinking water will not make the least bit more drinkable 600 litres of mineral oil. Many people would no longer want to touch a plate of food that they’d seen a spider or a cockroach run over – but adding a handful of tofu to a pile of cockroaches will not make this pile seem, to most people, any more edible. If a Hindu from a higher caste accidentally consumes a meal prepared by a lower-caste individual this can mean a diminishing of his status – but a lower-caste Hindu who happens to consume a meal prepared by a higher-caste one does not thereby find his status raised.

Negative Intentionality

Negative intentionality[1] takes the form of the willingness to accept as things that go without saying those negative and even inhumane consequences of progenerative decisions that might, with a certain degree of attentiveness or a minimal mental effort, have easily been foreseen.  Negative intentionality corresponds to the wish to ignore accessible knowledge and evidence and finally even to repress it. At least in our present Information Age such a great degree of negative intentionality must be mustered in order to form and carry out a progenerative decision that it is justifiable to speak of culpable action and thus of >Parental Guilt.

[1] On the concept of negative intentionality see Wolfgang Würger-Donitza: Grundlegung einer negativen Anthropologie. Vol 2. p. 186.

Negative Aesthetics and the Relative Absence of Literary Narratives of Happiness

To the Conditio in/humana there belongs not only the fact that misery weighs more than happiness but also the fact that suffering and negative experience in general tend to yield much more, aesthetically, than happiness and positive experience could ever do. Paradoxically, the pleasure that arises from the enjoyment of art is based to a far greater degree on the artistic processing of negative than it is on that of positive experience.

Were we, therefore, to undertake to scour, in pronatalist spirit, through cultural history and the world’s literature in particular for representations of human happiness, the yield of such an undertaking would surely be much poorer than that of a parallel one in antinatalist spirit. As regards poetry, at least, Thomas Hardy once remarked: “Was there ever any great poetry which was not pessimistic?” (Thomas Hardy, Notebooks) Partially responsible, we may suppose, for this relative absence of literary narratives of happiness is the fact that literature is really only engaging when it finds resonance in the reader’s sense of sympathy and a sense of shared misery is easier to awaken than a sense of shared joy.

The Dominance of Negative Communicability

Whoever brings new people into existence brings them into a material, biological and social world in which the communicability of negative experience far outweighs the communicability of positive. This becomes clear if we consider what tends to trigger feelings of sympathy. Suffering clearly tends to give rise to sympathy as a form of “suffering-with” in a much greater measure than joy does to a “rejoicing-with”. Whoever begets a new human being, then, brings one more being into the world who will much more easily become depressed through the encounter with others’ misery than he will become euphoric through the encounter with others’ joy.

Negatively Communicating Vessels of Culture

The principle of negatively communicating vessels demands of us that we pay attention to the respective “flip sides” to all the brilliant cultural achievements of human history. It can be illustrated in terms of a distant analogy to a bio-physical phenomenon: Highly organized systems – organisms – spread, metabolically, disorder within their environments for the purpose of maintaining the orders peculiar to their own respective systems. They exist, so to speak, at the expense of their environments. Historically, great power complexes, such as empires, function in a comparable way.

When we admire the administration, the school system, the marble halls and other architectural constructions of the highly organized Hellenic and Roman imperial orders we should never lose sight of the fact that there corresponded to this praiseworthy organization a great measure of destructiveness and inhumanity not only in the Roman colonies, for example, but also in the very centre of the Roman empire. The global empire of the Romans perfected the Greek system of coinage and financial commerce, slavery and war economy/militarism. At certain times some three quarters of Rome’s entire state budget was devoted to military expenditures.

As an illustration of the negatively communicating vessels of the market logic of the modern global system we can cast a glance at Amsterdam as the flourishing centre of this system in the period of Dutch hegemony. While cultivated minds among the shareholders of the Dutch East India Company discussed the merits of this or that painter, there corresponded to the “Dutch Golden Age” a period of profound darkness inaugurated by the massacres presided over by this same company in Indonesia. Reduced to a simple formula, there corresponded to the rise and endurance of Western civilization, and indeed of other civilizations besides, a massive degree of barbarism in other regions of the world.