Monday, October 3, 2016

What are the consequences of antinatalism?

Not including, of course, the elimination of the whole "birth" thing.

If antinatalism, then what? I'm not just talking about the theoretical implications of a political institutionalization of antinatalism. I'm also referring to the practical life choices an antinatalist faces.

This is perhaps the one single thing I have been consistently disappointed in when reading pessimistic/antinatalistic literature (at least the stuff I have read) - there's a whole lot spent on the tragedy of life, but very little is spent on how to either fix this, or eliminate the problem. The authors seem content with pointing out the flaws, then sitting back and smoking their pipe. Like, okay, interesting ideas, but how are we gonna implement these? How do we even continue to live our own lives if we accept your ideas? Schopenhauer pointed out how the pain of the prey always outweighs the pleasure of the predator - yet he did nothing about it. Meanwhile the prey continued to feel extreme pain at the maw of the predator. How is this not compelling?! How do you, on one hand, criticize something like life in such a penetrating fashion, yet not do anything about it?! So, under an antinatalist view:

What happens to the typical nuclear family unit? Is there still a relationship between parents and children? What about child-rights? Are children entitled to compensation for being born into the world against their will? How far does this compensation extend? Should they be allowed retribution or justice if they want? Certainly that would stop birth pretty damn quickly, if retribution on the parents by the children was legalized, whether that be by economic compensation or even execution (some folks over at the antinatalism subreddit seem to want to right to murder their parents out of vengeance...yikes?). Is this too extreme of a view, or is it justified, considering birth is a one-way ticket to death? Are parents murdering their children, and if so, ought they be punished?

Does it make sense to love your biological mother and father despite being an antinatalist? Personally speaking, I have a decent relationship with my biological parents. I oftentimes wish I hadn't been born (although I have had some pretty awesome moments in the past, as well as some really, really traumatic and shitty experiences: came close to drowning several times, went through a horrible school shooting, have uncontrollable panic attacks, was accidentally poisoned once...). But I don't hate my parents, in fact I usually enjoy visiting them when I do. Parents are, after all, just kids having kids (to quote Rick and Morty). But should I hate them? Am I being coherent by being an antinatalist yet not cutting ties with my parents? What about other parents, should I hate them for having children?

What should the public face of antinatalism be? A cursory look at the antinatalist literature reveals a quite dark and depressing series of ideas. Can antinatalism ever be not-depressing? How else can we argue for antinatalism in a penetrating fashion other than by pointing out how much life sucks?

What about the environment and biology in general? Personally I don't really care too much about the environment, especially since it harbors so much useless suffering. From what I can see, the difference between antinatalism and efilism is one of scope - do we only focus on human reproduction or all reproduction?

Certainly I don't approve of current agriculture and the processing of animals as if they were simply slabs of meat to be eaten and not feeling, sentient creatures capable of suffering and having future interests. Antinatalism without veganism/vegetarianism is, at least to me, quite strange and difficult to justify; veganism/vegetarianism without antinatalism even more so.

So much of society seems to be held together by the promise of a future continued by our children - we go to Mars for our children, we fight global warming for our children, we fight wars for our children, we write educational textbooks for the next generation of learners, we fund schools, universities, and other forms of educational systems for the future generation, we upkeep parks and recreational facilities so parents and children can have fun together, etc. The list is almost limitless. The promise of a future after we die is what keeps us sane as a collective. We pass the torch to the next courageous wielders, yada-yada.

Is it moral to indirectly support a society that itself supports birth, by means of being involved in the economic process? Does political inactivity equate to support, similar to the doing/allowing distinction? What if some of my favorite music artists have children - should I still listen to their music? Just as feminists today tell us not to support stuff that is oppressive to women, should antinatalists not support stuff that supports or advocates birth?

What will happen to the sexual and gender images, in particular, that of women? Many cultures prize women on their ability to bear children - what will the fallout be if this image is discarded? How difficult will it be to create a new image for women, especially since most women (at least on the surface) seem to enjoy this image anyway?

Religion is gonna be a goner - or is it? Aren't some philosophical views quasi-religious in some sense? Just look at the mythological character of The Last Messiah in Peter Zapffe's eponymous essay: it's quite literally an apocalyptic religious narrative. Religions already are derivative death-cults; with the relevance and prevalence of death in pessimistic literature, is it not plausible that an antinatalist or an antinatalist society would adopt a death-oriented outlook? Indeed, antinatalism does seem to succeed in tearing down the Manifest Image of man - how do we survive this?

This is only scratching the surface. For myself at least, I feel like quite the contradiction, indeed, for some time now. On one hand I can't submerge myself in society's illusions and don't approve of many of its practices. On the other hand, I'm not sure if I would particularly like to live in a society that accepted everything I do. It's like some of my convictions, in particular antinatalism, can only ever be idealism.

Maybe that's why so many pessimists were/are misanthropes. They didn't have to worry too much about this stuff, because they didn't care what happened to others. They could/can sit comfortably in their cushioned chairs, writing whatever they had to write, yet in the end not give a damn whether it was implemented or not. In which case, their writing becomes more like therapy than advocation. They write to themselves, not to others.

But that's just it: it's easy to criticize and pretend that your string of words is actually doing something productive. But it's hard to practice what you preach. And I'm struggling with the latter.


  1. DarthB.

    The "nothingness" of being dead is such a great comfort .

    Just like a deep sleep , we won't experience a thing . No more bullshit, no more caring about tedious life, no more other people and society . I often find myself lying awake thinking to myself what a fucking relief death is. No consciousness it's literally hard to imagine but I lay in bed thinking about it . How will it be when I'm dead , absolutely nothing ! Some people may say it's sad and depressing but you will be gone there's no more you , you are no longer aware so it won't be anything To you . Your experiences will be just like how before you were born , nothing.

    I find this very comforting and dare I say exciting.

    Do you agree?

    1. C-

      Had you asked me this around a year ago, I probably would have agreed. But as of now I can't say I agree with your outlook on death.

      The problem I see with your view is that it's grass-is-always-greener thinking by-and-through. What seems to me is that by fantasizing about non-existence, you're applying some sort of value to it that cannot be applied rationally. You're reifying comparative value into actual value - a classic psychological phenomenon. It's the same reasoning that goes on when people think a recovery from a detrimental accident qualifies the accident itself as good, as if recovery is goodness itself.

      When in reality, non-existence is not good. There is no good outcome in our position: we live a life of mediocrity and suffering, and then die. Both states of affairs are not good, and it's only a poetic coping mechanism to actually say an empty universe is good. It's not. In fact I think it might be rather insulting to even argue that non-existence and death are good things for us: it places to focus on a good in order to justify action against the bad, when our primary ethical focus should be on minimizing the bad, and not necessarily because there's a good state in store afterwards. After all, we aren't even *there* to enjoy the peacefulness of non-existence. *There is no redemption*.

      So that's the rub of a negative ethical outlook: there is no good state of affairs in which sentients as we know them to be, exist, only levels of bad and worse. You know we're in a pretty shitty situation when we start fantasizing about the quality of non-existence.