From our “alternative perspectives” tag…
Antinatalism: since children can’t consent to being born, it’s unethical to impose life (give birth) in a world in which the potential for great suffering exists. Having children means gambling with the welfare of someone else. It means conducting Frankenstein experiments you can’t control in which someone else pays the price. It means playing god while lacking a god-like control over the outcomes. In short, it’s fucking nuts.
When you point out to people that as long as people are giving birth, a certain percentage of those children will end up suicidally miserable (close to 40,000 people a year commit suicide in the US), they tend to think that suicidal people are just the price we have to pay in order to have happy people. When people decide to have children, they are implicitly prioritizing the existence of happy people at the expense of those who will suffer. They are making a value judgment that happy lives are more important than suffering lives. Anti-natalists believe the opposite: suffering takes precedence, and better no one exist than one person endure a nightmare existence. If the possibility of creating even one miserable, suicidal person exists, then it’s unethical to have children. Either way, one group of people has to be sacrificed to the other. Either miserable people can be sacrificed so happy people can exist, or potential happy people can be sacrificed so suffering people don’t have to exist.
There are many common arguments against antinatalism:
1.) You said that “either miserable people can be sacrificed so happy people can exist, or potential happy people can be sacrificed so suffering people don’t have to exist,” doesn’t that mean that either way it’s unfair? If that’s the case why not stick with the status quo?
The reason this argument doesn’t work is because even though it’s unfair in both situations it’s not equally unfair. Potential happy people won’t miss what they haven’t been alive to experience, but suffering people will suffer from existing. This is referred to as Benatar’s asymmetry.
2.) But there’s a lot more happy people in the world then suicidal people. Shouldn’t you take that into account?
How many suicidal people is acceptable to you? 40,000 in the US alone isn’t enough, so how high would that number have to be before you think having children is immoral? How many world wars or mass starvations are acceptable? Do you have any standards? This is only partially rhetorical. Please answer.
But again, potential happy people can’t regret the lives they’re missing out on if they’re not born in the first place.
3.) Miserable people can always commit suicide.
Those who say this don’t realize that it’s like getting someone hooked on heroin and saying “well, you can always quit if you want.” Sure, it’s possible, and some people manage to quit (usually after years of suffering), but it’s incredibly difficult. And it still doesn’t justify the pain endured leading up to suicide. It’s like raping someone and saying “well, you can always go to therapy.” Having children means getting someone addicted to life. And like other addictions, no matter how much suffering results, the addict has trouble stopping themselves, whether it’s due to the fear of hurting others or the deeply ingrained biological fear of hurting themselves that’s stopping them. Once someone is alive they have all sorts of obligations that can make suicide impractical. If would-be parents want to use the “you can always commit suicide” argument to justify imposing life without consent, they should be doing everything they can to make suicide easier and more socially acceptable. Since they’re not doing this, their argument is disingenuous and made in bad-faith. It’s an easy rationalization for their selfish desire to reproduce.
4.) Unborn children can’t give their consent to being alive, therefore you don’t need their consent!
Consider the following thought experiment. Suppose hell was real and the inhabitants of hell were allowed to procreate, thus dooming young children to a hellish existence. Some of the inhabitants suggest that it’s immoral to have children in hell especially without their consent, but others point out that you don’t need their consent because they can’t give it until they’re actually alive to give it. And after all, they say, isn’t it better to be alive and in hell than non-existent anyway?
In response to the above scenario, most people tend to say it’s not ok to reproduce in hell without consent, even if it’s the only opportunity for the unborn child to exist. Why does the argument that it’s ok to bring children into our world without their consent (because they’re not alive to give it) make sense in our world but not in the hell world?
Just to be clear, the point is not that our world is equivalent to hell (at least for everyone). The point is that the argument that unborn children can’t give consent so therefore we don’t need their consent is fallacious.
And, yes, it’s true that most people wouldn’t want children in hell, not because they can’t consent, but because they think hell is a bad thing, period. But that doesn’t mean consent isn’t a factor. Suppose there were people who willingly decided to go hell because they wanted to experience it, and they made an informed decision to go there. Would you support that? I think plenty of people would. Now suppose these same people decide to drag others to hell who didn’t consent? Would you be against that? Most people would be. This demonstrates that it’s not experiencing hell’s inherent badness that people oppose, it’s forcing others to do so without their consent. Consent is key.
5.) Humans can’t stop breeding. It’s biology!
Everything we do is biological, including rape and murder. Is it wrong to encourage people not to rape and murder? Furthermore, plenty of people don’t have children. And many people who do have children, have them as unplanned accidents, resulting from a biological urge for sex, not reproduction. It’s true that some men and women have a specific urge for children, but giving into this urge is no more right than giving into the urge to kill someone who cut you off in traffic, even though anger is a strong biological impulse as well. Those who make this argument are really just saying that we should just accept that we’re apes, not even try to do better, and just embrace it. I.E. they’re nihilists.
6.) But antinatalism is nihilism!
It’s actually the opposite of nihilism. It’s based on basic principles, like the principle of consent, and a concern for suffering. Our current situation, where people breed left and right without concern for the suffering created is closer to nihilism than antinatalism is. It’s just status quo nihilism that we’re so used to that we don’t see it as nihilism. All sorts of immoral behavior was once seen as normal and acceptable (slavery, homophobia, etc.)
7.) But that means that no one will exist! I like the the thought of people existing!
It doesn’t necessarily mean that no one will exist. You have three options:
a.) Happy life exists somewhere else, either on a different planet, universe, dimension, etc. If that’s the case, and we already have happiness perpetuating itself elsewhere, what’s the use in perpetuating life on earth with its attendant chance of misery?
b.) Life exists elsewhere, but it’s not happy. In that case, let them reproduce. You’re not responsible for them anyway and can’t do anything about it even if you were. You can sleep well at night knowing that life exists somewhere in this universe even as Earthlings decide to do the right thing and take the antinatalist approach.
c.) Life exists only earth. This is extremely unlikely. But if it’s the case, that still doesn’t give us the right to impose life on others without their consent.
Furthermore, even if life only currently exists on earth, it still doesn’t mean that life wouldn’t exist somewhere else in the future. We waited an eternity before being born. We could have waited another eternity to be born into a better world. What’s the rush?
8.) Just because we can’t be 100% sure of the outcome doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have children!
Actually, it does. There are two problems with this. One, you’re gambling with someone else’s welfare, which is wrong. And two, it’s incredibly glib. Extreme suffering is real and should be grappled with, not just glibly and conveniently hand-waved away. Someone, somewhere has suffered the most. Suppose they were your child, could you look into their eyes and say “I’m sorry you’re in hell, but when I was rolling the dice I had a good feeling!”
9.) But if we stop breeding we won’t be able to create our future utopia where everyone is happy!
There’s no evidence that humans are moving toward a future utopia. More importantly, even if they were, that still doesn’t make it ok to create suffering humans without their consent in order to use them as stepping stones to your future utopia.
10.) You’re just trying to be edgy!
Got any arguments or just insults?
11.) You’re just depressed!
Psychoanalysis can go both ways, but even if that’s true, it only bolsters my point. Your child could end up like me!
This isn’t about me, though. It’s about the fact that close to 40,000 people a year commit suicide in the US and millions more think about it. It’s about the fact that some people are destined to draw the shortest sticks in life and these people are conveniently swept under the rug and ignored when it comes to discussing the ethics of procreation. Breeders are like gamblers who are so excited by the prospect of winning and so focused on imagining how great it will be when they win that they completely fail to weigh the risk properly. Only in this case, the risk is borne by someone else. And even those people who think long and hard about the possibility their child will suffer, for all their self-awareness they’re still ultimately saying “fuck it, roll the dice” when they opt for children.
In any case, just because you’re incapable of simultaneously enjoying your own life while recognizing that your own joy doesn’t justify other people suffering, doesn’t mean everyone else is incapable of drawing a similar conclusion.
12.) You’re just a pessimist! Why are you so negative?
Extreme suffering is a FACT, not something conjured up by a bad attitude. Why are you so glib, so callous, and so lacking in empathy that you’d prefer to deny, minimize, and/or rationalize the existence of extreme suffering? Why do you bury your head in the sand when confronted with basic facts of life? Your “positivity” is actually denial and it just creates more suffering in the long run. If you want to be truly “positive,” help end suffering.
13.) But I love being alive! Life is great!
That’s great, but it doesn’t justify you imposing life on someone else without their consent. And furthermore, life isn’t great for everyone. Just because you choose to ignore suffering, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
14.) I have faith! Yes, there’s suffering, but it’s for a reason!
If your faith is so strong, why are you so eager to have children? Why not wait to have children in the afterlife or some other realm that you insist exists? Or why have kids at all? If your faith is so strong, you should be able to endure the pain of not having kids. Furthermore, your “faith” is not a trump card that justifies any immoral act. It doesn’t justify you raping people, and it doesn’t justify imposing life on others without their consent.
15.) You’re such a control freak! You need to learn to “let go” and trust the universe and quit trying to control things!
No one would say that about violence, the economy, raising their own child, or a myriad of other issues. The natural state of the world is shit and people are constantly trying to control it. But rather than trying to control ME and others like me, why don’t you “let go” and accept the fact that this world is no place for children. Why don’t you give up your fear of a baby-free world and trust that things will be ok if people stop breeding?
16.) But my maternal/paternal instincts are so strong, you don’t understand!
If your maternal/paternal instincts were so strong, you wouldn’t have children. This world wouldn’t be good enough for them. The very fact that you think it is, is proof that you DON’T have strong maternal/paternal instincts. It’s proof you have SELFISH instincts.
17.) Even if you’re right, it’s a hopeless task to convince people. You’re just wasting time!
Maybe, but you don’t know until you try. If you asked someone in 1950 whether gay marriage would ever be a thing, they’d probably think you were nuts. Same goes for lots of issues.
For those still in the natalist camp, I have two questions for you.
1.) Given the fact that a certain percentage of children being born will end up suicidally miserable, how do you justify your life? What is so special about your life that it justifies the creation of suffering people? Please describe your daily activities so I can get a sense of the awesomeness of it. And if your life is not amazingly awesome, but instead consists of mundane activities like eating and going to work, how the fuck can you justify the insane amounts of suffering that are the byproduct of your selfish need to create more mundane lives like your own? I’m genuinely curious.
2.) Even if you disagree with antinatalism, don’t you think would-be parents should be forced to grapple with these issues before they have children? Most parents never seriously consider these issues. What does that say about the gravity, or lack thereof, which the average person possesses when they decide to have a child? Most parents are never forced to defend their choice, isn’t it about time that parents are, at the very least, put on the defensive and forced to explain themselves? What harm could come from making more parents think deeply about the implications of having children?
3.) You’re confident that having children is fine and dandy. Would your opinion change if you underwent some form of long-term extreme suffering? Why or why not? If you haven’t experienced long-term extreme suffering, does that fact give you any pause when it comes to being parent? Also, does the fact that many people experience their worst suffering after their 20’s and 30’s (which is when they’re likely to have children), give you any pause?
For antinatalists, I also have a question:
How bad does life have to get before you not only decide for yourself to not have children, but actively start to prevent other people from having children? Most people agree that it’s ok to use force to stop slave-owners, but where is the line with people who bring children into this world?