Monday, May 12, 2008

David Benatar's 'Better Never to Have Been'...Chapter 4

Scattered on chance's wind are we,
as from creation's spreading tree
we fall, like children of an indifferent god
too busy keeping ledgers to note
the directions in which we fly,
or where, at last, we land.

We dance in tiny whirlwinds, and are lifted
up again; some dull, few gifted,
but none soar high enough to escape the lure
of the ever-siren's call:
a song of earth for feet of clay,
on which we make our stands.

Thus, we await our ends in careworn years,
behind the veils that mask our fears
of abandonment, as memory serves too well.
We wonder from whence comes our sustenance
at the final nod, when soil is turned,
and life cuts the last strand.

Chapter 4, ‘Having Children: The Anti-Natal View, begins with a wonderful quote from Flaubert...

“The idea of bringing someone into this world fills me with horror...May my flesh perish utterly! May I never transmit to anyone the boredom and ignominies of existence!”

Well, his feelings certainly come across clearly, don’t they? Hehehe! Anyhow, chapter 4 is largely a study of the pros and cons of procreation, and speaks to the ethical questions. What are our duties, and from what pre-suppostional frameworks are these duties derived? What are our rights, and where are these rights grounded? Personal autonomy? Entitlements from certain powers-that-be? Reasonable disagreement with the conclusion that life is ultimately harmful? Argumentation. Justification. Dissent. The intricacies involved preclude any succinct summing up on my part, I’m afraid (BUY THE BOOK), but I’d like to take a whack at the last little section of the chapter, which sports this header...


Here, the author cites the hypothetical case of the parents of a child with leukemia, having a second child in order to provide a bone marrow transplant to the first child. Certainly a tough call (I’m thinking an ESPECIALLY tough call for a parent who’s become an antinatalist after the birth of the first child!). He then goes on to talk a little bit about cloning, and the ramifications implied (and who hasn’t seen one of those bad sci-fi movies, i.e. ‘The Clonus Horror’ or ‘The Island’, which was actually a clone of ‘The Clonus Horror’...I’m an MST3K dweeb, and know this stuff). But there’s one particular section I’d like to zone in on, and discuss. I quote...

“Clones and those children who are produced to save the life of a sibling are not brought into existence for their own sakes. This, however, is no different from any children. Children are brought into existence not in acts of great altruism, designed to bring the benefit of life to some pitiful non-being suspended in the metaphysical void and thereby denied the joys of life. In so far as children are ever brought into existence for anybody’s sake it is never for their own sake.”

NEVER for their OWN SAKE! In a perfect world, this would be tatooed across the foreheads of every person who ever called a non-breeder ‘selfish’. For procreation is THE most selfish act ever accomplished in a person’s lifetime. Children are brought into existence to be UTILIZED, in one way or another. Children as cuddly dollies. Children as signs of virility. Children as glue for bad marriages. Children as farm tools. Children as future income earners. Children as future caregivers. Children as offerings to the grandparents. Children as taxpayers. Children as soldiers. Children as a means to acheiving social and/or political power and/or prestige. Children as icons for sundry vicarious attainments. Children for proxy immortality. Children as offerings to God (sacrificial lambs ring a bell?). And the fact that we sincerely love them along the way doesn’t speak squat to the primal, selfish act of bringing them into an existence that will hurt them in many, many ways...and eventually kill them.

“You may look upon life as an unprofitable episode, disturbing the blessed calm of non-existence.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

If having a child as a means to an end seems wrong to the reader, try to realize that procreation is ALWAYS a means to an end, even if that end is to purchase the good feelings of being a parent. And of course, there are usually other, egoistic motives involved...otherwise, why not simply adopt? Remember, every new child brought into existence is ultimately a vessel for suffering, and for death. Always. Your children will suffer, and die. So will mine. Nobody gets left out. Well, except for those who never get ‘brought in’ in the first place. Get it?

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