Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Should This Be the Last Generation?

Peter Singer, Princeton's professor of bioethics, has commented in the New York Times on the subject of antinatalism, referencing David Benatar's book, Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. It's a good article, though in my opinion the conclusion is an unmitigated cop-out, namely-

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.

I've gone into this argument too many times to mention, so rather than rehash yet again, I thought I'd paste a few of the more salient remarks from the comments section...

san diego
June 9th, 2010
2:42 pm
Since the vast majority of humans are non-thinkers who are easily drawn to superstitions (religions), most of the children born will go through life happily deluding themselves into thinking that there is some meaning to life, and that they will live forever after they die. For the unfortunate one's who use their brains (less than 1% of the population), they will mature and soon recognize that life is about suffering as the human body begins to fail after middle age. Horrible diseases will make some of their lives a living nightmare far sooner. Others will slowly rot as discs in their back rupture, their eye sight fails, their joints become painful with arthritis, or Alzheimer's disease eats holes in their brains. While all this is occuring the thinker knows his fate is non-existance and a life without any meaning. Most people are no more capable of rational thought than a chimp. They breed out of pure animal instinct without giving it a second thought, or even a first. They firmly grasp at their superstition, suspend all rational thought and breed. I recognized the reality of this life as a child and decided then that I would not make another human being for the sole purpose of suffering and dieing for no reason. Bringing other beings into this existance who may have the ability to think, even though it is a rare quality, is immoral.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
June 9th, 2010
2:43 pm
I decided a long while back that I didn't want to have children. It was absolutely the right choice for me and I don't regret it at all. I am not optimistic about the future but I don't really share this feeling with my many friends who did decide to have offspring. The times of bounty have peaked in first world countries and life is going to get harder for everyone in coming generations. Unfortunately few are paying attention -- it's easier not to think about it & to just believe that we will continue to live in the land of plenty for many years to come. There are signs of trouble all around -- and thoughtful people are paying attention....

June 9th, 2010
2:44 pm
I agree with some folks - badly written article but bringing up badly needed discussion points. But it's pointless to think about concepts like global sterilzation and population control because they will never, ever happen on any scale. People will cling to the right to have unlimited babies, and die for it, until we're all dead.

Not questioning the right to unlimited reproduction even though it's obviously foolish and makes unspeakable horror and tragedy inevitable: 7 billion (and counting) humans can't be wrong!

Seriously, the rest of all our lives are going to be spent watching leaders and pundits both intelligent and ignorant, both mainstream and underground, debating what to do about climate change, economic collapse, the end of growth, and eventually untold suffering. And the solution has been simple all along. It's available to everyone, in every country. It doesn't require technological advances, diplomacy, or even money. In fact it saves you around $200000.

June 9th, 2010
2:45 pm
I'll make my answers easy - YES to each and every question!! However, if you read "The Road" or watch the movie, and read the news every day, you would be inclined to want to cease procreation with this generation. I am a pollyanna-type, an optimist, however, if you knew your family had a gene that would cause an innocent child to live in a world of pain and suffering, then put your selfish wants and desires aside, and go childless. Get a dog, or a cat....

I found this last comment particularly interesting. Here is a commonsensical, self-professed optimist positing a hypothetical scenario, and acknowledging that under such circumstances it would be wrong to bring a child into the world. I congratulate her thinking as far as it goes. However, I am moved to point out that EVERY innocent child is brought into a world of pain and suffering- not to mention, death- and ALWAYS for selfish reasons. Since this is the case, her plea to "...put our(sic) selfish wants and desires aside, and go childless." becomes a universal adjuration to stop breeding entirely...doesn't it?

Anyway, it's tremendously exciting to see this subject broached in the mainstream media, mitigating postscripts aside. It seems some major taboos are having their day in the sun. First the recent spate of popular books scribed by proponents of atheism, and now this. Not immediately world shaking, perhaps, but not altogether irrelevant, either. Tiny cracks and dams, my friends. Tiny cracks, and dams.


Shadow said...

Hey Jim, I´ve been thinking. I´m going to start offering myself as a translator of books in antinatalism, since I also subscribe to it.

I want to offer official translations of those books in Portuguese, so Portugal and Brazil, and other portuguese speaking native speakers can have a shot at reading them.

I thought maybe if you want someday to have your book translated to it, I can give it a hand.

Tell me what you think.


Shadow said...


I mean, I prefer to read your book in english, but other people around the world may not have the same chance.

If, someday, you want to have your book translated, give me a heads up =)

metamorphhh said...


That's an awesome offer! I'll let you know, and I truly appreciate your interest in spreading the word.

Now, off to bowling!

CM said...

Jim, I could also translate your book into Russian (free of charge, of course). But, IIRC, Chip owns the rights. I don't know if it's realistic to expect it to get picked up by international publishers (of course, it would be super-awesome if it did, but I don't think even BNtHB has been translated). But if you guys were ever up for offering your book for free online in other languages... It seems like we are a pretty multilingual bunch.

As far as the article - I think the NYT is definitely better publicity than a list of the most ridiculous titles of the year which first introduced me to Benatar. Next thing you know, antinatalism will replace teh ghey as Republicans' #1 fear. One can dream...

Josep said...


I'm willing to join this impromptu team of translators. I translate from English to Spanish and my speciality, ironically, is children books. (What a wonderful and subversive idea to put antinatalist books in the recommended reading lists of schools. André Breton and the surrealists would have approved of it...

Rock/HardPlace said...

My tragedy is in finding out that I didn't want kids after I became happily married. I'm thinking of procreating with my wife instead of losing her. I'm trying hard to be unselfish here, but the suffering I'd experience post-divorce makes me horrified.

metamorphhh said...

CM, Josep:

It's an exciting prospect, and one that I'm thinking will probably be considered down the road. Thanks for the offers. My girlfriend is German, btw, so there's another language!

metamorphhh said...

Rock/Hard Place:

Wow, I know that feeling. In my case, my forebodings hadn't really concretized into a genuine philosophical position yet, and I caved under the universal but utterly false aphorism, 'Everything will work out, honey'. I tell myself these days that things would've been different if only I'd been exposed to the ideas I and others are now espousing. But that's water under the bridge, and I love my children.

However, because I love my children you can be damned sure that, had I the chance to do it over again, I would NEVER bring them into existence- to labor, to 'do their duties', to suffer, and to die. And even though I might miss their presence in my life, they wouldn't miss anything, and would never know what it's like to miss anything, or to lose anyone, or to become disenchanted with a life filled with pain, and loss, and meaningless toil. They would never know bodies that would sooner or later turn on them via disease, or accident, or simply through the aging process. And they wouldn't ever be forced to tell themselves lies to avoid the reality of the ever encroaching doom that's creeping up on each one of us out of the mist of an unsure future, where the only certainties are dissolution and death in some shape or form.

Rock, if you choose to have children, knowing the stakes, you will hate yourself for the rest of your life. Even if you learn to sublimate, the hatred will be there, buried. Personally, I'd rather lose 1,000 wives than go through what I've gone through, even acknowledging the great joy my children have brought me. Because it's not about me, after all. It's about them, and the fact that in bringing new life into the world, I have in the same breath condemned them to some degree of misery (possibly a LOT), and death. Back to where they came from in the first place.

I'll finish this with an excerpt from my book-

"What is so crucial about our particular existence that we feel compelled to roll children out of their eternal slumber, slap them around for awhile, feed them, fuck them, pull them through knotholes, blindfold them, turn them round and round, then send them back off to find their beds? It makes no sense!"

The Plague Doctor said...


You are assuming you will NOT lose your wife if you choose to procreate. However, this is in no way guaranteed. If your wife values having children so much more that she would leave you, then after having children she will still value her children more than you, and she could leave you at any minute.

Anonymous said...

I love the free exchange of ideas, as long as it remains free. If you want to stop procreating, and want to encourage others to do the same, that's great. Do it.

If you want to use guns or threats of violence to force or coerce others into stopping, that's where we part company.

History is littered with the surplus carnage and suffering brought on by those who were sure they knew better, and who obliged others by force to go along with their plans.

metamorphhh said...


I generally concede to the spirit behind your words. What I'm trying to do here is instigate a revolution of thought, and nothing more. However, I can also envisage a future hypothetical world where people finally come to terms with their consciences, and decide to do the right thing on a global scale (as you can probably tell, this is an EXTREMELY hypothetical scenario, but play along, if you will).

My question to you is: What of the holdouts? No coercion? No physical intervention? The goal is almost reached, only to be stymied by the Peoples' Procreation Front, who'll continue populating their underground breeding creches until everybody else is gone, to start the show all over again?

You said 'History is littered with the surplus carnage and suffering brought on by those who were sure they knew better...'. Before, above and beyond anyone else, this indictment applies to birthers, since it is people who are the agents of the carnage and violence you detest, of every possible form within the human arena. Procreation continues the cycle, without which it would collapse within a generation.

It's easy to pretend we stand apart from the negative aspects of existence. "Look at me! I have no gun. I have no knife. I'm all for fun, eschewing strife!" But by our very existence, all of us participate in the global bloodbath. Each of us is both criminal and victim here. None of our hands are clean, and our own parents betrayed us the moment they dropped us off in this hellhole. I did the same thing, and while it's too late for them, I'm hoping to make some amends before I die. If in some far flung future my words wind up translating into some form of coercion, and perhaps even violence, I'd be saddened for the immediate suffering, but at the same time gladdened by the future suffering forestalled.

I am both saint and criminal, as is each of us. That's the script life has written, I'm afraid. It'll always be that way, until this passion play finally unwinds, and we find peace in silence.

Some Emo Kid said...

I think in part, religion is to blame. For example, Christians almost always site the fact that the Bible says to "go out and populate the Earth". Never mind they never specifically stated to populate the Earth with what. They don't take into consideration the mindless breeding. I was discussing my Atheism (well really Scientific Pantheism eh,) With some Christians and I said "If we keep procreating at this rate the earth will not be able to support us i.e food, water" and this little brainwashed child says "No God will take care of us! He said go out and have babies!" I wanted to die right there. They are brainwashing people into thinking everyone needs to baby fuck (have sex for children) constantly.

metamorphhh said...

Emo Kid: 'baby fuck'...I LIKE it!

metamorphhh said...

Although, come to think of it it COULD be misinterpreted :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the thoughtful response, metamorphh (did I get enough hs?).

I am not ready to concede that giving birth is itself a coercive act, at least in the way the terms are usually used.

So yes, even if there were some holdouts, I would eschew coercion/force/violence.

As for the Christians being brainwashed, that would have to assume that they are objectively wrong, which is far from settled, methinks, and with all due respect to atheists, agnostics, non-theistic religionists, non-Christian theists, and whoever else lives in that spectrum!

Some Christians obviously believe with no solid basis in rationality, though the same can be said for many atheists (who could be styled as disbelieving with equally little solidity). My most recent reading leads me to the conclusion that this is not so slam-dunk a case as either side would have us believe. The Reason for God by Kellerman, and I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Turek/Geisler. Obviously Hitchens and Dawkins take great stabs at it as well.

So if you grant that the other side of the debate is already wrong, then yes, it is being brainwashed. I would hesitate to go there.

metamorphhh said...


The God question was settled for me quite some time ago, both in the generic sense, and CERTAINLY in the Judeo/Christian sense, right along with Zeus, Odin and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. However, I dedicated a section in my book arguing that even if the Christian view is the correct one, that simply raises the stakes, and makes procreation even more abhorrent.

Btw, if you're interested in a thorough dismantling of the Turek/Geisler book, go here, or for a little more fun,here

Sister Y said...

I am an atheist, and also an anti-theist, but I think the latter actually has more claim to "objectiveness."

If we look at the world and imagine a God who created it and has some degree of involvement with it, we can quickly see that this God has values very alien to our own - what we would classify as evil. Therefore, even if God exists, it's still wrong to worship it.

CM said...

Anon, it could be argued that the human community (unlike a single individual) is responsible for any outcome that occurs within it. So it makes sense for a community to adopt the harm principle and sometimes use force to prevent harm to unconsenting parties. Now you may reject the harm principle altogether, but that is not specific to antinatalism.

But if you do subscribe to the harm principle, then saying you're not ready to concede that giving birth (or, more accurately, bringing into existence) is a coercive act is not enough to show that interference with breeding attempts is unwarranted. You will find plenty of arguments on this blog, in Jim's book, and in Better Never to Have Been for procreation being a coercive (or morally equivalent) act. So it would be helpful if you at least said why you found the arguments unpersuasive, but you have not done so. Instead you chose to concentrate on what some (but not all) antinatalists consider to be the practical implications of their conclusion that ideally, there should be no more people. I myself am in favor of using limited force to prevent reproduction if it ever becomes feasible, and will remain so unless you can demonstrate that the reasoning I used to arrive at this position was faulty.