Better Forever to Have Been

Behind a fragile veneer of seemingly logical and abstract thinking, the anti-natalist attempts to justify a hideous set of ignoble convictions: that life itself does more harm than good, that those who create life are worthy of nothing short of contempt, and that the world we share would be better off, morally speaking, if we withered away and disappeared from it. Their life-denialism demands only pity, as this worldview is much more, and in many ways far less, than any innocuous intellectual exercise. It is the ultimate and unconditional surrender to the most decrepit, cynical and impotent inclination of our species. And it is, at bottom, a cold, loathing and ultimately resentful delusion that convinces those who believe it that all moments of joyful and loving connection are worthless — when they are, in actuality, the very best things that we have and do.

I concede from the outset that, rationally speaking, I have nothing to offer the antinatalist that might convince him that all the suffering in the world can be justified. Nor can I say that the world is, and might someday become, a wonderful place through and through. What I can say to them, however, is that none of this necessarily means life isn’t worth living and that human life should be extinguished. These people suffer from, as the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre would put would it, an irrational and absurd dedication to rationality. Life, in all its cruelty and wonder, isn’t there to be made sense of; and it’s absurd to suggest that anybody can objectively determine the value of existing by weighing up the amount of suffering that characterises it. Human beings create and enrich the value in their own lives by loving and caring and doing meaningful things. To live is a fundamentally subjective experience: and living a passionate, full life resists precisely that kind of definition the antinatalist wishes to level against the reality of actively being alive.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the foundational premises behind antinatalism, when accepted and taken for granted, corrupt our capacity to contemplate and judge into an endlessly mean-spirited mechanism for condemning life and hope. Philosophy, at its best, is about getting a sense of how things hang together such that we escape the unforgiving darkness. Anti-natalism is the perverted philosophical position that existence is a permanent darkness from which we should escape. The moral repugnancy of this outlook becomes immediately clear when you realise the impossibility of what they desire. Even with the seemingly insurmountable social, political and environmental challenges we are currently facing, it’s important to remember that every single generation has faced problems that, in their time, looked equally devastating. Young people one hundred years ago had just lived through a brutal World War and were on the precipice of a global financial and political crisis. Their children grew up to experience an even more devastating global conflict. And their sons and daughters grew up under the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. Human history is full of truly horrible things that, if one were to wrap themselves alone within them, might be enough to convince a person that life should not be lived.

The point, however, is that most of those same people looked at the abject messiness and cruelty of the world and yet still started families — planned or unplanned. Despite declining birth-rates in Western countries, I have no doubt that this trend of having children (as old as the species itself, if the scientists are right) will continue in spite of opposition. And so all the anti-natalist position does is condemn future generations, who aren’t going to stop popping up, to precisely that suffering which has them so gloomy about the human race. One has to ask, therefore, why these people have bothered adopting a position that does so little to ameliorate the suffering they claim to care so much about? However much proponents of the antinatalistism want to emphasise the supposed economic and environmental benefits of ending the human race, their position strikes me as nothing more than an invitation to live in a state of emotional self-flagellation; a life defined by the dangerously misguided principle that giving up will make things better.

For the sake of every living person, and every person yet to be born, we should rally behind exactly those ideas, and those pragmatic ways of thinking, that emphasise all the good that can be done: those life-affirming attitudes that help us see the world for what it can be. It is, after all, the only world we’ve got; and whilst there is something tragic about the antinatalist desire to wallow in their misery and wither away from existence, I can’t help but feel that the things that bind the rest us together will be that much stronger with them gone.

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