12 questions for natalists and breeders.

Because the issues of antinatalism are not very well known yet, there aren’t a lot of “questions for” formats like there are for religion or politics. So I decided to make my own set of questions for natalists and breeders. Note that not all the questions will apply to both categories (a natalist might not personally want children, and a breeder might not be a natalist).

I am not trying to stump anyone (although as an antinatalist I do think that these questions should present difficulties to my opponents), but rather to communicate the gist of the antinatalist attitude towards natalist beliefs and breeding. Because natalists are typically unwilling to discuss issues, I would like to try to get some people’s interest with these questions and get a discussion going. You may even agree with some parts of my approach here; if so, that’s great!

Answer these questions on your blog if you find them interesting, and I’ll link back to you if you post the URL in the comments.

***

1. Do you think all, or even most, parents have the skills and attitude necessary to raise children in a non-damaging manner?

2. Do you believe children are entitled to the highest standard of health?
* If so, do you believe all, or even most, parents can provide such a standard, given all the things parents have no control over?
* If not, what right do you believe is more important than the child’s highest standard of health? Can you justify this importance?

3. What do you think about the idea of parenting permits? Why do you/do you not support this idea?
* Do you believe you should be allowed to have such a permit? If so, what are your qualifications?
Note this example of legal requirements for child care workers and businesses.

4. Why do you think this world is good enough to bring children in?
* What makes you think you have the right to take this decision for another human being?

5. Do you think it is moral for me to force someone to play Russian Roulette without their consent?
* If you do not, then why do you think people should be allowed to create a new life, subjecting it to an almost infinite number of risks, including fatal risks?
* If you do, can you justify it?
Note that arguing that inability to give consent is the same thing as giving consent will be rejected.

6. If you want to have a child, do you believe your children will not suffer from any medical defects, accidents, abuse or mental issues?
* If you do not, what makes you so certain of the future? Can you prove it?
* If you do, why are you bringing into the world a being which has a chance of living a life of suffering or despair?

7. For those who have children: how much time did you spend on thinking about your motivations to have a child?

8. Can you give one ethical reason (i.e. a reason which does not treat the child as a means to an end) for anyone to have children?
Note this list of already rejected reasons. If yours is on the list, then you have failed to answer.

9. Do you believe that the perpetuation of mankind has some kind of purpose?
* If so, can you make an argument for it that isn’t circular?
Note that I have already discussed the circular nature of teleological arguments for perpetuation.
* If not, why do you think we should do it anyway?

10. How do you justify supporting a process which, while painless for men, is painful, disfiguring and dangerous for women, often leading to psychological complications?
* If you believe the benefits of procreation are social in nature, how do you justify acquiring these benefits on the backs of women’s health and well-being? Isn’t it a little hypocrite to claim a benefit to society when women represent half of said society?

11. As far as I can tell, the main natalist arguments is that life has pleasures that are worth creating new human beings for, or that life as a whole is pleasant enough to bring new human beings into it. I don’t understand how the argument is supposed to work, though; there’s no logical connection between an observation about existing lives and a conclusion about potential lives. Can you explain why you think the argument makes logical sense?
* How does your argument jibe with the legal and ethical proposition that we don’t have any duty to provide pleasure, but that we do have a duty not to create suffering?

12. If you are a Christian, do you believe there’s a chance your child will go to Hell?
* If you do not, what makes you so certain of the future? Can you prove it?
* If you do, what would justify you bringing to life a being which may suffer eternally? No matter how much suffering we inflict on each other, human beings can only hurt each other in this life, not in eternity; bringing a child to life knowing the child may go to Hell makes you worse than any dictator or criminal that exists in this life.

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8 thoughts on “12 questions for natalists and breeders.

  1. Kellie August 10 2014 at 21:09 Reply

    Okay! All of your questions make perfect sense to me, and I think I’m on your side with every one except for #10.

    “Disfiguring” suggests that _how a woman appears to others_ is crucially important in her evaluation of the … um, pointfulness? worthwhileness? … of her life. I disagree with that. I think women can sort the pain/body changes/dangers/psych complications on their own, with reference to the rest of the questions on the list. Also, it might be worth noting that pregnancy makes some painful medical developments less likely (=uterine fibroid tumors, for example; not however suggesting pregnancy is a good way to avoid such things).

    I was in effect an antinatalist long before I stumbled across the word online (while searching, “Why do people have children,” which I do occasionally). To me, most of the antinatalist arguments make perfect sense. How could anyone think differently???

    So I’m not one of the baffling billions to whom your post is addressed. HOWEVER … I will say that being an antinatalist doesn’t make me happy. Being astonished by others’ decisions to procreate and reviewing this sort of checklist in my mind (which I do on maybe a weekly basis, and have for as long as I can remember) doesn’t make me happier. If anything, it grooves the unhappy rut deeper in my mind. But it’s so obviously true that I keep stubbing my toe on the mind-boggling fact that nearly everyone I know acts in opposition to it. It’s like everyone’s throwing babies off cliffs and I’m the only one who says, Uh, NO …

    However: there is the stubborn and confusing fact that most of my friends are glad they’re alive most of the time, and most of them think their parents did a good job of raising them. Also, the children (now grown) to whom I am closest really seem to be glad they’re alive and excited by the prospect of existence. I recall asking my nephews when they were little, “Do you think you’re going to have kids?” “Yeah!” They said. “Of course!” I would never, ever have said that, even as a six-year-old.

    I don’t think they got that answer from their parents. They had a loving family, their lives were great when they were little, they had lots of friends, they went on to become top students and top athletes … and the result is that they’re life-positive. They didn’t have as much fear and anxiety and shame as I did growing up, and they didn’t feel outmatched by life as I did. (=due, I think, to having grown up with parents who couldn’t manage basic tasks such as preparing meals and cleaning the house, modeling basic social behaviors, etc., and were awash either in rage–my mother–or oceans of anxiety–my father.)

    So the answer I come around to is that it’s my own experience with life that is unusual. I think normal people who grow up in families where they get enough nurturing attention just feel differently on a fundamental level. They feel that life is worth living. And then they have children. (I will say that I think part 2 is rarely BECAUSE of part 1, rather it’s that people tend to do the same things everyone else does. Clearly, if you want to have children you should start preparing for it very early, the same way you should prepare for being an astronaut, and no one ever seems to do that. Most of the people I know who spawn have never even looked after a baby. Literally. Never!)

    One beef against breeders and natalists: I don’t understand how people who have either produced biological children or sought to produce biological children can complain when something doesn’t go their way. They accepted the conditions of existence on behalf of another individual, so they’ve given up their right to bitch about anything that follows from the conditions of existence. It’s obvious, right? If they’re abducted and tortured by a serial killer, breeders have to meet their fate with, “Well, I knew this could happen and I chose to spawn, so I really can’t complain.” I however will be screaming and cursing and saying “This is totally unfair!” right up to the end, and will be justified in doing so. :)

    A final point on kids: I really like spending time with them. One thing I learned when my nephews were little and I was looking after them: it is very, very easy to do things for kids that I wouldn’t do for myself. Example: I am the kind of person who will stay on the couch reading a book even if I need to pee because it seems too hard to get up and go to the bathroom. With my nephews, I was always offering glasses of water and slicing up apples so they could have healthy snacks, taking them out on after-dinner walks, etc. When they woke me up in the middle of the night for some reason, I was always happy to sit up with them and tell them stories until they could fall asleep again. It wasn’t that I had infinite patience, but something about looking after kids is easy to do. It feels inherently worthwhile.

    Give me your thoughts!

    • Francois Tremblay August 11 2014 at 0:17 Reply

      I think you’ve said a lot of good things. I don’t really have much to add to all this, except perhaps on one point: I disagree with you that it’s less damaged people who want to breed. While it may very well be 6 years old who say that say it because they like having a family, or something (it seems more likely to me that it’s the result of greater enforcement of gender roles or religious natalism or something like that), I think that once you become a teenager your outlook should change quite a bit on that subject.

  2. man August 13 2014 at 1:50 Reply

    playing devil’s advocate for some:

    1. are we to presuppose that there could be a world where parents are usually able to raise their children in a “non-damaging” way? why should this be an argument for anti-natalism, rather than better parenting? sure, I may personally “wish” people had less children because those children will be inevitably damaged, but if someone already accepts that they probably aren’t good parents, anti-natalism isn’t necessary at that point.

    2. what if I think children are already generally provided with adequate healthcare in my country/area?

    3. why should a government be given this sort of power when most governments are controlled by corporations?

    4. can’t really object here, except: some people have to make the decision, or the human race goes extinct. even if you’re in a world where everyone unanimously says “we think this is the best world” you still can not be certain that you are in the best world for your offspring, a la skepticism.

    5. I think risks are fine. What’s wrong with risks? How would there be a finite number of risks?

    6. can’t object here really; more effort should be spent on preventing defects and diseases than having children

    7. n/a

    8. well some subset of people need to have children if we’re agreeing that the human race should continue to exist. determining that subset by any other way than “when people want to” would be difficult without fascism taking the reigns, wouldn’t it?

    9. I don’t really have to answer this question because you write about women’s social position with the implication that there should be a future in which women are better off (and so the human race still exists) so the burden is on you to explain how that fits with any sort of extinction wish

    10. in response to this question, I ask you question 9

    11. it doesn’t immediately work, but we still have to perpetuate humanity to some degree, so we funnel to question 9

    the human race should just continue. it’s observable that you probably won’t get enough people on board to believe otherwise that you’d be able to overpower those who agree. it’s the axiomatic appeal to emotion, and trying to dissect it through philosophy isn’t too interesting an exercise. life is a miracle of molecular machinery and humans may be the only machines that actually happens to describe this. the somewhat mysterious of presence of the locus of consciousness (how you’re in you and I’m in me) means there could be *something* we’re missing about it all; I would rather figure that out than give up.

    • Francois Tremblay August 13 2014 at 2:12 Reply

      “1. are we to presuppose that there could be a world where parents are usually able to raise their children in a “non-damaging” way? why should this be an argument for anti-natalism, rather than better parenting?”
      And you know of any kind of parenting that is not damaging to children in any way?

      “2. what if I think children are already generally provided with adequate healthcare in my country/area?”
      Irrelevant to the question. I wrote “highest standard of health,” not “adequate standard of health.”

      “3. why should a government be given this sort of power when most governments are controlled by corporations?”
      I don’t understand the point of this question. I don’t like governments, but I’d rather they try to minimize the harm they do, yea. Why would you ever disagree with such an assertion?

      “4. can’t really object here, except: some people have to make the decision, or the human race goes extinct.”
      What is wrong with that? Can you give one reason why mankind should perpetuate?

      “5. I think risks are fine. What’s wrong with risks? How would there be a finite number of risks?”
      Again, irrelevant. I don’t care what YOU want, I do care that YOU want to impose risks on SOMEONE ELSE.

      “8. well some subset of people need to have children if we’re agreeing that the human race should continue to exist.”
      Clearly we do not agree.

      “9. I don’t really have to answer this question because you write about women’s social position with the implication that there should be a future in which women are better off (and so the human race still exists) so the burden is on you to explain how that fits with any sort of extinction wish”
      “Extinction wish”? That’s a loaded term if I’ve heard one.
      You’re either pro-harm or anti-harm. Being anti-harm does mean devaluing procreation, and it also means devaluing the harms of pregnancy to women. Abortions make psychiatric problems rise in women by 4%. Child birth makes psychiatric problems rise in women by 72%.

      “11. it doesn’t immediately work, but we still have to perpetuate humanity to some degree”
      Who “has” to do it? To attain what goal?

      “it’s observable that you probably won’t get enough people on board to believe otherwise that you’d be able to overpower those who agree.”
      Yes, because obviously antinatalists are violent. No, we’re not the ones imposing harm on other people.
      Hey I got a package. Straw men? I think those are yours…

      Mandatory reading for you before you make another comment:

      http://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/mankind-must-perpetuate/

  3. speedfeakerr August 14 2014 at 15:30 Reply

    “Give me your thoughts”
    Based on your position, I have three:

    1. “…ethics assumes the existence of human beings and human action in the first place.” (from: http://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/mankind-must-perpetuate/)

    Not necessarily. I suggest reading Georgio Agamben, regarding this assertion you have made.

    2. “You’re either pro-harm or anti-harm”

    I argue that it is not as clear cut
    as you suggest. An anti-natalist/anti-natalism claim harms the development of forms of subjectivity associated with fertility, pregnancy and birth; subjectivities that emerge through the natural development and embodiment of human life. The myth of Demeter serves to show that your statement (“Being anti-harm does mean devaluing procreation, and it also means devaluing the harms of pregnancy to women “) is misinformed and (potentially) damaging to existing forms of cognitive development, especially relating to the role that pregnancy holds in nurturing new types of thought, particularly, I would argue, post-anthropocentric thought, that contribute to the minimising of harms.

    3. “Child birth makes psychiatric problems rise in women by 72%”

    Approximately, one in three women in the US complete their labour by caesarean section: http://www.childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10456 . Studies of risk discourse in childbirth have shown that when vaginal birth is successful, women are often forced ‘up on the table’ where medical examination and intervention is made easier and, therefore, more likely throughout their labour. I argue that it is the mechanisation of (all forms of) labour that increases psychiatric problems (see Monty Python’s ‘Hospital Sketch’ for, what I would say is, a fitting illustration) rather than the act of childbirth itself. In industrialised, psychiatrically topologised societies, childbirth is very rarely an actual occurrence, so the statement/statistic makes no sense. Instead of the natural state of pregnancy and of birth, pregnant women are ‘treated’ as if they are in a position of ill health and, therefore, subject to intrusive, scopophilic, interrogatory scientific processes that are shaped and dominated by masculinsed, technocratic knowledge.

    Pregnancy is one state of being that is unknowable; something that cannot easily be grasped; it is a journey that is intensely visceral and unique. Every individual has emerged from the trauma of their birth to spend their entire life attempting to recover the meaning of its unreasonable violence. That is what being a human is about. That is what it means to attempt to become fully conscious. Some re-enact this violence because they are without care(s) or goal(s), but some attempt to overcome this violence by finding new ways to sublimate its destruction: to love, to search for the true self.

    “how do you know if you are your true self?”

    Contrary to what I used to believe, I feel that “I”, as one individual, can never know the true self, because it seems that it is always constructed retroactively and collectively. Just as one cannot know if and when a child will be born into this world (if the process were to occur in the natural way), a person cannot know the emergence of their true self. That’s my problem with locating consciousness, it’s in the past. The true self is always gone and then I can only clumsily cogitate it after the fact. “There’s the rub.”

    Is it more helpful and less harmful to dream of who a person could become? What might it mean to imagine a true self? I am of the viewpoint that anti-natalism propagates the active denial of a search for this form of neo-consciousness. Equally, natalism forces the issue. Both arguments are based on fear and desire, and I, therefore, agree with your approach that they should be discussed and analysed.
    There is a positivity in the futurity of the sentiments of Man, who says: “…the locus of consciousness … I would rather figure that out than give up.” I search for the true self, so I would agree.

    • Francois Tremblay August 14 2014 at 16:06 Reply

      “An anti-natalist/anti-natalism claim harms the development of forms of subjectivity associated with fertility, pregnancy and birth;”

      I didn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to talk about the harm to a CONCEPT.

      Let me rephrase then: you are either pro-suffering or anti-suffering.

      Please put a kibosh on this nonsense talk and come back to the real world populated by real individuals who suffer incalculable pain on a daily basis, let alone all the other organisms who are subjected to pain that goes beyond the human capacity to imagine.

  4. John McKeown September 10 2014 at 3:18 Reply

    Reading your articles I see that anti-natalism has a definition that differs from my view. I believe reproduction is good. But I am anti-pro-natalist and would advocate lower birth rates to achieve population shrinkage for environmental reasons. I often call pro-natalism simply natalism (as do various authors) – any suggestions for a better word than anti-pro-natalist?

    You might be interested in this open-access book challenging Evangelical pronatalism:

    http://www.openbookpublishers.com/product/263/gods-babies–natalism-and-bible-interpretation-in-modern-america

    • Francois Tremblay September 10 2014 at 14:14 Reply

      It seems to me that you’re right in that the standard way to describe someone being against something without being for its opposite is to add the prefix “anti.” Unfortunately the word “antinatalism” was coined before other positions could be fleshed out, and so we’re stuck with a confusion of semantics.

      You can be against natalism and still not be an antinatalist. In fact I think that’s a pretty sensible position. I do believe antinatalism is true, but I accept that this is hard to accept for a lot of people.

      As for a word to use, I would recommend copying the people who advocate shrinking the economy and call it “negative growth” or something like that. It’s the only analogous ideology that I know.

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