The case for anti-natalism. [2/2]

Click here to read part 1 of this series.


3. Global resources arguments

Under this class I group arguments relevant to ecological damage, social resources, and overpopulation, amongst others.

On the ecological arguments, I recommend the VHEMT web site, which is almost completely dedicated to them. The basic form of these argument is this: the more people that exist on this planet, the more we hurt the environment, and if we care about the environment at all, then we should have less children, or entirely stop having children.

The social resources arguments are based on the fact that the overcreation of children, or the creation of children at all, generates a strain on the economy, diverting resources and manpower which could be used for basic human needs. To this one may counter that these children will eventually become productive adults and help create a bigger economy, but this only pushes the problem back in that it assumes that growth is an ethical positive, something which is not at all obvious.

The overpopulation arguments are pretty obvious: the more people we have, the less we can feed them, and thus having children at the same pace we are having them today will eventually lead to global disaster.

4. Feminist arguments

Although these arguments may not be used by feminists per se, I have chosen this name for a class of arguments which pertain to the special burden of women in childbirth and child raising. Being pregnant is a marathon, giving birth is a traumatic experience, the physical labor needed to take care of babies and toddlers is constant, as well as the loss of time and money associated with it; women bear most of the brunt in all these categories, which is a profound injustice. Child-raising has always been the mechanism by which women were kept socially inferior, and it has been argued that this is still true today. If we wish to eradicate the gender binary, we must stop supporting natalism and its inherently sexist assumptions about the role of women.

Additionally, if the quiverfull doctrine is correct, abortion and all other reproductive controls, which are considered favorably by feminists, must be evil. Therefore feminists have little interest in trying to refute utilitarian anti-natalist arguments.

5. Burden of proof argument

It is commonly assumed that the anti-natalist has the burden of proof. After all, it goes against what most people believe. But the burden of proof does not apply to the minority opinions. The burden of proof applies to anyone who makes a positive claim. The natalist claims that we should value having children. To this, the natural reply should be, “why?” Unless one already values it (in which case there’s no reason for disagreement anyway), there is no reason to accept the claim without validation. It is purely inter-subjective.

For the natalist claim to be more than inter-subjective and be a fact, it needs to fulfill the burden of proof. It has been noted by VHEMT, amongst others, that the reasons people give for having children are notoriously bad. I have also argued that there is no logical justification to believe in the perpetuation of the species. If we accept both points, then the burden of proof on natalism is very great indeed.

6. Anti-hierarchy argument

I have already discussed this argument on this blog, so I will not repeat myself. You can read more about it in my entry Why parenting is invalid and in the second half of my entry The moral and ethical problems of childbirth. This argument, at best, will only appeal to the values of an extremely small minority, so I admit that it is fairly useless; however, I believe that if we Anarchists oppose hierarchies, then we should oppose all hierarchies, not just those we find convenient to oppose.

The main objections to anti-natalist arguments are (1) that personal experience of having children gives you an understanding of the benefits of natalism beyond what mere logic can tell you, or (2) that one’s personal experience of life shows him or her that life is better than anti-natalists present it.

I have already refuted the latter objection. Whatever any given person feels about life has no relevance whatsoever to what any hypothetical future human being might feel about life, so it is irrelevant to the issue.

The former argument is merely a variant of the “you have to try it to argue against it” fallacy, which is always nonsense. We don’t need to experience something to understand it, unless what we seek to understand is an experience itself. Furthermore, whether a person had a good time raising a child or not is of no relevance anyway, since the issue is whether the creation of life itself is ethical, not whether you yourself are morally justified in having children. It may very well be the case that a parent may have benefited from having a child, but if having a child is innately evil, then those benefits don’t even enter the picture.

But beyond that, and this applies to both objections, most of the arguments I presented were not utilitarian arguments. The issue is not whether there is or is not enough good in being alive to counterbalance all the suffering or harm in it. Take the duty argument, for instance. The fact that we have a duty not to create harm is not nullified by related pleasures.

If a Zionist doctor saves my life and then punches me on my hospital bed for not supporting Zionism, the doctor is guilty of assault; the fact that he saved my life, while laudable, does not cancel out the fact that he punched me. That’s not how life works. You can argue until you’re blue in the face how great it is that the Zionist doctor saved my life, but that still doesn’t change the fact that he assaulted me, no matter how many great facts you pile up about him.

The objections are therefore irrelevant. In order to defend against the arguments I presented, the natalist needs to show that the arguments themselves are wrong.

As an additional point: what about people who still argue for anti-natalism even after having children and being happy about it? For instance, Jim Crawford, writer of the book Confessions of an Antinatalist, argues for anti-natalism quite vehemently despite having raised two children and being happy about having done so. It seems fair to assume that he went through the same experiences all parents go through. Why is he not convinced? Granted, this point relies on Crawford’s personality, so I am not proposing it as an argument, but it seems at least somewhat problematic for the position that experience of parenting gives you an understanding of its benefits that defeats all logic, which is a rather extraordinary claim to begin with.

Finally, I want to address the belief that anti-natalism is pessimistic or bleak. Its opponents only look at one side of the equation (pleasure) and trivialize the other side (suffering). Anti-natalism is not pessimistic, it is realistic; it acknowledges that pleasure is a vital part of life, but acknowledges that the suffering has ethical consequences that go beyond forming a numerical counter-balance. If ethics is to mean anything, it must be about more than a generalized simple-minded search for pleasure. Hedonism is a nice tiddly-wink philosophy, but it has no relation to the truth of any situation. If having children serves only the parent’s pleasure centers, or the child’s future pleasure centers, then we must reject the concept of it being justifiable or meaningful.

The trouble in their responses is that the natalists want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to trivialize ethical principles and stick to the concrete pleasures of life, while at the same time maintaining an absolute ethical high ground. That’s not how logic works. Either you care about what’s right, or you just don’t care. You can’t do both.

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9 thoughts on “The case for anti-natalism. [2/2]

  1. […] Check Your Premises “[A]narchy is order, whereas government is civil war.” -Anselme Bellegarrigue Skip to content HomeAboutFAQsFAQ against the current court systemFAQ by Libsocs for “An”capsOngoing archive (June 2008-)July 2006-May 2008 archive ← Wall Street Journal says hierarchies make people stupid (??) The case for anti-natalism. [2/2] → […]

  2. GM May 7 2011 at 4:00 Reply

    Good arguments. I will have to refer back to this.

  3. ap student May 25 2011 at 14:10 Reply

    hey. thank you for writing this. helped me alot with my argument in my class.

    • Francois Tremblay May 25 2011 at 15:34 Reply

      What? An argument in class?? That can’t possibly have gone well.

  4. Chris May 25 2012 at 4:13 Reply

    I feel like I accept these arguments and yet I still want to have kids for selfish reasons. It causes suffering but I still want the pleasures I will receive.

    • Francois Tremblay May 25 2012 at 11:34 Reply

      Then you’re as evil as everyone else, but at least you’re aware that you’re evil. Have fun risking creating a physically or psychologically damaged human life!

  5. ian March 28 2013 at 13:27 Reply

    I don’t argue against the ethics of antinatalism, but it is completely irrational and something only sentient beings can dream up of. Any species, sentient or not, will thrive to survive. Evolution weeds out the weak, and antinatalism may very well be evolutions way of doing that.

    But for the record, yeah, I think it’s unethical.

  6. […] In this post I will be addressing the four other arguments Tremblay presents in the second part of his The case for antinatalis The case for antinatalism […]

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