“Why don’t you kill yourself?”

Usually, the first reaction people have to antinatalism, when it is explained to them, is “well then, if you have such a low view of human life, why don’t you kill yourself?” or “why don’t you kill people?” Some people even call for the proponent’s death; although that has never happened to me, it’s happened to other antinatalists I know.

It’s important to understand this because it is a fundamental distinction in antinatalist arguments: a potential life (currently non-existing) and an actual life (currently existing) are not the same thing at all. Actual people have values and desires, potential people don’t (since they do not yet exist). Potential lives, again, are not actual people, who have values and desires, including the desire to live, or who can experience pleasure and suffering.

So, to reiterate the obvious, it is wrong to hurt or murder actual living individuals; antinatalism has nothing further to add to such a statement. Antinatalism is the position that lives should not be created, that potential lives must never be realized. Antinatalism is not the position that actual lives are worthless or must be eliminated.

I think it should be obvious now that there is a huge qualitative difference between “ensuring that a life does not come into being” and “ending a life.” The former implies merely that some amount of suffering will not enter the world. The latter implies a great deal of suffering and an attack against the rights of an actual human being.

The examples of abortion and circumcision may help illustrate this difference. Abortion is ethically right because no human being will exist that will suffer. On the contrary, abortion removes suffering from this world. On the other hand, circumcision (male or female) is ethically wrong because it causes suffering to an actual human being, who will have to deal with it for the rest of eir life. Antinatalism has nothing further to say on the topic of circumcision (apart perhaps to mention it as another form of suffering that people go through), but it has plenty to say on the topic of abortion (see chapter 5 of Better Never to Have Lived for a full discussion), because it pertains to potential lives, not actual lives.

I do not wish to kill myself because I have a vested interest (because of my values, desires, etc) in staying alive. But a potential life has no such vested interest. In fact, it has no interests at all, since it doesn’t exist. So there is no contradiction between saying that we should not bring about potential lives and that I do not wish to kill myself.

People often believe that being an antinatalist means that I hate life or see no benefit in living. This is not true at all. I see plenty of reasons to live… especially since I am already alive and wish to remain so. I also see plenty of benefits in living. I do not deny that such benefits exist and that they are many.

One may argue, like Benatar does in his book, that we constantly and pretty dramatically overstate these benefits. This is a good argument but it is also important to remember that there would still be human suffering even if we lived entirely pleasant lives with few desires unfulfilled. The quality of one’s life is not relevant to the argument.

One profoundly retarded commentator claimed that Benatar’s position justified giving birth to as many people as possible, since they could just kill themselves if they felt unhappy. Now, I hope I don’t have to explain why this idea is deeply, profoundly retarded.

But my important point here is that this is the exact opposite of the antinatalist position. Antinatalists do not want new life to be created, but they think that we should treat living human beings with care. It is precisely the high worth they put on human happiness and well-being which makes them reject the creation of more human suffering, as well as wish for a world with a constantly lower population where life gets easier for those who are already here.

The simplest argument for antinatalism, I think, is the argument that not creating new lives doesn’t create any harm, while creating lives does create harm, and that it is wrong to create harm (incidentally, many people think this is a utilitarian argument: I am not sure why, especially since it makes no utilitarian calculations whatsoever). This argument is, at its core, a profoundly philanthropic one, insofar as it is founded entirely on the desire to prevent human suffering. The fact that other people believe this is a misanthropic argument betrays their own failure at understanding it.

There are many misanthropic arguments for antinatalism, and I do not want to demean their importance in antinatalist thought. I would argue that these misanthropic arguments, however, have a part of philanthropy as well. I definitely agree with the misanthropic followers of antinatalism that human civilization and humanity as a whole is a horrible failure. However, I do not wish for all humans to suffer for their failings, and neither do any misanthropic followers that I know. Our goal is not to hate mankind with no constructive goal in mind. Our goal is to find the truth of the matter and hold fast to it. And antinatalism is it.

37 thoughts on ““Why don’t you kill yourself?”

  1. John Schock June 15, 2011 at 22:01

    “why don’t you kill yourself?”
    because I’d be leaving all you reckless replicators here creating more suffering without a proper fight

  2. Ramite June 16, 2011 at 17:21

    Hi,
    For me it’s too late, I have allready two children. ;)
    I understand your arguments, but I prefer a risqued world with a lot of children, than a calm olding world.

    • Francois Tremblay June 17, 2011 at 00:41

      Who gives a fuck what you “prefer”? You have consciously created harm. A serial killer may “prefer” to kill more people, but ey’s still got to be put away. His “preferences” don’t matter.

      • Ramite June 17, 2011 at 16:33

        Is the cause of surpopulation in the births, or in the growth of during of life (or in geronto-industry that maintains old people alive whereas both of theim are quite already dead ? ) ?

        My grand-parents were respectively 5 brothers and sisters, and 8 brothers and sisters. My wife’s grand-parents were 9 and 11. My wife has 7, I have one. So I think with only 2 children, I don’t participate into growth of population, only into maintaining my own situation.

        The incoming collapse of ressources, and the surpopulation, are caused by many sources of harms witch I’m not responsible :
        – prices of energy ressources are artificially maintained into low prices to sustain economic growth,
        – destructive agriculture is financed by the states, and destructs soil and biodiversity capital, water ressources (and is on deloyal concurrence with sustainable agriculture witch is not financed); as well as polluting industry, cars production, etc,
        – inequalty generates tendencies to more numerous conceptions, on poor people,
        – property of a lot of people of the world, of native communitys, is not respected, their ressources are raped,
        – economics exchanges are favoured by the infrastructures created and kept by the states,
        – 10% of the world population consums 50% of the ressources,
        – etc.

        So, voluntary extinction seems to me like a renouncment, whereas i think we’d better fight. And I’m sure we can live, even with seven billion people, but we have to reduce our consumption, and change radically our way of life, and our economy. May be it’s not possible, but i even want to take the risk.

        • Ramite June 17, 2011 at 16:35

          And sorry for my so bad english :(

        • Francois Tremblay June 17, 2011 at 18:21

          Why are you doing everything you can to try to justify you making more children? “The world situation not my fault, so let me make one more child!” You are “taking risks” for another human being. You don’t have the right to do that.

  3. Th3_ACist June 16, 2011 at 23:01

    Well you can’t really stop people from having kids…right? I just feel like it’s kinda splitting hairs, maybe Anarchy will fix all the harm humanity has done?

    • Francois Tremblay June 17, 2011 at 00:42

      Nope… Anarchism alone is not going to solve the incoming collapse of resource. Seven billion people, even living in Anarchism, are still going to consume their way to extinction.

  4. Th3_ACist June 17, 2011 at 18:04

    A mistake in your theory! anarchy = hyperspeed discovery! Crisis averted! lol ;-)

    Although I am kinda optimistic about space travel, but your probably right about humans simply destroying themselves long before…

  5. filrabat June 19, 2011 at 01:57

    Francois,

    You pretty much covered all the bases re “kill yourself”, more than I did on my blog, in fact.

    You’re also right about misanthropy – though it depends on how you define it. The stereotypical half-crazed person wanting to hurt humanity out of revenge is just a knee-jerk reaction (although you can ask now what provoked the person to think that way in the first place, but that’s a whole other tangent). I have what I call ‘soft genteel misanthropic” views…meaning that I dislike humanity, but not enough to wish ill will onto it. For me, my misanthropy (and I’m probably stretching the definition, I admit), is not to breed in order to save humanity from itself. If we can’t come even close to getting rid of all human-caused evil (esp willful ones), then it’s simply that something is profoundly wrong with human nature. Doesn’t mean I hate myself, any more than an alzheimer sufferer chooses to commit suicide just before he/she’s completely unable to exercise their choice to end their own life.

  6. […] point want to fire off a comment telling me to kill myself: I already addressed that such an attack has nothing to do with antinatalism because antinatalism is against potential people coming to exist…, and at least read the following sentence where I acknowledge that we, existing people, have a […]

  7. […] I have already addressed this. For an Objectivist answer, it’s not very rational. Surely any rational person would realize that people who are alive have vested interests in continuing to live, which potential people do not; potential people do not, and cannot, value their own persistence. Clearly, though, it’s only a small minority of living people who want to die, because life can be quite enjoyable. […]

  8. […] is not to say that I want to kill myself, an oft-repeated objection (see my entry on the topic). Obviously I now have vested interests in continuing to live. But the question here is not, would […]

  9. Bagworm February 8, 2012 at 17:06

    I read this one Mr. Tremblay, it answers some questions that came to me after our last conversation.

  10. Bagworm February 9, 2012 at 06:27

    I also found out that you are making comments for me.

    • Francois Tremblay February 9, 2012 at 13:51

      Excuse me? Stop covering your own tracks by accusing me, you coward, or I’m banning you from this blog. I will not let you slander me without consequences. Got that?

  11. Bagworm February 10, 2012 at 16:42

    Then who did it? So your saying that the security of your site has been compromised.
    How did I comment on a blog that I was reading for the first time, this basically invalidates your site.
    Address some security issues then get back with me

    • Francois Tremblay February 11, 2012 at 01:10

      No security has been compromised, you are just a fucking whackjob. Consider yourself banned from this blog.

  12. Randy Paré June 28, 2012 at 14:42

    This blog has a lot of really weird posts man. The whole anti- PIV was just crazy and now I find this one – so you essentially want to see humankind vanish from existence? What a morbid thought. My wife, kids and I feel differently. Life is a wonderful gift and we intend to enjoy it.

    • Francois Tremblay June 28, 2012 at 14:49

      Have you considered NOT reading this blog? You are clearly not the target audience.

      PS life is not a gift. If you wanna lie to me, that’s fine, but stop lying to yourself.

  13. Randy Paré June 28, 2012 at 15:08

    You’d rather you were never born? I mean, really…

  14. Randy Paré June 28, 2012 at 15:11

    I just stumbled across the blog as a few folks were tossing around terms like antinatalism and PIV [the former I had never heard of and the latter was an acronym I’d never encountered] and I decided to Google those terms and your Blog popped up.

    • Francois Tremblay June 29, 2012 at 00:11

      I hope I was able to be of some help in providing answers, even if you don’t like them.

  15. Randy Paré June 29, 2012 at 01:18

    Certainly raised more questions actually… why anyone would advocate the end of their species is beyond me…

  16. Randy Paré June 29, 2012 at 01:25

    and why you don’t believe life is a gift is very confusing. I find so many interesting things in this world – I’d hate to miss out on any of it. Plus, if you had never been born you’d not be able to write this blog..;)

  17. Randy Paré June 29, 2012 at 01:35

    That’s all good and well… I am sure one can bend advanced ethics and philosophy into proving it is better to eat puppies than pet them. But we’ll still go right on petting them.

    Regardless if one who does not exist cannot be deprived of anything – those of who are alive can. We can be deprived the love and support of a committed life-long mate if we do not find one. We can be deprived the joy of looking into our child’s eyes and seeing ourselves in from their perspective. We can be deprived the comfort of our children caring for us in our declining years as we cared for them during their development.

    We only get one life might as well enjoy it to the fullest.

    • Francois Tremblay June 29, 2012 at 01:38

      “That’s all good and well… I am sure one can bend advanced ethics and philosophy into proving it is better to eat puppies than pet them. But we’ll still go right on petting them.”
      No… you are the one saying it is better to create puppies knowing they will both be petted and eaten (creating new lives=creating suffering). We’re saying it’s better to not create any more puppies.

      “Regardless if one who does not exist cannot be deprived of anything – those of who are alive can. We can be deprived the love and support of a committed life-long mate if we do not find one.”
      Exactly. And what does that tell you?

      “We can be deprived the joy of looking into our child’s eyes and seeing ourselves in from their perspective.”
      Using people as means to an end is evil. Sorry, but you advocate evil.

      “We can be deprived the comfort of our children caring for us in our declining years as we cared for them during their development.”
      Which is false… children generally are more of a burden on their parents as they age, than a support.

      “We only get one life might as well enjoy it to the fullest.”
      How does that entail that you must create suffering?

  18. Randy Paré June 29, 2012 at 01:43

    I would remotely trade my two daughters for all the tea in China. I would not trade my Wife for a 1000 supermodels. Life, on the whole, is pretty damned amazing. It’s not always easy but far better than non-existence.

    • Francois Tremblay June 29, 2012 at 01:45

      Look, you’re obviously not interested in grappling with this material and present cogent arguments, so you should probably just go.

  19. Randy Paré June 29, 2012 at 01:45

    insert “not” in that first sentence – very tired poor typing. LOL

  20. Randy Paré June 29, 2012 at 01:47

    A cogent argument against non-existence? Okay, let’s go old school.

    “I think, therefore, I am.”

    • Francois Tremblay June 29, 2012 at 01:49

      What does that have to do with antinatalism? Absolutely nothing. You are wasting my time.

  21. […] further against this objection. In connection to antinatalism, I’ve already explained that there is a difference between starting a new life and continuing an existing life. So what could possibly be the relation between antinatalism and this objection to the Problem of […]

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