A little lexicon: childfree, antinatalist, efilist.

Antinatalism and childfreedom are two related ideologies which are seeing some development on the Internet and in the media. However, there seems to be some confusion as to the difference between the two ideologies.

As I’ve discussed before, antinatalism is an ethical position: as a principle, it states that procreation (that is to say, acts which bring about procreation) is wrong. A person can be an antinatalist and yet have had children in the past. The arguments used to justify antinatalism are ethical and logical in nature, and are not personal in nature.

Childfreedom, on the other hand, is a desire, the desire to have no children. This desire is necessarily frustrated if one already has a child, so a person cannot have children and be childfree. But on the other hand, one can be childfree and believe that procreation is a great thing, or that life is innately positive. In those cases, the decision to not have children is purely personal.

In practice, childfree people usually have both universal and personal reasons to not procreate. However, these universal reasons are also generally conditional, like “there are enough people on this planet” type arguments (presumably if there wasn’t enough people on this planet, it would be worth it to have children).

Efilism is a word made of the reverse of “life” and the suffix -ism. It was coined by Gary Mosher to designate his own personal ideology, which is more extensive than the rejection of procreation, as Gary advocates for the extinction of all sentient life. Efilism therefore incorporates both ethical principles (that procreation is bad) and values (the value of a world without sentient life).

In a similar fashion to the Non-Identity Problem, I imagine some may object that “a world without sentient life” cannot be a value because there would be no one left to value it.

But this is, like the Non-Identity Problem, a misunderstanding of what is being discussed. When we talk about valuing suicide, we are not saying the person will be alive to value their suicide; we are saying that the person prefers a state where they cease to exist. Likewise, one may prefer a state where the world contains no sentient life, while not being able to actually co-exist with it. We can also prefer completely imaginary states (such as a state where square-circles exist), in which case the value is simply pointless. But valuing a world without sentient life is not pointless, in that it enables us to make value-judgments about real things (e.g. anything that creates new life is undesirable).

I don’t want to communicate the impression that childfreedom, antinatalism and efilism exist on some gradient from moderate to extreme or anything like that. They are not the same kinds of things; childfreedom is a desire, antinatalism is an ethical principle, and efilism is one person’s ideology. A person can be childfree but not antinatalist or efilist, or antinatalist but not childfree or efilist. An efilist must be antinatalist, obviously.

There are also people who believe in population degrowth as public policy. There is no popular term for this as far as I know, and the term “degrowth” by itself denotes economic degrowth specifically.

Population degrowth is sometimes portrayed as a “reasonable” alternative to antinatalism. Actually it is not an alternative to antinatalism but rather a statement of public policy. An antinatalist may very well believe that it would be better on the whole to not restrict reproduction in any way (Benatar grapples with some of these defenses in Better Never To Have Been chapter 4).

Population degrowth is not on a gradient with antinatalism and natalism. Arguments for or against population degrowth show little overlap with arguments for antinatalism or natalism, although they may share a great deal with individual arguments for one’s childfreedom. In that way, one can argue that population degrowth is closer to being an extension of childfreedom, although a childfree person may be against population degrowth and vice-versa.

Frankly I am tired of people who say they are for population degrowth and who present this position as more “reasonable,” by which they really mean, “likely to be accepted by others.” I don’t give a shit what is more or less likely to be accepted by other people. The truth is the truth regardless of how likely it is to be accepted, and it’s our job to find it. So far none of these “reasonable” people have been successful in making any sort of cogent argument against antinatalism, let alone debunk any part of it. It may be “reasonable,” but it’s not the truth.

The “reasonable” position on the other side, the natalist side, is the “life is great” propaganda coming from a wide variety of people. These people tend to be anti-suicide and pro-nature, although they reject the Quiverfull claim that one should have as many children as possible. They laugh at such people and, if they were aware of antinatalism, would probably consider themselves a “middle ground.”

But there cannot be any “middle ground” between antinatalism and natalism. The question “is it acceptable to harm others without their consent” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The question “is it justified to bring a human being into existence” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The question “do you have the right to decide for another human being whether the world is good enough for them to come into existence” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” I don’t really see how there’s any middle ground possible here. Either procreation as an act is not wrong or it is wrong.

6 thoughts on “A little lexicon: childfree, antinatalist, efilist.

  1. sloebote July 10, 2014 at 21:27 Reply

    Hello Francois – I have been reading you blog for a while and am impressed by the fearlessness and vigor of your arguments.

    Can you clarify your position on selfdefense? It seems that even from an efilist viewpoint one being will inflict injury on another in selfdefense, and if, or since, there is no sentience involved, there is no moral issue. It will happen. Is a sentient being to refrain from selfdefense? I guess that is easy. Don’t take antibiotics, don’t look both ways before you cross the street?

    And on the issue of natalism, could one not argue from a quasi-solipsistic view that one’s children are a justified investment for one’s old age? On what basis do you discount solipsism? Why should I give weight to the possible suffering of others?

    Regards,

    Karl

    • Francois Tremblay July 10, 2014 at 21:53 Reply

      “Hello Francois – I have been reading you blog for a while and am impressed by the fearlessness and vigor of your arguments.”
      Thank you! It’s the result of many, many years of practicing not giving a shit.

      “Can you clarify your position on selfdefense? It seems that even from an efilist viewpoint one being will inflict injury on another in selfdefense, and if, or since, there is no sentience involved, there is no moral issue. It will happen. Is a sentient being to refrain from selfdefense? I guess that is easy. Don’t take antibiotics, don’t look both ways before you cross the street?”
      No, I absolutely support self-defense. If we’re trying to bring about a world where suffering is minimized, then we cannot let people inflict suffering on others without consequences. But we should try to apply a minimum of force in order to do so. We need to apply determinism: a person who inflicts suffering is analogous to a machine that’s inflicting damage on other machines through its normal operations. It’s got to be fixed or taken away from the factory, but there’s no point in kicking it.

      “And on the issue of natalism, could one not argue from a quasi-solipsistic view that one’s children are a justified investment for one’s old age? On what basis do you discount solipsism? Why should I give weight to the possible suffering of others?”
      I discount solipsism because I am a human being. I mean, sure you’re free to not care about anything, but that’s not a philosophy, that’s just naysaying. Most human beings have a moral sense, empathy, higher-level emotions, and that’s exemplified by all societies we know of. Read my entries on intuitionism if you want more about my opinions on that subject.

  2. Heretic July 11, 2014 at 00:29 Reply

    In the same discussion I mentioned to you before about antinatalism with a Facebook friend, I commented that suicidal people are suffering, and when dead no longer exist to suffer, and he replied with the following – what do you think?: ME: “no, people commit suicide because they are SUFFERING and they want to alleviate that suffering, feeling powerless and having no other options. you know, including terminally ill people who don’t want to die without any dignity left? like Jerry Hunt, who used carbon monoxide gas. they cannot suffer or know anything if they no longer exist! besides, this whole ‘existing is better for them’ assumption is incredibly hostile and contributes to their stigma of being “selfish” and “cowardly” and “needing to stay alive at all costs.” (probably a vestige from Christianity) You can argue that their life is worth more living, but that’s still an imposition which we use force for.” HIM: “I hope you don’t think I’m saying here, Le, that I’m opposed to suicide in all cases. I think people absolutely have the right to end their lives. What I don’t believe is that it’s coherent to talk about it being better *for someone* to not be alive. It might be that someone does not wish to experience anything, and that’s fine, but once that act occurs, then they no longer exist to be “bettered.” Does that come across clear? It’s a kinda complex and hard to explain concept, there aren’t perfect words to talk about people who don’t exist./David, same misunderstanding. It might be such that someone not existing is the right thing, but it’s not better *for them* because they don’t exist to be “bettered”. If someone commits suicide, that is not because, strictly speaking “not being” is preferred; it’s because being is opposed.”

    • Francois Tremblay July 11, 2014 at 00:34 Reply

      That’s some bullshit right there. Who cares if they no longer exists to be “bettered”? Non-existing people have nothing to be “bettered” from. Existing people do.

  3. Heretic July 11, 2014 at 00:31 Reply

    I can only assume he meant the possibility of having a better life after being suicidal, so I replied: You’re talking on a purely speculative level, though. People who commit suicide are suffering, right then, and figure at least they can control their own death. There’s simply no way of knowing if their lives could have been bettered. I mean, it’s like when anti-abortionists say “you could be killing the next Einstein!” or something.

  4. Ask a Question 7 | The Prime Directive October 15, 2014 at 08:31 Reply

    […] A little lexicon: childfree, antinatalist, efilist. Making the case for antinatalism. […]

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