Antinatalism and the suffering of other species.

Some people think antinatalism only applies to human procreation. It is true that, by and large, antinatalists discuss human procreation because, after all, we are human and our concerns are mainly human concerns. Humans generally talk about other humans. Still, antinatalism does not only pertain to human procreation. It is about all sentient life. The ethical proposition of antinatalism is that sentient procreation is wrong, because sentient beings experience suffering and the creation of that suffering is unnecessary and wrong.

Granted, other species will not be moved by logical arguments or emotional appeals. It is not primarily about those animals themselves that we talk about, but about the humans who force procreation on animals for human purposes, most importantly livestock. As in the case of children, it is important to put the blame in the right place: children are not responsible for being born and are not at fault for annoying you, it is the parents who brought them into this world who should be blamed. Blaming cows or chickens for their own reproduction would be silly. Humans are responsible for a great deal of that reproduction, and we should put the blame on them, at least for that amount. The rest can be chalked up to that most “special” of special kids, evolution, smashing its toys together for millions of years until something works.

All the antinatalist arguments also apply to the forced reproduction of animals from other species. If there is no reason for humans to exist, there is even less reason for them to exist, since their purpose in life would be contingent on ours. If we have a duty to not create suffering, then we have a duty not to create their suffering as well. If the context of our lives is too bad to bring more lives into it, then how much worse is it for animals who are condemned to imprisonment until execution?

This has led many antinatalists to the position that vegetarianism is the only ethical position. By eating other animals, we contribute to their suffering. I agree that factory farming is evil and greatly contributes to suffering. However, it is not at all clear that vegetarianism is the only ethical solution. Millions of mammals die under the threshers every year. There is no diet under our current food supply system which does not create suffering in massive quantities (depending on what range of species you believe experience suffering). While this is a minor factor, vegetarianism also entails some human suffering, in that some people simply cannot stay on a vegetarian or vegan diet and stay healthy, a phenomenon called “failure to thrive.”

Would a vegetarian diet, widely adopted, be superior to the omnivore diet? Yes, but mostly due to the end of factory farming. I am not trying to argue that all diets are equally wrong, but merely that vegetarianism does not have the high moral ground that is generally assumed. Some antinatalists seem to believe that vegetarianism or veganism entail zero suffering. This is a laughable, conceited premise.

The infliction of suffering on sentient animals is a collective problem, and collective problems cannot be resolved by individualistic solutions. Recycling cannot save the environment, and being nice to your children does not eradicate childism. It may, in some cases, make you a good person, but it does not help address any collective problems. As radicals, we must attack the root of the problem, not trim some leaves. Our treatment of animals is based on the premise that other species are inferior to humans, and that they, like everything else in nature, are resources to be exploited. Antinatalism must most importantly lead to the awareness that the way we treat animals is not just wrong, but part of a system of prejudice, a global hierarchy constructed by religion and capitalism, where animals and the environment sit at the very bottom. It is that prejudice, and its expression in manufactured suffering on a worldwide scale, that we must address. People’s diets are of little relevance.

The antinatalist position is simple: the forced procreation of other species, including livestock and pets, is evil. Any industry or institution which relies on the forced procreation of other species should be dismantled. Note that, while this would dramatically reduce meat production, this principle does not imply that all eating of other animal species must stop. For one thing, it would not stop hunting. While I do not support hunting in general, except for subsistence, antinatalism in itself does not provide an ethical objection to it.

It remains to be hoped that the technology of artificial meat will put a final period over the whole issue, as long as it becomes widespread and easily affordable. At that point vegetarianism will hopefully become definitely established as the modern diet.

3 thoughts on “Antinatalism and the suffering of other species.

  1. I agree with many things in this blog but to reduce the echo chamber effect, I am only going to point out the disagreements or partial agreements not specifically in the order of original blog-

    “Would a vegetarian diet, widely adopted, be superior to the omnivore diet? Yes, but mostly due to the end of factory farming. I am not trying to argue that all diets are equally wrong, but merely that vegetarianism does not have the high moral ground that is generally assumed. Some antinatalists seem to believe that vegetarianism or veganism entail zero suffering. This is a laughable, conceited premise.” – Firstly no body believes that veganism entails zero suffering. It is indeed laughable if someone does. Secondly there is quite a lot of difference between vegetarianism and veganism and I’ll talk about veganism in this point. Thirdly, veganism is not only a dietary choice but a belief system that non-human sentient beings are not objects of utility, with the point of consideration not being whether then can talk or reason but if they can suffer. Fourthly, denying to eat a dead chicken does not help reduce the suffering of that dead hen she had already gone through but reduces the demand for supply of another hen being bred and brought into this world to be exploited. This is where antinatalism and veganism merge. Lastly, tying back to the first point, even though veganism does not entail zero suffering, it helps avoid some clearly avoidable harm and so deserves “relative”(not absolute) moral high ground compared meat consumption, all other things being equal.

    “All the antinatalist arguments also apply to the forced reproduction of animals from other species.” – They also apply to unforced reproduction. It is for eg. irresponsible to not spay/neuter stray dogs/cats and let them reproduce exposing every subsequent generation to risks of suffering. There is a counter argument here that if we have a responsibility of sterilizing stray dogs/cats then we also have a responsibility to sterilize other free animals like crows, foxes and then the wildlife which at least in the interim until all the sentient individuals have lived through their sterilized life spans can have disastrous effects. Where do we draw the line on this slippery slope? The answer to that is, such a slippery slope argument should not stop us from avoiding the avoidable harm to strays of domesticated species. There could be many debates on the ways to design a graceful exit for all sentient beings but until those are explored and invented, there is no reason for us to stop avoiding the avoidable harm.

    “If there is no reason for humans to exist, there is even less reason for them[animals] to exist, since their purpose in life would be contingent on ours.” This I assume is in reference to the purpose bred animals in the meat/dairy industry. The point (of veganism) is that there was never a reason for purpose bred animals to come into existence, independent of whether there was a reason for humans to exist or not. Even if a few existentialists do believe in some divine reason for their existence, there still would not be any reason for the purpose bred animals to exist as a utilitarian means for the existentialist’s goals.

    “However, it is not at all clear that vegetarianism is the only ethical solution. ” – It rather clear that it isn’t the only ethical solution. It is only a one step on the asymptotic ladder of reducing suffering. Veganism being the next one although still on the “asymptotic” ladder.

    “While this is a minor factor, vegetarianism also entails some human suffering, in that some people simply cannot stay on a vegetarian or vegan diet and stay healthy, a phenomenon called “failure to thrive.” – Are you talking about a few exceptions like people suffering for a certain disorders who have to have some kind of meat or in general? As there is a lot of evidence of both healthy vegan and vegetarian diets.

    “Our treatment of animals is based on the premise that other species are inferior to humans, and that they, like everything else in nature, are resources to be exploited. Antinatalism must most importantly lead to the awareness that the way we treat animals is not just wrong, but part of a system of prejudice, a global hierarchy constructed by religion and capitalism, where animals and the environment sit at the very bottom. It is that prejudice, and its expression in manufactured suffering on a worldwide scale, that we must address. People’s diets are of little relevance.” – Although veganism is based on all the points you just mentioned i.e. the wrongness of human superiority over non-humans and their misjustified exploitation, and although veganism is NOT just a dietary choice, people’s diet is highly relevant for as long as their is demand for products of exploitation in the capitalist world we live in, there would be someone to supply them. There is a straight enough connection between not consuming meat/dairy and preventing at least the avoidable harm.

    “The infliction of suffering on sentient animals is a collective problem, and collective problems cannot be resolved by individualistic solutions … As radicals, we must attack the root of the problem, not trim some leaves.” – This could as well be argued against antinatalism. There is a valid point about the need of institutional changes required for any substantial reductions of suffering, but in a democratic(ish) setup, individualistic solutions are the foundations to push forth for these said institutional changes. On the other hand a collective problem is no reason to continue to cause suffering on an individual level. Just because my own actions can’t prevent murders in the world doesn’t mean I should commit one. Just because I can’t stop procreation in the world, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write blogs/books about it.

  2. chandlerklebs April 23, 2017 at 12:15 Reply

    It was veganism that led me to accept antinatalism. Having already accepted that it’s wrong to kill and torture those animals to obtain meat, dairy, and eggs, it’s also logical that it’s wrong to procreate more humans which will become carnists who continue to do these things.

    I would say veganism is an essential part of being ethical but it’s not enough unless procreation is also avoided.

  3. Gorani April 25, 2017 at 20:25 Reply

    There seems to me to be a kind of sadism in optimism, or at least a great deal of indifference.

    Life is a dreadful thing to affirm.

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