Category Archives: Antinatalism

It is best not to be born at all; and next to that, it is better to die than to live.

You, most blessed and happiest among humans, may well consider those blessed and happiest who have departed this life before you, and thus you may consider it unlawful, indeed blasphemous, to speak anything ill or false of them, since they now have been transformed into a better and more refined nature. This thought is indeed so old that the one who first uttered it is no longer known; it has been passed down to us from eternity, and hence doubtless it is true. Moreover, you know what is so often said and passes for a trite expression. What is that, he asked? He answered: It is best not to be born at all; and next to that, it is better to die than to live; and this is confirmed even by divine testimony. Pertinently to this they say that Midas, after hunting, asked his captive Silenus somewhat urgently, what was the most desirable thing among humankind. At first he could offer no response, and was obstinately silent. At length, when Midas would not stop plaguing him, he erupted with these words, though very unwillingly: ‘you, seed of an evil genius and precarious offspring of hard fortune, whose life is but for a day, why do you compel me to tell you those things of which it is better you should remain ignorant? For he lives with the least worry who knows not his misfortune; but for humans, the best for them is not to be born at all, not to partake of nature’s excellence; not to be is best, for both sexes. This should our choice, if choice we have; and the next to this is, when we are born, to die as soon as we can.’ It is plain therefore, that he declared the condition of the dead to be better than that of the living.”

Aristotle, Eudemus

The joys of existence.

parents: Congratulations, little boy or girl! You’re going to exist!
embryo: Oooh, what does that entail?
parents: So many things! You’re going to be sentient, first of all. You will experience pleasure and pain. You will feel a wide variety of emotions, some of which will be augmented by your human intelligence!
embryo: That sounds complicated.
parents: It will be! The human experience is such a complex one, due to our high intelligence combined with our primitive instincts! We are probably the only creatures on the planet that have existential woes!
embryo: ….
parents: In fact, we’re creating you to help alleviate some of our existential woes! You will make us feel immortal and significant in the universe, even though we’re not. You will give us a illusory sense of purpose in life!
embryo: Gee, parents, I’m not sure I like the sound of existence. Do you think you could just abort me?
dad: Tough shit, kid. We want a baby.
mom: God wants us to choose life!
embryo: God?
parents: God is one of our many coping mechanisms. You’ll need some of your own to deal with how incompatible the universe is with human needs. We also use positive thinking, distractions, and logical fallacies such as the just world hypothesis.
embryo: Please, I don’t want this!
parents: Your animal instincts will take care of that after you’re born. You’ll want to live even if you’re miserable. Suicide will be extremely difficult to carry out even if you’re in constant agony.
embryo: Holyshitholyshitholyshit! Abort mission! Abort mission!
mom: There are puppies here. You’ll like them.
dad: And rainbows.
mom: We have your life almost entirely planned out for you; we just need to figure out your sex.
dad: You will have a gender identity that matches your sex, and you will marry someone of the opposite sex and reproduce with them so that this cycle of madness may continue for eons.
mom: You will have our political beliefs and religious beliefs.
dad: You will need to have a high-paying job to survive our country’s economic climate. You’re going to be in school for a very loooooong time.
embryo: School?
parents: So you can work for the rest of your life!
embryo: Look, this isn’t right. You wouldn’t make a decision this major for someone who already exists, would you?
parents: But you don’t exist yet. That makes it a-okay.
embryo: This is so pointlessly selfish!
mom: No, not having kids is selfish. That’s what people say, for some reason.
dad: Stop being a baby!
embryo: I haven’t even started yet…
parents: Life will be pretty fun while you’re still little and cute. Look forward to that.
embryo: How long will I not be little and cute?
parents: For most of your life.
embryo: What am I going to spend my life doing, besides what you planned out for me?
parents: We can’t tell you exactly, but you will basically pursue pleasure and avoid suffering.
embryo: Every day for my entire life?
parents: Yes! You must always be doing something to maintain an emotional homeostasis! You will be a reaction machine! You will be pulled by the puppet strings of your physical and emotional needs!
embryo: Whyyyyyyyy?!
parents: Life is beautiful!
embryo: I already disagree!
parents: Stop being a pessimist. Remember what we said about positive thinking?
embryo: This is insane! This is so pointless!
parents: If you hate life so much, you’re just going to die anyway.
embryo: ……………………………………………………….”

Antinatalism vs adaptationism.


Apparently this is some ideology called “bionatalism.” It’s like natalism except more hateful.

When you argue against adaptationism as applied to human behavior, the first attack you’re likely to receive is that you are against evolution, and therefore anti-science. The unspoken assumption in such an attack is that adaptationists are following scientific rigor and that their process is in harmony with other scientific disciplines. But that’s not true at all. The most popular example of adaptationism right now, evolutionary psychology, is profoundly flawed in its approach and is mainly a political tool to justify the status quo.

Obviously other forms of adaptationism may get closer to the scientific model, but adaptationism itself is based on a false premise: that we can analyze human behavior in the same way that we analyze the function of an organ or a protein. But human behavior is highly molded by socializing and indoctrination in a way that our organs or proteins are not. We know from other primate species and anthropology that the structure of societies is highly variable and dependent on external factors to a great extent. The reasons for human behavior cannot be directly deduced from genetic selection. Selection operates on the brain (which is why the brain is a flexible, robust system, not the fixed, outdated series of discrete, rigid modules that evolutionary psychologists think it is) but not on the social environment which dictates the ways in which our psychological needs can be expressed.

This brings to the fore one point which seems to elude opponents of antinatalism: that ideas are not propagated because of some mystical genetic transmission of complex abstract ideas, but because we are socialized into them during our childhood or we learn about them later in life. No one is born an antinatalist any more than they are born Christian, or Hindu, or humanist, or communist. We are born in families where the parents push certain positions on their children, and we are also born with a personality type that may tend to be more attracted to certain kinds of ideologies, but we are not born believing them.

Also, people do not believe in ideologies because they give them an evolutionary advantage. There are many reasons why people believe any given ideology, but “evolutionary advantage” is not one of them. I really doubt there’s anyone out there busy calculating which political position gives them more ability to find a mate and reproduce, unless they’re sickoes or perverts or something.

I am of course referring to the (surprisingly common) argument that antinatalism is doomed to failure because everyone was born from breeders, therefore no one is born antinatalist. For one thing, some antinatalists have procreated earlier in life, and now regret doing it. But besides that, the fact that there can be no “antinatalist gene” is no more relevant than the fact that there’s no “Christian” gene or “atheist” gene. And equally importantly, with the instantaneous and massive availability of information on the Internet, we, of the younger generations, no longer mainly acquire beliefs through our parents. Although socialization is still crucially important in enforcing conformist attitudes, our beliefs are mainly molded by our peer groups online.

My main problem with adaptationism, however, is that it posits that all human behavior has some evolutionary, “survival of the fittest” justification. Since they don’t actually care about evolution, their justifications are mainly just-so stories, narratives which are based on cartoon versions of humanity’s past and which are not quantified in any way. But the result of this, whether deliberate or not, is that adaptationist narratives inevitably serve to normalize gendered violence.

Take the example of rape, about which evolutionary psychologists make up the stupidest stories. Stupid or not, though, the point of any just-so story about rape would be to justify, from the standpoint of evolutionary success, why rape exists. If you already believe in evolutionary success, then it’s only one step to believing that rape is justified. If you don’t already believe in evolutionary success, it provides a rationale for the existence of rape and makes it a meaningful act.

Now I know evolutionary psychologists profess to resent these implications and argue that their goal is to provide the facts about rape so we can prevent it. But no one has ever explained how an adaptationist story about rape provides us with any means to prevent rape. Suppose, for instance, that we find (scientifically, not as a just-so story) that the male rape of females is justified by the fact that the male rapists’ genes propagate more. According to their caveman cartoon story, women’s genetic role only extends so far as giving birth and caring for children, and it is men’s sexual behavior that determines which genes will propagate the most. Therefore, men who rape will be more evolutionarily successful than those who don’t.

So how does knowing this help us prevent rape? Suppose we find that men will seek out certain types of women to rape, and we try to dissuade women from appearing to be like these types. All we’re then doing is setting up some other women to get raped instead. If we tell men not to rape, they will rape anyway. Keep in mind that, if we believe the story, men cannot help but rape. Almost by definition, it cannot tell us how to fight rape. What it does tell us is that rape is an innate part of human life. Once that premise is accepted, all that can be done is change who is victimized by rape (from “good” women to prostituted women), or simply exterminate all men in order to stop rape. I’ve already commented that masculinists are extremely misandrist (to borrow their stupid term), and their belief that men are innately brutal and evil leaves no other clear solution but complete man-hatred.

I foresee some inevitable trolls pointing out the absurdity of me wanting to kill all men (especially since I am one). No, I don’t think we should kill all men. What I am saying is that it is the only clear conclusion, if we accept masculinist/adaptationist premises. I definitely do not accept these premises. I do not believe that men are innately brutal or evil, because the human brain is far too malleable to make such pronouncements about it. There is no “male brain” or “female brain,” and if women are not innately brutal or evil, then there’s no reason for men to be either. The reason why many men are is because they have been socialized into masculinity. Insofar as gendered behavior is concerned, socialization is key, not the body, the brain, or any “innate” gender supposedly hardcoded in the brain (whether it’s the “right” gender according to religious dogma or according to transgender dogma).

My general point here is that adaptationism is an ideology which necessarily supports the status quo, because its approach is to justify observed human behavior through stories about genetics. When they see any human behavior, their first question is not “how were people socialized to act in that way?”, their first question is “how did this behavior evolve?”. So this leaves no space for a moral critique of behavior: that which was made by nature cannot be morally evaluated, it just is. So rape just is. “Murders of passion” just are. War just is.

This also includes breeding, of course, since breeding is absolutely necessary for evolutionary success. Not only is the inequality between men and women encoded in adaptationism, as well as inequality between “races,” but also the inequality between parent and child. The child is not an end in itself, it exists in order to ensure its parents’ reproductive success, further the parents’ interests, and extend their legacy through time. In order to justify this, we’ve been taught all sorts of adaptationist just-so stories about children: that children are innately gullible and must be indoctrinated, that children are naturally amoral, that children are selfish and manipulative.

Keep in mind that, in the world of adaptationism, genes can only be selected in one of three ways: natural selection, kin selection, and “reciprocal altruism,” the latter being basically a euphemism for repeated trade, and really having nothing to do with altruism, at least not as we commonly understand altruism. None of these provide a way for actual altruism to develop, and therefore, if we follow adaptationism, there can be no such thing as altruism altruism (only trade or feigned altruism). This explains why they are obsessed with the question of where actual altruism could possibly come from (for most of us, this is not a particularly puzzling question, because we’re not fucking sociopaths).

Even though they wouldn’t admit it in those terms, in practice the adaptationist is stuck believing that humans are innately selfish and has to explain away any actual altruism in selfish terms (I’ve lampooned this belief before). So the fact that they cannot really fight against things like rape is not really surprising. If humans cannot be altruistic, then why should we expect them to get beyond rape?

I think there’s a strong relation here with the insanity of free market logic, like the Invisible Hand rhetoric. Free market advocates try to portray the free market as natural and innate, and the Invisible Hand portrays the market as the sum of selfish actions adding up to an altruistic effect, permitting them to pretend that they support altruism while not actually supporting any concrete altruistic action or policy.

The same sort of sleight of hand is also seen in natalist rhetoric. We are told that a sum of procreation, which is a profoundly selfish act, can somehow amount to a good effect for society in general, whether it’s uncontrolled economic progress, more pointless innovation to make more gadgets we don’t need, more people slavishly paying for social security to keep the whole diseased system going, or whatever. I think you can already tell what I think about those supposed good effects. An altruistic whole is not going to spring magically from profoundly selfish acts, or vice-versa. Procreation is selfish and can only lead to a worse outcome for the children and for everyone else. Even if some parents benefit, in the long term everyone loses.

Natalism is part and parcel of the program of evolutionary psychology, not just in the way that it portrays life as a game that you “win” by constantly reproducing, but in the way that it turns all human behavior into a contest for the best mates or the best way to ensure that children bear one’s DNA and no one else’s. For example, men killing their cheating wives is justified by the proposition that no man would willingly want to spend resources raising a child that has been made with another man’s DNA. This does not seem even remotely plausible, but because it “makes sense” from their twisted “evolutionary” perspective, they are willing to propagate that story to the public. The end result is that gendered violence is codified and made “logical,” in that it follows a definite logic from point A to point B. It’s also reflected in evolutionary psychologists’ belief about mate selection, where men are said to subconsciously look for bodies that can withstand pregnancy and bear healthy children. Again, this is ridiculously not plausible, but it does feed into the natalist belief that having children is a necessary and inevitable part of human life.

darthbarracuda’s attempt at debunking the Asymmetry.

Rebuttals to the Asymmetry seem to pop out with some regularity, mainly because it is the most well-known antinatalist argument. I think this is too bad, as there are many much stronger, and more intuitive, arguments (e.g. the duty argument, or the “Russian Roulette” argument). Still, here we are again.

darthbarracuda’s argument is not much different from the other more sophisticated rebuttals: there cannot be an asymmetry between pain and pleasure because you can reframe them in a symmetrical manner. But this is a linguistic game, the same game that Christians play when they ask “why is there anything instead of nothing?”: framing existence as being symmetrical to non-existence because of the way we formulate concepts does not mean they actually are symmetrical in reality (or to take a more ignorant example, when they say evolution and Creationism are both “just theories”). In this regard, I think the following passage from darthbarracuda is key:

Second, if we are to use counterfactuals for pain, then we really ought (and need) to use counterfactuals for pleasure. For I can imagine myself experiencing pleasure – in fact, this imagery is often the cause of desire (which causes suffering in some sense). Regardless of the fact that this imagery causes suffering, since pleasure is good then a possible me experiencing the pleasure is better off than the actual me who is not. This does not mean that the actual me is in a bad state, though, just as the lack of a headache does not mean that I am in a better state.

But the Asymmetry does not compare a person X who experiences pleasure and a person X who does not. It compares a state of affairs where person X exists (and therefore experiences pleasure) with a state of affairs where person X does no exist. In darthbarracuda’s objection, both sides of the comparisons are about people who exist. Yes, obviously a person who experiences a certain pleasure is better off than the person who does not. So what? The fact that you can reframe the argument in a manner you prefer does not demonstrate the falsity of the original argument. All it shows is that suffering and pleasure are symmetrical in the context you’ve chosen, but the context, in this case, has nothing to do with what the Asymmetry sets out to prove (that existence is less desirable than non-existence).

Now that I’ve made my point, let me now backtrack to the first objection:

First, I do not usually proclaim that it is a good thing that I am not experiencing a headache. It’s only apparent that this is a good thing when I compare myself with counterfactual, possible me’s. In which case, the real me who is not experiencing a headache is not in a good state just because I’m not experiencing a headache – I’m merely in a better state than if I were.

I agree with this point, but it’s not relevant to the Asymmetry. We don’t say the absence of pain is good because there is a person that is in a better state; we say the absence of pain is good because the state of affairs is better. A world where there is no person X is more desirable, all other things being equal, than a world where there is a person X that will suffer.

And the third point:

Third, counterfactual, possible if-me’s do not hold the same good-ness or bad-ness that actual me’s do. This was already explained above. For example, we typically don’t throw a party because someone avoided a really, really bad situation – we throw a party because a person is experiencing or is about to experience a lot of pleasure. And we typically don’t mourn the loss of pleasure – we mourn the subsequent gain of pain.

This point is very badly written. From what I understand, it’s just a repeat of a previous point, but I have no idea how this disproves the Asymmetry. The fact that we don’t throw a party for something, or mourn its loss, or otherwise find it noteworthy, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good thing. The fact that a person avoided a really bad situation may not be a good party occasion (although why not celebrate it, if one dodged a bad enough bullet, like not going to jail or not losing one’s house?), but it is still a good thing nevertheless. But again, it has no relation to the Asymmetry, because the Asymmetry is not about a “possible if-me.”

There is also a final point to analyze. It is lengthier, so I will cut it up.

Furthermore, like I said before, Benatar conflates the “good” of the lack of pain with the GOOD of pleasure. His entire argument hinges upon his equivocation of the two. He specifically states that it is difficult to calculate how much pleasure or pain someone experiences (and yet he goes on later to explain why our lives are really bad which is calculating pain but whatever). Because of this avoidance of calculation, Benatar avoids the issue that would break his argument apart: that we often do plan things to do based upon how much pleasure or pain will be experienced.

I know I’m repeating myself, but this point, like most of his points, has no relevance to anything. We do plan things based on how much pleasure or pain we expect from them. So what? In any such decision, we’re comparing two future states of ourselves. In either state, we still exist.

The general point, I think, is that darthbarracuda is trying to argue against the principle that we can’t decide how much a life is worth by directly comparing the pleasure and suffering in it. But his argument fails because it does not address this at all: talking about how we plan things is an entirely different sort of procedure than judging an entire life. In the “how we plan things” process, we’re making a straightforward comparison of two hypothetical situations at the same point in time (e.g. a state where I buy the car versus a state where I don’t), so it makes sense to compare benefits, compare losses, and their evolution over time. On the other hand, the “how to judge a life” process is not straightforward at all, because we have no direct comparison to make. Is winning a million dollars better than becoming paraplegic? Is stubbing your toe worse than eating a piece of spaghetti? If these questions seem difficult to answer for ourselves, then how much more difficult they must be to answer for someone else. And yet this is what “judging a life” would imply.

Benatar openly embraces the idea that a pinprick disqualifies all pleasure by making the “good” of the lack of a pinprick equal to the GOOD of a million orgasms.

I have no idea what it would mean to “disqualify” a pleasure. The pinprick argument is a consequence of negative utilitarianism (which Benatar adopts): if our ethical goal is to minimize suffering, then the event of a single pinprick is enough suffering to make human life undesirable. I am not a negative utilitarian, so I am not going to defend that position. But whatever you think about negative utilitarianism, it’s not about equating a pinprick with a million orgasms, or indeed making a pinprick equal anything. The point is not that the pinprick is equal to anything, but that the pinprick is part of that category of things (suffering) that the negative utilitarian seeks to minimize.

Basically, darthbarracuda’s point is something like saying that feminism is wrong because a woman’s experience of rape is not as important as the murder of millions of male soldiers in war. Feminists want to minimize women getting raped (amongst other things), and the comparison simply has no relevance. The amount of pleasure or suffering that men experience is beyond the scope of the ideology. Likewise, to negative utilitarians, orgasms are not relevant: their standard is the minimization of suffering, and does not involve pleasure at all.

He’s appealing to states of affairs without considering the composition of these states of affairs – I liken it to saying there is flour in the cookie mix without actually stating how much flour is in the cookie mix. All Benatar is concerned with (at least with his formal argument) is that there is pain in existence and no-pain in non-existence without actually considering how much pain is in existence and how much pain is avoided in virtue of non-existence.

But how would the quantity of pain change the fact that people who exist experience pain and that non-existence does not? Or, for that matter, how would the quantity of pleasure change the fact that people who exist experience pleasure and that non-existence does not? This is not at all like saying there’s flour in cookies without stating how much flour is in the cookie mix. This is like being asked how you mixed the ingredients and answering that there’s flour in cookies. The nature of the ingredients in the cookies is not relevant to the question of how these ingredients are mixed together.

I think I’ve made my point. Most of this response is made of complete red herrings, and this betrays a lack of understanding of the argument. This lack of understanding is also shown by darthbarracuda’s comments on this blog, which similarly miss the point.

Richard Stallman, founder of GNU, and his bizarre “rebuttal” of the Asymmetry.

Richard Stallman is a prominent open software advocate who also writes on political issues. I was told that he had written a rebuttal to the Asymmetry, so naturally I was eager to read what Stallman had to say. But what I found… was something rather mind-boggling.

Now, readers know I’ve reviewed a number of “rebuttals” of the Asymmetry on this blog (see: 1, 2, 3). I’ve seen some weird arguments before. But this has to take the cake. This may be the most bizarre argument I’ve seen for anything.

Stallman argues that, if it is better not to exist, then making more “nonexistent possible persons” therefore creates more good. And we can do this by creating new alleles. In fact, each new allele doubles the amount of good in the world. No, I am not kidding, that’s actually what he wrote:

Suppose we interpret “nonexistent possible persons” as including only those who are possible in the world as it is. Only a minute fraction of those possible people exist. If each one that doesn’t exist is a positive good, comparable in size to the good or bad experienced by an existing person, it follows that the total good is measured, to a close approximation, by the number of possible people — which, with this interpretation, can be changed by our own actions. We could contribute enormous good to the world by increasing the range of nonexisters (nonexistent possible persons), assuming nearly all of them would suffer if they existed…

One way is to create a new allele, not found in nature, as an alternative to some existing gene found in all humans. Suppose this new allele would not be fatal but would cause a lot of suffering. Of course, to put that gene into anyone would be cruel and wrong, but for this purpose we do not entertain the idea of _using_ it. The goal is achieved by its mere existence, which would (more than) double the number of nonexistent possible humans, and thus double the good of their nonexistence. There could hardly be an easier way to add so much good to the world, so we should focus our efforts on this goal — or so we would conclude from Benatar’s matrix of values.

Now, I understand that he’s trying to make an argument ad absurdum, by arguing that the Asymmetry must lead one to do such crazy things. But there are a number of problems with his argument. First of all, and I can’t believe I have to explain this, there is no such thing as a “nonexistent person.” All of this is fantasy, because you can’t increase or decrease the number of something that can’t exist.

And it can’t be argued that antinatalists believe in “nonexistent persons,” either. As Benatar states in his book on page 22, the Asymmetry is about comparing states of affair, not an existing person to a non-existing person:

Comparing somebody’s existence with his non-existence is not to compare two possible conditions of the person. Rather it is to compare his existence with an alternative state of affairs in which he does not exist.

Where Stallman got the idea that this is an acceptable argument ad absurdum, I have no clue. It bears no relation to the Asymmetry, or basic logic. But it is very, very absurd. And then he doubles down:

It is not clear that “nonexistent persons” must be limited to those that could exist in the world as it is. Another plausible interpretation includes all persons that might exist even in worlds different from our own.

So what does Stallman conclude from this?

This absurd conclusion shows it is a mistake to assign “good” to that slot in the value matrix. We must put there “absence of bad” — in effect, zero. Whatever might have happened to a nonexistent potential being contributes zero to the total good in the world and to the total bad in the world. Thus, the number of nonexisters has no effect on any judgments about actual good or bad in this world.

This refers to Stallman’s earlier stated position that the fact that what does not exist does not suffer is not a good thing, but rather “the absence of bad.” But it is hard to understand why he thinks the absence of suffering is not a good thing. Stallman’s argument here is no more enlightening. He says that non-existing people contribute “zero to the total good in the world.” But that has no relevance to the point he’s arguing against, which is that the non-existence of suffering which would otherwise exist is a good thing: this does not point to some mystical property of non-existence but to the undesirability of actual existing suffering. Actual existing suffering is bad, therefore its absence is good. We can make that simple and straightforward deduction without invoking any “contribution” from “a nonexistent being,” which is just nonsense.

The fact that a serious person like Stallman can misunderstand antinatalism so badly is an eloquent demonstration of the refusal of people to grapple with the actual arguments.

Feminist antinatalist arguments.

Although the connection between feminism and antinatalism has already been made (more notably in L’Art de Guillotiner les Procréateurs), it hasn’t really been explored in much depth. I wanted to expand on it somewhat and discuss more concrete arguments for what we can call feminist antinatalism, because I think it does deserve a category of its own.

I expect that many readers who are interested in antinatalism are not necessarily interested in feminism, so I should start by defining what I mean by feminism, because there are many different ideas out there of what feminism is about. By feminism I mean a movement by women to expose and eradicate the Patriarchy, the hierarchy by which men are superiors and women are inferiors (note that I am not saying they are actually superiors and inferiors in reality, only within the worldview propagated by the Patriarchy). I reject the view that the goal should be “gender equality” (I’ve already discussed why that’s meaningless). However, the fact that men and women are unequal, as a result of the Patriarchy, is a major fact worth talking about, as long as we understand that it is a consequence of the Patriarchy and not a brute fact.

Feminist antinatalism, following the other kinds of antinatalism, should argue that procreation is wrong based on specifically feminist premises. Based on this, I have identified five main ways in which one can argue a feminist antinatalist position. You may disagree with my classification or present new ones. We can quibble over what goes where. This is fine, and I make no claim that my way is the only way.

1. The historical case. As I’ve cursorily discussed before, the oppression of women and natalism have always gone hand in hand. I don’t feel I can really do justice to the history of this process, so I will, as always, refer interested readers to The Creation of Patriarchy, by Gerda Lerner. But basically, the upshot of this argument is that we cannot destroy the Patriarchy, and therefore the gender hierarchy, without also attacking natalist premises. The concept that women exist to perpetuate the species is deeply ingrained in most conceptions of gender that exist or have existed on this planet. There is no foreseeable way to advocate for women’s liberation without at the same time also arguing against natalism. Although this does not logically imply being an actual antinatalist, it does imply that procreation is wrong to some degree.

Furthermore, pushing for procreation makes women as a class dependent on men for genetic material, for resources, for support. This is contrary to the need for the kind of physical and intellectual independence that could emancipate women.

As I’ve said before, most antinatalists are not feminists. But antinatalists are in a unique position of actually being able to respond to natalist premises with a coherent and logical counter-ideology. This can be done for feminist reasons as well as for anti-feminist reasons, but I believe the latter does not detract from the former.

2. The harms of motherhood. While antinatalists argue that all lives can experience a wide variety of harms, women who undergo motherhood experience major harms specific to that role. They undergo the physical and psychological harms of pregnancy, as well as the desperate suffering of women who cannot deal with raising children (as I’ve discussed here). These specific harms are worth talking about because, under natalism, the needs, desires and bodies of women are considered to be irrelevant to the harm/benefit analysis of procreation. One of the things feminism does is expose the ways in which women are oppressed by the gender hierarchy, and this is definitely one of them. To this we must add the objectification of women as breeding machines and life-support system for fetuses, which harms women as a class.

The narrative of motherhood that we’re presented is inextricably linked with the rhetoric of gender: women are uniquely suited to care for children, women are psychologically driven to have children, the greatest expression of womanhood is to be a mother. Women are meant to be mothers and, when they do become mothers, they find their true role and their true happiness. Women can only “have it all” if they have children, otherwise they are just sad, incomplete women.

The argument here is similar to the misanthropic arguments: we should not bring more suffering into this world, and the harms of motherhood, as invisible as they are in our societies, are forms of suffering we should not want to bring about. No man who loves and respects his wife should seek to expose her to such harms, and I find any man who would do this repugnant.

3. Argument from gender inequality. There is a dramatic gender inequality in procreation: not only do women bear all the physical burdens of carrying the fetus to term, but a majority of the child-raising is still done by women. This means that women are less free to devote energies to real accomplishments or a more fulfilling career, or do anything else they value. It means they are being held down by having children. Only rich women are able to delegate the time costs of child-raising to other people, generally other women. Either way, child-raising requires an incredible amount of attention, time and resources which women could use for much better ends.

Some will argue that this is not really gender inequality because that’s women’s role and where they find their true happiness. This is still all based on the narrative of women being uniquely suited to child-raising, a myth which has no basis in reality (I don’t think most female parents are any more suited to raising children than male parents are). There is no reason to think that women can’t be happier as scientists, engineers, writers, athletes, or gardeners. All of these things have an actual social purpose, and may help relieve suffering in some way. Having children, on the other hand, adds more suffering to the sum total of existence, for no discernible reason beyond “I want one.”

The inequality does not end there, however. In society at large (e.g. in the workplace, in welfare, in homeless shelters), women who have children get special treatment, which hurts the other women (childfree or childless) who get short shrift. This is an unfair system, but it shows that procreation divides women into groups when they should be united.

Without procreation taking over women’s energy and resources, all of this gender inequality would cease to exist, and women would be as free as men to develop physically, mentally and intellectually.

4. Argument from socialization. All of us have been indoctrinated and socialized as children into all sorts of social constructs, including gender. And even if parents do not want the child to be socialized as a gender, they will be socialized nevertheless- through their own incompetence, by the media, by consumer products, by their friends, by other parents, by their school. Children will either be socialized as boys or as girls, and this has lasting consequences. Men are much more likely (90%+) to commit murder, mass murders, and rape. Women are much more likely (90%+) to be killed or raped by men than by women.

This means that a woman, whether she is a feminist or not, is giving birth to a child who will be socialized as either an oppressor or an oppressed. Every male child is a potential rapist and every female child is a potential rape victim. Either of these possibilities not only adds suffering to the world, but reinforces the gender hierarchy, and presents a cruel dilemma to feminists who want to have children. There are only two ways to resolve it: by attempting to raise one’s children without gender socialization (and failing miserably, because parents are not by far the only input in a child’s life), or by refusing to have children.

Furthermore, part of female socialization is not only psychological but also physical, through the imposition of beauty practices. Historically, these beauty practices have been gynocidal in nature, including footbinding (which crippled women for life), female genital mutilation (which removes sexual pleasure), corsetting (which can be lethal). Our beauty practices are less damageable than those of the past (apart from FGM, which is an ongoing concern), but they still reinforce the gender hierarchy: women exist in order to be pretty and serve male sexuality.

Socialization presents to us a specific kind of suffering which we should want to spare future lives from.

5. Argument against capitalism. As I’ve discussed before, natalism and capitalism go hand in hand. Capitalism is used to justify the need for procreation: while nationalism and racism sometimes take that place, capitalism is the main justification for natalism. Feminism and anti-capitalism are equally linked. Women’s labor is trivialized under capitalism under the guise that it is part of the “private sphere.” Women are massively exploited for their sexuality (or as liberals call it, “sex work”) and reproductive labor, while men are not. While all of this is not unique to capitalism, feminists have identified capitalism as the main source of this injustice.

Continued procreation continues the process by which some people (a majority of which are women) are economically exploited for the benefit of others (a majority of which are men). Anyone who’s against capitalism, like feminists are, should oppose procreation until the economic system is fair for all and ensures the well-being of people regardless of gender. Procreation gives capitalism its consumer base and its cheap labor.

In addition to these five arguments, I think other antinatalist arguments can be enriched by feminist theory. The consent argument, for example, is greatly augmented by the various ways in which the concept of consent is undermined in our societies, notably against women and POC. The ways in which natalists sidestep consent are neatly reflected in the ways men dismiss women’s consent or white elites dismiss POC’s consent. Women also have a specific perspective on the misanthropic case, insofar as they are exposed to a set of risks which men are barely conscious of.

Adam Wallace of WCR arguing against antinatalism.

WCR is an alt-right (which generally means the American equivalent of neo-nazis) blog which discusses white nationalist issues and an armchair pseudo-philosophy that promotes elitism and hierarchy. Why in the hell would I go to such a place? Because Adam Wallace, one of the writers for that blog, has decided to debunk antinatalism, or at least, what he thinks antinatalism is.

Before his actual debunking, there is a considerable slew of quotes taken from the writings of some historical reactionaries and racists. I will waste no time analyzing that nonsense, as I am only interested in what he has to say about antinatalism. The analysis starts here:

The logical process for the antinatalist is this:

1. Having children is immoral because there is suffering existent in the world.
2. Subjecting someone — or even potentially subjecting someone — to suffering is bad.
3. This is because suffering is always bad.
4. Suffering is what pain induces; the longing for comfort or happiness.
5. Pain exists at the physical, mental and spiritual level.

I shudder to think what Wallace thinks a “logical process” is, because this is not a logical progression, just a disorganized list of points. The only thing in here that looks like an argument is point 1, but alone it makes little sense. You could make some kind of argument by combining points 1, 2 and 3, but it’s not an argument I’ve ever heard from antinatalists. It looks similar to some actual arguments (like the duty argument or the Asymmetry), but in itself it doesn’t make much sense.

Of these five points, the points that would be agreed upon by antinatalists would be points 2, 4 and 5. Point 1 is not logical because the existence of suffering, in itself, does not lead to the conclusion of antinatalism. Point 3 is an arbitrary statement: antinatalists do not necessarily believe that all suffering is bad (at least, based on Wallace’s idiosyncratic definition of “suffering”), merely that suffering only exists because of the existence of human needs.

So let’s start with point 1:

One could say, regarding this claim, that the opposite is true on exactly equal logical grounds. Not having children is immoral because there is happiness in the world, and the wilful (sic), conscious decision not to introduce this scenario to someone — the experience of pleasure, happiness, knowledge, et cetera — is bad.

Despite pretenses of this argument being “logical,” it makes no sense at all. If one does not have a child, who is harmed by the absence of pleasure, happiness, knowledge that this hypothetical child would have had? And if no one is harmed, then how can it be bad? Bad for who? Bad how? This is the extent of Wallace’s “explanation,” so no answer is given.

In the case of suffering, it is very clear who is harmed: the human being who exists and is subject to suffering. We have a moral duty not to inflict suffering on others, and bringing a new human being into this world means inflicting suffering on them. But we have no moral duty to give pleasure to others, therefore the existence of pleasure does not create any moral obligation on our part.

Now to point 2:

Always? Truly? Such a claim depends entirely upon why suffering is bad, which we will address in the next point. We can right now, however, address this notion that the very subjecting of another to something — suffering or no — is not always avoidable. Life has its ways of pushing situations into our experiences whether wanted — intended — or otherwise… The moments of conversation I suffered with a couple of antinatalists are indeed the fault of them for speaking to me and me for listening; but should, by their own logic, the antinatalists not even bothered trying to speak for me for fear of inducing my annoyance or discomfort at the event?

As I already pointed out, suffering (as defined by Wallace as the desire for comfort from pain) is not necessarily bad. However, one may note some hypocrisy on his part here: if he “suffers” so much from dialoguing about antinatalism, then why write an entire (mostly irrelevant) article about it?

That being said, we definitely agree that suffering is unavoidable, but that’s an argument for our side, so I’m not sure why he even brought it up. Perhaps this was a failed attempt at invoking the “life is suffering, so live with it” argument. But antinatalists have an easy answer to such rhetoric: don’t procreate and there’s no need for the suffering to exist. Whatever propaganda line Wallace wants to push about life is irrelevant because antinatalists are against life (a fact which seems to make the neo-nazi foam at the mouth every time he writes about it).

Point 3 is, as he wrote, connected to point 2, but it’s even more easily refuted:

No it is not. Suffering can be extremely valuable.

Of course suffering can be extremely valuable. No one is denying that fact. Antinatalists do not deny that fact, either. So what? Suffering can only be valuable for people who exist. It has no bearing whatsoever on the ethical status of procreation.

Antinatalists declare that suffering is a bad thing within the context of procreation: that a world in which there is less suffering is better than a world in which there is more suffering. From the point of view of a person who already exists, suffering can be very valuable indeed, but no one who exists can face the decision of existing or not existing.

On to point 4, which is basically a word-salad. If you don’t believe me, here is his full answer:

Indeed, but for what end? The antinatalists and other assorted pussies get to this point and claim “Ha! I’ve got you now, breeder scum!” (interesting definition…) without going forth with it. Suffering is a longing for another state, the desire for something else and that something else not yet being attained. It is a doing word, a verb, much like running or speaking. It requires context; a direction. It implies motion, moving, becoming, changing, evolving, mutating, transmuting, et cetera; in short, it implies the living — something is dead, by scientific measure, when the body ceases to change; when cells cease replacing themselves, when chemical reactions in the body which contribute to life such as the process of food digestion in the stomach and gut stop, or when neurons in the brain are no longer active. The physical life is a continuous process of change and moving from one thing to another — and not just on the microcosm of the individual body, but on the macrocosm of ecosystems and foodchains (sic) all over the world, or, to go further still, the ebb and flow of civilisations (sic) and cultures which rise and fall and violently clash with one-another in stunning displays of virility and force. Suffering, change, motion; all this is a part of life.

All of this nonsense to say: living things can suffer, dead things can’t. Great, but that doesn’t prove anything even remotely related to antinatalism. I can state obvious basic biological facts all day too, but that wouldn’t be related to antinatalism either. I could paste the entire Wikipedia entry for “biology,” and that wouldn’t disprove natalism any more than this word-salad disproves antinatalism.

One notes that Wallace outright states that he agrees with the premise in the very first word of his answer, so his answer is of absolutely no use in refuting the “logical process” he lists at the beginning of his analysis.

And finally, point 5:

Again; indeed. In fact pain exists, and it cannot cease to exist. And this is where the fundamental essence of the antinatalist position falls asunder…

To conceive of a world where there is zero suffering we must conceive of a world where there is no longing for differing emotional states. As long as we can consciously distinguish one emotional state from another there could potentially emerge a longing for this state or that. This fits the definition of mental or emotional suffering. In fact, if we are to exist in a world where there is no pain we would indeed have to be unconscious as to not experience anything at all, for if we could distinguish between one emotional state or another — or, further still — one day or another, we would of course introduce the potential of suffering.

I spared you the quote from a prominent proto-nazi that goes between these two parts, but I think the point is still clear: a world without suffering is basically impossible. Again, I fail to see how this is supposed to make some kind of point against antinatalism. The “fundamental essence” of the antinatalist position is that procreation is wrong, and no part of his argument concerns procreation. Antinatalists are not concerned with having a “world with zero suffering,” since such a thing is, as he rightly points out, impossible.

But even if there somehow was zero suffering in the world, antinatalism would not thereby be refuted or fulfilled, if only because two of the four branches of antinatalism, teleological and ecological, would still be completely true (I assume that Wallace, as a reactionary, is referring only to human suffering). Fundamentally, antinatalism is concerned with procreation, not with suffering, a point which he simply does not seem to understand.

Alonzo Fyfe is misguided about population ethics…

I have previously written an entry against Alonzo Fyfe on the subject of meta-ethics, where he completely butchered the idea that evolution motivates morality and confused it with some form of adaptationism. His moral position is one he calls “desirism,” which seems to be based solely on people’s desires (hence the name), although when push comes to shove he seems to retreat towards some form of cultural relativism.

The topic of the entry I want to examine now is population ethics, that is to say, how many people there should be in the world. Obviously, antinatalism has a very particular answer to that question, that answer being “ideally, zero.” This is, obviously, not a widely accepted answer; as I’ve discussed before, insofar as population ethics go, it is considered a reductio ad absurdum.

The most famous argument in population ethics used to support the “zero” conclusion is Derek Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion (which of course he did not himself believe in, because who’d be that crazy?). In this entry, Alonzo Fyfe tries to refute this argument with his desirist ideology. It is, therefore, of some antinatalist interest to examine the objections presented, since they have a direct bearing on the truth of antinatalism. If it is morally right for humanity to perpetuate, then antinatalism must be wrong.

Insofar as antinatalist theory is concerned, there is no reason for mankind to exist. There is no justifiable reason for anyone to exist, whether it’s one person or a billion people. The only way that people can validate their existence is by mitigating the harm suffered by themselves and others, but there is no reason for that suffering to exist in the first place.

Fyfe quotes the Repugnant Conclusion:

For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living.

From the antinatalist perspective, the Repugnant Conclusion is nonsensical because it assumes that all lives are worth living. It is clearly the case that many lives are not worth living. Furthermore, antinatalists do not believe that people are accurate about the quality of their life, as well as the quality of other people’s lives. Finally, most antinatalist arguments do not rely on quality of life at all, making the issue moot.

But Fyfe is not an antinatalist, and his objection is quite different:

This argument requires the assumption that each life us assigned an intrinsic value independent of interests or desires (though the intrinsic value of a life at depend on how many of the person’s desires are fulfilled). Or job – our moral duty – is to make this number as big as possible.

Desirism rejects that model.

I would very much like to know why Fyfe rejects the model. However, he does not tell us why he rejects it, and that seems like a crucial hole in his reasoning. I think it would be interesting because the view expressed seems pretty close to the views of some antinatalists (like Gary Mosher), with the exception that this intrinsic value is independent from the number of people that exist. Our moral duty is to protect this value and alleviate suffering, not to create more suffering and endanger the lives that already exist. As such, antinatalists tend to be negative utilitarians (aiming towards the lowest amount of suffering), not positive utilitarians (aiming towards the greatest amount of happiness).

Fyfe continues:

It asks a different question. “What reasons for action do we have to bring additional people into the world?”

Where populations are small, additional people contribute to the greater fulfillment of desires. Those who exist in such a world have many and strong reasons to promote interests that increase the population.

To see this, imagine one person living utterly alone, and the benefits of adding just one more person. Where there are two, add a third. Each new person provides significant improvements to everybody’s quality of life. Yet, in all but extreme circumstances such as on a lifeboat, they place little additional strain on available resources.

However, at some point adding new people produces less of a benefit; the law of diminishing returns applies.

Again, from the antinatalist perspective, these statements are nonsensical. Every new human being, whether one or a billion already exist, adds new unnecessary suffering to the world, suffering which must now be alleviated. The main difference is this: a new person coming to existence in the scenario where only one person exists will alleviate a lot more suffering than a new person coming into existence in the scenario where a million people already exist, but that is solely because the one person was suffering a lot more!

Let me put some fictional numbers to these scenarios in order to clarify my point. Suppose we have two scenarios, one where one person exists (P1) and one where a million people exist (P2). Because of the advantages of cooperation over independence, it is possible for the million people to alleviate their suffering more efficiently than for the one person. So suppose that the levels of suffering in each case are P1: -1000 and P2: -50.

Because of the unique forms of suffering caused by being alone and having only one pair of hands to gather resources, adding one new person to P1 is extremely beneficial. So suppose that in this case we’re able to go clear from -1000 to -600. Fyfe here is basically saying, look how much benefit this new person has brought to the existing person! That’s a +400 gain! But this is hopelessly naive. In P2, on the other hand, a new person may not change the levels of suffering significantly. Suppose a new person in P2 improves the average level of suffering by +0.001. Fyfe would say that this is where the law of diminishing returns would apply.

So, using the hypothetical numbers to provide some perspective, adding a new person causes the following changes:

P1: from -1000 to -600
P2: from -50 to -49.999

The gain in P1 is so significant precisely because the first person is suffering so much that new people can provide them a lot of relief, but these new people are badly off as well. The high gain that Fyfe touts as a positive of procreation only occurs at the expense of the first person’s suffering, and there was no reason for that suffering to exist in the first place. It’s all a big shell game. and a crappy one at that.

But of course a scenario where only one human exists but can somehow procreate is nonsensical. This is not, and probably never will be, the state of the human species. Therefore we learn nothing about the desirability of procreation from such a scenario. And the law of diminishing returns, as Fyfe would say, hits way before any sort of realistic number. The population of a hundred years ago (1.5 billions) is far beyond that limit. The population of two thousand years ago (somewhere between 150 and 330 millions) is probably beyond that limit as well, or at least close to it.

I will skip his explanation of the law of diminishing returns (as I assume everyone basically understands what that means) and go into his argument based on desirism:

I would like to stress that what desirism suggests to look at is is not interests TO bring more or fewer people into the world but interests THAT bring more or fewer people into the world. What reason do we have to encourage women to become interested in science, medicine, politics, consulting, and ends that would be thwarted by having children, thus motivating them not to select that option? What reasons do we have to promote interests in non-procreative sex over procreative sex – such as is provided through the use of birth control?

What Fyfe says here is profoundly offensive. He is basically acknowledging that women’s interests must be squelched for procreative purposes, and that “we” might decide to “encourage” women to do something else than become breeding machines if “we” (presumably, the men in charge) decide that fewer people should be brought into this world.

I’ve explained in the past how natalism entails the objectification of women and a profound misogyny which simply ignores women’s needs or desires, because natalism is based on the assumption that procreation can be discussed as an abstract concept and evaluated on the basis of its impact on the economy or society, and therefore that the number of children in a society can be made higher or lower, not as a real-life phenomenon that takes a physical and psychological tool on women, which ruins many women’s livelihoods, increases their dependence on others, keeps women oppressed into systems of motherhood. Fyfe writes from this sociopathic, misogynist mindset, because he is a natalist. There’s really not much else to it.

As you can expect, his answer to these questions has nothing to do with the well-being of mothers or children at all, but a simple economic rationale:

Where bringing more people into the world thwarts more and stronger of our desires, where we have reason to avoid greater competition for scarce goods and services, we have more and stronger reason to promote alternative interests.

I’ve already expressed how profoundly wrong this is, so I won’t repeat myself. I will simply note further the selfishness in Fyfe’s reasoning: the reason why we should not have children is not for any reason connected to the children themselves, not out of any concern for anyone’s suffering, but because they’ll take away our toys.

Should we be having more people? The answer is found by looking at the reasons for action that exist for promoting interests that will increase the population over promoting interests that will maintain or reduce it.

This is a muddled conclusion, to say the least. But either way, it seems to have no relation to the question posed. “Should we be having more people” is a yes or no question, and is not answered by giving reasons. I guess he’s trying to say that we must look at whether we’re part the point of diminishing returns, and he seems to be saying that we have, although he seems uncertain about this for some reason (how anyone can be uncertain about such a clear fact, unless you’re an optimist beyond measure, is beyond me).

I suppose some might say that Fyfe is not telling us what is moral, but is telling us how procreation is evaluated in reality, but this is equally spurious. Historically, none of what Fyfe said holds true. Societies tend to expand to the limit of their energy sources. Societies that don’t have access to plentiful, portable energy will tend to stay small and be unable to expand. Societies that do have such access, tend to expand more than their neighbors. Nothing to do with “desires.”

Only one thing that Fyfe said holds true, that the central question of population ethics is: how many people should there be? He fails at debunking the Repugnant Conclusion and he fails at showing that desirism proves that there’s anything valid about natalism. All he proves is that natalism is disgusting, but I didn’t need him for that.

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