Category Archives: Antinatalism

The antinatalist fine tuning argument.

The fine tuning argument, which should be familiar to anyone involved in apologetics from either side, aims to prove the existence of God by pointing out various features of the universe which are conducive to the existence of life as we know it. So for example they will point to the cosmological constants, assume a range that constant can take, and point out that only a small part of that range permits life to exist. Or they will point to various features of physics, such as the four fundamental forces, and that large changes in those forces would not permit life to exist.

Given these facts, believers argue that it is more probable that God is the source of these coincidences than they coming about by random chance.

There have been a great number of debunkings of this argument. One fatal objection is that we really have no idea what the possible range of the cosmological constants are, and so we cannot truthfully say if the universe is fine-tuned or not. Another fatal objection is that fine-tuning actually makes naturalism more probable, not theism: if naturalism is true, we should expect the universe to be fine-tuned, but if God created the universe, there’s no reason why the laws of nature should be so hostile to life.

However, my point here is not to talk about the argument proper, but rather to question the very framework on which the argument is based: that God wanted to create life and that this was in line with his nature as standard of morality.

From the antinatalist perspective, the creation of life would perhaps be the most evil act to ever be perpetrated. In short, life entails suffering, and suffering is always undesirable. The antinatalist solution is to cease procreating and therefore cease bringing about new life which will suffer and die.

If we assume that God exists and created the universe, he was faced with one fundamental decision: to create beings that suffer, or to not do so (note that this option does not necessarily mean to not create any beings). Christians argue that it was good for God to choose the former (because otherwise we wouldn’t be here), and antinatalists argue that it would have been good for God to choose the latter (because we wouldn’t be here).

If God was good, then he wouldn’t have created beings that suffer. The fact that suffering exists is the proof that either God is not good or God does not exist.

Applying the antinatalist perspective to fine-tuning follows from there: if the universe is finely tuned to support the existence and proliferation of life, then the universe either arose naturally or was the outcome of a deliberate, profoundly evil, act. It would be better if the universe was not finely tuned for life.

And if the Christians are right that it is extremely unlikely for a “random” universe to accommodate life, then the act becomes that much more deliberate, and therefore culpable. This leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the more effective the fine-tuning argument is, the more evil God is.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the issue of suffering is explainable. Physical pain, for example, is a signal to the body that it is being harmed. Emotional pain is more varied but it is also generally associated with damage to one’s psychological well-being.

Since this is a moral argument, albeit one based on moral principles that few people would argue with (e.g. suffering is a bad thing), objections can be made in the lines of those made against other moral arguments. I’ve seen quite a few play out on atheist shows, and I want to examine the two I’ve most commonly observed.

The first common response is that atheists have no standards of morality, and that therefore they cannot declare that something is good or bad. A statement such as “suffering is a bad thing” presupposes the validity of the Christian worldview.

My answer is that the first premise is incorrect. We are all equipped with standards of morality (moral intuitions), whether we’re religious or not. We are all capable of making statements about morality like “suffering is a bad thing.” Unfortunately our intuitions are often marginalized or erased by biases, including religious bias. Christianity hinders the formation of moral standards. How can it be the source of morality if it hinders it?

The clever Christian could then reply that the moral intuitions were put “in our heart” by God. Yes, of course, once you accept the primacy of the imagination you can posit any ad hoc rationalization for any inconvenient fact of reality. But the fact remains that they are accessible to all, Christian or not, and that using them or explaining them does not require one to presuppose any Christian concept.

Another fatal response to this rationalization is the following: if the God of the Bible really did implant morality in humans, then Christianity must be contradictory, since our moral intuitions often contradict the Bible’s idea of morality, which supposedly comes from God himself. If both are true, then Christianity entails that slavery is invalid and that slavery is valid, that genocide is invalid and that genocide is valid, that rape is invalid and that rape is valid. But both cannot be true.

The second common response is that God’s morality cannot be evaluated or compared to ours because God does not exist on the same plane as we do and his morality is of an entirely different order.

Now let’s be honest here, this is an ad hoc rationalization, pure and simple. But even if we follow along, it still makes no sense. If God’s morality has no relation whatsoever with human morality, then why follow it? We are humans and need a human morality to operate on this planet, just like monkeys operate on monkey morality, dolphins operate on dolphin morality, and so on. It would be just as imbecilic to demand that a dolphin follow human morality than to demand that a human follow divine morality.

In short, if God is such a different kind of thing that humans cannot evaluate its morality, then there’s no clear reason why we should even consider following divine morality in the first place, let alone take God’s side on any moral issue. Indeed, if we cannot evaluate God’s morality, then it cannot be good or evil from a human perspective. But we can still evaluate God’s actions from a human perspective, and call those actions good or evil from a human perspective. That doesn’t require us to evaluate God’s morality at all.

An Antinatalist FAQ.

1. What is antinatalism?

The core of the antinatalist ideology is the ethical position that human procreation is wrong.

More broadly, antinatalism can be described as the ethical position that the procreation and continuation of sentient life (i.e. lifeforms that feel pain) is wrong, insofar as humans have a considerable impact on the procreation and continuation of sentient life on this planet.

2. What are the lines of reasoning for antinatalism?

There is no generally agreed upon classification, but on this blog I use the classification made by filrabat. I have decided to use it because it seems to fit the natural division of arguments as used by Benatar and others, which makes it very useful.

The classification divides antinatalist arguments in four general categories:

* Philanthropic antinatalism encompasses deductive arguments centered around the undesirability of exposing new lives to harm. Arguments in this line include Benatar’s Asymmetry and other harm/benefit asymmetries, the consent argument, and anti-frustrationism.

* Teleological antinatalism, as the name indicates, encompasses arguments about the lack of purpose or justification for procreation. A good example of this approach is Gary Mosher’s famous aphorism “there is no need for need to exist.”

* Ecological antinatalism encompasses arguments about the harm that humans inflict on other forms of life on this planet. VHEMT is the main proponent of this position.

* Misanthropic antinatalism encompasses arguments which aim to show that the world or human societies are not good enough to bring new lives into them. This includes the risk argument, amongst others.

3. What is the difference between antinatalism and childfreedom?

Childfreedom refers to people who have consciously decided not to have children. It is not an ethical position but a personal decision. A childfree person may or may not agree with the proposition that procreation is wrong.

Likewise, an antinatalist person may or may not be childfree. Some people have had children before realizing the dubious ethical nature of breeding.

4. What about this “efilism” I’ve heard some antinatalists talk about?

Efilism is a word used by Gary Mosher to designate his personal worldview, which he says he arrived at independently from antinatalism. He uses that word to emphasize his belief in the undesirability of all new sentient life, not just new human lives.

5. Who is Gary Mosher?

Gary Mosher is a person who maintains a number of Youtube accounts, including most notably inmendham, dedicated to antinatalist issues. He has been a tireless promoter of antinatalism for many years, especially to atheist groups. He lives in Mendham, New Jersey.

6. What is VHEMT?

VHEMT is an organization based around promoting ecological antinatalism. The URL is and it’s promoted by one Les U. Knight.

7. Are you all just depressed people?

No. While depressed people may be naturally attracted to antinatalism because of its realistic view of human existence, one does not have to be depressed to be an antinatalist. Many antinatalists become proponents of the position because they were convinced by the arguments (as in my case) or based on personal experiences.

8. Why don’t you kill yourself?

This is definitely a commonly asked question by opponents of antinatalism, and shows how kind they are. Wishing death on people who disagree with you is not a good sign of mental health.

But beyond that, the question reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of what antinatalism is about. Antinatalists are not against the continuation of life, they are against the creation of new life. Killing yourself ends your own suffering, but it also creates more harm to the people you leave behind.

For more, see this entry I wrote answering this question.

9. What about all the good things about life?

Antinatalists acknowledge that most human lives contains benefits as well as harms, and that both are an important part of our lives. However, we can’t simply “cancel out” benefits and harms, and the existence of benefits does not nullify the existence of the harms that antinatalist arguments are based around. While we should seek those benefits while we are alive, they do not form a justification for bringing new people into this world.

Again, I’ve written an entry related to this topic.

10. Isn’t the natural result of your ideology the extinction of the human race? That’s an insane position, you can’t honestly believe that?

First, it is not true that the “natural result” of antinatalism would be human extinction, for the simple reason that many people will not accept antinatalism no matter what. Breeder entitlement is extremely powerful.

Second, there is no justification that can be given for the continuation of humanity, showing that it is an arational position at best (see this entry for further explanation). The belief that we shouldn’t be doing things of this magnitude if we have no justification for them is not “insane,” but rather a pretty natural response.

11. I want to write about antinatalism, even though I am against it. Any recommendations?

Don’t do what everyone else does, which is to go off on what they think antinatalism is about without even bothering to read the arguments or what any antinatalist believes. At least have the confront to actually read what it’s about. Then criticize it.

If you’re willing to jump in and ask us some hard questions, then you should be willing to answer some as well. I would recommend these 12 questions as a starting point for further discussion.

12. What are the main books expounding the antinatalist ideology?

The two earliest texts discussing antinatalism as an ideology of its own are L’art de guillotiner les procreateurs : manifeste anti-nataliste (2006), by Theophile de Giraud, and Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence (2008), by David Benatar.

Other books of interest include The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (2011), by Thomas Ligotti, Confessions of an Antinatalist (2010), by Jim Crawford, and Every Cradle Is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide (2014), by Sarah Perry.

The NIP and mainstream ideologies.

Ideologies which go along with the status quo usually remain unquestioned, or only lightly questioned, even when they are blatantly irrational. Ideologies which go against the status quo are immediately seen as suspicious and must meet very high standards to be even potential discussion material.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I classify antinatalism (as well as more or less everything else I write about on this blog) in the latter category. What that means, in practice, is that antinatalism is subjected (whether this is done consciously or, more likely, unconsciously) to standards to which mainstream ideologies would never be subjected.

A great example of that was given to me by reader Brian L. in a comment to my entry on the Non-Identity Problem:

Economists, ecologists, and others I can’t think of off the top of my head, talk about future people, their impact, and how they will be impacted. Yet no one calls them on a NIP. Why just us? Am I not understanding, or do I understand enough that I see through the NIP issue as a non-issue?

The Non-Identity Problem, if you don’t know about it, is an objection sometimes presented by opponents of antinatalism. It consists, to explain it simply, of denying reasoning based on future persons because it’s irrational to base your reasoning on things that don’t actually exist.

As I pointed out in my entry, the NIP not only doesn’t address most antinatalist arguments, but it’s also plainly wrong and contradicts basic intuitions. If one person is designing a product and another person find out that a flaw in the design would make it lethal to its user, it would be imbecilic for the natalist to come in and say that there’s no point in arguing about flaws because the product does not exist yet. This is not logic or philosophy that should be treated seriously, it’s a sad incapacity to understand cause and effect that should be treated with pity.

The NIP is imbecilic, but the point that Brian L. raises to great effect is that we don’t hear such nonsense applied to ideologies like economics or ecologists. There’s no lack of people ready to use any excuse to fight against ecological concerns, but somehow no one has stumbled upon the great argument “we can’t ever talk about the well-being of future generations because they don’t exist, and nothing that doesn’t exist is worth talking about.”

We also don’t hear such nonsense applied to scientific disciplines which predict the creation of novel entities, such as physics or biology. People don’t go up to physicists who make predictions of what will happen in a supercollider to say “well, the particles you’re talking about don’t exist yet, so there’s no point in talking about this, and you’re full of it.” That would just be silly.

Although they do tend to be rather stupid, it is highly likely that the natalists who use the NIP are intelligent enough to understand basic causality and induction, and their use of the argument is almost certainly disingenuous.

I think that in practice it becomes a variant of the “well, that’s life” argument. There’s no point in arguing about the interests of a non-existing person in not coming into existence, and when they do come into existence, then they have to take the bad along with the good. At least that’s the common way of reasoning about it.

As I pointed out in my refutation of the NIP, antinatalists are not concerning themselves with the interests of non-existing people, whatever that would mean. Another point I’ve made many times is that it makes no sense to treat the good and bad of life as if they canceled out or compensated for each other.

But more importantly, it shows how eager they are to escape the irrefutable conclusion that non-existence is better than existence. They have so little to argue against it that they’d rather just ignore it entirely. All the natalists I’ve seen argue, from the stupidest Youtube commenter to the sophisticated academics (e.g. David Wasserman in Debating Procreation, or stupidest man alive Bryan Caplan), can’t do anything but try to ignore the arguments as much as they possibly can and focus with laser precision on the ice creams, or even just on the illusion of ice creams (such as that provided by hedonic adaptation).

As I said in my reply to Brian L., they must reject antinatalist arguments at all costs, even at the cost of looking like complete morons, because it’s too painful for them to contemplate that the arguments might actually be right. Much like a religion addict, a drug addict, an alcoholic, or a politics addict, any excuse is good enough to rationalize getting their next fix. But at least you can get a sense of self-righteousness out of being a religion or politics addict; I don’t really see what being a natalism addict gets you, especially since virtually no one in the world disagrees with you. And it sure doesn’t beat drugs or alcohol.

Analytical Freedom trying to defend “agency.”

The blog Analytical Freedom, ran by someone who is pro-capitalism and thinks writing like an academic makes that proposition seem reasonable, is unworthy of discussion. There’s no point discussing with someone who’s head is so far up their ass that they actually think capitalism is a good idea. But I wanted to use their silly entry against my entries on “agency” to illustrate the arguments that such types bring to bear when defending what is basically the strategy of blaming the victim.

Analytical Freedom’s argument is a version of “I know what you are, but what am I.” Basically, they argue that my attacks against “blaming the victim” themselves are a form of “blaming the victim”:

Tremblay states that “no individual has the power to change the institutions in which they live” and dismisses the possibility as “magic”. This assumption is based on a similar premise as the first one; minority communities are on every level incapable of altering their patterns of behavior into more beneficial ones. While it might seem tempting to blame outside forces as the sole reason for the lack of development in certain communities, such a theory would be hard-pressed to explain large differences between communities of the same demographic by completely ignoring the effect of in-group institutions.

Even though they quoted me accurately, they obviously didn’t read it well. I clearly wrote “no individual,” and was referring to individual human beings, not groups or communities. The full quote was:

So again we’re talking about a purely reactionary strategy which aims to justify oppression through the delusion of power, but this time applied to entire groups of people. Because no individual has the power to “change the institutions in which they live,” this kind of “agency” applied to any individual must lead to the same conclusion: the victim is actually “responsible and accountable” for eir own oppression.

My point was that defining “agency” as “the ability of people to change the institutions in which they live” makes no sense because individuals (who supposedly possess agency) can’t “change the institutions in which they live.” Saying that a single individual has “agency,” meaning that they can somehow magically change the institutions that govern their actions, means blaming the victim because any victim of those institutions can be blamed for not changing those institutions.

How does one go from that to “minority communities are on every level incapable of altering their patterns of behavior into more beneficial ones”? I’ve said nothing like that at all, whatever “beneficial patterns of behavior” are; from my perspective those would be patterns of resistance, and it is quite obvious that communities are able to resist oppression.

But Analytical Freedom has failed to demonstrate that this ability stems from some magical individual capacity and not, as always, from institutional incentives. As proof, his own explanation is… based on institutional incentives! The fact that these institutions are in-group instead of out-group does not change the nature of the incentives.

Despite Analytical Freedom’s complaint that agency and free will are not that similar, advocates of free will use the same stupid objection: you must believe that individuals can’t change for the better and make better decisions. But they are confusing natural law or social laws with fatalism, and that’s a purely arbitrary decision. It would make as much sense to argue that, in the absence of free will, individuals can’t get worse or make terrible decisions.

Given how they end the paragraph I quoted, I know what Analytical Freedom is really talking about. When they say that “communities with behavior patterns grounded on values such as cohesion, individual responsibility and respect for physical integrity and property” provide more “choices” to their members, this is veiled racist-speak. Of course, racists don’t outright state their beliefs, as that’s unacceptable nowadays, but I think it’s pretty clear.

With this being dealt with, let me look at some other considerations brought up by the author:

The second assumption taken for granted is that an unequal amount of choices available during interaction necessarily indicates the presence of oppression or the lack of consent. However, a wealthy, well-educated laborer might very well have less available options in comparison to his employer, this does not render him in a state of oppression. Additionally, it is unclear what degree of choice a person needs to possess in order for them to be oppressed.

I have no idea what part of my entries Analytical Freedom is referring to here, but it doesn’t make any sense. Anyone who reads my blog would know that I don’t believe in “choices” to begin with, so I wouldn’t associate a greater or lower quantity of them with oppression. What does indicate the presence of oppression is, for example, being a subordinate in a hierarchy… something which a laborer is, in comparison to their employer.

I think this is supposed to be another blaming the victim argument, similar to “but they could have left at any time” rhetoric used to intimidate victims of spousal abuse, bad workplace conditions, cults, and so on. I assume Analytical Freedom would say that the laborer is not being oppressed because he can leave any time he wants. This is just more silly “agency” rhetoric without connection to the real world (as capitalist rhetoric usually is).

The fact that some women and ex-prostitutes oppose prostitution is completely irrelevant. Many women and prostitutes openly endorse prostitution, and the point of the quote was exactly that these prostitutes are silenced when universally painted as victims simply for selling sex. The fact that some prostitutes lack choice does not mean that every prostitute is a victim devoid of choice, responsibility, and accountability.

This is a bizarre reply because Analytical Freedom is now openly blaming prostituted women for being prostituted by saying they are accountable for their status. So much for their previous accusation of projection.

Either way, this is a complete non sequitur. There is no relation between portraying prostituted women as victims of an institution (which they are) and silencing those prostituted women. That makes no more sense than saying that calling poor people victims of capitalism (an analogy which Analytical Freedom would hate, I’m sure) means you’re silencing poor people. It’s a statement of fact about the status given to those people in society.

Many prostituted women support prostitution. This is not unexpected: people whose livelihood depends on a certain institution have an incentive in defending that institution, no matter what it’s doing to them. This does not mean that we should silence them. What it does mean is that we should take anything they say with a grain of salt, just as we would take what a politician says about a corporation financing his campaign with a grain of salt. That’s just common sense.

Taking the full measure of this hateful concept called “agency.”

From Sidewalk Bubblegum.

I’ve already written quite a bit about free will and agency, and it may seem like a rather abstract subject to discuss. But to liberals, agency is increasingly becoming the be-all and end-all of ethics; they are eager to sacrifice the well-being and lives of millions of women and POC in its name. So it behooves us to be very careful indeed about this agency business and name it for what it is.

I’ve already made the case that “agency” really means blaming the victim. But I think looking at uses of free will gives us some more clues as to the nature of agency. Because free will, after all, is nothing more than the philosophical term for agency, which is a more recent sociological term.

No proponent is eager to point that out, and for good reason: free will is being increasingly discredited by our recently acquired knowledge of the brain and by modern scientific experiments, and more and more thinkers and scientists are rallying to the side of determinism. And if free will is discredited, then so is agency. If free will is a regressive concept which leads us to a conceptual dead end, then so is agency.

My new point on free will is this: we commonly associate active characters, people who take charge of their lives, people who get things done, with free will and passive characters, people who are subjected to events, with determinism. People argue that if determinism is true, then we must all become passive victims of fate, unable to change anything in our lives.

On the face of it, this is nonsense: determinism is a causal issue, and our active or passive nature is a personality issue, so there’s no direct relation between the two. There are still, and will always be, active and passive people regardless of what anyone thinks about the nature of reality. In that sense, it’s as ridiculous as a Christian doubting the kindness of a person because they just learned that they’re an atheist; how could one abstract concept make you doubt the evidence of your own eyes?

But the association of volition with activity is interesting from a political standpoint. Who is categorized or portrayed as active, agents of change, leaders? Men, white people, adults. Who is categorized or portrayed as passive? Women, POC, children.

Well, isn’t that interesting? Look at who’s blamed by the concept of “agency,” who the liberals are pointing fingers at: it’s used against women in pornography and prostitution (“they decided to be abused!”), and it’s used against POC in capitalism (“they chose those jobs!”) and police abuse (“they want to live the thug life!”).

But who actually has the power to act otherwise? Well, rich people, for one. People who have a higher social standing, people who have more power in general, have a lot of options, while poor people, people who have less power in general, have fewer options.

In a sense, this is somewhat tautological: power entails having more options. But I state this because it tells us who is really being served by the “agency” strategy. Just to take the example of prostitution, a majority of prostitutes are destitute, have been sexually abused in childhood, and have few other choices available to them. Women who have more money have the option of not entering the sex industry.

Obviously we still cannot say that this minority of women who enter the sex industry even though they have other viable options “decided to be abused.” Few people outright want to be abused, and they are usually victim of the many misrepresentations and frauds surrounding the sex industry. But this minority is the only demographic being portrayed anywhere remotely accurately by “agency” rhetoric, in that they did have other options. Most women involved in prostitution don’t.

So “agency” rhetoric seems to be made to portray the people who are at the top of the ladder as the default. This is not overly surprising: we already know that males and white people are the default humans and everyone else is in a sub-category. But the “agency” rhetoric sends a deeper message: it says “women who are victimized by pornography or prostitution, POC who are victimized by capitalism or the legal system, deserve to be victimized because they, unlike the default humans, don’t have the option to get out of it.”

Here’s another thing. Is it a coincidence that, as the word “agency” is becoming omnipresent in feminist discussions, the word “victim” is being erased out of existence? Or are both symptoms of a greater ideological disease?

“Victim” identifies a party that was harmed and, by corollary, a party that harms. “Agency,” on the other hand, normalizes exploitation and puts the spotlight solely on the person that was harmed, scrutinizing their “choices.” But this already is the standard tactic used against rape victims. The way people analyze “welfare queens” and police shootings of black people also reflect this tactic: the agent (the victim) must always be scrutinized until some fault is found. No one else can ever be blamed.

They are desperately trying to evade the most important step in analyzing exploitation: to name the oppressor. They will say anything, use any form of misdirection, exploit any psychological vulnerability, to prevent you from doing this. And they are, by and large, successful. Even people who are sympathetic to the victims will rarely have the courage to name the oppressors; instead, they will quickly become apologists for the oppressors so that we know they are not “extremists” or “bigots.”

It’s also used in the reverse way: people who are said to not have “agency” (which is an arbitrary and socially constructed conclusion, since there’s no such thing as “agency” anyway) are thereby deemed to be worthy of being victimized (“children can’t make decisions for themselves, so parents must do it!”). We will harm you anyway, but at least it’s not your fault!

“Agency” is really such a hateful, depraved concept, isn’t it?

Is natalism a religion?

Is natalism a religion? This question may seem cheeky, but there is something to be said for the connection.

First, let me set aside the traditional definition of religion, which is connected to the existence and worship of a god. Although natalism is strongly associated with religious fundamentalism, one does not have to be a religious fundamentalist to be a natalist.

This definition is usually seen as overly narrow. A more interesting distinction is that between the sacred and the profane, accompanied by a moral code, feelings of awe, rituals, and a social group bound together by belief in the sacred.

But natalists have nothing sacred, you might say. Of course they do! They say it themselves: childbirth is a miracle, childbirth is sacred, childbirth is the greatest thing that can happen in your life. If that doesn’t qualify, then what does?

Procreation comes with its own rituals (marriage, baby showers, “gender reveals,” hospital-run hypermedicated births, family rituals), its own sense of awe (towards the child), and social groups based around parenthood.

There is not one single moral code revolving around parenting, although many have been proposed and continue to be proposed: they’re called pedagogy (and, as Alice Miller would say, all pedagogy is poisonous). If we look at Christianity, we can observe many different moral codes ostensibly derived from the Bible; why should natalism be any different? Whether we’re talking about Dr. Spock’s “leave babies to cry” nonsense, helicopter parenting, or quiverfull doctrines, they are all ultimately taken on faith (for the sake of the discussion, I will simply define “faith” as passive or unthinking acceptance).

But beyond faith in pedagogy, natalists share one major faith: their faith in the benevolence of life. They believe without question that nothing wrong with happen to their child, and that nothing wrong will happen to them (obviously anything that incapacitates or kills one of the two parents would be greatly harmful to the child’s well-being as well).

And this is not an assessment of risk. Have you ever heard a prospective parent rationally assess the risk of their child being born with a birth defect, of contracting leukemia or whopping cough (with all the fucking anti-vaxxers around), of dying in a car accident, of bring raped, and so on and so forth? I would be genuinely curious to hear if this sort of thing has ever happened. My guess is, it’s extremely rare.

I have already discussed the conflict between the “benevolent universe” premise and the “malevolent universe premise,” pitting Objectivists to antinatalists. While I don’t think all natalists must adhere to this sort of fanatical optimism like Objectivists do, and may be pessimists about all sorts of things, I don’t see how they can be anything but fanatical optimists about their future children. Who would reproduce if they really confronted the risks to those they are supposed to protect?

This is one difference between natalists and the religious: while natalists believe in the benevolence of life, religious people believe in the benevolence of the afterlife. I’ve already pointed out that anyone who believes in Hell and decides to have children must logically either have faith that their children will not go to Hell (by losing their faith at some point in their lives) or be depraved beyond reckoning.

But that difference aside, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to call natalism a religious movement, or at least religious-like.

But now consider a specific kind of natalism, secular natalism which justifies itself through the theory of evolution. According to this view, evolution entails that we have a moral duty to procreate, and by doing so we inscribe ourselves within an endless (or at least, four billion years old) lineage of “successful” lifeforms. We are so “lucky,” they say, to be alive, one chance out of a billion.

At this point I would say we have a full-blown religion. Granted, this sort of belief has not yet been codified and organized, but if it was, such an organization would definitely be called a religion. It tells people their place in the universe, it has a singular moral code, it has an originator of the moral code (the theory of evolution, as they mangle it).

I’m sure some smartass will reply that ho hum, antinatalism is a religion too! Why, you all have faith that life is terrible and you all worship death (or something).

But this is a misunderstanding of the comparison. Natalism is the default, like religion was (and in most places in the world, still is). It takes a lot of mental effort to get out of the religion trap and the natalist trap. This effort is an effort to deconstruct dogma and confront how badly it measures up to reality. The end product in both cases is the freedom to think, and if some people become antinatalists because of it, how is that religious in nature?

Certainly some antinatalists may operate on faith, like some atheists also operate on faith, but that’s not the defining characteristic of the position. In both cases, the defining characteristic is the exact opposite: the desire to confront reality (such as confronting life’s pleasures and pains, unlike natalists, who only think about the pleasures). And the reasoning proposed by natalists, I think, is ample demonstration that they, like the religious, are guided by one principle: the refusal to confront reality.

Ecological antinatalism: worth another look.

The more analytical types, like myself, who were brought on board antinatalism by Benatar’s book and his logical arguments seem to consider ecological antinatalism (e.g. VHEMT) the red-headed stepchild of antinatalism (or as “useful idiots,” to borrow the Soviet term). I admit I used to think like this as well. I always knew that Nina Paley was an ecological antinatalist, but that’s about it.

Ecological antinatalism is the position that procreation is wrong because of the inherent environmental damage caused by human beings, especially insofar as it inflicts suffering on other sentient organisms. Or as VHEMT would formulate it, the Earth and its lifeforms would be better off without us.

From a logical perspective, this may at first seem spurious. What does it matter if the Earth would be better off? Why should we care about other organisms? We are far removed from the suffering of human beings. Indeed, we humans think we alleviate our suffering by delegating it to other organisms: in fact, making other animals work for us has been one of the bases for human progress.

But antinatalists are very much concerned about all suffering, not just human suffering. For example, most antinatalists are vegetarians because they don’t want to add to the atrocity of factory farming. Antinatalism takes a global perspective on suffering, and is not limited only to human reproduction. Insofar as we coerce reproduction in other species as well, we create suffering in those species.

We may start from the premise that humans and their suffering are more important than other species. But are they really? How exactly should we evaluate importance? By intelligence? But using low intelligence as an attack against children, women and other minority groups is a long-standing tactic. By the impact we’ve had on the planet? Then fungi, bees or plankton should be considered far more important than humans.

One may argue that we need population control, not antinatalism. This is an attractive “middle ground” solution for many who are repelled by what they see as the depressingly pessimistic nature of antinatalism (a feeling which comes more from their imagination than from antinatalism itself), but there are two obvious replies to this line of reasoning:

1. The argument is not that mankind as a whole is doing too much environmental damage, but that each of us individually must cause environmental damage just to live. Population control cannot change that fact because it is as true about seven hundred people as it is about seven billion people.

This is, of course, true of all animal species, not just of humans. So people may accuse me of artificially separating humans from nature and labeling any other damage caused by other species as natural. This is not the case. All suffering inflicted on sentient life is bad, regardless of who or what is inflicting it. This is why antinatalism is against all sentient procreation, not just human procreation.

2. Population control is a pipe dream as long as humans hold to the notion that they are entitled to have children, or as we call it nowadays, “reproductive rights.” This is a powerful “progressive” argument and it’s unlikely to go away any time soon.

The problem can be extended to life itself. From what we know, life, once it gets any foothold, is extremely resilient. Even if all sentient life was snipped from this planet, it would probably re-emerge again a few million years later. Even if all life was snipped from this planet, it could hypothetically seed from another planet through ejecta hitting the Earth as it goes around the galaxy. This seems extremely unlikely, but when you talk about scales of millions of years anything that’s even remotely likely can eventually happen.

I do agree that it’s a nice theetie-wheetie liberal concept that we could just cut down population to a nice, I dunno, five hundred million people (roughly the current population of North America, less than the population of Europe) spread all over the world and live in harmony with nature, never deplete our natural resources, keep tinkering with our technological toys, and everyone would have all the space they could ever want and there’d be no more mass wars and genocide. Fine, but until then…

There is no doubt in my mind that the liberal environmentalist should be childfree, if ey is to be consistent, and that any such person who has children is a hypocrite at best. Everyone, I think, is aware, at some level, that having children is by far the worse thing you can personally do to the environment. If they are not aware of that, then they need to be, and pronto! Let’s put those granola-eating, recycling bin junkies to good use!

As my disdain probably makes clear, I have little to do with those types. I agree with radical environmentalism, which is more of a reaction to the failure of mainstream environmentalism than a worldview in itself, although radical environmentalist organizations typically advocate the use of violence in order to disable or paralyze the industrial apparatus of control over the environment.

I think this position is compatible with ecological antinatalism, in that ecological antinatalism has as premise that humans are no more important than any other form of life on this planet, and that we should prevent other forms of life from being harmed by humans. It also appeals to our notion of fairness towards future generations: if future generations are to exist, as they will, despite the antinatalist’s desire, then we should seek to reduce the suffering inflicted on them by our aggressive destruction of the environment today. Since future generations have as much a right to exist as we do, we are justified in using violence in service of that right.

Elizabeth Harman’s failed rebuttal of the Asymmetry.

In 2009, philosopher Elizabeth Harman published a critical analysis of the Asymmetry in peer-reviewed journal Noûs (thank you to reader Brian L. for the link). This analysis can be examined here.

In this entry, I want to look at her attempt at rebutting Benatar’s Asymmetry (which I explain here). I believe her rebuttal is a failure because she has failed to fully grasp the Asymmetry, and her arguments are no more sophisticated than that of the average philosophy-inclined person grappling with it. This is too bad, because I think the Asymmetry deserves far more serious academic examination than it currently receives.

Her analysis of the Asymmetry proper begins at the end of page 3. She correctly identifies the Asymmetry:

(a) The presence of pain is bad, and the absence of pain (in the absence of anyone who would have experienced the pain) is good.
(b) The presence of pleasure is good, but the absence of pleasure (in the absence of anyone who would have experienced the pleasure) is not bad (nor, of course, is it good).

So far so good. But she also suspects that there’s something else “going on.” She deconstructs the argument some more, identifies a middle premise between the Asymmetry (the two premises above) and its conclusion (that procreation is a harm), and formulates this middle premise as such:

An action harms a person by causing some effects only if experiencing those effects is worse for her than the alternative—namely, not experiencing those effects in the scenario in which the action is not performed. An action benefits a person by causing some effects only if experiencing those effects is better for her than the alternative—namely, not experiencing those effects in the scenario in which the action is not performed.

In and of itself, the middle premise presented is perfectly fine, but unfortunately it’s also the beginning of the problems in her analysis. For it assumes the stance of looking at states of existing persons, which is not appropriate here. This leads her to adopt the following stance:

If Benatar is to rely on [the middle premise] to yield the conclusion that we harm someone by bringing her into existence, he needs it to be the case that the pain she experiences if she exists is bad for her—which is clearly true—and the absence of that pain in the alternative in which she is not brought into existence is better for her, not impersonally better.

But this cannot possibly be the case. Logically, non-existence cannot benefit any specific person, because there cannot be a thing that both does not exist and benefits from anything.

As I’ve pointed out before, Benatar is actually talking about states of affair and therefore impersonal good/bad (i.e. evaluations which do not rely on the point of view of the specific individual experiencing or not experiencing pleasure/suffering). She does address Benatar’s actual position:

Whereas, as regards pleasure, while the existence of pleasure is good, the absence of pleasure is (from the Asymmetry) neither bad nor good. But then it’s hard to see how we get the result that it’s bad to bring someone into existence (and even if we do get that result, it’s hard to see how we get the conclusion that we harm the person, as opposed to merely getting the conclusion that we do something impersonally worse). Rather, it seems we get the result that if we bring someone into existence, there are some bad things and some good things; whereas if we don’t, there are some good things (the absence of the pain). This doesn’t show what’s better without a comparison between the sum of the good things and the bad things of existence, on the one hand, and the good things of nonexistence, on the other hand.

She seems to believe that abandoning the middle premise means that there’s no more logical connection between the Asymmetry and the conclusion. But the logical connection is obvious: from Benatar’s utilitarian perspective, a state of affairs A is definitively (impersonally) better, all other things being equal, than another state of affairs B if A contains less suffering than B. I personally would not always agree with this principle, but let me narrow it down to a more specific form:

Procreation is bad because the state of affairs where any person P does not exist contains less suffering (P’s suffering) than the state of affairs where P does exist.

In that specific form, I can’t disagree: no matter what the conditions are, the existence of any specific person is always a bad thing. So this is, I think, the correct middle premise that Harman is looking for.

She argues that we must have some sort of mathematical comparison in order to determine whether procreation is good or bad, but she doesn’t explain why. She completely missed that part of the point of the Asymmetry is that such a comparison is pointless; for example, we have no reason to compare “the good things of existence” brought about by pleasure to anything because they are irrelevant (since the non-existence of the pleasure does not represent a deprivation to anyone). Harman was able to describe the Asymmetry but apparently did not grasp it very well, if she could make such a mistake.

She then completely loses the plot:

An independent objection to the Asymmetry goes as follows. It seems that whatever can be said in favor of (a) can be said in favor of the denial of (b). If we are reading (a) as (a1), then it seems that what makes it impersonally good that some suffering is not occurring is that it would have been bad if that suffering had occurred. But then it seems it should be impersonally bad that something is not happening that would have been good. At least, I don’t see why that wouldn’t also be true.

This is merely independent confirmation that she hasn’t understood the Asymmetry. The whole point of the Asymmetry is that there is an asymmetry (hence the name) between pleasure and pain, and her objection is… that pleasure and pain are symmetrical in nature.

This is about as silly as a Christian theologian objecting to the Problem of Evil by simply stating that God had reasons to create evil, and ending the discussion there. That’s just nay-saying, or at worse thought-stopping, and does not engage the argument at all. The very point of the argument is to demonstrate the asymmetry between pleasure and pain. In order to argue the opposite, you need to address the argument in its entirety. This, she has failed to do.

Not only has she failed to debunk the Asymmetry, but she has also failed to address the other asymmetries presented by Benatar in his book; I note this because her analysis is supposed to cover the entire book (Better Never to Have Been), not just what we call the Asymmetry. She does briefly discuss other chapters, but she does not discuss any other arguments from the chapter where the Asymmetry is presented, including other pleasure/pain asymmetries.

One such asymmetry, which I find perhaps even more important than the Asymmetry, is the one concerning moral obligation (which he addresses on page 32, only a few pages before the Asymmetry): we have a duty to prevent inflicting suffering, but we do not have a duty to give pleasure. Or expressed more specifically in the context of this debate: we have a duty to not create new lives on the basis of the suffering they will generate (both to themselves and others), but we do not have a duty to create new lives on the basis of the pleasures they will generate (both to themselves and others).

This asymmetry is, I think, widely accepted. People just refuse to accept its consequences regarding procreation, but their hypocrisy is not our fault. And if I am wrong about this hypocrisy, then the point should be addressed: but so far I don’t believe it has been addressed, except through the Non-Identity Problem, which is a non-starter.


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