"No future triumph or metamorphosis can justify the pitiful blighting of a human being against his will." Peter Zapffe
Hello? Can anyone hear me?
Sweet… this interstellar radio set the Zebulons gave me is working! I have an audio link to Earth!
Okay, let me tell you what’s going on over here. I’m Space Fetus and I’m orbiting a sun about 7000 light years away from you. I have no sense of time, since I’m, you know, a fetus, but I’ve been floating about for eons basically. And you know what I think about?
I know you humans get a lot of delight from ice cream. I also know there’s a lot of flavors of ice cream: there’s vanilla, strawberry, Neapolitan, spumoni, moose tracks, mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, rocky road, and all sorts of other, more complex, more delicious flavors. I want ice cream. I am really, really deprived from not eating ice cream. Because even though I don’t have taste buds, or really any experience in eating anything at all, my non-existence is somehow accompanied by a deep craving for ice cream. And I can’t have any. Because I haven’t been born yet.
See, the thing is, when two of you humans of a different sex fuck, and women get pregnant, one of us space fetuses gets immediately transported into their womb through a process of particle entanglement. It’s real complicated, but basically we need you people to get pregnant so we can be born. Until then, all we can do is float around, and be deprived of all the things that you people who have been born take for granted. Because even though we’re not developed enough to, you know, think, or speak, or really do anything except piss ourselves, we still feel really deprived that we can’t eat any ice cream.
Why ice cream? I couldn’t tell you why exactly. I mean, there’s so many things we’re being deprived of by not existing: sunrises and sunsets, a good movie, love, a hot meal, and so on. But for some reason the biggest thing we feel deprived of is ice cream. Don’t ask me how space fetuses work: I’m no scientist, just a space fetus. What I really need right now is to be born. I know that you people are fucking a lot, but it’s clearly not enough. There are still billions of us floating around, suffering because we don’t have ice cream. That’s a lot of suffering we’re going through.
So here’s what we need you people on Earth to do. You need to start taking procreation more seriously. I mean, you need to start fucking a lot more often, without contraception. All this contraception is preventing us from coming into existence. You also need to stop that abortion shit. Abortion is really just adding insult to injury. We wait all these months to finally come out and eat some ice cream, and you cruelly take our chance away! We’re sucked back into space to wait for more eons. Fuck abortion. It really sucks. Literally.
Most importantly, have sex at any occasion you can. Cheat on your spouse! Men, rape women if you have to! You should be always either having sex or trying to have sex! Also, please stop fucking each other in the ass. Vaginal sex only.
Are you fucking yet?
Now, the Quiverfull, there’s some good people. They know where it’s at: having as many children as humanly possible. But they have this bizarre, outmoded belief system that tells them the family is the most important value in the world. That’s absolutely ridiculous and gets in the way of them having even more children. If every Quiverfull man cheated on their wives and had children with other women too, we could get even more of us into existence. So they’re really dropping the ball on that one. Also, they refuse to marry their daughters as young as possible. This is a huge problem, because those daughters could be popping out even more of us instead of just staying at home and being good daughters.
Listen, I’m not saying anything unreasonable or sexist. I’m just saying women should be passive receptacles for sperm, so that they may always be in the way of giving birth to someone. That someone hopefully being me. It’s just not fair. How come you get to eat ice cream and not me? You should be ready to sacrifice your life for my sake if you have to. So don’t give me some sob stories about women dying in childbirth. I’ve been suffering from deprivation for thousands of years, so my suffering outweighs your suffering any day of the week!
I’m not saying that you have to devote your entire lives to me or anything. Men obviously should be spreading their seed constantly, but in between fuckings they could do other stuff, like take care of their many children. Pregnant women would also have free time to take care of their other children as well. So it’s not entirely bleak. Don’t you people like having sex? How hard can this be?
Have some pity on me. You people can have ice cream any time you want. And gelato, milkshakes, sorbets, tartufo, ice cream sandwiches, and Baked Alaskas. In between fucking and inseminations, you can have as much of it as you want. Don’t you want to give me the chance to have some too? Please… just start fucking now. I’m so hungry…
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.
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 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.
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.