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How (not) to understand antinatalism

Our favourite Sri Lankan boy made a post about Antinatalism a few years ago and I figured that It was a great occasion to perform a case study on the most common musunderstandings about Antinatalism. That will also allow me to expand on my previous Introduction of Antinatalism which was kinda rushed lmao.

I greatly recommand reading his post here. Also do check out the rest of his site which is pretty cute. Anyways, let us start.

"Anti-natalists believe that since life is primarily suffering(I would really like to know how they make this calculation) the voluntary extinction of the human race by not having children is the preferred course of action."

Deciding if life is primarily suffering or not is only a matter of looking at the condition in which people live outside of the countries with a high standard of living. Things such as food, clean water, medication, clothing are a daily struggle for a majority of the world's population. This is the most basic and least philosophical response any kid from r/antinatalism would give you. I consider it to be valid but let's go a bit deeper. Being in the state of existing as a living being incarnated in flesh is already enough to argue that life is mostly about doing unpleasant things a.k.a, suffering. When you are born your nationality, skin color, country of living and Genetics are already decided for you without your consent. Now think of how every single of these parameters can permanently fuck your life up : Born in bad/poor place of the world ? good luck, Skin tone different than most people in your area ? good luck, Bad Genetics gives you an ugly face, weak body and uncurable diseases ? good luck ! Let's go even further and assume that you're very lucky and are born without any of the quirks described earlier. The fact that humans are only able to exist inside Human bodies implies it's fair share of suffering. The oozing pile of flesh that is the human body needs constant maintenance without which it will start decaying. You need good hygiene, exercise, good sleep, good diet, avoid backbreaking work, regular medical checkups to free yourself from the shackles of the flesh prison. Even then, consider the hours of boring and useless classes you need to attend, the hours of backbreaking/boring/stressful work you will have to endure in order to feed yourself, the thousands of unfunny jokes you will force-laugh to; every single stupid things you will be forced to do instead of doing things you like. You can go even deeper and talk about the lack of objective meaning to life and how your sole consciousness being ripped from the void is bad but this post is already too long and boring so let's keep it at that. So yeah life is mostly suffering so that's why antinatalists want to end the human race not bring some more people in here.

"However, for the sake of argument, I would like to picture a world in which antinatalists have the consensus on their side. [...] To put it bluntly, such a world would be full of suffering as a bunch of lonely old people would all be unable to look after themselves and would be dying in their own dirt and without food. Antinatalists always bemoan the unsustainability of our large human population but they have somehow forgotten that the human workforce forms the backbone of our prosperity [...]. When faced with these criticisms they will no doubt point towards a rosy unproven future where machines and robots are looking after us as we die in a presumably peaceful green earth but if they are so positive about our future technological prospects then why do they handwave the possibilities of creating progressively better societies and worlds as we are currently doing."

If we stop making children, who will take care of the last generation ? Very good question asked here, and my boy otaking made sure to rightfully dismiss that whole "b-but we will have super duper technology that will 100% replace the working force and stuff" bullshit. Instead, I'd like to question the nature of the problem : If we need to constantly supply new beings to the system to make the older ones live a decent life, doesn't that mean that the system itself is built on dubious principles ? (i.e: It is acceptable to conceive humans so they can fulfill a predetermined duty ). I like to believe that this principle is HIGHLY morally reprehensible as you could justify really bad things with it : We should keep pumping more babies ! Factories need workers ! We should keep pumping more babies ! We need soldiers to fight in wars ! We need more workers in sapphire mines !

Now that we've established that old people depending on a constant resupply of young people in the work force is wrong and that technology is not here to save the day, what's the solution ? Well best I can say is sorry gramps but a sacrifice must be made. People are starving to death as I write this in our birthrate-reliant system so I guess it's only a big deal when it affects the west ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

"[...]Any amount of suffering, even stubbing your toe, would mean that it would be better for you not to have been born according to their calculation. And no amount of pleasure could of-set this either. They will say that this is a strawman, well, if it isn’t then I would kindly ask them to stop using that idiotic argument that since the unborn does not exist only their suffering counts and not the pleasure they will feel at various points of their lives and about which only they have a right to make a judgement of its worth."

It is indeed a strawman so let's dig in "that idiotic argument". First of all replace suffering with potential suffering and pleasure with potential pleasure since we're talking about a non existant child. The argument here (If i understood correctly) is that antinatalists should take into consideration potential pleasure as it could offset potential suffering. I think that we get into dangerous territory when we talk about "offsetting" suffering with pleasure as it implies an notion of quantity of suffering and quantity of pleasure. I do not believe that such a metric exists so let's consider the problem another way.

I believe that the pleasure of a good cup of tea offsets the pain of stubbing my toe. However If someone was to offer me a free cup of good tea if i stub my toe in front of him, I would certainly decline. My point is that even if you end up living a life with more pleasure than suffering, at the end of the day it's better to not experience both of those. This is due to the fact that not experiencing suffering is good but not experiencing pleasure is neutral. So even if for a lot of people pleasure in their life outweighs the pain, it's still better to not experience any of them.

"[...]Look, the point is that whether a life is worth living(or bringing to this world, a distinction without a difference) is subjective and up to that individual and not anyone else."

The argument here is pretty straightforward : "living a life" and "being brought into this world" mean the same thing and deciding if someone's life is worth living or not is not up to some random antinatalist but to the individual. This misses the point of Antinatalism which is against Procreating thus giving birth to Another individual and does not bother with personal thoughts on your own personal life. I see this argument SOOOOO much that I will steal quote The antinatalist handbook :

"You can’t say that life is bad. It’s up to each person to decide if their life is worth living." This excuse misses the distinction between life and procreation. The excuse essentially claims that you cannot be sure that life is bad (or not worth living) because it is up to the individual to decide whether their life is worth living or not. Well, it’s true that once someone is alive it is up to them whether they think their life is worth living, however, that is an entirely separate question as to whether we should procreate (and thus start lives that could not be worth living). What is in question is the ethics of creating new sentient life (of course there is more nuance, but it isn’t necessary here). It doesn’t really matter that some, or maybe even most, people will subjectively assess that their own life was worth living; let’s be charitable and assume that 99% of people assess their life to be worth living. Given that no one needs to exist, and that any of the individuals we bring into existence could be part of that 1% that – through their subjective assessment – judges their life to have not been worth living (in fact it has been torment), who are we to support or partake in the constant creation of new sentient life when we know there is the collateral damage of those people. Again, it doesn’t matter that those people are only 1% of all people, none of the other 99% needed to be (or wanted to be) created… so how are they a justification for the existence of the 1%?

Valid criticism

"[...] instead the worth of the life of an individual has to be judged through the lenses of pleasure and suffering that the anti-natalists impose on reality, not only their own reality but that of the unborn"

Indeed antinatalism takes it's roots in rationality. This is the reason why the only factors considered for judging procreating as morally correct or not are purely material (i.e Suffering/Pleasure) I completely bypasses any argument that takes it's source on esoterism, religion, and other paradigm that is not based in rationality. It would be too easy to pull a Dawkins and say that all of that is bullshit, so I won't do that and consider this valid criticism :D

If you are mentally insane enough as to have read up to this point, thank you. No beef with otaking ofc, I figured that his post was a good basis to expand in depth into my own beliefs. And to anyone reading, feel free to send me a mail if you want to discuss !