This is the best time for Antinatalism
By- Pitamber Kaushik*
Antinatalism is one of those ideological avenues where most people seem to agree with the precedent but almost nobody accepts the immediate logical consequent. The idea that life is inherently full of suffering or that to live is to suffer is a feeling or an idea that echoes with many, from teens to octogenarians, in the First World and the Third World alike. Most of the major world faiths propound or admit that the world is full of suffering, and offer a path to emancipation from the same through varied means. At some or the other point in their lives, nearly everyone has explicitly expressed their contempt at life being generally tragic or at least painful to bear, whether as a result of poignant recollection, melancholic musing, hapless pondering, or a frustrated outburst. To live is to continually suffer, on account of enduring various vagaries of nature and internal discomforts, ailments, pains, mental and physical urges that need to be satisfied, bodily necessities which need to be met, and a variety of pursuits that we need to embark on. An odd miscellany of physical, mental, and emotional tolls and taxes need to be constantly and naturally borne all the while being subjected to all kinds of stresses and loads. If life is full of suffering and if suffering is undesirable and unwanted, the obvious consequent is that “Life is undesirable”. Obviously, this stand, which might take most first-time listeners who agree with its logical antecedents aback, has few subscribers. But it is increasingly gaining popular traction, globally.[i]
You might know this argument that parents should not be entitled to the custody of their children, from certain socialist campaigns. One might be acquainted with this line of reasoning as a propaganda tool but the hard fact that stands is that parents are largely responsible for moulding and shaping the belief of their progeny with lasting impressions as the formative years, those of infancy and younghood are highly plastic emotionally and mentally. Even the most progressive of parents can’t help their biases percolating their offspring. More often, the imposition is direct, nothing less than systematic indoctrination. A disproportionate influence is always exerted upon the then mouldable, plastic personality of the child by their upbringing and the surroundings of their formative years. It can either be a direct consequent and concordant imprint or a divergent repulsion borne of reactionism. The crucial question is whether a child is mature enough to faithfully meta-cognise and identify their will and then faithfully render and represent it as their consent to be upbrought and educated such? The ethical basis of antinatalism is so-founded. A baby’s consent is never asked before they are given birth. Whether or not it is possible to faithfully seek and provide such a consent has little bearing over the final argument, because either way, the human life being materialised didn’t consent to be brought into existence. Even if you’re an anti-abortionist who advocates the position that embryos are living things, you would agree that there’s no way to prove that the embryo is excited to come into this world. Further, there’s a sizeable chance that the embryo shall have some or the other congenital defect leading to him having or developing one or more disorders or disabilities that he is expected to live on with while abiding with social rules and prescriptions, making every moment of his living difficult, painful and baneful. The bane and misery of existence must be carried forward even in extreme cases, such as quadriplegia, owing to the sheer stigmatisation surrounding the wish to not live, a taboo almost everywhere as life is considered to be a valuable gift. There are other factors as the natural human affinity towards hope, instinctive as well as philosophical fear, biologically-hardwired aversion to death, and unavailability of euthanasia that prevent a peaceful escape from this onslaught of suffering. The essence of the said rationale is that life is painful but death is even more and hence not suggestible. Therefore, the humane thing to do is to not bring a consciousness from a state of nothingness into the world in the first place, rather than distinguishing, segregating and materialising it from the void only for it to vanish into the null homogeneity of the void again causing pain to themselves and others. We are so biologically and socioculturally conditioned and attached to living, creating, and proliferating life that we never, for a moment, question if the obligation to bring new life is baseless or at most based on baseless and arbitrarily-assumed moral axioms. We never pause to think if we could terminate the chain rather than perpetuating it, becoming another link in the process.
Weeks after the novel coronavirus led to the widespread enforcement of lockdowns and homestay, reports of domestic violence, child and woman abuse, parental stress, child stress, divorces, and family disputes and conflict rose sharply all around the world.[ii] Numerous reports document the ubiquitous difficulties and emotional stresses and drainage faced by parents in staying shut with their children in the house for twenty-four hours, seven days a week to the point where parents are suffering a major impact on their very ability to work and even the status of their mental health and emotional wellbeing.[iii][iv]
There already was climate change, the imminent doom hovering overhead, as we begin to overstep the tipping point and embark about the spiral of collapse. Now there’s a pandemic which might be causing severe distress in foetuses, leading to a sharp rise in the cases of meconium ingestion (the foetus taking in its own excreta that then can deposit in the lungs obstructing respiration).[v] Vertical transmission is not out of question. Going to the hospital for delivery is a risk-laden necessity that endangers two lives, if not more, besides diverting medical attention, facilities, and resources. Women, already the specific victims of the secondary consequences of the pandemic, are not only imperilled by the prospect of childbirth. Even in developed nations, adult females are inevitably shouldering the burden of domestic activities which have burgeoned multifold owing to extended (read quasi-perpetual) homestays by husbands and children, and the unavailability of outdoor services. Often, working women end up juggling both household and economic duties, while the uninitiated and unwilling pride male lazes the day away. Childcare, at a time, when professional paediatric, daycare, and nursemaid services are unavailable, is bound to test the tenacity of mothers.
A myopically-neglected severe scarcity of resources was anyway about to come, given the uncapped growth of industrial demand, capitalistic pseudo-growth, and population, but now the coronavirus has pushed back the technical capabilities and development of infrastructural productivity which had somehow enabled us to struggle and cope with the increasing demand, and kept resource stress in check. Modern market capitalism-globalism that more often than not forms a complex with policymakers thrives in scarcity with the virtual inflation and arbitrary nominal readjustment and parameter manipulation to yield profit maximisation that it calls “growth”. It will continue to do so, as scarcity will simply drive the prices up and this will only serve the interests of the super-rich who control and manipulate the means of production at their whim and fancy. However, with the superrich-other rift increasing at an unprecedented pace, for an average person, it’s in their own general interest, and that of their prospective progeny to not procreate.[vi] Even if, on an average the world is becoming a more advanced, convenient and sophisticated place, a tiny fraction reap disproportionate dividends of these developments. Both Biology and Economics are Darwinian, and hence struggle is unlikely to be alleviated by the currently prevalent pattern of Economic development. Further, the pandemic situation is predicted to push back most of 21st-century’s civilisational progress and growth.
There’s a pervasive killer lurking in the air which takes on an average three years off the life of the average human exposed to it.[vii] Then there’s the contagion which kills about 1 in 100 of those it infects.[viii] There’s just no telling how many more such pandemic-potent outbreaks might occur, and how soon, and of what nature they might be, given our population growth, alteration of nature, and increasing connectedness. The pandemic has jolted us from our normalisation of normalism – the belief that large-scale catastrophes are only limited to science-fiction, and that civilisation in general can never face existential threat. The doomsday clock ticks faster than ever. Good Riddance to “Life Goes On”. Although Science has long debunked anthropocentrism with advances in Genetics, Evolutionary Studies, Palaeontology, and Cosmology, and continues to eliminate every last vestige of speculation in its favour as skepticism crystallises into cold, hard facts, anthropocentrism persists in dictating policymaking and wields an exaggerated influence in every non-scientific field, including Economics. Nonetheless, disparity persists, between the direction of our endeavours – most are directed in favour of our individual interests while some are directed towards our continuation and collective progress as a civilisation or species. The two interests often overlap to an extent, and are sometimes almost disjoint. Whether it be empathy, anthropocentrism, altruism, synergy, or individualistic hedonism, our civilisation still lacks a consistency of ethics and purpose. This is not to imply ideological singularity or homogeneity, far from that, but only to widen our perspective of our purpose beyond evolutionary and cultural hardwiring which are, to say the least, ancient.
Letting death die is not that novel an idea, being advocated by a number of early Greek and Roman Gnostic sects and early Christian denominations. But, viewing human life as a bane on the planet, in addition to viewing existence on the planet as a bane on human life, is an idea that only came in wake of the blind, unhindered, hungry march of capitalism-globalism. Its very virtue is a testimony to our metacognition as a collective-species, a superorganism as a civilisation, rather than mere individual metacognition.
Antinatalism is often viewed and talked about as a radical, extreme, kneejerk reactionary, and immature philosophical stance often adopted by attention-seeking or frustrated, vengeful, sadistic, or vandalistic misanthropes. But at its core lies the engine of empathy and kind consideration. It is driven by the inspiration of not letting others suffer the same misery that you go through – ‘not another victim like me’, a stand glorified in many specific scenarios and instances of suffering but never thought about in general. Antinatalism is breaking the cycle of transferring the suffering on. As of now, antinatalism might not just be the kindest position to take, it also likely is the most pragmatic and useful position to take as regards some of its rival ideologies. We ought to reconsider if not challenge, in light of this existential calamity, that has dispelled most of our illusory axioms, and lazy philosophical prerogatives we take for granted, our responsibility and accountability towards our species whose perpetuation we thoughtlessly take as an obligation, natural destination or mission. We are carefully avoiding transmitting the deadly disease of COVID-19 to fellow humans using appropriate protection and barriers; Perhaps it’s time for us to unfailingly use appropriate protection and barriers to avoid transmitting the pan-humanity sexually-transmitted disease that causes a 9-month long parasitic infection to the female members of our species: an unsparing chronic ailment that has a cent-percent mortality rate.
*Views expressed by author are personal.
[i] Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, I wish I’d never been born: the rise of the anti-natalists. The Guardian.
[ii] Coronavirus: Domestic violence ‘increases globally during lockdown’. BBC.
[iii] New parents ‘suffering in silence’ with mental health during lockdown – charity. Express & Star.
[iv] How to look after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. Mental Health Foundation.
[v] Suraksha P, Bengaluru: Rising cases of meconium in womb, stillbirths due to Covid-19?. Deccan Herald.
[vi] Lawrence Wittner, The Widening Gap Between the Super-Rich and Other Americans. History News Network.
[vii] Nicola Davis, Outdoor air pollution cuts three years from human lifespan – study. The Guardian.
[viii] Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, A systematic review and meta-analysis of published research data on COVID-19 infection-fatality rates. Medrxiv.