Salvo 11.18.2021 5 minutes

Today Wokeness, Tomorrow Antinatalism

Empty baby cots

There is only one logical endpoint to the war on human suffering.

At the core of Woke politics is a primitive logic. There are righteous victims, whose lives have been controlled and ruined by others, and then there are the irredeemable oppressors, who have victimized the victims. 

The logic demands both endless lauding of victims for how admirably they have borne their suffering and endless castigation of the victimizers. Ideally, the victimizers would be neutralized so that the victims might flourish. Self-flagellation by the oppressors, as when whites prostrate themselves before blacks to ask forgiveness for their racial sins, is a first step along this road. But a complete solution would require the refusal to propagate one’s racial line as a retributive statement.  But to eliminate human suffering, a still more radical act of renunciation is required. Even after an end of whiteness, new hierarchies will emerge, with new victimizers rising to oppress new victims.  If we would be committed to full righteousness, must we not prevent all new life from emerging and, thereby, from suffering?

Today a whole movement answers in the affirmative. David Benatar is one of the leading theorists and proponents of antinatalism. According to Benatar, nobody should have children. He begins with the axiom that pain is a negative, and pleasure is a positive. Suffering is terrible, but it is not offset by the presence of pleasure. Bringing unhappy people into the world is objectively bad, but not bringing happy people into the world is essentially irrelevant, because who would know?

Benatar makes a case based on a supposed asymmetry of pleasure and pain:    

while there is a duty to avoid bringing suffering people into existence, there is no duty to bring happy people into being…there is a duty not to bring suffering people into existence [because] the presence of this suffering would be bad (for the sufferers) and the absence of the suffering is good (even though there is nobody to enjoy the absence of suffering)…[But] there is no duty to bring happy people into existence because while their pleasure would be good for them, its absence would not be bad for them (given that there would be nobody who would be deprived of it).

This perverse utilitarianism ignores the fact that for most religious humans, and certainly for Christians, there is a moral duty to bring life into the world. Human life is an unmitigated good, a gift from God, and suffering cannot conceivably make it unworthy of living. In fact, the nature of the world dictates that life without suffering could have no moral achievement, and it is the possibility of spiritual triumph over our trials that is the motivating spark of nearly all religious experience. 

Another element of asymmetry regarding pain and pleasure, according to Benatar, has to do with pain’s greater expanse in the world. Many people suffer from chronic pain, but there is no such thing as chronic joy. But, considered another way, every minute of life not distorted by physical pain is, properly understood, joy. To breathe, to eat, to walk around, to hear birdsong, literally every moment of consciousness offers the experiencer the possibility of bliss. All the world’s major religions affirm this. 

The Christian view is that the world, intrinsically good because created by a good God, was tainted by the serious moral failings of humans.  Yet life remains a grace we do not deserve, which gives us the opportunity to experience the marvel of the world and to work toward a state of greater spiritual purity.  To live is to experience the euphoric plenitude of the miracle of existence. Of course, it may well be that most people in the contemporary West are so spiritually deprived and forlorn because of the retreat of religion from public culture that they fail to realize this and experience their lives instead in the depressed state described in Benatar’s philosophy. But this unfortunate possibility does not negate the truth concerning the fundamental exultation of life.

The cultural advance of this morbid worldview—hardly new, though it seems to have a new lease on life—is not restricted to the universities. Its presence, for instance, can be found throughout social media. Stop Having Kids has organized on-the-ground demonstrations, albeit still small in number at this point. The organization has a sophisticated webpage that articulates the principles of antinatalism and links it to various other elements of the Woke philosophy, including veganism and antiracism. There is also Antinatalism International, which calls itself “a global organization advocating against procreation.” Among other resources for the movement, it has gathered a long list of antinatalist websites around the world and produces an Antinatalist News podcast.

The antinatalist worldview has clearly infected a good deal of feminist thought and praxis over the past few decades, even if the term does not always show up in such manifestations. Even Woke sites such as the Huffington Post have recognized the substantial growth in recent years of “anti-motherhood feminism.” Perhaps the most disturbing face of this malevolent aspect of feminism is women who have already had children publicly advocating against procreation and explicitly describing their own children as beings they wish had never been born.

Those in the West with an ongoing commitment to the moral and spiritual tradition that produced our civilization should be horrified and motivated to action by antinatalism’s advance. It cannot be stated more clearly than this: these people despise life and advocate for its annihilation.  If we do nothing in the face of their challenge, we stand to lose everything. 

A small first step in opposing the logic of Woke hatred of life is to call it out ruthlessly and name it for what it is.  The antinatalists, like the rest of the Wokeist cult to which they belong, like to cloak themselves in a façade of care and compassion. They claim only to be concerned for alleviating the suffering of others. Children, in their absurd formulation, did not give informed consent to enter into the world of the living, and we must sufficiently pity them to desire their non-existence.

This movement is driven by a totalitarian and immoral egoism. The antinatalists reject all obligation and responsibility for others. They want no children because they want to remain children themselves for the entirety of their lives. As is true of the selfish everywhere and in all times, they want to keep the rare gift they have been given and deny it to others because to pass it along would, in their stunted view, reduce the quantity of their own pleasure. Tellingly, they are not volunteering to themselves depart immediately from this vale of tears. The fact that they are committed to staying here is the fundamental disproof of their morally depraved arguments. 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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