For all the years that passed before I was born, I didn’t exist. All subsequent years following my death, I will likewise not exist. This is true of everyone. You are a smudge of awareness in space-time. This should create a sense of smallness, of humility, a sense that life is random, unfair, and pointless, your life and existence happenstantial – choice an illusion. Accidental creatures trapped in paradox. No-one is to blame for anything; if you had their genes and lived their lives, you’d be them, and someone would be judging you the way you now judge them.
Humanity has invested huge amounts of time and energy evading this truth – because it hurts too much, and affronts our vanity. We’re terrified of insignificance. We want to believe we can influence and control the randomness. Put simply, we want to believe it’s about us. A volcano belches ash and lava on our city, a blight kills our crops – if only we’d sacrificed another goat or first-born! Because that really would have made the difference! Enter gods stage right – with their bureaucracy, religion; enter, too, the tribe; and the tribe writ large, the nation state. We’re important, we’re screaming at the cosmos; we, above every other animal that creepeth upon the Earth, matter. Belief in progress, democracy, capitalism, humanism, are all secular manifestations of the same problem – they are godless religions pretending to an understanding of what we’re fundamentally about. Escaping religion and superstition is – should be – about coming to terms with the futility and randomness of our existence. If we’re not doing that, we’re simply moving from one religion to another (more of which later).
Which brings me to antinatalism. It’s impossible for a human being to evaluate a life (in terms of joy or suffering, say) in any objective way. We are here, and the journey back to Nowhere is non-trivial for us. We have now reached a stage in our civilization where we can, and do, discuss end-of-life plans, which is surely an admission – tacit or otherwise – that there comes a point when life might be seen to be not worth living (from the point of view of the individual having to live it). As joyous and fulfilled as you might imagine your life to be, the vast majority of lives have been short, brutish, squalid, and joyless (unless a crippling pain replaced by a numb ache can be counted a kind of joy). This is why I’ve never wanted to have children – because life hurts, ends badly, and is mostly a tawdry struggle to make the ends meet and keep ourselves clothed and fed.
“If everyone thought like you humanity would die out!” Yes, I know. I’m cool with that.
What, then, if we’d made a better fist of it? Imagine a world where someone feasting in a palace while another starves on the street is utterly, unspeakably taboo, where it isn’t okay for the very fortunate to cavort and frolic on a bed of luxury while the unfortunate crawl toxic dumps for scraps of food to eat, where entitlement isn’t the mechanical shrug-response to the unfair distribution of luck in the world. Then perhaps the anti-antinatalist arguments wouldn’t ring so gratingly hollow. If the best you have to offer is “I want to procreate, and I’m all right, Jack!”, then you might as well be making an argument for wearing cheap T-shirts, since they, too, are yours at the price of someone else’s misery. This is the flaw of entitlement. Entitlement allows us not to apologize for the hand we’re dealt, especially if it’s a particularly fortunate one. We prefer to think of ourselves, and (more dangerously) others, as blessed or cursed, and ascribe to each the qualities that justify their position.
Why? Because it’s about us. It happened to you, so it’s important. Someone jostled you on a train, or was late delivering your parcel. Terrible! Outrageous! You’re not going to put up with this. Meanwhile, somewhere other, someone screams as a high voltage cattle prod is applied to their genitals in a cell they’ll never leave alive. But, hey, barista, more chocolate on that coffee!
Can humanity live without the illusion (or delusion) of meaning? Probably not. Fairytale babble that puts us at the centre of everything has a far better chance in the soil of the human mind than does meaninglessness. What, so it’s not about me, my team, my culture, my tribe! Sod that! Bring me a flag to kiss and a god to worship!
We are addicted to narrative. So much so that we squirm in discomfort for the lack of a good one. We are self-justifying creatures afraid of the dark. Being or non-being is not an equal choice, since being is a trap. We’re trapped in a flight from randomness and death. Imagine your family dies tomorrow as a result of a lightning strike, or a pavement (sidewalk) collapse. This sort of thing happens to people all the time, and is senseless and dispassionately (from an agency point of view) cruel. But you have – and want – to make sense of it. Was this the point you realized that your family were just so amazing that God had to have their company straight away?
Forced on to the life bus (remember, no-one has ever asked to be here), we make the journey – working, bickering, killing – denying its final destination: Nowhere. It’s surely reasonable not to want to inflict the journey on an ideated resident of Nowhere who never left.