According to Wikipedia, anti-natalism is “a philosophical position that assigns a negative value to birth.” In general, it includes the claim that having children is immoral. Commenter Simon Elliot asked that I take up the topic again, adding,
I remember you said that you didn’t take it seriously because you thought it demonstrated a “morality inversion” of sorts, but I’ve since spoken to a fellow anti-natalist who has heard that argument many times and has found a way around it.
I’ll gladly take up the topic again. As for the anti-natalist who’s “found a way around it,” all I can say is, more power to him. I don’t peddle objective “oughts” on this blog, because no one has ever succeeded in capturing one and showing it to me. As far as I’m concerned, there are only subjective oughts, and I know of no mechanism whereby the ones that happen to reside inside my skull can manage to escape and acquire normative power over other human beings. My personal ought regarding natalism applies only to myself.
According to that ought, I should have as many children as possible. Since I also believe that I and my descendants would be much better off if the population of the planet were greatly reduced, I certainly don’t want everyone else to share this particular ought. Ideally, I would prefer that only a small percentage of the current population share my opinion on the subject. The subset in question would consist of those individuals whose survival would contribute most to the survival of my own kin in particular, and to the indefinite survival of life as we know it in general.
Simon is right when he says that I consider anti-natalism an example of a “morality inversion.” By that I mean that anti-natalists typically rely on moralistic arguments to render themselves biological dead ends, whereas morality exists because the genes that are its root cause were selected by virtue of the fact that they resulted in just the opposite. Why am I a natalist? You might say it’s a matter of aesthetic taste. I perceive morality inversions as symptoms that a biological entity is sick and dysfunctional. I don’t like to think of myself as sick and dysfunctional. Therefore I tend to avoid morality inversions.
My position on the matter also has to do with my perception of my consciousness. My consciousness is the “me” that I perceive, but it will survive but a short time. On the other hand, there is something about me that has survived 3 billion years, give or take, carried by an unbroken chain of physical entities, culminating in myself. That part of me, my genes, is potentially immortal. I consider them, and not my consciousness, the real “me.” My consciousness is really just an ancillary feature of my current phenotype that exists because it happened to increase the odds that the real “me” would survive. I find the thought that my consciousness might “malfunction” and break the chain disturbing. I would prefer that the chain remain unbroken. Therefore, I am a natalist. However, I have no interest whatsoever in “converting” anti-natalists. Other than the exceptions noted above, the more of them the better as far as I’m concerned.
Good and evil have no objective existence. It is therefore impossible that I could have a “duty” to be either a natalist or an anti-natalist, independent of what is thought to be my duty in my own or anyone else’s subjective mind. It does not occur to me that my personal opinion on the matter has some kind of a normative power on anyone else, nor am I willing to allow anyone else’s opinion to have any normative power over me.
I realize perfectly well that anti-natalists like David Benatar seek to justify their opinions on what they perceive as objective moral standards. However, that perception is an illusion. In view of what moral emotions really are, and the reasons that they exist to begin with, I consider attempts to apply morality to decide this issue not only irrational, but potentially dangerous, at least in terms of the goals in life that are important to me. They are irrational and potentially dangerous for more or less the same reasons that it is irrational and potentially dangerous to blindly consult moral emotions in any situation significantly more complex than the routine interactions of individuals. Western societies are currently in the process of demonstrating the fact by engaging in suicidal behavior that is routinely fobbed off as an expression of moral righteousness. No doubt the verdict of history on the effects of this “righteousness” will be quite educational for whoever happens to occupy the planet a century from now. Unfortunately, the anti-natalists won’t be around to witness what the resulting “human flourishing” will look like in the real world.
In a word, then, my position on the matter is, “anti-natalism for thee, but not for me.” No doubt it is a position that is immoral according to the subjective standards prevailing in the academy and among the like-minded denizens of the ideological Left. However, I am confident I can bear the shame until the individuals in question manage to successfully remove themselves from the gene pool.