in today’s nytimes op-ed, a philosopher poses a question i’ve asked myself many times over: is coming into existence a good thing for a child?
apparently, dead philosopher schopenhauer took this question on and answered with a negative. he held that “even the best life possible for humans is one in which we strive for ends that, once achieved, bring only fleeting satisfaction. New desires then lead us on to further futile struggle and the cycle repeats itself.”
South African philosopher David Benatar, author of a fine book with an arresting title: “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.” … To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.
Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.
i find this line of thinking pretty interesting as i came to this conclusion myself when i was younger. i think anyone who has been depressed or had thoughts of suicide would probably reach a similar conclusion. what gave our parents the right to bring us into existence? if god exists, what gave him the right to do that for our species? we were never given the choice, or if we were, we were lied to about the state of existence. the massive amount of time spent suffering is not overshadowed by the fleeting time spent in happiness and therefore we have to cope with a happiness deficit for the entirety of our lives. how can we live with ourselves bringing children into existence when this is the case?
Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.
So why don’t we make ourselves the Last Generation on Earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!
while i’m not opposed to this view per say, i think the author doesn’t give enough heft to evolutionary imperatives. people want to have children and will feel guilty if they don’t, regardless of the logical arguments against it.
i have a more practical, less ethical outlook. i say fuck our kids (not literally of course, b/c that would be gross). our parents brought us into the world with no consideration as to the state of our suffering. if god exists, he brought us into existence damned from inception. fuck our parents, fuck god and fuck our kids. who asked us if we wanted to exist? no one. so why should we ask others if they wish to come into existence?
have kids if u want, or don’t if u don’t want. but don’t sacrifice too much of your own happiness for theirs. our predecessors hunted many species into extinction, and polluted the environment with abandon. we have pulled back from much of that, but i think we worry too much. how many people actually miss extinct species? does anyone cry for the woolly mammoth?
care enough for the environment so that it won’t degrade precipitously in your own lifetime, and only so that u can extract more enjoyment out of it for yourself. but leave our kids to deal with whatever longterm issues arise as we won’t be alive. why should we care about the state of the earth after we no longer exist in it? to believe we should care is to believe there is an afterlife from which we can observe the ongoing state of the earth. unless you’re buddhist, that’s not possible. if you are buddhist, you’ll simply reincarnate into some lower species which isn’t cursed with sentience. hell, maybe the species you would have reincarnated into will be extinct and you’ll have erased your existence from the universe anyways.
sure, i’m speaking out of my ass at this point, but the gist is, since we’re here, don’t sacrifice everything for people who didn’t consider whether u wanted to exist or not, and alternatively, don’t sacrifice everything for people who don’t yet exist b/c we had to deal with the world as presented and so should they.
party as hard as u can without destroying the house, but screw the uneven foundation as long as you’re not gonna be in the house when it collapses.