How Why will humanity cease to exist

Humanity should stop fathering children

Not exposing even more unborn babies to the misery of life would be much better for the planet: The antinatalists and their vote against children are receiving increasing attention.

In purely theoretical terms: Would you sign a contract that guarantees you will be a thousand years old? Only the greatest optimists would embark on such an uncertain experiment. One wishes for a long and fulfilling life, but at some point it should be over.

Our existence inevitably brings with it a lot of suffering. The much-cited human condition, into which we are born without being asked and which is just what it is. We strive for a lifetime to increase happiness and keep unhappiness away. What else should we do?

Well, above all, don't beget children and thus bring even more suffering into the world! That is the radical demand of the antinatalists. Those who refuse to reproduce for ethical reasons are convinced that it would be better not only for the unfortunate and desperate, but also for every human being, if they never existed.

A main proponent of this rather unpopular moral theory is David Benatar, philosophy professor and director of the Bioethics Center at the University of Cape Town. His book "Better to never have been" can be read as a programmatic guide to the self-extinction of our species for humanitarian and ecological reasons.

Benatar's thesis that it is always better not to exist and that it is always wrong to father children follows logically from a simple moral arithmetic based on these assumptions: the presence of pain and suffering is bad. The presence of happiness and joy is good. The absence of pain and suffering is good. The absence of happiness and joy is not bad.

"I could have stayed in the peace of nonexistence, but I am here and experience these daily torments."

From this, Benatar derives an asymmetry of suffering and happiness. If you get the calculator, it becomes clear that even a life that is going well above average has to come off worse overall than if this person had not existed at all.

The pessimistic philosopher sees the asymmetry of joy and pain confirmed in everyday life: “The worst pain is more terrible than the greatest joys are beautiful. When in doubt, ask yourself the following question: Would you be willing to relive a minute of your worst torment if you could get a few minutes of the greatest joy in return? "

The fact that most people are reasonably satisfied with their life in everyday life is for Benatar mere self-deception and an expression of a cognitive distortion. It is well known from psychological studies that we assess our life better than it is, and later glorify it.

It is also not exactly edifying that the psychologists have introduced the term "depressive realism": the melancholy assess themselves and the situation in the world more realistically than the notoriously over-optimistic average citizen.

The hope that civilizational achievements could tame man, this “basically wild, terrible animal” (Schopenhauer), and that scientific progress could eliminate suffering, has only partially been fulfilled.

Today we are spared surgical interventions without anesthesia. On the other hand, the number of prescriptions for psychotropic drugs is reaching new records from year to year. In 2015, pharmacies in Switzerland dispensed 3.5 million packs of antidepressants. Almost ten percent of the Swiss population consumed the controversial drugs in 2016.

Even the booming psychotherapy industry leaves no doubt that many people are unhappy even though they are in the enviable position of living in one of the safest and most prosperous countries in the world.

No wonder, then, that the antinatalists are receiving growing approval alongside a flood of indignant criticism. In his essay "Having children is not life-affirming - it is immoral", Benatar quotes from a letter that was sent to him.

It describes a biography that is fortunately the exception in its tragedy:

“As a teenager I suffered terribly from bullying, which traumatized me so badly that I had to quit school. Unfortunately, I look really bad, and I even get stared at and insulted by strangers in the street. It happens almost every day. I've been called the ugliest person they've ever seen. But that's not all. When I was 18 I was diagnosed with congenital heart disease and now, in my early 20s, I have severe heart failure and arrhythmias that threaten my life.

Every day of my existence I live in fear of sudden death. The inevitable will happen soon. My life is hell Condemning someone to such a life is a grave moral offense. Without the selfish wishes of my parents, I wouldn't be here today and I wouldn't have to suffer for no reason. I could have stayed in the absolute peace of nonexistence, but I am here and experience these daily torments. "

Selfish motives

In fact, many people have children for selfish motives - and not for the sake of the children themselves. It's about completing your own biography, about fulfilling a cultural expectation, about fear of loneliness and poverty in old age or about giving your own existence a deeper meaning. A part of us should live on in our children, even if we are no longer ourselves.

Likewise, there are selfish reasons why many couples choose not to have children. One fears a loss of freedom, a loss of economic status or shies away from long-term obligations.

In 2015, the Israeli sociologist Orna Donath published a study in which mothers openly regret having children. In retrospect, many women viewed the loss of identity and autonomy as too high a price to pay for having children. A taboo break not only in Israel, as became clear in the furious #regrettingmotherhood debate that followed.

Not having children for ethical reasons is of course not new either. In the 1960s, as is well known, mankind was the first species to acquire the technological ability to self-extinguish via thermonuclear showdown. The possibility of a global apocalypse seemed real, especially in the 1980s, with many couples at the height of the Cold War considering it irresponsible to have children.

This catastrophe scenario, which was believed to have largely been overcome, is now becoming more topical again. Just a few weeks ago, nuclear scientists readjusted the pointer on their doomsday clock. The hands are now at two minutes to twelve. The risk of a global catastrophe is considered greater than ever since the 1950s.

In addition to the philanthropic consideration that man would be spared great suffering by not being, one could also deny Homo sapiens his right to exist in principle because he is the most destructive species that has ever lived.

Our planet and especially the animal world would be better off if it weren't for humans. It is our species that is changing the climate, clearing the rainforest, burying nuclear waste, voting Donald Trump and killing billions of animals for consumption on an industrial scale. Philosopher Benatar, consequently a vegan, calls this the "misanthropic argument".

"Then kill yourselves if life is just one single misery!" The new reproductive deniers often hear from their critics. An obvious but inadmissible suggestion. Not only because you don't have to be suicidal to gain something from the antinatalists' point of view. But also because suicide only brings more suffering - for the bereaved. And so that the sum of the misfortunes in the world increases.

Never having existed or ending an existing life is a big difference in Benatar's moral logic. If you're already here, unfortunately, you have to go through with it and make the most of it.

"Say no to life"

What distinguishes the contemporary antinatalists from their historical predecessors, the adherents of the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, Emil Cioran or Peter Wessel Zapffe? First and foremost, it is the type of communication via the Internet and the grouping of like-minded people in social networks.

The New Antinatalism is organized in blogs like “Say no to life”, where you can meet at parties to celebrate your own vasectomy. A popular closing phrase in the entries is “stay sterile”. But it would be premature to speak of a major movement. Antinatalist positions, ultimately the demand to let humanity perish, are earning even more indignation than approval for the time being.

Michael Gaebler is a cognitive scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Neurosciences in Leipzig and a happy new father. His daughter Emina is just six months old. And because Emina often doesn't let her father sleep, colleague Michael has a lot of time to read at night. It was also he who sent me the first essay by David Benatar.

I ask him how he can reconcile his interest in antinatalism with being a father. Here is his way out:

“I do not follow Benatar's view that the badness of the bad outweighs the goodness of the good. And that's why I don't want to withhold the good in the world from my daughter. I also hope to have an influence on how subjectively she perceives the world to be worth living in - even if things go objectively badly. For me it's a strong argument to have children. "