On Twitter I announced my intention to respond to Francois Tremblay’s 12 questions for natalists and breeders. He replied expressing interest in my answers. So, here we go.
I see engagements of this sort as a place my ideas can be put to the test. Let’s see whether, in drawing from my eclectic influences from the radical left and the far right, I’m really synthesising and applying a viable stance, or an incoherent mashed-together manifestation of hipsterism.
According to one stronger influence, OOTW § 363, getting into this argument disqualifies me from breeding. But I had no intention of doing so anyway. I’m pro-making babies, but not interested in making my own, for various reasons. (But if I happened to cause a pregnancy, I’d oppose aborting it.)
Section 629 is also instructive here.
What is the point of arguing against anti-natalists, when their own ideology is enough to doom them? Well, just because they don’t biologically reproduce (in theory), doesn’t mean they can’t propagate themselves as a group. They can reproduce memetically. Recruiting and converting ‘breeders’ is the obvious strategy. But they can affect change in more subtle ways.
Having children is largely an act of faith: faith in the future. Anti-natalist agitprop is effective if it can undermine this faith, by spreading fear, uncertainty, doubt. They don’t need full-blown converts. By spreading moral insecurity, their ideas can further encourage normal people to merely have fewer children.
And is that in and of itself a bad thing? No. But consider the question of who is more likely to be receptive of and influenced by such ideas, and the question of which types of people you want to breed more or less. Anti-natalist propaganda will have a negligible effect on the reproductive confidence of religious nutjobs. How about the first-world secular oversocialised middle-class types? Maybe you want less of them. (Less people like me. Fair enough…)
That’s enough preamble. On with the questions.
1. Do you think all, or even most, parents have the skills and attitude necessary to raise children in a non-damaging manner?
No. Parents are flawed human beings, so child-raising is never conducted perfectly.
2. Do you believe children are entitled to the highest standard of health?
* If so, do you believe all, or even most, parents can provide such a standard, given all the things parents have no control over?
* If not, what right do you believe is more important than the child’s highest standard of health? Can you justify this importance?
No. A sane system of parenting values will position the child’s health as an extremely important concern to which other considerations would be sacrificed. But as an absolute, all-overriding, non-negotiable principle? The demand of robotic adherence to such strict rules, regardless of context, leads to absurdities.
A kid is going to be allowed to have fun and play in ways that have some health risks. They’re going to eat cake, climb trees, skateboard, etc. And a parent is going to occasionally chill out and play some videogames, not spend 100% of their time and income on enhancing their childraising capacity.
Does ordinary, life-affirming family activity need special justification? I trow not!
3. What do you think about the idea of parenting permits? Why do you/do you not support this idea?
I don’t support it. Government, off our backs! No step on snek!
4. Why do you think this world is good enough to bring children in?
* What makes you think you have the right to take this decision for another human being?
I enjoy life, and I favourably estimate the total value of my present and future contribution to the grand project of higher cultural development (including, not least, this dope-ass blog post). I think I could prepare my hypothetical child to similarily live a worthwhile life.
I think the future will be even… well… to be honest, I’m not unreservedly optimistic about the future of society. Having been raised on a healthy diet of science fiction, I am inclined to see technological development as a boundless life-enhancing pathway. As it’s sold to us. Criticisms, internal and external, have made me more cynical, less confident. A topic to be examined in depth, elsewhere…
5. Do you think it is moral for me to force someone to play Russian Roulette without their consent?
* If you do not, then why do you think people should be allowed to create a new life, subjecting it to an almost infinite number of risks, including fatal risks?
No. The rewards of life makes the risks worthwhile. We believe that as part of our resolution to realise it.
6. If you want to have a child, do you believe your children will not suffer from any medical defects, accidents, abuse or mental issues?
* If you do not, what makes you so certain of the future? Can you prove it?
* If you do, why are you bringing into the world a being which has a chance of living a life of suffering or despair?
Who doesn’t recognise that those risks are real? That’s why we strive to mitigate them, we sacrifice a lot to improve life for our progeny.
7 doesn’t apply to childless me. But I’ve thought about it for some time.
8. Can you give one ethical reason (i.e. a reason which does not treat the child as a means to an end) for anyone to have children?
Why accept this justificatory burden in the first place? Reproduction is evolutionarily prior to the practice of giving ‘ethical reasons’ for doing stuff.
9. Do you believe that the perpetuation of mankind has some kind of purpose?
* If so, can you make an argument for it that isn’t circular?
Note that I have already discussed the circular nature of teleological arguments for perpetuation.
Yes. The purpose is the Overman. Or, more concretely, galactic conquest.
10. How do you justify supporting a process which, while painless for men, is painful, disfiguring and dangerous for women, often leading to psychological complications?
* If you believe the benefits of procreation are social in nature, how do you justify acquiring these benefits on the backs of women’s health and well-being? Isn’t it a little hypocrite to claim a benefit to society when women represent half of said society?
The reproductive process wasn’t designed by men, we inherited it. I intend in no way to minimise the misery of pregnancy and birth. As icy said, life/reproduction is about sacrifice. Now, we’re technologically adapting it to be less painful, with epidurals and caesareans, and eventually, artificial external wombs. Cultural practices that bestow a high degree of honour to motherhood can be considered as primitive means to this same end. C.f. this.
And no, not all women need to breed. I favour only voluntary family formation and reproduction.
11. As far as I can tell, the main natalist arguments is that life has pleasures that are worth creating new human beings for, or that life as a whole is pleasant enough to bring new human beings into it. I don’t understand how the argument is supposed to work, though; there’s no logical connection between an observation about existing lives and a conclusion about potential lives. Can you explain why you think the argument makes logical sense?
* How does your argument jibe with the legal and ethical proposition that we don’t have any duty to provide pleasure, but that we do have a duty not to create suffering?
This isn’t the argument I advocate, at least not the crucial part of it. It’s not about pleasure, but that’s part of life. And it’s not about having the a new generation to repeat our same lives over again into perpetuity. It’s about lineage continuing, going further in development. i.e. evolution.
12. If you are a Christian, do you believe there’s a chance your child will go to Hell?
* If you do not, what makes you so certain of the future? Can you prove it?
* If you do, what would justify you bringing to life a being which may suffer eternally? No matter how much suffering we inflict on each other, human beings can only hurt each other in this life, not in eternity; bringing a child to life knowing the child may go to Hell makes you worse than any dictator or criminal that exists in this life.
I’m not a Christian, but I do believe in Hell. Not as a supernatural eternal prison, but Hell on Earth. So yes, this must be considered as a risk. If I had more faith, that would be the basis for my answer.
It’s hard for me to disentangle all the factors that go into my own preference not to reproduce. Anti-natalist-type propaganda may well have played a large role! So despite my thrashing about here and my purported natalist stance, I may well be counted as another victory for the anti-natalist side.
What I’ve tried to establish amounts to: anti-natalist arguments shouldn’t bother people with faith in the future. And we already knew that, didn’t we, see above re: religious nutjobs. But faith in the future isn’t tied to religion. It’s tied to action. Those who think the future for their descendants will be worthwhile won’t just pray for it, they’ll work (sacrifice) for it.
This post is for them. (And specifically: for a few of them to rework and strengthen the ideas, then recirculate them, and probably, arguably quite judiciously, disavow any connection to me.)