Mind Matters: Antinatalism

You may have read about the man in India who is suing his parents for bringing him into the world without his consent. He wants $1 in damages. This man is an antinatalist - someone who believes that it is wrong for humans to reproduce.

A friend of mine is also an antinatilist. She believes that it is wrong to reproduce because life is mostly unpleasant.

Some philosophers are antinatalists for the same reason. Other philosophers support not having children because the children will eventually die. Still others oppose reproduction because they view humans as a nasty species or because of the harm humans cause other species or the planet.

But more people are natalists, who want us to go on reproducing, perhaps at a lower rate. To me, seven billion seems like an adequate number of humans.

I have been enjoying my life, so I carry no grudge towards my parents, who worked hard to raise me. However, I would be OK with having never been born - I would never have known what I would miss.

I was struck by the suing man's argument that parents have no consent from a possible baby. Hard to argue with that. I would favour antinatalism when a child is likely to be mostly miserable in life.

Antinatalists have a weakness in their movement in that they do not have children they can raise to believe in antinatalism. The American Shakers in the 19th century ran into a similar problem because they were all celibate. The Shakers, who shook wildly during religious services, exist now only as part of history. The austere chairs they made survive though and are highly valued.

The antinatalists have another problem in that most people indicate when asked that they enjoy their own life most of the time. The antinatalists say these people are fooling themselves, but it is hard to convince people that their seemingly enjoyable life is actually awful.

Because of antinatalists' lack of children and because most people at least think they are enjoying life, I do not see the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement prevailing anytime soon.

But if humans did disappear, the earth would have a niche open for some other species to evolve to become super-brainy and rule the planet. I wonder which one would make the jump into that role. Dogs? Emus? I would put my money on artificial-intelligence robots.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.