The Paradox of Antinatalism

I wanted to document my favorite counter-argument against a particular flavor of antinatalism: that the world would be better off, for some definition of “better off”, with fewer (or no) humans.

Here’s my argument:

  1. To say the state of the world is sub-par, or that it would be “better off” if some arbitrary thing were different, is to impart a judgment upon it.
  2. Judgment is an inherently human action that rides upon the shoulders of the entire human legacy. Your judgments emerge from your values and your socialization.
  3. Beauty as well as a lack thereof are consequences of human judgment.
  4. Without humans, without you, there’d be no judgment, and so, no beauty.
  5. To argue against human reproduction is to argue against the preservation of human-perceived beauty, which is the only form of beauty a human can know – and thus all beauty as far as we’re concerned.
  6. This is a paradox, because you’ve started with the intention of making something better, but ended up destroying it completely.

The real point that’s in contention, of course, is whether life is worth the suffering — to which I’d say, some lives definitely claim to be (yes, claim, as in some people claim to be happy, and believably so), while others don’t.

Procreation to me is a judgment call that is predicated on two beliefs:

  1. That humans are individually, autonomically, and similarly conscious. This means that procreation does in fact carry on the human legacy. One might find it helpful to think of this as “anti-solipsism”.
  2. That life is worth living — or at least that the odds of offspring living a “good” life are high. This, I think, is contextual and varies.

So where do I personally stand?

I am presently libertarian about this judgment call: equip people sufficiently to effectively calculate this judgment themselves, and respect the choice they make. I also think that maximizing the odds of procreating a “good life” across the population is one of the (if not the) most virtuous meta-ambitions one can adopt.

It seems to me that humans are already well on their way along this path — procreation is as controllable as it has ever been, and there are many arguments to demonstrate that this is the best ever time to be alive in our history, and that, when looked at with a sufficiently zoomed-out temporal horizon, it’s only getting better.

P.S. Another antinatalist argument that I’m not fond of is the non-consensual nature of conception. I have a half-formed thought about how the necessity of consent for a given participatory act crucially pivots on the expected perception of the outcome by the participants, and that procreation can be on both sides of the emergent threshold of tolerance. I’ll write about that another time.

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