Should We Be Anti-natalist?

Dr. Siddhartha Shankar Joarder

14 February, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Should We Be Anti-natalist?

Dr. Siddhartha Shankar Joarder

Raphael Samuel a 27-year-old Mumbai man decides last week to sue his parents for giving birth to him without his consent. It is morally wrong, he writes, to procreate since it increases misery and sufferings to human life. He further opines that life burdens earth’s resources and causes unfathomable distress to human life. Samuel has made news in India and elsewhere by his extra logical disposition which is likely to be absurd prima facie though it has a deep meaning.  As a result, his peculiar patricidal stance brings people aback. Different news agencies including social media grapple this interesting and “ridiculous” news with unprecedented follow-up.  Raphael’s mother writes on Facebook page, “I must admire my son’s temerity to want to take his parents to court knowing both of us are lawyers. If Raphael could come up with a rational explanation as to how we could have sought his consent to be born, I will accept my fault.” For certain, his mother is right because it is absolutely absurd to seek consent of their coming offspring whether they concede to be born before their birth. So, his mother puts the right argument to defend them.

How Raphael is planning to defend him in the court is unknown to the people; however this issue would never be a trivial one in all senses because it has always been a crucial conundrum in human mind, whether life has meaning at all. And, if so, what makes human life worthy? On the contrary, if life has nothing to do with, what is the impetus then to push it forward? Finally, why do people live in the earth? These fundamental questions are ever perplexing, so it needs to press forward.  

Accordingly, it is a serious debatable issue whether people are found to be guilty for giving birth to their children. Very commonly, it is taken for granted that getting life is a blessing and every child must be grateful to their parent for this wonderful life. From the point, the attempt to convict parents for their procreation is supposed to be unprecedented. It is also ethically wrong to convict someone who has given birth to him.    

Nevertheless, this question doesn’t stop here because a very interesting school of thought has developed along with the line of socio-psychological sense of modern people although the seed of this idea springs up from the ancient Buddhism. Anti-natalism is a philosophical doctrine that assigns a very negative value to life and ethically it is much closer to the philosophical pessimism. Nihilism is another name of anti-natalism that also declares that life has no objective meaning or intrinsic value. 

Anti-natalism argues that it is morally bad to drag the human species out because life finally brings bleak and hopeless consequences. It has nothing to do without making a pointless journey. In the history of eastern thought Lord Goutama Buddha is supposed to be the first anti-natalist preaching only philosophical pessimism and the way of renunciation in life. Buddha stresses the need of abandonment instead of enjoyment because life is an ocean of suffering. The only deed in human life is to the cessation of sufferings because life has no other function than to relieve from this wheel of life. It is fully shrouded in mist. Bondage increases sufferings and it pointlessly allures human life to spend in amusement. Every deed of life creates misery; so to keep our life happy we need to relinquish greed and lust to attain Nirvana, the highest stage of human realisation. Buddhist philosophy thus teaches to abandon not to enjoy. Upanishad also bears the same connotation.

David Benatar, a famous South African philosopher, supposed to be Raphael’s mentor had been considered as an anti-natalist. Benatar argues that, “It is curious that while good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their  children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place.” Gustav Flaubert makes more alarming comment on natalism, “there is less harm in killing a man than producing a child.”

The meaning of life is really difficult to determine. You will never be sure what exactly makes human life possible. You will also be unsure about what purpose you intend to live and die. Besides, you are quietly unknown how life comes here and functions. If you are an ardent teleologist, you must find that everything has a definite meaning and the life plods towards a destination. Life is really purposive and the chain of life maintains within the wheel of birth or rebirth. So, you mustn’t stop the concatenation of life.

On the other hand, evolutionists don’t care about the so-called theological function of life. Life runs without purpose and it is the nature of life to reproduce concurrently; this is not only the function of human life but all sentient beings maintain the very trend. A small bacterium reproduces itself, big elephant breeds once in every twelve years, dogs become potential once in a year etc. You will never be able to stop them forcibly. Thus, biological function of life confirms the generation without having been interfered by someone.

Man definitely is a higher animal that bears two opposed characters – one is biological and another is social or moral. Unlike lower animals the function of man is comprehensive and greater responsive. Filial piety is one of important characters of animal particularly human being that makes a life more meaningful.  Why do people make love with their opposed sex? It is of two purposes, one is physiological pleasure and another is to get someone who is likely to maintain his heredity. If you think for example people in the world stop thinking to get their child right now. You don’t imagine what havoc we must make there.

What Raphael does against his parents is anti-natural and of course anti-evolutionary. Whether life is meaningful or meaningless to him is not an important issue but the important thing is that, how you take it to be. Life is an accident and it comes within the statics of probability. His mother would have so many children like Raphael but surely it didn’t happen. If Raphael would not have been born in the world, there had never been any damage! Many Raphaels’ are coming to this world every second or many Raphaels would come in future. This big world would never bother with Raphael or even any other animals that compose the lives for collective purposes. 

Ultimately, life has no meaning; the meaning is only to live without knowing which life lives for. This is a running coach and fortunately or unfortunately you became a passenger of the journey. You became an inmate of house; till you a border, you can’t break it down. Omar Khayyam, the great Persian philosopher writes: “Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!/ One thing at least is certain- This Life flies;/ One thing is certain and the rest is Lies--/ The Flower that once has blown forever dies.”


The writer is Professor and Chairperson, Department of Philosophy, Jagannath University, Dhaka.