Sunday, September 12, 2010

History of Antinatalism

Modern Antinatalism began in the 19th Century, promoted by German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Philipp Mainländer. Schopenhauer's position said that humans would not exist if procreation were a purely rational act, given that suffering is an inevitable part of everyone's life. Similarly, Mainländer wrote that “non-being is better than being”. In the 20th Century, prominent Antinatalists philosophers include Romania's Emil Cioran , who wrote of "the happiness of the unborn", and Norway's Peter Wessel Zappfe; plus German-American commedian, Theodore Gottlieb (stage name “Brother Theodore”); essentially restating earlier antinatalist premises in different words and styles.

Contemporary antinatalists include ethicist Matti Häyry and ecology activist Pentti Linkola, both of Finland, and horror writer Thomas Ligotti of the United States. However, the best known and most influential current antinatalists are South African philosopher David Benatar, head of the University of Cape Town Philosophy Department, and U.S. environmental activist Les U. Knight. Benatar promotes a form of philanthropic antinatalism in his book Better Never to Have  Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence, about which he explains in this podcast of a radio interview on CapeTalk 702 in Cape Town. Knight promotes ecological antinatalism through his leaderless Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT), as he explains in this 2005 MSNBC interview. Earlier, in 1998, Johnathan Rauch wrote a pseudonymous article published in The Economist  entitled Sui Genocide, in which he promotes a unique form of what this blog calls teleological antinatalism; essentially asserting it's more dignified to "call time" on humanity at a moment of our own choosing, rather than letting the inevitable death of the universe kill us the hard way.

However, it was Benatar's book, published in 2007, that sparked a small but growing upsurge in philanthropic antinatalism.  This makes him the first modern philanthropic antinatalist to receive media attention (Rauch's antinatalism appears to be more of the telelological type than the philanthropic one). Shortly afterward, several other blogosphere antinatalists appeared, such as Chip Smith of The Hoover Hog* and Jim Crawford of Antinatalism: The Greatest Taboo. The former wrote Initial Harm, a four-part essay series; the latter, Confessions of an Antinatalist, published in 2010.

By June 2010, philanthropic antinatalism finally made a fairly prominent appearance in the mainstream media. In that month, Princeton University ethicist Peter Singer stirred controversy with his New York Times blog entry Should This Be The Last Generation?  On his Times Opinionator blog, he paints a sympathetic portrait of Benatar's book and views, though stopping short of agreeing with them. Still, the article generated a flood of impassioned reader comments - well over 1,000. Also, by January 2011, Think, a popular level philosophy journal from The Royal Institute of Philosophy, published "Better Not to Have Children", by scholars Gerald Harrison and Julia Tanner. It seems antinatalism is on its way to becoming an increasingly present - if controversial and unpopular - subject in the mainstream media. Only the future can say just how persistent philanthropic antinatalism will become in the public mass-consciousness.

*Site's front page.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I think Pentti Linkola is a sick fuck who wants the show to go on, only with less humans on earth (and an "ecological"---or better: h i s!---mindset). I've seen him often referenced by those (right-wing) "Traditionalists" who share strange views on race, esoteric beliefs and other silly topics.

Other than that, an interesting article. It is good to see more antinatalists.

filrabat said...

Thanks for the compliments, anon.

As for Linkola, I only named him because of his antinatalism, not because I support him

Actually I know little about him, due to my being a philanthropic antinatalist instad of an ecological one (I don't find ecological antinatalism entirely convincing, although I do agree the ecological reasons support arguments for fewer births).

In the end though, Linkola's arguments make sense or not regardless of what types quote him, not because of who quotes him.