Having babies is profoundly immoral. We should move towards extinction, say bioethicists
“The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives—all that was over. … I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping towards me. In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black.”
That’s H.G. Wells’s Time Traveller describing the world in 30,000,000 AD. A bit sombre, bleak even. But scoured, thankfully, clean of mankind.
That’s not such a bad future, write two Finnish bioethicists in an editorial about “antinatalism” in Bioethics, one of the world’s leading bioethics journals. “[B]y adopting antinatalism through voluntary human extinction, all of humanity’s problems could be solved,” they say.
Joona Räsänen and Matti Häyry believe that it is arguably “morally wrong to have children”. If there were no children, suffering would disappear in a few generations. It's basically the same argument that utilitarians use to justify euthanasia -- instead of ending the suffering of the patient, it's better to end the suffering patient.
Severe problems such as climate change would find a resolution if humans ceased to exist, thus eliminating environmental destruction. It appears clear that numerous problems plaguing humanity—such as wars, famine, crime, discrimination, and cruel treatment of animals, to name a few—would vanish if humans would not exist. The adoption of antinatalism would, therefore, truly solve “everything.”
Humans are causing planetary destruction so great that it would be better if they ceased to exist, the two bioethicists contend. They quote a character from the popular TV show “Real Detective”:
“The honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming. Stop reproducing. Walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight. Brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”
No doubt Räsänen and Häyry are a barrel of laughs at the pub and karaoke champs in a university common room. But even in an academic journal their misanthropy is confronting. They seem breathlessly eager to pop the balloon of élan vital. To use the technical jargon, life sucks:
Life, thus, bears a resemblance to a pyramid scheme, where new participants work for the well-being of the previous “victims” of the scheme, creating a vicious circle where new people must be “recruited” to benefit those already within the system. The game only exists as long as new players join, and the scheme ultimately ends badly for the latecomers, because it is not possible to recruit new members indefinitely. Nonetheless, there isn’t a finite maximum of potential humans to exist. Consequently, it seems that the pyramid scheme of life will likely go on approaching infinity, postponing the final suffering of the last generation by always creating the next generation. As one generation replaces another, suffering persists. In the meantime, humanity also inflicts suffering upon other species through direct killing and indirect environmental degradation.
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Unlike most of the articles in Bioethics, Räsänen and Häyry’s editorial is open access. Perhaps the editors believe that their antinatalist views deserve to be given as much publicity as possible in the bioethical community.
But, as I wrote in another context: “isn’t a bioethicist who questions the value of human life itself like a physicist who denies the existence of cause and effect or a theologian who denies the existence of God? Without an unconditional commitment to the value of human life, a discipline like bioethics is in danger of losing its coherence.”
When I first read this editorial, I thought it was a tasteless joke or a hoax. But these miserabilists are serious. They really do think that the world imagined by H.G. Wells is superior to ours, with its 8 billion people. They can also draw upon a well-developed literature on the subject. As pessimism about the future grows, extinction is an increasingly widespread topic of discussion. People are worried about the destructive possibilities of climate change, AI, a collision with an asteroid, pandemics, or nuclear war.
What distinguishes Räsänen and Häyry is that they believe that having children is actually immoral. Their brand of nihilism is probably the world’s most dangerous idea. If having children is immoral, then life itself must be evil. Love, laughter, tenderness, songs and joy are obscenities. What will prevent someone who truly believes this from becoming a mass murderer?
Michael Cook is editor of Mercator
Image credits: Bigstock
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