Saturday, March 10, 2018

Abortion And Anti-Natalism Part 1: Anti-Natalism Analyzed

It recently occurred to me that I've never made a formal argument for abortion on my blog, although I've certainly touched on the topic in various posts. I've been inspired to write about abortion because of my recent interest in the idea of anti-natalism. So I plan on spending two blog posts writing my thoughts about each topic, culminating in an argument for the ethics of abortion.

Anti-natalism is the view that not procreating is preferable to procreating because life necessarily involves some degree of suffering and there is an asymmetric relationship between suffering and pleasure such that the experience of suffering outweighs the experience of pleasure. So for example, on that latter part, imagine you were offered a week long vacation to anywhere in the world where you can do anything you wanted and all expenses would be paid for you making it totally free. But, in order to get the free vacation, you must submit to a certain amount of physical torture first. This physical torture would involve massive amounts of pain but not include any life lasting physical defects, like broken bones, scars, etc. Just pain. You also get to negotiate how long the torture will be, with the ability to bargain it down. The bargaining starts at 1 week in length, the same length as the vacation. The question is: what would be the longest amount of time you'd be willing to be tortured for a week long all-expenses paid vacation in paradise? Would you be willing to be tortured for a week? A day? An hour? A minute? A second? None at all? Chances are the maximum amount of time of torture you'd be willing to endure is not equal to the amount of time of pleasure you'd get on the vacation. In other words, if you were forced to endure an equal duration of torture to the pleasure of the vacation, you would likely not agree to the deal.

And that's because you recognize that there's an asymmetry between pain and pleasure. 1 minute at the spa getting pampered is not equal to 1 minute of torture. Now what exactly that ratio is between pain and pleasure is perhaps subjective, but virtually all of us recognize that there is an asymmetry, and we factor that into our calculations for ourselves and our loved ones when we make a cost-benefit analysis of difficult ethical conundrums.

And therein lies the basic argument for anti-natalism:

  1. Suffering is guaranteed in every human life. 
  2. Because there is an asymmetry between suffering and pleasure, such that the impact of suffering far outweighs pleasure, 
  3. In the moral calculus to have a child the heavier weight of the potential suffering overrides the weight of potential pleasure.
  4. And thus, it is better to not have a child than to have one.

Usually, anti-natalism is combined with some form of negative utilitarianism, which says that the goal of normative ethics is to minimize suffering, and not maximize happiness and well-being. I'm very sympathetic to negative utilitarianism. I became a vegetarian specifically because I think we should minimize the suffering of all sentient creatures, and negative utilitarianism is also an important factor in why I'm pro-choice in the abortion debate, however, it's not the only reason. But I will get to that later.

Although I don't call myself an anti-natalist, I'm very sympathetic with the view. I don't think that negative utilitarianism necessitates anti-natalism, although you're much more likely to be lead to it. If I start from the premise that the goal of normative ethics should be to minimize suffering, and not maximize happiness and well-being, how do I avoid anti-natialism?

Well, I agree that there's an asymmetry between pleasure and pain, such that pain is worse comparative to pleasure. However, it is obvious to me that there are some people who have much more pleasure than pain in their lives overall, such that it makes their lives better having existed than not. Think of the people who won the genetic lottery: good looking, above average intelligence, upper end of the economic spectrum, no serious health issues, lives of privilege with the ability to travel easily, indulge in their passions, etc. For most of these people, life comes with enough pleasure that it outstrips the pain they endure.

What bothers me is when poor, struggling, and disadvantaged people knowingly bring children into the world whose lives will be rife with suffering through no possible fault of their own, forcing them into a circumstance they had no ability to change. The same goes for people with genetic disorders who pass on their disorders to their children. The creation of unnecessary suffering has got to be one of the most immoral things of all time. It's one of the reasons I personally do not want to have kids. Not only are kids wildly expensive, not only is it next to impossible to find a long term stable partner to raise children with, there is also the additional impact of not being able to guarantee my child's suffering wouldn't outweigh their pleasure. When I entertain the idea of having kids, I would want my kids to be beautiful, healthy, with an above average intelligence, and be financially secure their whole lives. I cannot guarantee that, nor can I even estimate a >50% chance that will happen. On top of all that, I simply have no interest in bringing a human being into this world, for various other reasons.

This all means I do not ever plan to have kids of my own, despite the fact that I'm not an anti-natalist. And personally, I think many other people shouldn't have kids either (though I wouldn't say no one should have kids). Too many irresponsible parents having kids is one major reason why we have so many bad adults in the world and so much unnecessary suffering. Parenthood should be planned, it shouldn't be done on a whim, and the overall well being of the child should be a major factor in deciding whether or not to have it. This goes without saying that parenthood also shouldn't be forced onto people against their will. And that of course leads to the second part of this blog post: abortion. I will tackle that in part 2.

There's certainly much more I can say about anti-natalism that I probably will in future posts. For now, let me leave you with the words of rapper Greydon Square with his new song "If I Had a Choice" from his new album Compton Scattering where he goes into the philosophy of anti-natalism, which partly inspired this blog post.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...