The issue of consent regarding sterilization has been appearing here and there on a few antinatalist blogs lately and it’s made me ponder. As far as I’m aware, most antinatalists have been against forced sterilization until recently, but CM made a point over on estnihil’s blog that really got people thinking:
“As far as sterilizing humans and the issue of consent: there are plenty of things we regard as acceptable to do to people without their consent, but if you believe that it’s okay to use force to prevent people from murdering others, then the same reasoning should apply to using force to prevent births (because births entails deaths, plus a whole lot of other shit, so in most cases it’s actually worse than murdering someone from a consequentialist perspective.)”
I’ve been reflecting a lot on this and I really can’t see any flaws in it. The basis of antinatalism is a form of negative utilitarianism: life entails far more suffering than pleasure; the non-existent are not deprived by non-existence; existence entails unnecessary suffering for every being alive; life has no purpose other than its own survival and blind perpetuation and so on. Therefore there should be no more births. We all know the drill by now.
Yet the big sticking point is consent. We struggle with the classic liberal idea of bodily self-ownership and the thought of forced sterilization is intuitively repugnant on initial consideration. However, as Inmendham often says, just because I own my fist doesn’t give me the right to furl it up and send it flying into your face. Or another useful analogy is that of drink-driving (another Inmendham favourite): we have laws rendering that practice illegal and we inflict severe punishment on those found guilty, even if someone is apprehended drink-driving without having harmed anyone. I find it difficult to see why the same principles shouldn’t apply to birthers. From the antinatalist perspective, life is the ultimate harm, the phenomenon that generates all suffering, so from that viewpoint why shouldn’t people be deprived of the right to procreate?
Here’s another analogy: imagine you hear the news that police have tracked down a group of terrorists armed with backpacks of explosives who intend to detonate themselves on the public transport system. The police warn the terrorists that their plot has been discovered and that unless they surrender armed force will be used against them. The terrorists refuse and the police use their guns. All of the terrorists are killed, but none of the explosives are detonated and no innocent person is harmed.
What is the general moral reaction? Sadness that people are driven to terrorism, repugnance that they believe they have the right to murder others in the name of their beliefs, regret at the violence and loss of life ensuing from the police action, but ultimately relief and a recognition that the police had no other choice but to act in the way they did in the name of preventing large-scale suffering.
Obviously I’m using this analogy to compare procreators to terrorists. They inflict harm on others on account of their beliefs/ selfish desires. Nothing good ultimately comes of their activities, merely more suffering all round. Why shouldn’t they be stopped by whatever means necessary? I’m struggling to find an answer to this one.
To quote another commenter: “So, to put it bluntly, the reason one would not go through with the law in this scenario would be an appeasement to a minority of prenatal terrorists?:-)” If we put the smiley aside and substitute “majority” for “minority” we’re left with a very serious moral debate for antinatalism. A few people on different blogs have admitted that they’d press the “automatic sterilization” button if they had the hypothetical option, so I feel this is a debate worth having. The conclusions drawn from it may initially be profoundly counter-intuitive and even repugnant, but so is antinatalism itself for many upon first contact yet ultimately they come round to supporting it.
To conclude, the scenario of enforced sterilization troubles me, but I can’t see how it can be argued against given the premises of antinatalism.
All comments and observations welcome.