Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Antinatalism as Enlightenment 2.0

I’ve been reflecting lately on why Antinatalism has appeared as something akin to a movement at this particular point in time, since roughly 2005 say. Sure, there’s always been a strain of thought that said life was fundamentally pain, suffering and not worth living since at least Sophocles and the Ancient Greeks, but nothing like the form it’s taken lately. Why is that?

Clearly, David Benatar's book was the breviary that drew people to the idea of AN as a coherent philosophical movement. Technology has also helped. Thanks to the internet, this blog can exist, as can the other AN blogs and thus a virtual community of like-minded people can exist in a way that wasn’t possible previously. But what I’m getting at is a little deeper.

In essence, it would appear that for any intelligent person there are no more forms of delusion to hand. Taking western history as my case study, since as far as back as records go, humans have sought to give life meaning essentially through religion, politics and art (either solely or in combination).

Over the past century or so, societies have gradually become more secularised and religion pushed to the margins. Intellectually, its propositions regarding existence appear to have been completely discredited by the discoveries of science. So religion as a meaning provider is gone.

Meaningful politics now appears to be at an end. We are locked into an uncontrollable and unstoppable form of Capitalism which can only be ended through some form of natural catastrophe. So politics as meaning provider in any large scale sense is gone.

Art has also become a fetish and a commodity. With the end of the big ideas has come the end of great art. It is now a playing field solely for the rich. Literature has become, by and large, a minority activity and dominated by those who seek plaudits by reaffirming the values of the society that they live in. Hence the endless stream of dreary social realism novels that focus on relationships, mortgages, family and all the usual Oprah material. So art is gone also.

In summation, there is nowhere to hide for an enlightened individual. The game is simply not worth the candle. Enlightenment began as a movement designed to rid humanity of its superstitions, quash religion of its excessive power and liberate the species. The thing is, that like any revolution, it has in essence swallowed itself. Anyone with a brain now knows there’s no reason to live, and no reason to propagate. Humanity stands revealed in its uselessness and malevolence.

What are we doing here?


Where is there to go?


Antinatalism is indeed Enlightenment 2.0


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hey Karl,

    Good post outlining a lot of reasons that encourage people to take intellectual steps leading to antinatalism.

    Still, I have to agree with Lenya - "bad" culture has been around ever since there's been a thing as "culture", at least as far back as the Lascaux paintings from the Paleolithic (and no doubt the music too). An online friend from Greece even tells me that "junk art" is recovered at archaeological sites all the time. Something new will come up - a novel form of expression that will make life more interesting and somewhat more endurable (albeit temporarily).

    I also think both the 60s and 70s feminist movement and (since the early 90s) VHEMT helped kick in the door on the notion that it's OK to not have children. Feminism by saying it's ok for an individual (not just women) to have chidren, which opened the door to the later Childfree-by-Choice movement.

    Also, the environmental movement was CRITICAL to opening the door as well. VHEMT was a well-known extinctionist group long before Benatar wrote his book. In fact, even today, the few people aware of antinatalism in any form often assume it's due a believe in "environmental extremism".

    That just goes to show you that you have to kick the door several times long and hard before you can knock it down.

  3. The shit to classic ratio has always been about the same in the art world, it's just that most of the shit gets forgotten and the classics get remembered.

  4. That's true. That's why people think that movies were better in the past. The movies from the past we still watch today are the ones that were good, and the bad ones have been forgotten.

  5. I agree more with Lenya than with the Anonymous above. But with all the "competition", commercial considerations have become so much more important for an artist these days.

  6. Hey Folks,

    Thanks for all the comments thusfar. Ok, I concede:-) You guys are right: the shit to quality ratio is probably still the same as it always was. I think my main point was intended to allude to what Srikant refered to: the increasing commercialisation of art; celebrities "writing" novels etc.

    Having said that, I still wonder is there any artist out there of the same stature as, say, Beethoven, Bach, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and other such titans?

  7. Are there any movies that seriously deal with AN?

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  11. Hey, Lenya. Thanks for the comment. You've provided the names of some Russian writers that I've never heard of and must check out. Ultimately, yes, art is a matter of taste, so again I'm happy to concede the point. I suppose I should have clarified myself in the post and emphasised that it's the commercial/"artist as celebrity" thing that really turns me off today. But like nearly everything else, I guess this, too, is a matter of taste!

  12. Personally I don´t nitpick. I know that Karl is just making a point. Even if I don´t agree with some points in the text - which I´m not saying I don´t, incidentally - doesn´t mean I don´t get his point.

    He is saying that the everything is losing it´s aura of glory that society tends to don to some things. That when one sees life as AN´s see it, things lack meaning.

    I personally don´t think there´s any meaning to discuss about Beethoven here, per se. I mean, this is an antinatalist blog - Karl is just using stuff to make an argument. And the argument is that when you look at things in such a way, nowadays we have nothing (or pretty much nothing) even if we had them someday in the past.

    There´s nothing - humanity is, little by little, having to look itself in the mirror. The way it tries to hide of the manifest chaos that is existence is just the cherry on the top of the cake of madness that is all this.

  13. Hey, Shadow. Cheers, man. Yeah, you've gotten to the heart of it. Discussions about our favourite artists aside, my general impression is that meaning, as understood in the traditional sense of transcendental purpose, is gone and now all we have left is distraction. As science continues to reveal to us our mechanical nature, I fail to see how any notions of the "grandeur" of humanity and "the nobility of the human spirit" can persist. We're cockroaches, crawling on a rock, and that's it.

    Merry Xmas to one and all:-)

  14. "I’ve been reflecting lately on why Antinatalism has appeared as something akin to a movement at this particular point in time, since roughly 2005 say"

    You are ignoring two important developments:

    1. This generation is the first to have been born after the invention of the Pill.
    2. The existence of the Internet allows people to find out about people with similar ideas.

  15. The Pill and development of birth control is interesting. I talk about the internet in the second paragraph.

  16. Sorry, my mistake. I commented a few days after reading.

  17. No problem. The pill and birth control are certainly an important factor. Once technology developed that allowed control of reproduction, the option of opting out certainly gained leverage in the 70s. From there, it's a few steps to antinatalism, if you have the logical clarity to see it through. Cheers for the contribution!

  18. There were other eras where contraception was technically possible. Don't let the fundamentalists of today re-write your sense of history and humans' beliefs across time. It is likely that times of restriction of pregnancy and births are the exception, and human limiting of our own numbers the (sane) rule. It requires a lot of church/state power to surveil and intervene in such a personal decision.

    One of the reasons the mediaeval Catholic Church burned the Cathars/Albigenses was the latter's belief that nonreproductive sexuality was superior to the kind that led to imprisoning more spirit in embodiment (i.e., making people get born). The Cathars practiced contraception and discouraged reproduction. It was, they felt, the only way to get free of the vicious cycles of rebirth. They believed hell was right here on earth.

    There have always been people who rebel against agricultural civilization's programme of turning all of us into breeding stock for empire. Pie in the sky when you die.

    Contraception didn't cause antinatalism. Anyone with sense, maturity, and courage will see, as the Gnostics did, that there is something terribly wrong with this world, this reality. They will want to opt out. The programme of agricultural civilization--and its churches, and its states, and all its Big Men--is to make sure we all take our place as breeding stock for the enhancement of the fortunes of the powerful. Truly free people fear that more than we fear the dark.

  19. Great comment, anonymous. I have to say that the more I contemplate how in essence the world is kept going by raving, ravening, insatiable egos, the more terrified I feel. Whoever said age brought tranquility was extremely wrong, in my opinion.