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Thread: I wish I'd never been born: the rise of the anti-natalists

  1. #11
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    I'm on the fence on this. My experience has been that life consists mostly of suffering with rare, fleeting episodes of joy. But I don't wish I'd never been born.

    There's a Stephen Sondheim song, "Sorry-Grateful." The context is one character asking another if he's sorry he got married, but the title pretty well sums up my attitude toward life.

    Or, as Woody Allen said, "Life is filled with misery, suffering and loneliness--and it's all over much too soon."

  2. #12
    Senior Member catherine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ApatheticNoMore View Post
    I think it's much easier to go through life with the belief that life is a gift, otherwise it is pretty self-fulfilling,
    I'm in the gift camp. There are two ways to see it:

    Evolutionary: Nature gave us some inbred motivations for staying alive in order to propagate. If humans all decided to go anti-natalist, we would die out as a species, obviously. So it feels more natural in a sense to believe that our biological fulfillment is in progeny. But I also agree with ANM that it's so much more complex than that with legitimate pain and suffering that would lead one to wishing they'd never been born.

    I remember Paul Erlich's book, and I obviously have not bought into zero population growth myself, having 4 kids, but I'll just assign two of mine to rosa or IL or UL and call it net neutral growth .

    My permaculture teacher considers the environmentalists who feel humans are a scourge and we should reduce our population to curb the ruination of the planet to be a red herring for the real issue of human over-consumption. I kind of agree with that. If we all could reduce our ecological footprint to 0, the population would sustain itself.

    Spiritual: Is suffering really bad in itself? Most religious traditions see suffering as part of life and as sacred as any joy we could experience, if approached appropriately. Suffering can be transformative and redemptive. One of my favorite first lines in a book is from The Road Less Traveled: Life is difficult. Yeah, let's just lay it on the table and go on from there. First Noble Truth: Life is suffering. Can can you accept suffering and use it? Then you are likely to NOT be an anti-natalist.

    The fact that we can feel joy arising is the gift of life to me.
    "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?" Emily Webb, Our Town
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  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ultralight View Post
    I think a person can wish they were never born and, at the same time, not actively want to commit suicide.
    But if life is truly a painful imposition, why come down on the affirmative side of Hamlet’s question? Is it simply fear of the transition process from living to dead? Concern for those left behind? Further, if living is such a miserable state of being, is killing another person (born or unborn or merely hypothetical) a potentially positive and moral act?

  4. #14
    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ultralight View Post
    I think a person can wish they were never born and, at the same time, not actively want to commit suicide.
    Yes, I agree with that somewhat.

    I find some comfort in the null of non existence. If I had never been born, I guess that would be OK because I wouldn’t know it, would I? But since I am here there is enough downright joy as well as daily contentment and happiness that I appreciate the life I have.

    My life is a scientific oddity, a “gift” from the universe if you will because it is not easy to propel a few cells into a fully grown human being, especially one that lasts 65 years as I have. We can take human life for granted but there are so many medical missteps along the way of creating humans – I mean all the ones that Do not start as viable sperm or egg,die in utero, die when coming through the birth canal, die at birth and are born with killing diseases, etc—that it is miraculous we are here.

  5. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by catherine View Post
    My permaculture teacher considers the environmentalists who feel humans are a scourge and we should reduce our population to curb the ruination of the planet to be a red herring for the real issue of human over-consumption. I kind of agree with that. If we all could reduce our ecological footprint to 0, the population would sustain itself.
    This is the kind of saying like if my grandmother had a @#$# she'd be my grandfather as I see it. There is no way for a population of 7 billion plus to reduce it's ecological footprint to zero. It isn't possible for a population of this size to all be hunter gatherers, they require a certain amount of viable acerage per person and the population is too big to allow that acerage per person. You can't make a population of 7+ billion all hunter gatherers. But agricultural societies have ecological impact and they require a certain amount of acerage per person to grow food and some for dwellings. That's acerage that can't be used for native habitats etc., the greater the population the less acerage can be left for other species. Technological society (acerage for what, solar panels?) is a whole other thing.

    Spiritual: Is suffering really bad in itself? Most religious traditions see suffering as part of life and as sacred as any joy we could experience, if approached appropriately. Suffering can be transformative and redemptive. One of my favorite first lines in a book is from The Road Less Traveled: Life is difficult. Yeah, let's just lay it on the table and go on from there. First Noble Truth: Life is suffering. Can can you accept suffering and use it? Then you are likely to NOT be an anti-natalist.
    I honestly wonder if people who say this have ever really experienced such suffering? I'm going to say no, and that they talk about what they have never experienced, and also that they frankly lack empathy to conceive of that which they haven't experienced. Suffering can be hopeless and meaningless, suffering from which one can no more derive meaning than one can get water from a stone just because one happens to be thirsty. One can say of such suffering that it may be temporary, and that is often the case, but one can't say it's transformative or redemptive. Suffering can be utterly completely meaningless. People think that no greater suffering exists than that which they may have experienced, but how would they know?

    I guess there is a pretty good book that is a way of thinking about this is called "The Culture of Pain" by David Morris (never mind the title it's not a social critique, but about how philosophy approaches pain). It talks about a lot of philosophies of pain from stocism to sadism, but the more interesting stuff is probably about chronic often undiagnosable physical pain, how much chronic physical pain is undiagnosable (you can't just say "oh it's arthritis" etc. because unlike say arthritis noone really knows what is causing it) and he ruminates about how it alienates, how chronic pain is another world, another country, where communication breaks down, that you can't explain to people who don't experience it. I don't suffer from it, so mine is largely an outsider perspective looking in when I read this, I don't *know* (except when I am suffering physically or psychologically and even physically I have had chronic symptoms but never of extreme pain).
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  6. #16
    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    ANM, I agree that suffering can be meaningless. It can also be transformative. Should it be transformative? Not really, it is what it is.

  7. #17
    Senior Member catherine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ApatheticNoMore View Post


    I honestly wonder if people who say this have ever really experienced such suffering? I'm going to say no, and that they talk about what they have never experienced, and also that they frankly lack empathy to conceive of that which they haven't experienced. Suffering can be hopeless and meaningless, suffering from which one can no more derive meaning than one can get water from a stone just because one happens to be thirsty. One can say of such suffering that it may be temporary, and that is often the case, but one can't say it's transformative or redemptive. Suffering can be utterly completely meaningless. People think that no greater suffering exists than that which they may have experienced, but how would they know?
    How do you quantify pain and suffering? I read once that suffering is like gas in a room. It's not like if you haven't suffered much there's a little pile of baggage in the corner, whereas if you've suffered a lot there's a lot of baggage filling up the space... it's a gas that infiltrates everywhere. I am certainly not saying that one person's bee sting is the same as another person's childhood abuse, but it points to the fact that suffering is impossible to "grade." And it speaks to how it is processed by the sufferer.
    "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?" Emily Webb, Our Town
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  8. #18
    Senior Member rosarugosa's Avatar
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    I should mention that I am a consistently upbeat and cheerful person. Just because life sucks and then you die doesn't mean I'm going to let that ruin my good mood for today. But seriously, I am enjoying my life on any given day. I've already paid the price of admission and it is non-refundable, so I'm going to squeak as much joy out of this existence that I can (which is quite a bit actually). Still, if I step back and look at the bigger picture, I think the price of admission makes it a bad deal, the price being that once born, you will suffer and die and you will watch those you love suffer and die. Now if you are religious, you will probably have a much different take on all this, and will no doubt look forward to the cheerful reunion in the afterlife. I do not hold such beliefs. However, I am happy, I had a great childhood, and I have a really good life.

  9. #19
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    How do you quantify pain and suffering? I read once that suffering is like gas in a room. It's not like if you haven't suffered much there's a little pile of baggage in the corner, whereas if you've suffered a lot there's a lot of baggage filling up the space... it's a gas that infiltrates everywhere.
    I don't know, if you really find suffering everywhere you might question if being born is worth it. But I really think there are strong childhood factors that figure in, if you were strongly programmed to have kids you have kids and it's programming, it's just what you were raised to do, that's all. If you were a kid who noone ever wanted (how many times was I told I ruined my parents lives growing up), or who found anti-natalism striking (my partner the child of an extremely bitter and very early divorce) maybe you don't etc..

    I am certainly not saying that one person's bee sting is the same as another person's childhood abuse, but it points to the fact that suffering is impossible to "grade." And it speaks to how it is processed by the sufferer.
    I don't think people always have some ability to process suffering however they want to though, sometimes they *might* have some ability is the most anyone can say. If it's impossible to grade, it speaks to *humility* in the face of pain, in my view. Humility rather than lecturing people on how they ought to process pain. Maybe they can learn from someone elses pain and how they dealt with it and there is no arrogance to merely sharing one's own experience of course, and maybe they can't.

    It speaks to how it's processed, yes physical pain with no known cause often exists solely in the nervous system, it doesn't mean there is any psychological trick to eliminate it, there isn't really. Someday maybe they find a cure, shrug.
    If you want something to get done, ask a busy person. If you want them to have a nervous breakdown that is.

  10. #20
    Senior Member catherine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rosarugosa View Post
    Now if you are religious, you will probably have a much different take on all this, and will no doubt look forward to the cheerful reunion in the afterlife.
    First of all, I am "religious" in a certain sense, but I am extremely heaven-agonistic. I am more of the "heaven is here and now" mindset--taught to me by the Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hahn. But I'm open to any possibility.

    Second, I actually remembered where I saw that "suffering is like gas" quote--it was from Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He of all people has suffering street cred, so I stand by that point of view:


    “To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative.”
    "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?" Emily Webb, Our Town
    www.silententry.wordpress.com

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