“I refused to acknowledge the idea of suffering inflicted by a God, I deluded myself that pessimism could be a solace of superior minds. What stupidity! That certainly was not confirmed by experience, that had nothing of the ‘human document’–to use an expression dear to Naturalism–about it. Never has pessimism consoled those who are sick in body or in soul!” — Joris-Karl Huysmans
“Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you who you are!”– Ernst Junger, On Pain
I have long contended that antinatalism is the logical extreme of modern life. Whether they reprimand others for having children or simply declare that they themselves would never have children themselves, progressives mock the very nature of procreation. Though few will go so far as Schopenhauer who declared that having children is a net negative due to the suffering inherent in life, at least not explicitly.
Under the veneer of puritanical self righteousness lies a hidden depression for the childfree. Life is not for the faint at heart, and it’s even harder to deal with when one isn’t equipped with a sense of meaning. Considering life as it is, one would be cruel to throw an unsuspecting person into this mess.
Antinatalists come in two forms. One is the optimistic “childfree” type mentioned above who you may read about in the Huffington Post. This variant virtue-signals how much the life they lead without children is better for the environment and better for themselves.
Children ruin your sex life, say the child free advocates. As if your life is supposed to be dictated by the base pleasures of your genitals. Certainly pleasure serves a function in sexual congress, but you would have to be deluded into thinking it’s the sole function. Indeed, in order for pleasure to be the function of sex, it must be made so by artificial means. You can take a pill, put on a rubber, or even interrupt coitus, but none of this can nullify the procreative purpose of sex.
The other is the more philosophical variant: the pessimistic antinatalist. The pessimists have realized that life itself is a slow and painful spiral into nothingness, and have decided the best course of action is to continue the spiral but remove the pain. Whether the optimists realize it or not, they functionally do not differ from the pessimists in spite of their joyful veneer. Each of their sentiments defending their choice not to have children betrays a sense of bitterness.
The Childfree may be happy without kids. Many of them report immense satisfaction with life after becoming sterilized. When they reveal their reasons for not having children, however, more often than not they sound quite pessimistic. They often say, “I would be a terrible mother and I would resent my children for putting my career on hold because of them. They don’t deserve that.” These sentiments contain many features of the psychology associated with modern man: a lack of self confidence, the need to put career before family, and a fear of risk.
Herein lies the biggest problem with antinatalism: it stems from a complete aversion to pain. We’ve been conditioned to believe that pain is something to be avoided and serves no useful function. In this Current Year of Our Lord, any experience short of unrelenting pleasure isn’t meant to be suffered. It’s easy to embrace antinatalism when one accepts the hedonistic lifestyle of modern life where pain is to be avoided and pleasure maximized.
But the notion that pain has no instrumental value does not bear out in everyday experience. Certainly pain is unpleasant, and at times agonizing. But again, as with all things with a telos, the negative aspects of pain do not negate pain’s function. From a biological perspective, pain serves as a signal that helps diagnose a problem with the body. Following the principle of hormesis, in order to build muscle strength, you must put your body through pain when working out at the gym.
Pain can have a punitive function as well. Whether you agree with retributive justice or utilitarianism, all punishment involves some degree of pain in order to serve a good. We can debate the merits of physical punishment, prisons, or execution and we may have differing views of what constitutes proper justice. But the fact remains that most of these forms of punishment inevitably involve inflicting pain on a wrongdoer.
From a theological perspective, pain is an opportunity for redemption. Within the context of Original Sin, Adam must labor in the field to provide for his family. Eve likewise endures pain in childbirth. Christ in turn offers the hope of everlasting life by offering himself as the final sacrifice on the cross. It is when man and woman embrace their pain and follow Christ’s example that they can become redeemed.
Understand that I do not intend to imply that parenthood is the only way for one to find meaning in life. I recognize, like Carlyle and St. Josemaria Escriva, that personal meaning can be found in one’s labor. Work can give us a purpose, and those who aren’t called to have children shouldn’t despair. Their lives have no less meaning than those who become parents.
My purpose here is not to refute antinatalism nor to encourage people to procreate, but to simply provide a diagnosis. In the current age of comfort and security, we have become weak and idle. We’re unwilling to take risks that could help us flourish in the long term because we are hung up on the suffering that occurs in the interim. Ernst Junger makes a similar point about the life of comfort in his essay On Pain, which he wrote in response to the decadent Weimar Republic. We’re in a similar position today. We suffer from a crippling hedonism, brought on by the comforts of modern life.
As Evolutionist X once said, “Modernity is selecting for those who resist modernity.”
Death Crowning Innocence – George Frederick Watts