The philanthropic antinatalism presented by David Benatar is rather compassionate with humanity and all other sentient beings for that matter. Recognizing their suffering while offering a way to stop the continuation of our collective misery. As the Buddhists would agree: with existence always comes harm. Any child brought into this world will experience pain and inflict pain on other beings, even though the magnitude varies per individual.
Whether it’s physical pain, the pain of loss, or the pain of dissatisfaction, there’s always some suffering involved. Even Buddhist monks who attained the non-suffering state of “enlightenment” had suffered before and most likely squashed a bug or two. And thus, antinatalist arguing that coming into existence is always a serious harm takes a rationally strong position. If we do not come into existence in the first place, we’ll not suffer harm and not inflict harm on others. Moreover, we’ll not suffer the absence of pleasure because we’re not deprived of it.
Yet, the general populace will undoubtedly cast these rational arguments aside, claiming that bringing new people into the world is good and even moral. But from an antinatalist viewpoint, how could it be, assuming that parents love their children? Isn’t the most ethical thing we can do to our unrealized children never to give birth to them in the first place is that spares them from significant harm?
Sentient beings, by and large, are biologically driven to procreate. We make babies simply because that’s what we do, often without giving it too much thought. Also, people procreate to give their lives meaning, but don’t mind the painful consequences for the children themselves by coming into existence, let along entertain the possibility that the child may be better off not being born.
Then, when these children grow up, they also procreate to gain the same benefits as their parents, and so do their children and their children. David Benatar calls this a procreational Ponzi scheme.
“It’s a Ponzi scheme in that evenually it’s going to go bust. And the final people are going to have to pay a price and will pay a price.” Benatar stated in an interview.
Our children will suffer. They will grieve, have their hearts broken, be abused in one way or another, suffer physical pain and misfortunes like poverty, addiction, war, illness, loss of loved ones, and, in the end, death.
And even if life largely spares them from misfortune, they will experience the perpetual dissatisfaction of being alive. On the other hand, as defective as we are as a species, chances are plausible that our children will harm the environment and other sentient beings. Hence, from the antinatalist viewpoint coming to existence is always a serious harm.
So what should we do? Suppose we agree with Benatar, showing us that we would have been better off if we’d never come into existence. What should we do now that we’re already here? Should we spend our lives sobbing about our unfortunate fate? Should we attempt to destroy conscious life as a way of reducing suffering? Should we, for the same reason, end ourselves? The antinatalist argument that not coming into existence in the first place is best doesn’t imply that we should cause pain or engage in self-destruction if we’re unfortunate enough to be alive. Such suggestions overshoot the goal, driving what we seek to reduce, which is suffering.
Moreover, there’s a fundamental difference between taking life after it’s created and preventing life from being created. Also, there’s a difference between a life not worth starting and a life not worth continuing. Not being born at all might be best, but second best may be a life worth living. We could even find some meaning, for example, by helping others make life more bearable. After all, no one asked to be here. And so we’re all fellow-sufferers: a realization that could be an immense source of compassion.