Have you ever wondered what taking logic to its logical conclusion actually results in? Have you read something that literally turned on a floating light bulb over your head? (OK, not literally, but you get my drift). Have you ever really thought about, I mean REALLY thought about the consequences of your decision to have children? Jim Crawford has, in his part philosophical, part autobiographical Confessions of an Antinatalist.
Regular readers of this blog might recognize Jim from his comments here, and from his own blog at Reason vs. Apologetics. As he relates in the book, he went through a lot of religious soul seeking, existential wandering and philosophical game changing, life twisting beliefs, for a long time as a member of what he calls a cult (but then, isn’t all religion?). Finally, at some point, religion stopped making sense, and he acknowledged his default status as an atheist. Afterward, he took his atheism to its logical conclusion, and arrived at the premise of this book.
I know I’m not doing justice to it by trying to simplify that premise in one sentence, but essentially it boils down to this: If we acknowledge that suffering is a part of the natural world, that there is no supernatural afterlife to strive for, and that as humans we suffer as much as the rest of nature, then when we make the decision to create life, we do so knowing that we have doomed our children to a life of suffering, and ultimately death. Hence, if we are moral, then we have a moral duty to refuse to add more suffering to the human race, by adding to that race. (Sorry, that was two sentences.)
Some of you might go, “d’uh”. Of course, life isn’t fair. If I suffer so shall my children, but as an optimistic, rational being, I hope for a future for my children with minimal suffering, indeed I strive to do everything in my power while alive to help minimize that suffering, to make a better life for my children than I had, as my father did for me. But even optimistic, hard working individuals must acknowledge that life isn’t perfect, that there are things we’ll never be able to protect our children from, and as a matter of hard, cold reality, they will suffer. Some more than others, but all will suffer in their lifetimes, and they all will die.
From a purely logical point of view, the conclusion is unassailable. It is a fact, which explains to a certain extent exactly what attraction religion holds for the masses. Religion offers us the ability to deny that cold undeniable fact, and live comfortably during our lives with the delusion that our suffering is for a greater cause, that we will be compensated, ultimately, for having to put up with the realities of life, and ultimately, death.
From Jim’s personal point of view, however, he clearly didn’t practice what he now preaches. His two daughters are the product of his marriage to a member of the aforementioned cult, and are thriving adults, albeit still relatively young. You would think an antinatalist would regret the birth of his own children, and while philosophically he does (and apologizes to his daughters for the book, even dedicating the book to them “…your joys are my joy, your sorrows my regret”) viscerally he clearly loves his girls, and is like any other father who does so. There is a competing tension to the book, because in the autobiographical portions of the book (which somewhat alternate with the thematic portions) he is downright human, enjoying sex, marriage and children, while his brain screams “this is not right!”
As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the ironic dichotomy here is that if we all agreed with Jim, and acted on our agreement, the human race as a species would die out in a generation. So, the price of existence is suffering. As atheists, or more specifically, as naturalists who don’t believe in an afterlife, gods or the supernatural, we accept suffering and death, as have all species, albeit unconsciously, from the beginning of life. This doesn’t necessarily detract from our morality, as we have no choice. Or, more precisely, we do have a choice, but it’s one of Hobson’s.
As sobering as this book may sound to you, I assure you it is not the depressing tome I expected it to be. In fact, I found this rollicking (an overused book review adjective, but apt nonetheless) book to be a lot of fun to read, sometimes uproariously funny, sometimes poignant, and sometimes properly reflective, all in nice balance. Jim’s writing style is much like his comments and blogs, which I’ve always enjoyed. He has a way of turning a phrase that smacks you upside the head and provokes a reaction. Example: After describing the stories of a religious nut he met when much younger, and more naive
So many of the stories people tell are confounded by misinterpretation, are layered with hyperbole, superstition and wishful thinking. And the bullshit that comes naturally to us finds purchase in the fertile soil of religion.
It’s a short book, 172 pages, and a quick read. I was through it much too quickly, wanting more, but once he makes his point, he doesn’t need to belabor it with long philosophical justifications, so I have no complaint.
Jim, I really enjoyed it. It’s a good thing I’m past my child-creating years (not to mention that outpatient surgical procedure I had around my scrotum some years back – begins with a “v”) or I’d be seriously thinking and possibly acting on (or not acting on, as the case may be) my desire to have children. Thanks for a great, thought provoking read.