Jump to content

The Ethics of Life



During the 56th episode of his Making Sense podcast, entitled "Abusing Dolores", my favorite thinker and philosopher, Sam Harris, explained that it would be monstrously evil to create conscious, artificially intelligent machines that are capable of suffering.  To do so would be a highly unethical crime, and would create suffering where there was none before.  I completely agree, but I believe this begs a follow-up question--perhaps the most important question ever asked: if it's unethical to create artificial machines that can suffer, then why is okay to create organic ones?  I submit that it's not.  I believe that it is unethical to create conscious life.

Every conscious life-form that we know of has a natural bias towards life.  Once we are alive, we tend to want to stay that way for as long as possible.  We have a strong survival instinct, and for good reason, for I cannot imagine any life being able to sustain and perpetuate itself otherwise.  The vast majority of people also have a very natural and intuitive fear of death--a fear of nothingness, of the lights going out forever.  Most people believe very strongly that something is better than nothing, and that life is the greatest gift you can ever give or receive.  I argue that these intuitions, like so very many of our intuitions, are flawed.  I believe that we ought not to create conscious life of any kind, under any circumstances.  To do so is, in my view, a highly immoral act.  I believe that the human race should voluntarily cease reproduction, making the current youngest generation the last, and let ourselves go extinct.

At this point, I want you to notice the offense, revulsion, and repugnance you may be feeling at such a notion, and the walls of resistance that may be going up around you in opposition to such a vile idea.  Merely notice these feelings, but try to set them aside for the moment.  Stick with me until the end, and I promise that your feelings will be addressed before I'm done.

Consciousness, or the character of having a first-person experience--the feeling that it's "like something" to be you--is the only reason why anything in the universe matters to begin with.  Without consciousness, without experience, matter has no meaning or purpose whatsoever.  Consciousness is the cash value of the universe.  Life only matters because we have an experience, and experience shapes everything.  I believe that the only purpose to being alive is to experience happiness in some form.  I'm not arguing for pure hedonism, and it is, of course, unethical to reap happiness at the expense of others.  However, I maintain that the experience of positive emotions is the only reason to be alive.  Everything we do in life, every single thought and action, is oriented towards this goal of experiencing joy, happiness, or pleasure in some form, or bringing those emotions to others.  Naturally, many actions lead us into into needless suffering because we are notoriously bad judges of what we want, and what will benefit us most.  But everything we do is for this purpose, even when it may seem otherwise.  Even the most arduous labor is for the goal of bettering our life in some way, such that we may enjoy the fruits of that labor.  Many actions we take are unpleasant in the moment, but we know they will yield greater rewards in the long-term, such as a difficult and fatiguing work-out at the gym.  We go to work because we know life will be better and more comfortable for us and those we love if we have a reasonable amount of money.  Even if work is unnecessary to earn a living, we still engage in challenging or creative pursuits because they bring us fulfillment, a positive emotion that we continually seek.  We give of ourselves and our time in order to create a better life for others.  We work hard and sacrifice of ourselves to raise our children, such that they might enjoy the fruits of a good life.  We work hard to build a better world for future generations.  We experience our own forms of joy and fulfillment when accomplishing these tasks.  Even the most altruistic of pursuits, intended only to benefit others, still yield positive emotions to us.  It can be argued that our lives can be reduced to an attempt to maximize happiness and minimize suffering.  Even if one is determined to devote themselves wholly to others, to the complete exclusion of their own happiness and well being, the fact remains that the only reason to help others is so that somewhere, someday, someone might experience happiness.  There is no other reason to do anything.  There is no other endgame.

The concept of morality itself is a reflection of the purpose of life--a navigation problem between happiness and suffering.  Life is a quest to maximize one and mitigate the other, so morality is simply a question of which direction you're navigating towards on this spectrum.  To intentionally cause suffering is unethical.  That's about all there is to it.

Now think about the character of life in its beginnings--Existence is non-consensual; we all know that none of us chooses to be born.  Existence is thrust upon us without our permission.  We have absolutely no say in who or what we are, or whether we exist or not, and by the time we are old enough to understand that we are alive, we already have an investment in life.  We also all know that every life contains suffering, albeit some much more than others.  But no matter who you are or how good your life, it will still contain pain, loss, and suffering.  Many people suffer unimaginably for a multitude of reasons, but even if you're the happiest, healthiest person on Earth, time will eventually break down your body, everyone you love will die, and so will you.  Simply put--to create life is to create suffering.  If you create a life, that life will contain suffering.  There's no way around it.  Some people are absolutely fine with this deal.  Others are not.  Many people greatly resent being thrust into this world without their consent, fated to endure whatever suffering awaits them.  It is horribly unethical to force this upon a person.  My thesis would change entirely if time and physics worked in some sort of non-linear way, such that we could be consulted before our own conception, and asked if we would like to live.  Unfortunately, it seems impossible to even imagine a universe where that would be possible.  To create life is to create suffering without permission, and thus, it is immoral and should never be done.

Now, the intuitions and defenses that are undoubtedly overflowing within you at this moment are extremely powerful and very natural.  I will attempt to explain why they are wrong.  We have a very deep-seated bias towards existence.  Humans intuitively feel, very strongly, that no matter how bad life may be, it's better than no life at all.  We tend to feel immensely grateful for life, and we feel that giving another person a chance at life is a precious gift.  We also tend to feel, very strongly, that if we had not been born, we would be missing out on the joys of life.  We have an intuitive fear of "missing out".  We look around at the good things in our lives and think, "Just look at all this joy and wonder.  Look at what I would have missed out on had I not been born."  But the fact is that if a person doesn't exist, they are not "missing out" on anything, because "missing out" is predicated on existence.  A person cannot be missing out if they don't exist, because there is no one to do the missing.  In order to miss out on something, you must first exist.  If your friends have a party and don't invite you, and you sit home alone, then you are missing out.  If you had never been born in the first place, then you are not missing out.  People intuitively feel that to not exist is to be deprived of happiness, but this is not so.  We only feel this way because we are looking at existence through a very narrow lens, framed by our own life.  We think about the good things we feel, and imagine being robbed of those things, and we imagine what that would feel like, which is predicated on existence yet again.  We imagine our lives without our loved ones, and we imagine how our loved ones would feel without us.  Again, this is all framed from a perspective of existence in the first place.  Non-existence is not the tragedy that people think.  There's nothing wrong with not existing.  I submit that people need to outgrow the intuition that non-existence is the worst thing that can ever happen to you.  This is a completely faulty mindset, as there's no you for this horrible fate to befall if you don't exist.

To understand why a lack of existence does not equate to a deprivation of happiness, we need only look at beings who don't currently exist.  Take my sister, for example.  I don't have a sister.  I have one brother.  My parents stopped at two, but what if they didn't?  What if my parents had a third child--a daughter?  Let's call her Ashley.  Think of all the joys that Ashley might have known.  Look at what she's missing out on.  Look at all the joys that the rest of us are missing out on by not having Ashley in our lives....except that nobody is actually missing out on anything, because there is no Ashley, and never was.  My parents felt completely fulfilled and happy with my brother and me.  They never felt one second of sadness for someone that never existed.  They never felt deprived at not having a third child, and Ashley certainly didn't care.  Some people might want to push back at this point and suggest that perhaps we are missing out, and that Ashley should have existed.  After all, we have no way of knowing how good life may have been with Ashley in it, right?  But why stop there?  What if my parents had a fourth child?  A fifth?  A sixth?  A twentieth?  Look at all of those children that are missing out.  Is that a tragedy?

Let's keep going--look at me: I don't have kids, and I'm never going to have kids.  From the time I was old enough to have sentience, I knew I would never want to be a father.  Are my children being deprived of happiness?  Residing in my genitals is the potential for millions of children.  Is it a tragedy that they don't exist?  Is my non-existent, hypothetical firstborn child missing out on their shot at life?  Many people might be tempted to say, "yes".  But what of my secondborn?  My one hundredth-born?  My one thousandth-born?  As a male, this is entirely possible for me, from a purely biological standpoint.  If nothing else, I could donate to sperm banks ad-infinitum for my entire life.  Is it a great and terrible tragedy that my 2423rd child, little Susie, is never going to get her chance at sweet life?  No, it's not.  If you think it is, then I submit you have a lot more thinking to do about the nature of reality.

This concept becomes ever clearer and more salient the further away we look.  The world currently has about 7.3 billion people.  Is it a tragedy that there aren't more at this current moment?  F*ck no.  Most people agree that we have an overpopulation problem as it is.  But in theory, there could be countless billions more on Earth right now.  Is it a tragedy that there isn't?  Are all those hypothetical people missing out?  Do we grieve for them?  Now let's look at Mars.  There's no intelligent life there.  But perhaps there could have been, had the big bang gone just a tad differently.  There could be a flourishing race of sentient, intelligent beings on Mars right now, enjoying all the fruits, beauties and joys of existence.  But there's not.  Is this a tragedy?  Is it a great sadness that there's no race of Martians there to enjoy life?  Do we shed tears for the non-existent Martians?  No.  What of the planet between Earth and Mars that might have existed, had the big bang gone just a tweak differently.  Another chunk of rock may have settled into an orbit halfway between us and Mars, and that hypothetical planet (let's call it Kratos) may have supported life.  There could have been a whole race of flourishing Kratosians.  But there's not.  Does that make us sad?  Do we worry about that?  No.  What about the entire solar system that might have existed between us and Alpha Centauri that could have had many planets which may have supported intelligent life?  What of the galaxy between us and Andromeda?  We could imagine an infinite amount of hypothetical things and life-forms that don't exist.  To spend one second worrying or feeling anguish over these non-existent things is, in my opinion, utter insanity.

It's okay to not exist.  Non-existence is not a tragedy.  The Kratosians are not missing out.  The Martians are not missing out.  My kids are not missing out.  Ashley is not missing out.

An easy way to help break the spell of the intuitive bias towards existence is think about the time before you were born.  Do you remember it?  What did you feel like a thousand years ago?  A million?  A billion?  Did it hurt?  Were you miserable?  Perhaps I'm being facetious and a little patronizing, but the point is valid.  You didn't mind not existing.  You weren't sitting in heaven's waiting room going, "Dammit.  Look at all the fun those people are having without me!  Why can't somebody have sex so I can get my shot at life?!"

There is an asymmetry about existence: if a person exists, then they will experience suffering, along with (hopefully) some happiness.  If they don't exist, then the suffering doesn't happen, but they're not "missing out" on happiness, because there's no one to do the missing.  If you live, then you will suffer.  If you are never born, then you will never know, and never care, because there will be no you.  There is both an upside and a downside to existence.  There is no downside to non-existence.  This is why it is better to have never been.

At this point, one might be thinking that I am simply a nihilistic misanthrope advocating for mass-suicide because life sucks.  This is not true at all.  My position that the creation of life is unethical, known as antinatalism, can be argued for from either a misanthropic perspective, or a philanthropic perspective.  The philanthropic perspective is the stronger argument, and that's the side I argue from.  It is out of compassion and concern for all conscious beings that I wish that no more exist.  It is for their sake.  It is in the best interest of conscious beings to never exist in the first place, so that no suffering need be experienced.

I don't advocate for suicide because there is a big difference between a life worth starting, and a life worth continuing.  It is never worth it to begin a life, but once we're here, once we have an investment, a stake in this world, it's generally worth seeing it through and trying to find as much enjoyment as you can.  That said, while I discourage suicide, I have never judged someone for it.  After all, being dead means an eternal end to suffering.  Moreover, a person's life is theirs to do with as they choose.  Your body is the only thing you can every truly own, and no one can tell you what to do with it.  Your life belongs to you, and it's your choice what to do with it, including ending it if you wish.  That said, I would always encourage the continuation of a life begun.  Why, you may ask?  After all, if not existing is ideal, then aren't we all better off dead?  Well, in a sense, yes, but the world isn't so black and white.  Your death would undoubtedly cause more suffering to those you leave behind.  In a complex world entangled with emotions and bereavement, death is never a pure, simple end to suffering with no consequences.  You also deserve all the happiness you can find, and as long as you don't mind being here and putting up with the bad stuff, then you owe it to yourself to keep going and experience all the joy you can for as long as you can.  For these reasons, it is typically preferable to continue a life once begun.  However, if life becomes truly intolerable with no amount of happiness, such as for a terminally ill patient in agony, then ending it is a perfectly reasonable and understandable option.  (Needless to say, I have always been in favor of medically assisted suicide for the terminally ill.)  Life is worth continuing so long as you still feel it's worth continuing.  If you want to stay here, then by all means, stay.  No one can tell you otherwise.  I am continuing my life because, at the moment, it still feels worth it.  That may change one day.  I wouldn't care to continue surviving if life was pure misery with no hope of improvement.  I have always been for "life if it's worth it", not "life at all costs".  Quality over quantity.

That said, if there were a mass extinction, such that our entire species ceased to exist simultaneously, painlessly, with no prior knowledge, and no one left behind, then that would indeed be the best thing that could ever happen to us.  Imagine a scenario where we all go to sleep, everyone in the world, at the same time, and we all die painlessly and simultaneously in our sleep, with no knowledge that it's coming.  No one would know that it's about to happen, and no one would ever know that it had happened.  There would be no bereaved, and no suffering.  This would be an ideal scenario.  But at this point, you might be thinking, "Well, according to your logic, we should just nuke ourselves, then."  No, I don't think that, because it is also unethical to kill.  Another person's life does not belong to you, and thus, you have no right to end it against their will.  But if the lights simply went out on their own, all at once, then that would indeed be a good thing.

People also have an intuition regarding permanence.  People feel that it would be tragic if our species didn't continue, because "all of this will have been for nothing."  This is yet again a flawed mindset.  Our species will go extinct.  That is a certainty.  Nothing can last forever.  Someday, humanity will be gone.  It doesn't matter whether it's today or a trillion millennia from now.  It doesn't matter what joys might have been felt or discoveries made in that time.  It's not a tragedy for those things not to happen, because they're just theoretical, non-existent people.  The only tragedy is suffering that is felt by beings that exist.

Admittedly, I often feel the pull of this intuition about permanence myself.  I am a gamer, and I tend to feel that it's pointless to play a game unless I know that my file will be preserved.  I back up my saves and take painstaking efforts to make sure my data is protected, because I feel like if I lost that playtime, then it will have all been for nothing, even if I've finished the game and am unlikely to ever play it again.  I feel like if I don't have that monument for posterity, then it was pointless.  But logically, I know this isn't true.  Did I have fun playing it?  Was the journey enjoyable?  Then it had meaning, whether the save file is preserved until I die or not.  Still, it's a tough intuition to overcome.  But it is the journey that matters, and what comes after, once we're all gone, is irrelevant.  Life has meaning while we're here, but once we're extinct, it won't matter how long we were here for.

*     *     *

Within my argument lurks the answer to the abortion question.  If it's unethical to create life, then we shouldn't be conceiving anyone in the first place.  It would be nice if we could leave it at a full-stop right there, but unfortunately, we have to keep going.  Pregnancies happen, and their not going to stop.  I believe that it's a highly immoral act to bring a person into this world, so ideally, much to the horror of everyone on Earth, I believe it would best to abort all pregnancies.  (Transparent didn't seem to get me in any trouble, which I found surprising.  Maybe this is the line that will do me in...)  I don't think this makes me into the monster it sounds like.  Remember, it is out of compassion and caring for the well-being of conscious creatures that I wish for them not to exist.  It would be better for everyone to not be born.  But how dare I take away someone's chance at life, right?  How dare I judge whether someone should be brought into this world or not, right?  That's a person!  How DARE I make this decision for them!  They could have been anything and experienced a rich, full life, but now they won't, because I robbed them of it!  I understand this powerful intuition, believe me.  But I believe that it is more unethical to bring the person into the world to begin with.  I also understand that the weakest link in my entire argument lies right here: I said that it's immoral to take a life, because another person's life does not belong to you.  A unborn child is still a person.  That's a life.  So taking it is wrong....right?  This is a logical argument, and it is why I respect and understand the perspective of so-called "pro-lifers".  Their argument seems, on its face, to be more straightforward and logical: "I'm not allowed to hurt you and you're not allowed to hurt me.  That baby is a person, too, so we're not allowed to hurt it, either."  This is simple and elegant, and it's why pro-lifers often seem to win debates.  Unfortunately, they're coming at the entire argument from the assumption that life is a wonderful gift.  It is not.  Whether or not you personally enjoy life, is irrelevant.  I'll concede that it's immoral and regrettable to kill the unborn child.  I'll grant you that.  But I believe that it is far worse to bring them into this world without their consent.  Moreover, I believe that a forced pregnancy is a heinous violation of the mother's rights to her own body, and I believe that the rights of the mother trump those of the unborn fetus.

Once again, I admit that this is weakest part of my argument.  Suggesting that we abort all pregnancies seems drastic and abhorrent, and I'll admit that I probably wouldn't be personally willing to have that blood on my hands.  I would also never suggest forcing someone to have an abortion.  That seems much more unethical to me.  Abortion must remain an option, but it is regrettable that we have to make that decision at all.  Ideally, from my perspective, people simply shouldn't get pregnant at all, or at the very least, only if they truly want the child.  In other words, abortion shouldn't need to exist, ideally speaking.  However, rape happens, carelessness happens, poor judgement happens, and birth control failure happens.  Thus, we are faced with a moral dilemma: it is unethical to kill, but it is also unethical to create a life, so which is worse: to see the life all the way through, or to promptly end it before it has a chance to begin in earnest?  Despite our strong intuitions to the contrary, I believe that the latter is the lesser of two evils.

I will take it a step further and say that I would be in favor of euthanasia of babies born with extreme deformities, conditions, or birth defects, such that they are likely to have an agonizing existence.  This would have to be the parents' decision, of course.  A good example of this would be, say, epidermolysis bullosa, one of the most painful conditions known to humankind.  I believe we need to outgrow the idea that a life of agony is better than no life at all.  Sparing someone a life of misery is much more humane.  It is still a difficult moral dilemma, as taking a life is typically wrong, but I believe that in cases of ending extreme suffering, it is sometimes the more ethical option.  People who live with extremely horrific conditions may still say that they are grateful for their life, and that's fine.  I'm not disputing that.  I'm glad they're able to find some happiness, but this is irrelevant to my argument.  If their life ended the moment they were born, then they'd be spared the pain, they wouldn't miss out on anything, and they wouldn't care.  I realize how callous that may sound, and I also know that this is the most slippery of slopes, to be certain.  How would we decide who should live and die?  Which lives are worth living?  Which defects are too intolerable?  I'll be the first to admit that I don't know where that line is, or if it's even possible to find it, (which is why, in all practicality, we should probably leave well enough alone) but some cases seem completely unambiguous to me.  Take the case of Jaxon Strong: Jaxon was a young boy with a rare condition that caused his brain to stop growing part way through utero-development.  His parents were aware of this well before his birth, and doctors informed them that Jaxon would probably never be able to walk, talk, hear or see.  Doctors gave them the option to abort, but they refused.  Jaxon was born via C-section with a caved-in skull and half a brain.  He survived against all odds, only to be trapped in darkness and silence, barely able to move under his own power.  Ladies and gentlemen, brothers, sisters, friends, comrades--I submit to you: this is no miracle.  They didn't save a life; they ruined one.  This isn't a life at all--it's a prison.  Jaxon's parents are moral monsters in my view.  This isn't a wondrous gift; it's mind crime--the creation of a consciousness that can basically do nothing but suffer, all because his parents were unwilling to let their child go.

*     *     *

This brings me to my next point: why do people have children?  Accidental pregnancies aside for the moment, in the vast majority of cases, people have kids because they want to.  Because they, the parents want to.  People decide they want a family, and that bringing a child into their life will fill some void, bring love, richness, and fulfillment to their lives, and make them whole.  I rarely hear anyone express any real concern about the child, and whether or not they should exist, would want to exist, or would be likely to have a happy life.  In these cases, people have kids for their own desires--for what it will give them.  This is transparently selfish, though having a child in order to fill one's life with love seems to most people to be the most wonderful, noble, and beautiful thing in the world.  It is selfishness masquerading as virtue.  I argue that parents who keep unplanned children are making an even graver moral misstep.  They believe they're doing something incredibly noble and virtuous by sacrificing of themselves to keep and care for this child, when all they are doing is adding needless suffering to the world.  Immorality masquerading as selflessness.  And it just slides downhill from there--parents who keep unwanted children and give them a poor life are moral monsters.  In rare cases when someone professes to be thinking only of the child--when a person has the money, the means, and the stable home life to give a child the best chance possible, and they claim that all they want is to give someone else a chance at happiness, regardless of their own feelings--in these cases, a moral misstep is still being made, simply by bringing a life into existence without permission.

At this juncture, it is vitally important to differentiate mistakes from evil.  Evil is to cause suffering intentionally.  If a person has a child with the best of intentions, believing that it's a right and morally sound thing to do, and give that child the best life possible, then they are by no means evil.  They have still committed a mistake by creating a life, but as long as they were doing the best they could with what they knew at the time, then they are not evil.  It's always a mistake to create a life, but it is not evil if done with the right intentions.  This is why I don't hate good, loving, responsible parents.  This is why I don't hate my own parents.  I love them, and I'm grateful for them being such good parents.  I just want to educate and encourage people not to have kids.

This would be a good time for me to mention that I am huge advocate for adoption.  In reality, I know that reproduction will never stop until the universe prevents it, so there will always be children who need a home.  Adoption is a great way for people to have the family they want without doing anything unethical.  Giving an unwanted child a home is, in my opinion, one of the best ethical decisions a person could make.  It only reduces suffering in the world, and helps fight overpopulation.  I wish that more people would choose to adopt over having their own kids.

*     *     *

I will now address an obvious question that many of you probably have--I make these extremely bold and controversial suggestions, but how would I feel if it was me that this happened to?  What if my parents had aborted me, or had me euthanized because I had a disability?  Firstly, I must point out that I wouldn't care, because I would never know that this had happened to me.  Of course, this undoubtedly sounds like a cold, callous, technical response that would probably disgust most people.  That doesn't make it untrue.  However, I understand the overwhelming intuition that it's monstrous to "rob" someone of their chance at life because you feel that their life wouldn't be worth living.  Who is anyone to make that judgement, right?  To most, this idea is unspeakably hideous.  While I honestly think that it's unambiguously unethical to create a life in the first place, perhaps I can't adequately defend this particular argument.  All I can say is that I am very sensitive to the suffering of conscious creatures, and it pains me to no end that there is so much suffering that, in my view, could have been avoided.  Even from my perspective, given my current life and all that I know and feel, I honestly wouldn't mind if was me that had been aborted.  I wouldn't care, I would have been spared all suffering, and I wouldn't miss out on anything.

*     *     *

If you've stuck with me for this long, then I'd first like to say thank you, and secondly, I'd like to try to address the concerns you may have.  My view of life probably sounds pessimistic, nihilistic, misanthropic, and utterly vile.  You may be thinking that there must be something seriously wrong with me--I must really hate life in order to feel this way.  I assure you that this isn't the case.  Antinatalism isn't the negative view that it sounds like.  In fact, a love of life and of other people is perfectly compatible with antinatalism.  Once again, antinatalism can be approached from a philanthropic point of view.  Feeling that it is unethical to create life does not mean that one must feel that life is purely a curse, it simply means that it contains unavoidable suffering that should not be inflicted on others without consent.  When you get down to bedrock, the ultimate principle is that the only life you truly own is yours--you have no right over another's life, and thus, you have no right to kill or create life.  And the key to understanding the antinatalism argument is realizing the asymmetry--the fact that non-existence means a lack of suffering, but does not equal a deprivation of happiness.  In other words, if a person does not exist, then they are not "missing out".  This is a counter-intuitive idea, I know, but most truths that we've discovered about reality have been counter-intuitive.  This should be unsurprising to us, as we are not evolved to understand the nature of reality, the cosmos, and our universe.  It is only by a lot of hard work and some amazing coincidences that we've been able to repurpose our ape brains to do so.

I would now like to list some things you may be thinking or feeling, such that I may address them directly.  Your push-back may sound something like this:  "How can you possibly judge the value of another's life?  Who are you to say I shouldn't exist?  You have no idea who or what someone will be, and what joys they may experience!  Who are you to rob someone of their chance?  Are you suggesting the world would be better off without me?  How dare you tell me that I'd be better off dead!  Life and the human experiment are wondrous, beautiful things."

I'm not judging the value of anyone's life.  I'm arguing that we have no right to create it in the first place.  Once again, this puts us in a difficult moral dilemma with respect to abortion and babies with conditions that would lead to an agonizing existence.  In those cases, though it may appear otherwise, I do not believe that I am judging the value of their lives.  I know their lives still have value.  I simply believe that it is more humane to spare people suffering, though admittedly, I feel torn about what the right answer is, here.  It's a slippery slope, for sure.  I'm certainly not in favor of murdering anyone who happens to be in pain, but I can't help but look at children born with excruciating, untreatable conditions and feel that it is morally reprehensible to allow that agony to occur.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't exist, or that the world would be better off without you.  I'm not saying that you'd be better off dead or that you don't deserve to live.  There's no need to feel any personal offense.  I'm saying that it would be in our best interest to never exist in the first place.  Seeing the merits to my arguments requires a willingness to step outside yourself and not feel personally insulted.  I'm not suggesting that anyone doesn't deserve life...although, perhaps from a certain perspective, I am.  I am suggesting that non-existence is preferable, so I am therefore suggesting that none of us "deserve" to have life thrust upon us, with its unavoidable pain, without our permission.  We deserve better.  But ultimately, please remember that I'm not suggesting that your life has no value.  Quite the contrary.  It has immense value.  If it didn't, then I wouldn't need to write this essay in the first place.  If human life didn't matter, if our feelings didn't matter, then our suffering would be irrelevant, morality would be irrelevant, and my thesis would be irrelevant.  It's because our lives have value that I care to begin with, and it's because I care that I want no further suffering to exist.

Before closing, I'd like to point out that religion shouldn't have any effect on my thesis.  As an atheist, I believe that death will feel exactly as it did for the eons before you were born--it will just be nothing.  However, if you believe in a heaven, then you can rest assured that you'll just go there when you die.  And if you never existed to begin with, then you won't be missing out on heaven, because there will be no soul to do the missing.  Heaven just becomes a parallel for Earth in this case, and the argument remains unchanged.

All of the beauty, wonder, and joy of life does not warrant its continuation.  We can love life and feel immense gratitude for it, and still feel that it shouldn't and needn't continue after we're gone.  Even if life was perfect and blissful for everyone all the time, then we should only be indifferent to existence, because there is no downside to non-existence.  I am against murder, and I feel that life is generally worth continuing once we've had a chance to start it.  I feel that it is a horrible tragedy when happy people die before their time.  I grieve for them, and perhaps more so for the bereaved they've left behind.  I cried for the Orlando nightclub shooting victims.  I have cried for many mass shooting victims.  I have cried until there were no tears left.  I am against suffering in all its forms.  I suffer greatly from thinking about the suffering of others.  I have devoted much time to writing this blog series in the hopes that my words may have some sort of butterfly effect that may lead to less suffering in the world.  I want to make the world a better place.  I don't want anyone to be miserable.  I'm not an antinatalist because I think life always sucks.  Life can be truly wonderful and beautiful.  You may be deeply offended by my views because you may feel immensely grateful for every single second you have.  You may feel so incredibly thankful to be alive, and that every moment of your life, even the worst ones, are a sweet and precious gift.  And that's wonderful.  That's how you should feel.  That's how I want everyone to feel.  That's what I want for all people.  I don't want anyone to hate their life.  I want everyone to treasure their lives, because life can indeed be beautiful and joyous.  We can find breathtaking beauty everywhere we look, from the swirls of galaxies, to the swirl in the center of a sunflower.  We can find unimaginable joy all around us, from epic adventures to curling up with a good book.  We can find wonder and excitement in all of the spectacular discoveries we make about our world and the cosmos.  We can find humor and whimsy in every corner of our lives.  We can revel and relish in life's greatest pleasures, from the taste of your favorite food, to the sound of your favorite song, to the passion and joy of sexuality.  We can find deep fulfillment and happiness from sharing all that life has to offer with our friends and loved ones.  None of this....none of it....is a valid argument for existence in the first place.

Ultimately, another person's life does not belong to you, and thus you have no more right to create it than to take it away.  It is not your choice to make.  It is unethical to take a life, and it is unethical to create one.

  • teacup 2


Recommended Comments

With the main essay done, I'd like to add a small addendum to say thanks for reading, and I apologize if I have offended anyone.  I realize my views are extreme, and if I have made some enemies on the forums today, then I accept that.  Such is often the price for honesty, I suppose.

  • Brohoof 1
Link to comment

Your view on this is understandable. It's true that it's inevitable for someone to suffer because they live.

The issue is that you can't get the consent of someone who isn't existing. That's why people argue against abortion in the first place, because the baby is unable to consent to the operation. Personally, I'm pro-choice, because I believe the needs of the person who's conscious and alive override the needs of the idea of a person that may exist someday, not to mention that pro-choice minimizes the amount of babies killed, minimizes the suffering of those living, and encourages the usage of birth control as well as support for children who are actually born. Pro-choice is ultimately the better option and has been demonstrably so.

However, I would argue that the positives of living, and being given the chance to experience that, outweighs the suffering. Think of it like this: getting a vaccine hurts when you first get it and can even make you feel a little sick, but it's worth doing because it prevents illnesses that could be even worse for you. Perhaps that's not an entirely apt analogy, but you must get the point I'm trying to stress: the suffering that is inevitable with life is worth the experience of it. And perhaps you could say that it is inherently selfish to want a family, but wanting a family is in our genes for a reason. The continuation of our species benefits our species as it does for any other animal on this planet. That drive is something that goes beyond morals and ethics. In fact, I think morals and ethics should not be applied to species survival at all. After all, when all we can do is survive, we throw out moral and ethics out the window - people in terribly poor situations will be tempted to steal because that's the only way we can get a meal, an animal normally not aggressive will lash out when backed into a corner with its life threatened... The point is, having a debate over the morals and ethics of life is not going to change what our instincts tell us to do.

Which is why I think it is best that we look at what humans are wont to do and adjust quality of life depending on that, instead of focusing on whether or not something is morally sound. Revolving back around to the pro-choice thing, I'm not pro-choice merely because I believe it is the more ethical option; I certainly do, but it's not the only reason. I'm pro-choice because I know that women are going to get abortions either way, regardless of how I feel about it from a moral perspective, and I'd much rather that women have a safer option to do so as opposed to having to do so illegally in a way that would put their lives in jeopardy. And even if women were somehow prevented entirely from having abortions, even illegally, children would be forced to grow up in homes that do not want them, which leads to child abuse, and those abused in their childhoods are often likely to perpetuate that cycle of abuse to more people, which would make the cycle grow bigger, and bigger. I base my decision here, then, on what I know people will do, and choose the option that is least likely to result in the more negative outcomes.

Since the parents are the ones able to consent and make the decision, they'll be the ones I cater my own philosophy around. Maybe it is unethical for them to have kids because the kid cannot consent to being given life, but it's not going to stop parents from having kids, and that's a personal decision that they're going to make. Instead of holding judgment on them, I support organizations and legislation that support parents and children in need to minimize the suffering that life will inevitably have.

Another thing to consider, too: you can only truly understand joy if you understand suffering. Suffering is what brings humans together, suffering is what highlights the good things that life brings. Suffering is a necessary part of life, but does that mean suffering in itself is entirely a bad thing? Certainly it's agonizing at the time that you experience it, but suffering is what helps to give life meaning. Suffering allows us to grow stronger. Suffering brings us closer together. In a way, suffering does a lot of good things, not just bad. The unfortunate part of suffering is that some people are not as resilient as others, and another unfortunate side effect is that suffering is disproportional - that is, it affects some people more than others, which is inherently unfair and gives some people an advantage over others. The problem with suffering is not that it causes us pain, because pain is where we find value, but rather that suffering is not evenly distributed among people. There's no way to solve this problem... But there are ways to attempt to lessen its effects and bring everyone to similar playing fields.

I'd say due to this that I think it's more complicated than just it being unethical to give people life, though I understand the perspective.

  • Brohoof 1
  • teacup 1
Link to comment

If you believe a person has a right to live, then logic dictates that a person has a right to defend that life with the most effective means possible. Pepper spray is not an effective means.

As for over population, we could go a long way if all unplanned pregnancies didn't happen.

Link to comment
2 hours ago, Scootaloved said:

Suffering is a necessary part of life, but does that mean suffering in itself is entirely a bad thing?

I think by definition it is. It may be true that suffering is inevitable, I think the world would be better without it. Maybe you burn your hand and that teaches you something, but it would be better to live in a world where you could learn those lessons without suffering. 

  • Brohoof 1
Link to comment
7 minutes ago, BronyNumber42licious said:

I think by definition it is. It may be true that suffering is inevitable, I think the world would be better without it. Maybe you burn your hand and that teaches you something, but it would be better to live in a world where you could learn those lessons without suffering. 

I think maybe it's just hard for me to imagine a life without suffering. A lot of the terrible events in my life also led to the best ones eventually, whether it's been through meeting my best friends, overcoming the adversity that I suffered through in the first place, or learning a truth about myself I was uncomfortable to face but ultimately forced me to, and thus I came out of it being a better person.

  • Brohoof 1
Link to comment
1 minute ago, Scootaloved said:

I think maybe it's just hard for me to imagine a life without suffering. A lot of the terrible events in my life also led to the best ones eventually, whether it's been through meeting my best friends, overcoming the adversity that I suffered through in the first place, or learning a truth about myself I was uncomfortable to face but ultimately forced me to, and thus I came out of it being a better person.

Sure, but if you could choose to be rich and have no troubles, or to struggle and overcome it, I would choose the easy option.

  • Brohoof 1
Link to comment

I won't say that I harbor any negative thoughts. I can see how you might think others will and I believe others will. But I think spending time in Roman and Greek history classes has brought a bit more nuance to my own view of other peoples views on the value of life. 

When I read your essay I got a constant feel of as if I was reading something from Lucretius and Epiktetos, (and hints of Seneca or anything stoic, to be honest), however, they would probably differ from your view of what should be done with life. I would not be surprised if you have actually read their work. 


Reading what they wrote, bothered me a lot. But then again, this is philosophical thinking, so I am completely fine with it. 


The thing I will disagree on is that it is unethical to create life. I think that ethics are subjective and my ethics tell me it is not bad to create life. You are welcome to not sire any children ;) 

  • Brohoof 1
Link to comment
11 hours ago, BronyNumber42licious said:

I think by definition it is. It may be true that suffering is inevitable, I think the world would be better without it. Maybe you burn your hand and that teaches you something, but it would be better to live in a world where you could learn those lessons without suffering. 


11 hours ago, Scootaloved said:

I think maybe it's just hard for me to imagine a life without suffering. A lot of the terrible events in my life also led to the best ones eventually, whether it's been through meeting my best friends, overcoming the adversity that I suffered through in the first place, or learning a truth about myself I was uncomfortable to face but ultimately forced me to, and thus I came out of it being a better person.

Both sides of this idea are very understandable, and very compelling, though I have always leaned towards 42's side.  It is true, as you explained in your first response, Scoots, that suffering and hardship have an important place in life, and serve to unite people, to strengthen them, to inspire them, and to teach them.  It seems to be a ubiquitous idea that without suffering, there can be no joy--without bad, there can be no good, and without the bad, we wouldn't know what the good is or appreciate it.  This may well be true, but even if it's not, it isn't difficult to see how suffering can benefit us in the ways that you described, and how it makes us appreciate life all the more. 

However, I have always felt that, if it were somehow possible, a world with no suffering and no bad at all would be preferable.  The roadblock is that is seems impossible to even imagine such a world, more than likely because it is indeed impossible in this universe.  But if it were possible, I think it would be better.  Here's the way I think about it: suffering may have these positive, counterbalancing sort of effects that you described, but we have no way of knowing what life would be like, or how good it could be, without suffering of any kind.  Perhaps we'd derive meaning and learn lessons in other ways we can't even conceive of.

That said, either way, I don't believe this has any effect on my thesis.

13 hours ago, Scootaloved said:

Since the parents are the ones able to consent and make the decision, they'll be the ones I cater my own philosophy around. Maybe it is unethical for them to have kids because the kid cannot consent to being given life, but it's not going to stop parents from having kids, and that's a personal decision that they're going to make. Instead of holding judgment on them, I support organizations and legislation that support parents and children in need to minimize the suffering that life will inevitably have.

Yes, good point.  Very true.  Though I wanted to express my opinions, I also have no illusions about what will and will not happen in the world.  I know that procreation will never end, and that's why I do what I can try to make the world a better place and reduce suffering in tangible ways.  For instance, my family and I have always donated what we can spare now and then to organizations like Child Fund or other reputable places that help those in need.  My opinions on the ethics of life notwithstanding, I still want to help real people.

5 hours ago, JonasDarkmane said:

I would not be surprised if you have actually read their work.

I have not, but I think I'm flattered at being compared to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers!  :)

5 hours ago, JonasDarkmane said:

The thing I will disagree on is that it is unethical to create life. I think that ethics are subjective and my ethics tell me it is not bad to create life. You are welcome to not sire any children ;)

Fair enough, sir, and I appreciate your input.

And thanks, everypony, for your polite opinions!

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...