Jim Crawford, Confessions of an Antinatalist, Nine-Banded Books, 2010.
"Life is a mixture of good and bad, or so they say. Trouble is, there's no way to determine where a particular life might fall along fortune's spectrum. For every child born into the lap of luxury, there's another born on the point of a knife. There are no guarantees as to what may transpire as the immediate present unfolds into the uncertain future. Things change in an instant. Two things, however, are certain. Everyone will suffer. And everyone will die. Back to where we came from. Knowing this, and understanding full well that any particular life embodies the potential for experiencing extreme pain and unhappiness unceasing in some cases is procreation really worth the risk? Jim Crawford doesn t believe it is. In Confessions of an Antinatalist, Crawford reflects on what it means to exist in the belly of a ravening serpent-life whose only prey is itself, and whose teeth are very, very sharp."
"In a world where few people side against the wisdom of producing children, Jim Crawford has done it for them, and done it well. The title of his book is Confessions of an Antinatalist, but it could just as well be Memoirs of a Humanist, for what could be more human than outrage at human suffering. Honesty, intelligence, and the courage to entertain us with the foibles of his own life are the prime markers of Crawford's book. Even if one loathes the idea of antinatalism on its face, the questions that Crawford raises are such that everyone would be well advised to confront, for someday they may be called upon by their offspring to answer them. And Confessions of an Antinatalist dares them to come up with answers they can stand by in good conscience." - Thomas Ligotti
"Jim Crawford wishes he'd never been born. If that makes him sound like a bitter, angry misanthrope, he's not (at least, not all the time). Confessions of an Antinatalist is a wry, honest, and open-eyed introduction to a philosophy most people simply refuse to consider. After all, what could be wrong with human existence? Crawford answers clearly: Everything." - Mikita Brottman
"Jim Crawford writes engagingly, persuasively, and (despite the grim topic) humorously. I hope that Confessions of an Antinatalist will enjoy the wide readership it deserves." - David Benatar
"Jim Crawford’s autobiographical antinatalist manifesto Confessions of an Antinatalist contains an illuminating perspective on the idea of natural rights:
'Concurrent with our wish to understand the human condition through over-simplification is our tendency to ground human desire and behavior in ‘natural rights.’ Such ‘rights’ are often gleaned, reasonably, from empathic awareness of the human condition. Where proponents get off track is when they assume these rights are imbedded in the very fabric of existence, like the laws of gravity or motion. To really get a grip on the fundamental difference between laws and rights, one only has to ask: when was the last time anyone had to enforce gravity? To understand human rights as something above and beyond a status granted by authority–or, conversely, the refusal of authority to interfere in what people want to do–is simply an attempt to elevate authority to the abstract. In a sense, it’s the canonization of the human condition. “This is it! This is good! There’s nothing more to be said!” It’s not so much a reflection of reality, as an attempt to make reality conform to a particular moral structure to settle ontological questions.'
There is nothing more representative of this tendency than Austro-Libertarianism in which both economics and morality are placed outside of the realm of empirical investigation. In such views morality is not something that has evolved from the ground up to facilitate coordination and mutual advantage between people but a set of moral imperatives that is deduced from concepts such as “human nature”, “reason” or “action.” Historically, such approaches have been a formidable obstacle to the development of the natural sciences and experimental investigation of human conduct.
An important question when evaluating moral and political philosophy is whether it can be reconciled with what experimental science has discovered about human nature. It is striking how often the answer is “no” in the case of rationalist philosophy. One of the most notorious and embarrassing examples is Ayn Rand’s discussion of free will. One can only wonder how much progress would have been made if such thinkers would have abstained from scholasticism and would have engaged with the relevant empirical sciences instead." - Aschwin de Wolf
"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." - Spanish Inquisitor
"As the title suggests this book concerns itself with antinatalism, a philosophical school of thought that is against human beings reproducing. In a nutshell the book contends that the human race should voluntarily become extinct by not producing more children. This viewpoint is explored through various short essays relating directly or indirectly to the authors less than idyllic life. The book is similar in tone to Jim Goads the redneck manifesto or some of Henry Rollins writings on the less savory aspects of working class American life. As such most of these essays come across as a caustic blue collar rant about why life sucks for most people and hence why bringing more people in to the world is a bad idea.
Needless to say this is not the book to get someone as a present for their baby shower. Setting writing style and the fact that this book is ninety percent navel gazing polemic aside for a moment lets attempt to distill the main perspectives the author puts forward to justify this position:
1) Buddhism or rather his take on one of the “four noble truths”. AKA, the first one: All life is suffering.
2) The work of David Benetar a south african philosopher who advocates antinatalism.
3) The authors experiences and subsequent disillusionment with being a christian fundamentalist.
Position number one pretty much consists of the authors condensed version of the early life of Siddartha told in an extremely mocking tone, stopping at the realization of the four noble truths where upon a brief commentary is provided on each of these aforementioned truths. Suffice is to say all apart from the first truth, all life is suffering, a maxim which the author agrees with, are subjected to a folksy bar room style critique and are rejected as valid techniques for coping with reality or justifying bringing more kids into existence. Being as I am not a buddhist this position is not really that interesting to me, hence I am not going to explore it any further.
Position number two: David Benetar is the author of a philosophical work entitled better never to have been (which I am currently reading, it’s quite dry). The main argument put forward in Benetar’s book relates to a perceived asymmetry between the positive and negatives aspects of life and how this asymmetry relates to those yet to be born. The argument is expressed as follows: 1) The presence of pain is bad. 2) The presence of pleasure is good. 3) The absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone. 4) The absence of pleasure is not bad unless these is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation. The argument pretty much boils down to the fact that by not bringing kids into the world you don’t expose them to pain which is good but you also deny them the possibility of pleasure which is not considered bad because they never experienced pleasure in the first place. Therefore don’t have kids. Jim’s contribution to this argument is a bunch of crappy analogies and some bitter personal anecdotes which don’t add anything to the discussion in my humble opinion.
This position itself however does interest me a great deal, so lets dig into a bit. I am currently still in the process of reading Benetar’s book and doing my own research so my opinion on this is a little half baked right now. My basic problem with it boils down to the question, what is pain and how does it relate to pleasure? I don’t think you can neatly separate the two or represent them on a one dimensional graph, like temperature, with a sliding scale going from playing with a puppy dog to being crucified. As such I don’t think you can make assertions such as pain is the opposite of pleasure, I think physical experience is too full of nuanced mixed pain/pleasure sensations for such a crude model. For example how do you account for painful experiences which become pleasurable i.e endorphins released during sports like running or other intense physical activities which cause pain with transitions into a pleasurable sensation. Also just the fact that in some cases pain can be useful (alerting you to the fact that you might bleed to death unless you get medical attention) and in some cases pleasure can be quite harmful (drug overdose much?) kind of make me suspicious of this argument. In any case, I digress, Crawford does not do a good job on expanding on Benetars argument and if you are interested in learning more about this position you would be better served going straight to the source material.
Position number three: Jim takes the position that if you are a Christian fundamentalist who believes that the rapture will come and that most of humanity (8 out of 10 people) won’t get into heaven then statistically this means if you have kids they will in all likelihood go to hell (i.e suffer the worst pain imaginable for all eternity). By not having kids you wont expose them to all the pleasures of life but then again you don’t put them at risk of such torments, therefore you should not have kids. I am not nor have I ever been a fundamentalist Christian so I am not going to comment on this point of view.
I would rate this book at about 2 and 1/2 amazon stars mainly because I enjoy the authors angry writing style and think he comes across as pretty articulate and at times amusing (I have a pretty dark sense of humor). However, if I were to travel back in time and buy this again I probably wouldn’t pay more than $3-$4 for this book. At the time of writing thats about the price of a pint of PBR which I would happily buy the author in sympathy for his crappy life. The reason why I dock the other two and a half stars is that this book pretty much reads like a collection of reasonably well written blog posts cobbled together into dead tree format. Their is little depth to any of the opinions proffered here most of which you can find on the authors blog for free.
In case you are wondering why I bothered with this book in the first place: I am a huge Thomas Ligotti fan and am in the process of reading the conspiracy against the human race (which I am enjoying thus far). Jim Crawford/David Benetars names popped up pretty frequently in discussions surrounding the book hence I decided to buy them. I am not finished with conspiracy against the human race yet but I would recommend it over this in a heart beat as it covers much of the same material but does so with better style, greater depth, more variety and less personal anecdotes." - Harry Tormey
Antinatalism – The Greatest Taboo
A rebuttal to TGGP's essay critiquing antinatalism
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