Antinatalism and childfreedom are two related ideologies which are seeing some development on the Internet and in the media. However, there seems to be some confusion as to the difference between the two ideologies.
As I’ve discussed before, antinatalism is an ethical position: as a principle, it states that procreation (that is to say, acts which bring about procreation) is wrong. A person can be an antinatalist and yet have had children in the past. The arguments used to justify antinatalism are ethical and logical in nature, and are not personal in nature.
Childfreedom, on the other hand, is a desire, the desire to have no children. This desire is necessarily frustrated if one already has a child, so a person cannot have children and be childfree. But on the other hand, one can be childfree and believe that procreation is a great thing, or that life is innately positive. In those cases, the decision to not have children is purely personal.
In practice, childfree people usually have both universal and personal reasons to not procreate. However, these universal reasons are also generally conditional, like “there are enough people on this planet” type arguments (presumably if there wasn’t enough people on this planet, it would be worth it to have children).
Efilism is a word made of the reverse of “life” and the suffix -ism. It was coined by Gary Mosher to designate his own personal ideology, which is more extensive than the rejection of procreation, as Gary advocates for the extinction of all sentient life. Efilism therefore incorporates both ethical principles (that procreation is bad) and values (the value of a world without sentient life).
In a similar fashion to the Non-Identity Problem, I imagine some may object that “a world without sentient life” cannot be a value because there would be no one left to value it.
But this is, like the Non-Identity Problem, a misunderstanding of what is being discussed. When we talk about valuing suicide, we are not saying the person will be alive to value their suicide; we are saying that the person prefers a state where they cease to exist. Likewise, one may prefer a state where the world contains no sentient life, while not being able to actually co-exist with it. We can also prefer completely imaginary states (such as a state where square-circles exist), in which case the value is simply pointless. But valuing a world without sentient life is not pointless, in that it enables us to make value-judgments about real things (e.g. anything that creates new life is undesirable).
I don’t want to communicate the impression that childfreedom, antinatalism and efilism exist on some gradient from moderate to extreme or anything like that. They are not the same kinds of things; childfreedom is a desire, antinatalism is an ethical principle, and efilism is one person’s ideology. A person can be childfree but not antinatalist or efilist, or antinatalist but not childfree or efilist. An efilist must be antinatalist, obviously.
There are also people who believe in population degrowth as public policy. There is no popular term for this as far as I know, and the term “degrowth” by itself denotes economic degrowth specifically.
Population degrowth is sometimes portrayed as a “reasonable” alternative to antinatalism. Actually it is not an alternative to antinatalism but rather a statement of public policy. An antinatalist may very well believe that it would be better on the whole to not restrict reproduction in any way (Benatar grapples with some of these defenses in Better Never To Have Been chapter 4).
Population degrowth is not on a gradient with antinatalism and natalism. Arguments for or against population degrowth show little overlap with arguments for antinatalism or natalism, although they may share a great deal with individual arguments for one’s childfreedom. In that way, one can argue that population degrowth is closer to being an extension of childfreedom, although a childfree person may be against population degrowth and vice-versa.
Frankly I am tired of people who say they are for population degrowth and who present this position as more “reasonable,” by which they really mean, “likely to be accepted by others.” I don’t give a shit what is more or less likely to be accepted by other people. The truth is the truth regardless of how likely it is to be accepted, and it’s our job to find it. So far none of these “reasonable” people have been successful in making any sort of cogent argument against antinatalism, let alone debunk any part of it. It may be “reasonable,” but it’s not the truth.
The “reasonable” position on the other side, the natalist side, is the “life is great” propaganda coming from a wide variety of people. These people tend to be anti-suicide and pro-nature, although they reject the Quiverfull claim that one should have as many children as possible. They laugh at such people and, if they were aware of antinatalism, would probably consider themselves a “middle ground.”
But there cannot be any “middle ground” between antinatalism and natalism. The question “is it acceptable to harm others without their consent” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The question “is it justified to bring a human being into existence” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The question “do you have the right to decide for another human being whether the world is good enough for them to come into existence” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” I don’t really see how there’s any middle ground possible here. Either procreation as an act is not wrong or it is wrong.
Filed under: Antinatalism