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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

No, actually, it's not all about us

After somewhat obsessively reading the entertainingly hysterical forum-chat attacks on antinatalists that have been linked though Jim Crawford's blog over the past couple of years, and after recently being trolled extensively (also entertainingly) as an antinatalist in the comments section of Andy Nowicki's review of my book NVSQVAM on the AR blog ( ; it's a thoughtful and lovely write-up but my god, I had no idea such a large percentage of the male Internet population never gets laid, ha ha), I feel qualified to make a generalization about pronatalist arguments.

To wit: breeders* (or would-be breeders) will, upon encountering antinatalist ideas, angrily grasp and sling the closest ad hominem fecal mass, whether or not they know anything about the, er, homo in question.

One of the preferred dismissals is to assume and declare that anyone who avoids creating life must lead a particularly shitty one, and is merely having a tantrum out of his or her pathetic personal bitterness. Or conversely, that anyone with a negative life philosophy must have a terrifically privileged life, and is simply lying around being angry out of spoileditude. Though some trust-fund babies are no doubt unjustifiably sullen, and some antinatalists suffer terrible diseases which illustrate far too clearly to them the horrors life is capable of inflicting on its inmates, I get the feeling that most antinatalists are in fact ordinarily fortunate people.

Most of the antinatalists to whom I've spoken or whose posts I've read seem to hold down jobs (at least intermittently, during the past few economically inclement years) which we like or tolerate or hate to varying degrees; most of us have a decent level of education, whether gained through autodidactic methods, universities, or both; I for one, while disgusted with the current global economy and my own treatment at its hands, have been enormously lucky in some of the non-economic gambles life prods us to take.

I've been overall quite lucky in love and friendship, particularly at present; I'm terrific at keeping myself entertained, and while I'm too viscerally disgusted by the glad-handling and dissembling skills that a better economic life would seem to demand to successfully develop them, I do get along with my fellow humans quite well when I engage them on a sincere and not a business level (and even when the levels are mixed). I'm talented at work that impassions and entrances me, even if deep down I know all endeavors are pointless; I'm quite easily entertained, and I get probably more pleasure than the average yay-to-lifer from the oft-lauded simple things like pets, books, sunsets, good weather, walks, conversation, and fellow-feeling.

I may display some depressive and crotchety traits due to my relentless realism, but neither anhedonia nor schizophrenia has darkened my doorstep, and my sense of humor has yet to fail me in a tight spot. I do not live in a radioactive mud hut in Cambodia, nor do I live in a shiny condo that Daddy paid for; I'm neither a 40-year-old-virgin nor a genitally surfeited rock star. I've never been able to afford a car, but I live in an urban area with somewhat functional public transit; I can usually eat something reasonably close to what I want to eat, although the fact that I genuinely love peanut butter toast really helps; I enjoy good health except for my fragile knees, asthma, allergies, and chronic mysterious stomachaches; I'm nearsighted, but my prescription is exactly the same in both eyes, a rare bit of good luck within the bad which frees me from having to keep track of which side of the goddamn contact lens case I've stuck which lens in.

In short, a human of average fortune. Neither privileged nor especially miserable. I may object to life in principle, but I do a pretty fair job of enjoying my own, even if sometimes all I'm savoring is the tang of irony.

So why would I cruelly deny my ovarial fruit the chance to share in those kitties and sunsets, if I'm so content with my own lot?

Because I'm capable of realizing and appreciating how lucky I am. Because I'm aware of the suffering of others. More vitally, because I'm capable of realizing how fragile my luck is, and by extension how precarious a life I would offer my offspring, no matter how rosy things looked when I decided to get knocked up. The Greek tragedies have much to teach on that front, but simple daily observation of the sports pages should be enough to drive home the point that no winning streak lasts forever, no matter how great you are; to paraphrase a recent Onion bit, every athlete eventually loses his grudge match with Time. Christ, look at old Brett Favre. Tomorrow you could go nuts the way he did, or get cancer. Wouldn't cancer and pregnancy be fun to go through simultaneously? And what a lovely story that would make for your motherless child to tell her friends.

This precariousness should be particularly easy to understand for Westerners who are currently in their prime. A decade is a long time in the global economy, and it's going to take two of them for the baby who's currently safe in your middle-managerial, yoga-toned womb to grow into a full-fledged worker bee. If things seem tough now that a salary freeze has forced you to trim your caffelatte consumption, just think what might be by the time Junior is flat-out working for the Chinese.

Do you suppose I'd feel differently if I were living in a more perfectly stable place and time? No doubt I would. But I wouldn't think differently.

* My use of this term is indeed pejorative, though not in the usual sense; while gay pride-ists (as though being born with ANY set of genes justified the folly of human pride) use it to refer snidely to heterosexuals, whatever their actual reproductive behavior, I use it to refer snidely to anyone who deliberately makes children, including gay people.