The Harm of Coming Into Existence

May 31, 2015

At one point in "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) says he wishes he'd never been born.  Of course, he ends up changing his mind.  But philosopher David Benatar thinks George was right the first time.  It really WOULD be better to have never been born.



Since the idea is well know to have been considered in the West for 2,500 years at least and since there are yet still plenty of Westerners, the idea can't be seen to have been particularly dangerous - at least not to those of us walking around:

Not to be born is best
When all is reckoned in, but once a man has seen the light
The next best thing, by far, is to go back
Back where he came from, quickly as he can

"Oedipus at Colonus"
before 400 BCE

I completely agree with David Benatar. I will get his book. I also believe it is better to have not been born. He is absolutely right. (No I am not depressed nor suicidal I just see his logic)

An interesting proposition that logically should apply to all creatures who are aware that they suffer pain. And indeed, Prof. Benatar's entry in Wikipedia says that he applies this philosophy to all "sentient beings".

Since we cannot possibly know, it's a purely academic query, but I wonder how wide a net is cast by the concept of sentient beings. Let's stipulate that all mammals are included, but what about lobsters? Until recently it was generally believed that lobsters cannot experience pain in a way that has meaning to them. But recent neurological experiments cast doubt on that proposition. It seems that in fact they do. So how about other arthropods? Insects and spiders, say. Or mollusks? Octopi are very intelligent creatures, so they surely qualify. Clams too? Oysters? (I do feel a touch of guilt whenever I shuck an oyster. How could it possibly not experience horror when I shove a knife into its entrails and pull its shell apart?) And this is very speculative, but what about plants?

So, I see the professor's point, but I dislike the thought of a universe devoid of sentience, where slime molds are the apex of awareness.

The logical thing for you to do is to go vegan, and get rid of that cognitive dissonance.

If this idea because widely accepted and subscribed to, the society at large would deteriorate. Why? Because by definition, the most thoughtful and intelligent people would not be reproducing and the world would be overflowing with individuals who did not spend much effort on reflection. We'd have a world filled with the kind of dopes who appear on reality shows.

Thats exactly what is happening now.

" the world suck, i suck, you suck, the world sucks, sex sucks, relationship suck, food sucks, plants and animal sucks, i hate work. i hate everyone. life is suffering. life don't make sense. burn world burn. i wish i was never born! it's time to tell my truth"
-David Benatar

This is exactly why I decided at an early age not to have children. I could never fathom the rationale that not having children was a selfish decision when I have spent much of my life not wanting to have existed. With that as a guiding force, how could I bring new life into the world? Better to foster, adopt, do good for those who live now, instead of causing more pain.

Of course this is a dangerous idea and religion knows how dangerous it is. If more people were able to think clearly, humankind would not be the dominant life form on Earth.

No matter what your view on this matter is, you are forced to accept a kind of pessimism, because it is definitely warranted. I'll just post this Schopenhauer quote. Keep non-human animals in mind as well when thinking about it: "If we were to conduct the most hardened and callous optimist through hospitals, infirmaries, operating theatres, through prisons, torture-chambers, and slave-hovels, over battlefields and to places of execution; if we were to open to him all the dark abodes of misery, where it shuns the gaze of cold curiosity, and finally were to allow him to glance into the dungeon of Ugolino where prisoners starved to death, he too would certainly see in the end what kind of a world is this"

I have read David Benatar's book and find that he makes a convincing argument. But as he does point out in his book, after you have procreated, it largely becomes a moot point. I wish he had addressed the ramifications of discovering this idea too late. Even if you agree with him, how are we to live now?

LIve as an example of doing unto others, show your children compassion and kindness and ensure they are aware of the unnecessary suffering that all sentient things, especially self-aware ones, experience. Trips to jail, nursing homes, mental health wards, poverty stricken areas of town or state, slaughter houses, and other centers of suffering can all be quite enlightening for the willfully uniformed.

un-informed, not uniformed, though that has interesting implications, as well… ;)