Children, we would all agree, are cute. We may not be able to define what cute is, but, like pornography, we know it when we see it. This is why it’s particularly problematic when people, apparently normal people who aren’t at all deranged, have intuitions about what constitute cuteness that seem to contradict the most basic moral framework that they themselves claim to hold.

It’s a phenomena that I’ve noticed whenever I show Kramer vs. Kramer to students in video classes. Parts of the movie where the boy-child cries in agony are almost always met with chuckles– bizarre chuckles that really make no sense at all. It’s not a new phenomena by any means, this chuckling at the cute suffering of children. Once you notice it, you might see it everywhere in interactions with children. In the video you are about to see, Jimmy Kimmel’s “I Told My Kids I Ate All the Halloween Candy”, the cuteness of the suffering of children is portrayed in a characteristic comedic form:

Of course, parents, and those who possess what they consider vast experience with children, will probably consider me a judgmental nihilistic forgoer of joy for not understanding this ritual of torment, broadcast around the world. Naturally, I do want to enjoy all the suffering I can. That is, after all, what we have to work with. Peak-oil, stomach cancer, and present-day Liberia walked into a bar. Nor can I say for certain that I have never appreciated the purported cuteness of child suffering: the boy at 1:28 can be amusing. But before we indulge in all-out schadenfreude, shouldn’t we ask why this is amusing?

First, it seems that the actions portrayed here go against the prohibition our society has created against intentional infliction of emotional distress. Consider the elements of the tort:

  1. Defendant acted intentionally or recklessly; and
  2. Defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous; and
  3. Defendant’s act is the cause of the distress; and
  4. Plaintiff suffers severe emotional distress as a result of defendant’s conduct.

Ignoring the fact of parent-child immunity, which exists in some, but not all, jurisdictions, which element is missing here? What explains why this case is not considered wrong, or at least, why does it not feel like a tort, and instead feels like something “cute”?

Could it be that we just don’t care about “distress” in children, perhaps because they are different? In the West at least, the experiential component of suffering is a relatively recent moral consideration. Sin was long thought the relevant category. So this is one explanation– the concept of experiential suffering having weight has simply not permeated into considerations of childhood.

There are a number of things that could explain such insulation from moral concern. Perhaps one reason for this is the tendency to interpret suffering as serving a communicative function. In a power relationship as with parents and children, almost all expressions of suffering will be intended to get something from the more powerful party. This is why even though a child cries at the very moment of birth, its suffering seems of no moral relevance. To natalists, the call is to provide, not to avoid this suffering. But this communicative function may also be exploited. Cuteness is of course an exploit by small mammals against large ones– as my cat is aware. If it is intended to get something, suffering can’t be as authentic as it would be if someone were crying in their closet, or so the reasoning goes. True suffering must not be aimed at attaining anything from another person. All the suffering of children is therefore subject to being bounded and legitimized by the possibility that it as a hack of the adult brain, a manipulation.

This logic however does not quite hold up. How would we know when exploit suffering is being communicated, as opposed to real suffering? What is the evidence– a facial tic? Perhaps exploit suffering is more transient. But the mutability of childhood experience has been canonized in Alice in Wonderland, and all the children’s entertainment that has followed. And for it to be effective, exploit suffering must look exactly the same as authentic suffering. How different would it feel, then, if it must produce the same response? Is it not more likely that the infliction of cute suffering is a counter-communication, a performative command whereby adults disclaim the power of children and assert that they are in fact in control?

It also seems unlikely that childhood has remained completely insulated from considerations of authentic suffering. Consider the abolition of child labor. For all that we know, child labor, pursued without health risks, might make children better adjusted to our society. Nevertheless, responsible adults seem to have decided that there is some intrinsic in value to positive childhood experience, from which we might assume they care something about suffering as well, qua suffering. A Child Called It no doubt cried, and people tend to legitimize that suffering.

So it can’t be that children are simply disclaimed as being morally irrelevant. Perhaps then it is number (2) that is missing from the tort. Telling the children that they have eaten all their candy may not suffice as “extreme and outrageous”, either to these parents, or to the viewer, and thus no moral outrage follows. Instead, what we perceive is something ironic, the child’s overreaction to the absence of the candy.

I would suggest that the basis of cute suffering is neither irony nor suffering alone, but must also include this negative overreaction. The boy at 1:28 is indeed overreacting, and the basis of judging his overreaction is what we know of the adult world, where Halloween candy is not so important. But it seems incumbent upon adults to explain how negative overreaction comes to be, and what about it constitutes cute suffering.

The first question is basic. We’ve already established the suffering could be, and probably is, authentic, despite its function. What then outweighs its significance in this case? In judging a reaction as an overreaction, how can we be sure that the experiential element of the suffering is outweighed by the purported illusion contained in its assumptions of significance? Another question is psychological: if the Halloween candy is not so important, why bring it up at all? What purpose does cute suffering serve for parents, and society?

One criteria for the illusion of the assumptions causing the overreaction might be that they are apparent to the reasonable person, perhaps even trivially apparent. The reasonable person is clearly aware that the Halloween candy is not so important. But one might argue that the illusion is not trivially apparent to the reasonable child of the same age and intelligence. So this argument will fail, at least if we care at all to justify the appropriation of cute suffering on moral grounds.

But just being wrong about something obvious will not be sufficient either. Suppose I told a child his mother had been abducted by aliens and taken to another planet, where her face has been boiled in stew and served to the feasting members of the Cthulu race, who are all nebulous balls of pure black horrifying tentacles. It seems that the resulting suffering would clearly not be quite as cute as the Halloween candy. There would be in it more gravamen, although it is  trivially obvious to any reasonable person that Cthulu would not literally boil anyone in stew, but would rather do the unspeakable. Actual gravamen, such as the death of a parent, detracts from cute suffering of mistaken belief.

It seems then that cute suffering has not just to do with false assumptions of facts per se, but also with the significance of the issue. It is a mistake about the significance of some negative event, which provokes a negative reaction. Of course, no parent would contend that all such negative overreaction is cute suffering. Again, it could be an exploit. Adbusters famously runs culture jamming ads concerning the manipulativeness children exert on their parents in getting them to buy things for them. One of the obvious ways of getting things they want is by whining. Parents don’t generally consider this to be cute suffering, although a reaction to it might constitute some of the psychological appeal of this particular case of schadenfreude.

Instead, cute suffering seems to require irony: we know something the child does not, that the candy has not actually been eaten. If we wished to devise an alternative legal system that would impose, not justice, but suffering, we might come up with the following requirements for cute suffering:

  1. We know a situation is not the case
  2. A reasonable person would not believe it is important
  3. A child believes unreasonably that it is important, and true
  4. and suffers

Here then we have the requirements for causing cute suffering in all its glory. All the elements are necessary, as none of them can stand alone. If we don’t know the situation is not the case, they could just be whining. If a reasonable person would believe it is important, we have torture. If the child does not believe it is important, it is not cute. And if the child does not suffer, we are incompetent.

Most importantly, if we replace child with adult in the requirements, we do not get cute suffering. We simply get stealing a latte from a depressed person and then giving it back to them. It’s not cute…we don’t know what to call it. Why would someone do that? Whatever reason they would do it for, it would not be comical. If we look at the overall comic effect of cute suffering, the underlying idea seems to be that everything will be okay in the end. This defines comedy, as opposed to tragedy.

Why should everything turn out alright in the end? Obstensibly the reason is that we know children will grow up not to care about Halloween candy, but we don’t know anything about the depressed person.

Effectively, then, cute suffering seems only justified by positing not one, but two moral patients. The child at t1 can suffer because the adult at t2 will be reasonable, and not suffer. The adult may even derive pleasure from the past suffering, if they laugh at their previous suffering. Consider these two alternate theories as 1) The suffering doesn’t matter at t2, or 2) the suffering becomes enjoyable at t2.

Neither of these justifications is actually compatible with commonly held moral judgements. If they will merely not care about the suffering in the future, there seems no reason to prohibit other suffering-causing actions against adults, so long as there is a loss of memory. Most people would surely find this outcome counter-intuitive. If on the other hand they will enjoy the suffering in the future as entertainment, the results are equally unacceptable: what would prevent someone from hypothetically breaking a person’s arm, if would increase their intelligence? These sorts of trade-offs seem to be unjustified, and yet exceptions are created when applied to children. And no defense is even offered, because no indictment is even presented.

Perhaps the reason for these exceptions to go unquestioned is that cute suffering is part of a larger belief system. That belief system, natalism, is tied to the delusional belief that procreation can confer a positive benefit on the non-existent.

Cute suffering serves as a microcosm, or parable for the life journey under natalism. As children grow up, they will learn that what they thought was significant was not significant, and that their suffering was one of those insignificant things. Under natalism, suffering is not an ethical concern, only this perspective change. Consequently, suffering pursued for the sake of later enjoyment serves a didactic purpose of becoming an “adult”– a person who can repeat the cycle.

Not that all natalists support causing suffering on behalf of their children. The majority of cases are not as egregious as this video. Rather, they involve simply finding the existing suffering to be cute, i.e. aesthetically pleasing, and not directly causing it. To find suffering aesthetically pleasing, allowance must be made for the child’s future self, which must be indifferent or positive toward the suffering. The unstated implication is that, when the child is able to look with indifference on the suffering, it will be an “adult”, prepared to tackle with equal indifference the job of having children of their own.

Under natalism, all suffering, from the first cries at birth to the final agony of death, is ultimately a mere bauble, an Alice in Wonderland delusion, which an adult would never be concerned with. But this view must be taught and performatively sacralized through ritual. In some cases, adults are concerned about suffering, and so they too require a cosmic parent, a cosmic order, to justify how they are being unreasonable and the situation is not as bad as it seems. All suffering under religion is therefore also cute suffering.

In actuality, nothing has justified the suffering created at t1. Or for that matter, the creation of suffering inherent in procreation.

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Many Christians today are asking the question: in a society that opposes traditional values, how can we know that God still wants us to have children? In a society where homosexuality, drug use, and rampant fornication with gerbils are forced upon us by the media and fast becoming part and parcel of the American way, is there still any justification for bringing new people into this present-day Sodom and Gomorrah? Would it not be better to refrain from grafting some poor soul into the human centipede of desolate godlessness that is the modern world? Here I will argue that sincere Christians ought rightly to be wary of making new people, due to its potentially detrimental effect on the cosmic sin level.

Usually, to understand what God wants, I telepathically communicate with him personally through prayer. But when this doesn’t work, I, like most Christians, look at Biblical evidence. The most common verse people point to regarding procreation is Genesis 1:28:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

It is important to note here that we are looking at a blessing, not necessarily a command. And it is a command to only two people. In many other cases in the Bible children are referred to as a blessing, but never as a command.

Now, since it is a blessing, there might be times to forego it. For instance, most of us can admit that wealth is a blessing, but does this mean that the mendicant friars of the middle ages were sinful for not seeking this blessing? Of course, because they were Catholics. But was their mendicancy itself sinful? Maybe not. Contemporary Christians rather tend to understand that charity is sometimes more important than enjoying of blessings, which is why you see so many Christians who have given all to the poor. So saying that children are a blessing basically proves nothing.

Furthermore, children are also presented as a curse in scripture. Eve was cursed with the travail of childbirth. Since they were informed that children were a blessing after this curse, and the Bible is actually a really sophisticated dialogue between the divine and man, we can infer that “blessing” in verse 28 actually means “blessing in disguise”. God was just reminding them that, even though it sucked to have children and they didn’t know anything about birth control, they could still derive some benefits from these children, albeit unstated benefits.

The Bible is not silent about what these benefits are. After Cain and Abel happened, some of these benefits became apparent. Psalm 127: 3-5 elaborates that children can be useful in street brawls:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Now, if we wish to use this blessing today, we might want to determine what the chances are of getting in street brawls in the first place, which, it appears (at least for some) is relatively low.

Another purpose to have children is to save women from getting uppity:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

The implication here is that childbirth is a blessing in disguise, because the agony keeps women busy. What is important to note here is that Paul seems to be laying out his own method of keeping women in their place. But there’s more than one way to pimp it for Jesus. To each his own. Furthermore, “saved” here cannot possibly mean saved from eternal damnation, since, as well all know, salvation was already achieved by god sacrificing himself to himself, then ascending in zombie form back to the sky.

To return to the evidence: the clear pattern that is emerging is that children exist for their parents. So having children is basically just a blessing in disguise for us, not the children, and God hasn’t commanded us to have children. He has made them a blessing, since, despite the agony of childbirth, we can use them to defend ourselves from nomads, and as ways to keep women occupied.

As I think I’ve shown to the glory of God, the only justification for us having children would now be that we ourselves find these reasons or other reasons to be sufficient reasons, based on our limited human reason. As we’ve seen, street brawls can sometimes be avoided, and women today can be put in their place in other ways. So to determine if there’s a sufficient reason for having children, we’ll have to go a little deeper in probing the divine mysteries.

How can we ultimately determine what is right or wrong? Perhaps we can simply boil all the rules down to one. One might generalize and say that our ultimate purpose as created beings is to praise God, by increasing the cosmic praise level (the CPL). However, since “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, we might also say that our first and most important purpose is to avoid sin, or decrease the cosmic sin level (CSL).

In the following discussion I will assume that the second provision is the most important one. Since we must under all circumstances not increase the amount of sin, let’s look at what is most likely to produce the optimal amount of sin, in terms of the CSL.  Here is a chart showing the different possibilities, as they relate to begetting:

Is begotten Is not begotten
Gets saved goes to heaven (increases CPL) does not go to heaven (no change in CPL)
Never gets saved goes to hell (increases CSL) does not go to hell (no change in CSL)

As you can see, there seem to be four possibilities. If a child is begotten, they may go to heaven, and increase the total amount of praise given to God. If they go to hell, however, we can assume that they will not be praising God, for there will be “wailing and gnashing of teeth”. Presumably, they will be engaging in sin, for God will not be with them in hell. On the other hand, if they are never begotten at all, there will be no change in the total amount of praise the Lord receives, for they will neither end up in heaven nor hell. If they do not go to hell, there will be no increase in the total amount of sin either.

So what should we do? Clearly, if we bring a new person into the world who does glorify God, this action is good. But if we bring a child into the world who does not go to heaven, but is eternally damned, can we really say this outcome is also good? It’s very likely they will end up in hell, where the amount of sin will be increased.  Presumably, since God will not be with them in hell, but only the king of darkness, their lips will be filled with vile blasphemy for eternity. Another way of looking at the situation is that, in hell, without God, the damned will have to be sinning. They simply have no other choice. Hell will be at least ten times worse than San Francisco. Thus the CSL will be increased. On the other hand, if we don’t bring them into existence at all, there will be no change in the CSL. And since the punishment will go on for all eternity, we can probably assume that the CSL will continue to increase infinitely—not a happy prospect, if you abhor sin as much as I do.

Consequently it seems evident that we have two choices: one (procreating) may lead to an increase in the CPL, or an increase in the CSL, and another which will lead to no change in the CPL or the CSL.

Should we, as Christians, prioritize the CPL or the CSL? Should we take the risk, a risk that may lead to increasing the level of sin overall, merely to increase the CPL?  It seems to me that we might want to prioritize not increasing the cosmic sin level. I would suggest that Christians should be especially wary of this possibility when considering childbearing in the modern age. It seems to me that, lacking a dispositive Biblical injunction, we should try to avoid the possibility of creating new sin.

This is easy enough for those of us who are not pregnant. What should Christians do, then, who are already pregnant? They might pray for a miscarriage, but, as tsunamis demonstrate, sometimes prayer doesn’t really do much. The answer, then, is probably to get an abortion. To get an abortion is considered wrong by most of us, as pursuant the rule expressed in Exodus 21: 22-25:

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

But, since there is no elaboration on the reason for this rule, we must assume it is related, like all other aspects of childbirth, to the creation of a blessing for the parents. In no way am I suggesting we should actively stop those who wish to enjoy the hidden blessings of childbirth. However, if the parents choose to avoid this blessing in the pursuit of a higher good, there seems to be no reason they couldn’t. The situation would be similar to someone who gave money to the poor. Perhaps, after all, they can still adopt.

If, however, one argues that this prohibition on abortion is derived from the rule against murder, we must face a hard contradiction. If we really want to prevent abortion, there seems no better way to reduce the total number of abortions than by having one abortion, and preventing a line of descendants which may continue for many millions of years and contain many more abortions than one until Christ returns to pour out his wrath. Indeed, it seems this verse can’t possibly be derived from the prohibition on murder, since childbirth will only create the conditions of more and more people and hence more murder. This is clear evidence that the scripture actually prohibits abortion only when it is not elected by the parents, as they choose not to enjoy the blessing in disguise of children.

I hope I have shown how Christians should perhaps reconsider the dangers of childbirth, in relation to the overall cosmic sin level, and prioritize not increasing the cosmic sin level over increasing the cosmic praise level. I also hope to have shown how the Bible does not command, but merely permits the enjoyment of the hidden blessings of childbirth, which include creating personal defense forces. It is possible that Christians who are persuaded of this argument could elect to have an abortion if they wish to not enjoy the blessing in disguise that is children, but rather to save the universe from more sin. Praise Jesus!

THE NON-IDENTITY PROBLEM

Defenders of procreation often assert that the non-existent can have no rights, because they are non-existent. It is claimed that certain predicates, such as to “have” rights, to be “imposed” on, or to be “harmed” can’t apply to these non-existent people since they are not real. The typical response to this objection runs something like this:

One might deny that nonexistent people could have rights, because they do not exist, while also objecting that they must have rights for it to be possible for our contemporary actions to violate their rights. But as Joel Feinberg has pointed out, hiding a nondefusable bomb attached to a nontamperable time clock of seven years in a kindergarten would be clearly wrong. In part, it would be wrong because it violates the rights to life of the children who will die, even though they do not now exist and do not yet possess rights to life. One’s action sets into motion a chain of events that will lead to the violation of the rights that will come to be held.

This counterargument is not entirely convincing, due to a distinction in the cases. In the case of the time-bomb, it is assumed that the children will already exist, but that the time-bomb would violate their rights. In the hypothetical, existence (x) vests prior to the time the decision which acts as cause (c) would affect the patient at (e). C is unrelated to X: 

x—>e

c—-^

X is alternatively considered as the background of the situation, and the effect is the foreground, with which our ethical intuitions will be concerned. Although the children are non-existent now, it is presumed that they will exist in the future. In this sense they are already existent in the hypothetical, which is phrased in terms of certainty that it will kill them.

Consequently the natalist might argue that they are simply people who, in the future, will have rights. The fact that they will have rights in the future makes the ethical calculus subject to the left side of the Benatarian asymmetry, but not to right hand side, as their non-existence does not relate to the basis of the argument.

In the case of procreation, we wish to point out that the children would not exist. In this sense, the time-bomb response fails to address the underlying issue which is that the decision in question should relate to the existence of the person directly.

Here it will be suggested there is a better response to the non-identity argument, which is to conceive that the interests of sentient beings are not time-dependent, but have an objective value which is the basis of ethical concern. The evidence that such a predicate exists will be taken from an analysis of murder. Consider the case of murder: 

c, x—->e,-x

Here the cause (c) leads to an effect, (e), which is (provisionally) identical to the non-existence of the murdered (-x). In our language we represent this situation in a variety of ways. In the simplest form we say:

(1) John killed Eddy.

Sentence (1) actually takes the schematic form of a predicate and an object.

(2)  X _ed Y

The same construction type is used for verbs of motion:

(3) John moved Eddy.

A construction like (3), however, can be diagrammed as a change in state:

c —->e,x’

So the same construction is used both for changes in state, and a change from existence to non-existence. Both the construction for murder, and the construction for typical affectedness use the same form. The person murdered and the person moved are also both considered patients.

Since Eddy is no longer alive, however, it would make no sense to say Eddy was murdered, and the above conflation of two different types of change seems implausible. Through introspection, we can see the inherent contradiction between representation of a sentient being as a noun, and as a thing which can be born and die. At what point can a being, taken as the subject of a predicate, constitute that subject in the process of dissolution or combination? Prior to death it was not, after death it was not, but there can be no point at which it comes into being or disappears. A non-existent object cannot be murdered. A more explicit example of this contradiction is the common expression: 

(4) He took his life.

It seems impossible that anyone’s life could be taken, since, at the point at which we could assert it was taken, there is no one remaining from whom it could have been taken.

So we see that in language we do use strictly non-existent persons as ethical patients. The significance is that analytic arguments for the innaplicability of resultative constructions to the non-existent is therefore flawed. Those who argue that non-existent beings cannot be imposed upon, or that existence cannot be impositional, must contend with a language that makes sentient beings the subject of “death” as well as “birth”.

As with murder, so with harm. Murder is one predicate, harm is another. As the patient cannot be affected at the time of death, it seems difficult to claim it is harmed by murder.  Though it can be harmed by the apprehension of death, the assault that precedes death, and although others suffer from its lack, the persons killed cannot themselves be ethical patients at the moment of death. 

From this it follows that there is a difficulty in advancing the argument that the non-existent can have no rights, since the only person remaining to be harmed when murder takes place is no longer existent. If we do not accept this, both murder and birth causing harm are feasibly acceptable. The two cases look like this:

murder: c,x —->e,-x [bad]

birth:     c,-x —–>e,x [bad]

If the natalist still wishes to defend the idea that the non-existent cannot be predicated over, a number of ideas suggest themselves. Perhaps (1) analytic arguments demonstrate nothing, and language is an artifact of evolution. Alternatively, (2) perhaps murder is not to be understood on the basis of a change in an actual state. In either case, the difficulty in the time-bomb example has been resolved. We have shown that a case much more analogous to birth (murder) does in fact hold ethical significance. 

A POSSIBLE EXPLANATION

Here we consider possibility (2), and, rather than refuting it, it will be suggested that antinatalism can be derived from it, absent hedonic harm. 

Under both murder and birth there is a change from having a state, to not having a state, or vice/versa, and a judgement is being made. But, when antinatalists “unpack” the notion of non-existence on the left hand side of the birth line, is is often claimed that there is nothing justify the unpacking, since non-existence is empty, or unfilled for properties.

Nevertheless, in arguments against murder this prohibition is typically not adhered to. One argument against murder, advanced by Peter Singer, is that it “thwarts the interests” of the party at issue. In this sense, the asserter has unpacked non-existence on the right-hand of the murder line, and has filled it explicitly:

c,x —->e,-x [bad]

                                              -x [thwarted interests]

Clearly, it cannot be that their interests exist, in a thwarted state, within the non-state of non-existence. Nevertheless this is exactly how the language represents it.

A more sensible understanding of our ethical intuitions is that non-existence refers to the person, but that their interests nevertheless have a time-independent value. It was wrong to kill them because their interests have value, objectively and independent of their continued existence.

Linguistically, we simply introduce a modal predicate, “would have” and say that beings who receive the predicate are ethically relevant. If we accept this, it is fairly easy to see how murder is wrong. John would have liked to go on living. 

We can now return to the case of birth. It is indisputable that there are some who are born who would have not liked to be born. Consequently their interests have been thwarted in the same way as in the murder case. (If anything, it appears this case has special weight, vis-a-vis the murder example, because not only were their interests thwarted, but they are aware that their interests were thwarted, which causes present suffering, while in murder there is no present suffering). 

Clearly, the introduction of this time-independent significance of interest leaves much unanswered. We have not couched it in the terms of the Benatarian asymmetry, nor have we expressed murder in those terms (it may be doubtful that it can expressed in those terms). It has not been shown unequivocally that murder is wrong if decontextualized to such an extent that no apprehension, collateral loss, or physical pain is present. This is a possibility, but I suspect it is in the minority. It has also not been demonstrated that time-independence is reversible, though we can easily enough create thought experiments involving age-of-consent to demonstrate that it is. 

Lastly, we have not attempted to ground this time-independence in terms of hedonic consequences, but rather in terms of an opposition to interests. It seems inevitable, that if murder is to be wrong, it must be by an appeal to a pluralist view in which opposing interests that would have been present is sufficient on its own to justify a negative evaluation. We might say that, although the murdered and the born are not harmed, they are wronged, to distinguish this from a judgement of hedonic consequences.

It is noteworthy that to be wronged it is not necessary that the interest be rational. Some who wish to go on living, despite pain that might appear to us to be unbearable, nevertheless deserve not to be murdered, because we can assume that they would have continued to want to go on living. Similarly, some who would have not wanted to be born, for reasons that may appear irrational, nevertheless deserved not to be born. Perhaps, under this view the Benatarian asymmetry simply supplements their judgement by showing how it is indeed reasonable. 

Lastly, it is not necessary to look at individualized cases. Totalist consequentalist ethics (to which I adhere) has already dealt with the non-identity problem in a very different way:

Traditional forms of consequentialism, including both the total form of consequentialism (“totalism”) and the average form of consequentialism (“averagism”), have the resources to explain how an act can be wrong while making things worse for no one. If, by waiting a few years to have a child, the 14-year-girl could have produced a better off but nonidentical child, both totalism and averagism will imply (other things being equal) that it was wrong for the girl not to wait (Singer 1999, 122–25). The key for both both views is the focus on the maximization of aggregate wellbeing. Whether we do that (a) by creating additional wellbeing for a particular person, or (b) by bringing a nonidentical but better off person into existence instead, is immaterial. If we have no way of accomplishing the former, then we must do the latter. (See the entry on consequentialism.)

At which point, one needs only apply modality to wellbeing itself, with the question being: is it better if a gradient of wellbeing exists or not? If one creates a gradient of wellbeing, one is creating suffering, but if one does not create the gradient, no suffering or pleasure would exist, which seems the optimal choice. This is a much simpler view, and comports with science in that the existence of ethical “persons” is actually not necessary 

Nietzsche- I say, my good man, I haven’t the slightest idea where we are, or how we came to be here. But it appears here that we have a note of some sort, which purports to inform us. Shall I read it, or shall you?

Socrates- I suppose it shouldn’t matter at all which of us reads it.

Nietzsche- Well, I couldn’t disagree more. Nevertheless, here it is. Ahem,

Socrates and Nietzsche, (it knows who we are, my god) You’ve been brought back to life by incredible feats of technology. Two of the best minds of all time, to discuss and come to a conclusion regarding the worth of being born. You have as much time as you like, but keep in mind that your re-animated flesh will, of course, rot sooner or later. Good luck. 

Socrates- Well, fuck me. Why don’t they make up their fucking minds.

Nietzsche- Not happy to be back, I see? Well I tell you, I couldn’t be happier to see my hopes proven exactly right. Here we are, eternally recurring, and, I hasten to add, I lived my previous life in anticipation of just this moment– metaphorically speaking of course.

Socrates- Hemlock. Give me hemlock.

Nietzsche- I see you also speak in metaphors. Don’t you see complaining won’t do? It will take more than hemlock to prevent us from coming back again. I suppose that my only regret– oh, no, not a regret– my only displeasure IS being here with you. I capitalize whenever I want to, by the way. Anyway, they should’ve known, whoever THEY are, that I’d rather be stuck with anyone other than you: the ultimate cyclopean logician, reifier of life, killer of the Dionysian spirit.

Socrates- Well, I don’t need to know who YOU are, to borrow your capitalization trick. You are a madman, and all madmen are the same. I was once a madman, you know.

Nietzsche- Oh, I know, with your demon. Perhaps if you had listened to that…

Socrates- I would’ve ended up thinking I was Dionysus, and lived grandly as a delusional god-to-himself, instead of dying peacefully in my bed, by reasonable suicide?

Nietzsche- What, how did you know?

Socrates- I read this brief, right here. It brought me up to speed on everything.

Nietzsche- Well, those bastards. I thought I was only one who got the brief. Well, I suppose we should get on with it.

Socrates- Alright. I suppose you know which position I’ll be taking. Better to have never been born than to suffer through this.

Nietzsche- I don’t recall you taking this position before?

Socrates- I’ve been placed here to emphasize the revolutionary Socratic element in this idea.

Nietzsche- And me?

Socrates- To emphasize, I presume, how what appears to be revolutionary is not, because you, sir, are a natalist. And natalism is the default. It is lived out by millions upon millions upon milliards. The willful love of giving birth is nothing if not a slave morality, a crass defeatism before our sovereign rulers: pain and pleasure.

Nietzsche- Hah! A slave morality. I’ve never heard such a slur directed at me before. Well, if I must speak for the zeitgeist, which I will admit is pro-birth, I suppose I won’t complain, since I did help create it.

Socrates- Good, take responsibility for your bastard child.

Nietzsche- But the first thing I shall do is take issue with your terminology.

Socrates- All right, let’s hear it.

Nietzsche- You say we, meaning all of us who are sane, should willingly submit to being called natalists, and having our philosophy (if it indeed it is a philosophy), labelled as “natalism”. I am aware of your Jedi mind tricks, and I won’t have it. If you label me, you negate me. That is the first rule of thinking metaphorico-liguistically, and that is how we all think these days.

Socrates- Labeling you negates you? Very well, what about calling ourselves cat people and dog people, just so there’s a distinction?

Nietzsche- A penumbra of associations prevents those from being objective.

Socrates- Position A and position B?

Nietzsche- Who gets to go first?

Socrates- We must call ourselves something, or we can’t proceed.

Nietzsche- The issue is nothing less than this: why must that which is most natural, most universal, and most unquestioned everywhere in the world and at all times in history, be referred to as an –ism at all? One might as well call the positive view of birth humanism, since it is by definition what humans practice. But perhaps I can settle for group A, seeing as we surely have the largest and most historically precedent contingent.

Socrates-  You drive a hard bargain. But alright. Position A is the belief that giving birth is a good thing, and position B is the belief it is a bad thing. Since it is the position favoring birth, we will call position A natalism, and position B, anti-natalism.

Nietzsche- You treacherous ass. I have not conceded it is a position.

Socrates- Then how, pray tell, do you intend to argue what is not a position?

Nietzsche- Ah, now you come to it. Don’t you see, it is not difficult at all! The instinct for life does not exist in Pierceian thirdness, but upon discussing it, if one must defend the instinct, it has been elevated to the platform of thirdness. Then, and only then, will I pretend it is actually a concept at all.

Socrates- Pierceian thirdness! Dear God! Now I see why you position A’ers always think you are so successful– you don’t think you are defending a position! And this is how you actually feel?

Nietzsche- Indeed it is how I feel. Consequently, how I think. And it does not bode well for you logico-consistency methodology of argument. I would suppose it is something like this. Having never considered the issue of whether giving birth is good or bad, we find ourselves, when reflecting upon it, thinking of it as an abstract proposition. But it is not really an abstraction to begin with. The defense of birth arises from a general sentiment, and becomes abstract. But, if, for instance, the abstraction is refuted in one way, I feel that it dissipates, or returns to that fountain of life-affirmation from whence it came, and from whence it can again draw another argument, which might be refuted again, as in some endless game of whack-a-mole. And the process may go on and on forever, for there is really no end to arguments in favor of life, for their basis can never be refuted. It is simply not a position.

Socrates- Astonishing! The entire future of sentient life, and all the ethical considerations that it entails, depends upon what is essentially a game of whack-a-mole! So it is your belief that no logical argument can refute life?

Nietzsche- No. And that is why I do not wish to be called a natalist, for it is simply not a position that can be refuted. Nor is it an axiom.

Socrates- It seems you have conceded the argument.

Nietzsche- How so?

Socrates- Well, without reason on your side, you merely admit defeat. You can make no lasting arguments, but only pseudo-arguments.

Nietzsche- Not so. Reason is on my side, for life has long ago conquered reason. Rather, I have not conceded that logical argument AT ALL holds the power over life. It has not the compelling force, and no one can give that force to it. And this is what you can see by looking around you. I may compare it again to a child who wants to go swimming. I may dip my toes in the water of reason, and if I like, perhaps I can swim. But if I don’t like it I can retreat. The outcome doesn’t matter.

Socrates- Nevertheless, you have to pretend to be invested in reasonableness to have a discussion at all, yes?

Nietzsche- Certainly, I can pretend to. I definitely intend to call you unreasonable, for various reasons that have nothing to do with reason. But perhaps I have mischaracterized myself, my “view”, as you call it. Perhaps it is not an instinct. Or perhaps it is part of some greater instinct. Who can say? All I can say with certainty, is that there is no logical argument that will persuade me that logic has any power whatsoever over life.

Socrates- It has no power, I may concede, but should it have no power?

Nietzsche- The is-ought fallacy? Hah! I haven’t conceded that the concept of “fallacy” would matter or apply to the validity of life. Life is its own validity.

Socrates- But in other cases, surely you would point to fallacies.

Nietzsche- In other cases I may employ tactics of rhetoric to prevail against my opponent, but in this case, I will not concede that reason is final. That is my choice.

Socrates- I knew you were mad, but now I see that you have no honor. Oh well, better to know now than discover later. Nevertheless, we must continue, as we’ve been assigned to, and must do so within the scope of logical discussion. Now surely, since you must play this logical “game”, as you would term it, we are entitled to find the next best move to make. I would suggest then, that perhaps this irrefutability of life, which you hold to be self-evident— excuse me, you do not hold it, but it holds you, self-evidently– is to be found in a confusion of concepts, or is at basis conceptual, rather than a mere instinct, or that, alternatively, your life-affirmation has a single conceptual basis which, perhaps whacking, I might whack all the derivatives.

Nietzsche- Good luck with that. All people have found life to be a burden, and all people have kept going. Not to mention if you whack the core concept, you will only find I have been angered, and grow resentful, and the instinct remains and cannot be changed. At which point I may simply kill you.

Socrates- We can only hope.

One of the more sensible proponents of suffering-creation is this dude, who’s done a series of videos on why antinatalism is a bad, evil thing. Which of course it is, but that hardly excuses misunderstanding it. He still thinks AN is making an existential claim, which it’s not. He proceeds to the usual ad hominem psyche attacks. But really, it’s all a misunderstanding. And that misunderstanding, dear reader, is what I will correct now.

So let’s try again. Here is the Benatarian asymmetry:

exists Doesn’t exist
pain Presence of pain (bad) Absence of pain (good)
pleasure Presence of pleasure (good) Absence of pleasure (not bad)

The left column refers to pain and pleasure, the top row refers to whether a being exists or does not exist. Because creating an existing being means creating pleasure but also pain, which is bad, but refraining from creating sentient beings means the absence of pain, but also the absence of pleasure (which is merely not bad), row two is an optimal utilitarian outcome. 

A lot of people get hung up immediately, believing that we are making unjustifiable existential claims. But what does this mean? First we need to know what the meaning of “existential” really is. Let’s look at how it’s used. Not by ivory tower academics, but someone out there actually existing, taking part in this existential self-definement, as encouraged by so many existential self-definers. Here’s Ian Brady, describing his motives for child murder: 

Dr Cameron Boyd, a member of the three-man panel hearing his case at a mental health tribunal, asked Brady about the five child murders he committed with accomplice Myra Hindley…

Dr Boyd asked: “What value did you get from the acts you did?”

Brady replied: “Existential experience.”

Indeed. And who wouldn’t go out of their way to create as much existential experience as possible? Say, by directed panspermia? 

But are we, or Brady, any closer to understanding the asymmetry? Surely not. Because an existential claim refers to a claim about existence, and perhaps it’s meaning. And the asymmetry does not claim existence– which is an ill-defined term to use as a noun– has any properties at all. Subjective experience has properties of desirability or non-desirability, which make imposing them subject to ethical considerations. Existence is one factor to take into account. 

It is a willful misunderstanding, because the extremism of natalism has been swept under the rug for so long people just have to project that extremism on the anti-life view. Make no mistake, the idea that we should create an entire evolutionary chain on another planet, so that it can undergo billions of years of cannibalism and suffering, and in the end build a McDonald’s, is effing extreme.

Now, as far as I can tell, the asymmetry contains no existential claims. The claim is not about existence, but about creating existence– it refers to an optimal utilitarian outcome

These are relatively simple ethical claims which have no bearing, strictly speaking, on what existence “is”. So it’s important to note what the asymmetry is claiming, and what it is not claiming. 

First, it is not claiming that existence is bad. Existence hasn’t been judged on this presentation. All we can say is that it contains pain and pleasure. More pain than pleasure? Probably, but that depends on how you define pain. If pain is striving for something you don’t have, then existence is almost entirely painful. But it is the pain of Kafka’s Castle, not the pain of a vice to the head. The vice to the head is a bonus. However, here we are assuming neutrality. That is clear from reading down the left column, where we see both the presence of pain and presence of pleasure.

What it is claiming is that, compared to non-existence, creating existence is decidedly a sub-par ethical decision.

It is also not claiming that pain or pleasure are either good or bad, so don’t try your daoist shit on me. Of course, pain is pleasure to a masochist, or to a person who wants to “grow”. The question is creation of pain or pleasure for another, and whether this creation of pain or pleasure is good or bad. This ethical distinction is what we mean by good or bad.

The qualifications “good” and “bad” relate not to some intrinsic property of the things themselves, but to their status in ethical reasoning. In the characterizations of the four possibilities, pleasure or pain stands for the subjective aspect, because it is the individual experience.

It is subject to an immediate hedonic evaluation, true, before our hypothetical daoist re-interprets it, so in general we can say that there can be a regular evaluation of the desirability of these two states. But the desirability of these states for any one being is actually secondary to claim of “goodness” or “badness”. Are there exceptions where pain is good and pleasure is bad? Of course there are. But common sense dictates that you don’t impose those on other people. So bad and good stand for the objective aspect, because it involves an actor affecting someone else. An actor affecting someone else needs to make an objective assessment of the utility of their actions. That is what “good” and “bad” represent. 

You don’t have to be a depressed person, or believe depression is existentially valid, to recognize the possibility of creating depressed people who experience subjective negativity. So it matters not at all whether depressed people (antinatalists?) are making existential generalizations about the universe that are incorrect. If a man with a vice to his head points out that there are people with vices placed on their head, no one doubts him simply because he is in pain. Nor do you have to be depressed to know that there are depressed people. Depression, even from the outside, has an ethical relevance. He might exaggerate how many people have vices on their head, but there is at least one, which is enough to satisfy the asymmetry. 

It could be rewritten as follows:

exists Doesn’t exist
pain Presence of pain (bad to impose) Absence of pain (good to allow)
pleasure Presence of pleasure (good to impose) Absence of pleasure (not bad to allow)

Perhaps not exactly what Benatar had in mind, but it helps to get around the daoist shit. Because no one has a right to kill the farmer’s horse, just because it “might turn out best for him”. And that is whole point.