David Benatar on Quality of Life

Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning. – Henry Miller

Have you ever wondered that it would have been better if you never took birth?

Have you ever wondered that there are greater pains in life than there are pleasures and that it makes no sense to live or bring new beings on the planet?

Have you ever thought that we are living in a meaningless space when we are all destined to be extinct forever, including our Earth and the Sun?

David Benatar, a South-African philosopher, academic and author, shares his views on anti-natalism, death, immortality and suicide in his latest book “The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions“. He is also the author of another popular book like “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence“. I came across his publications after reading the fantastic interview of David published on The New Yorker.

My experiences in life have shaped a belief (though not so strong since I tend to get influenced quite quickly) that it is pointless to give birth to new beings. The problems do not tend to end. It is not about the problems in itself, the problems come with sorrows in the form of deaths, breakups, and various other personal issues.

David shares his views on not just why procreation is bad but also why death and immortality are bad for us. In answering the big questions of life, he mentions that nothing matters ultimately from the cosmic point of view when nothing is going to exist in the end. In this post, we will focus on his views on why procreation is bad on account of poor quality of human life and why does it not make sense to take birth at all.

He starts by stating how life is bad even when humans are in perfect health.

Even in good health, much of every day is spent in discomfort. Within hours, we become thirsty and hungry. Many millions of people are chronically hungry. When we can access food and beverage and thus succeed in warding off hunger and thirst for a while, we then come to feel the discomfort of distended bladders and bowels. Sometimes, relief can be obtained relatively easily, but on other occasions, the opportunity for (dignified14) relief is not as forthcoming as we would like. We also spend much of our time in thermal discomfort—feeling either too hot or too cold. Unless one naps at the first sign of weariness, one spends quite a bit of the day feeling tired. Indeed, many people wake up tired and spend the day in that state.

With the exception of chronic hunger among the world’s poor, these discomforts all tend to be dismissed as minor matters. While they are minor relative to the other bad things that befall people, they are not inconsequential.

He goes on to talk about the bad experiences such as common cold, menstrual pain and hot flashes from menopause we have as human beings on a constant basis along with frustrations and irritations. We encounter inefficiency, job loss, job dissatisfaction, unfulfilled aspirations, bad personal relationships, hatred towards their aging self, and most times, disappointing children.

He further justifies not procreating by discussing the pain from other sufferings of life. There are people who suffer third degree burns are supposed to have experienced indescribable pain for long periods. People suffer mental torture from locked-in syndrome which has been described as “progressive imprisonment without parole” by the patients. We all know the pain caused by cancer. For example, radiation therapy after diagnosis of esophageal cancer causes immense pain every time you swallow something, even your spit.

The above are just examples picked from various experiences of human beings. We could go on and on. The author attempts to undertake a comparison between the pleasures of life and the pains of life and states that:

For example, the most intense pleasures are short-lived, whereas the worst pains can be much more enduring. Orgasms, for example, pass quickly. Gastronomic pleasures last a bit longer, but even if the pleasure of good food is protracted, it lasts no more than a few hours. Severe pains can endure for days, months, and years. Indeed, pleasures in general—not just the most sublime of them—tend to be shorter-lived than pains. Chronic pain is rampant, but there is no such thing as chronic pleasure. There are people who have an enduring sense of contentment or satisfaction, but that is not the same as chronic pleasure.

The worst pains are also worse than the best pleasures are good. Those who deny this should consider whether they would accept an hour of the most delightful pleasures in exchange for an hour of the worst tortures.

Surprisingly, the Bible has to mention a similar thing about not taking birth at all. The Bible states ” But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. – Bible Ecclesiastes 4:3″

The author however does not consider the problems of overpopulation (though he briefly mentions) and climate change. Another view could be taken was to avoid procreation for a brief period of time to bring the Earth back to a livable state and then procreate to keep the balance of life. However, he takes the cosmic point of view where nothing will matter in the end.

Go on and read the book even if you share the opposite views. It will give you a perspective to think about before you decide on procreation.

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