This is me laughing at you. I don’t know how else to respond to this post. On the one hand, mission accomplished! You’ve bothered me enough to respond. Congratulations. But you don’t deserve to be taken seriously—even though, of course, you are taken seriously by many, many supposedly intelligent people. Somehow, you’re near the intellectual center (such as it is) of contemporary debates about euthanasia, abortion, stem cell research, and nearly anything related to questions of life and death. We can count on you to be on the pro-death side.
I don’t respect you. And I want to ignore you. But you remind me of Elvis Costello’s warning to his fellow countrymen about the fringe neo-Nazi National Front movement in Britain in the late-’70s: “You think they’re dumb, you think they’re so funny/ But one day you’ll be running from the night rally.” I think your ideas are dumb and laughable, but I’m reluctant to ignore you.
Your success is, I suspect, a symptom of the deeply pessimistic age in which we live, reflected on the political left and right. On the left, this pessimism manifests itself mostly in visions of impending ecological disaster (aided, as I type this, by the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico). On the right, it manifests itself mostly in visions of totalitarian government crushing us and our liberties underfoot. In either case, time is running out. Our goose is cooked. We’re doomed. May as well eat, drink, and be merry, right?
The Christian alternative to this pessimism—living with a hope for the world based not on what humanity does or doesn’t do to secure its future, but on the future that God has already secured for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ—doesn’t play into our contemporary political discourse.
Be that as it may, you propose the following thought experiment:
Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.
So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!
Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend it, because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.
Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?
I’m relieved that even you think that extinguishing our species would be unethical. But the fact that you think it’s even a close call—that it’s worthy of even a thought experiment—shows how far out of touch you are with reality.
You don’t get out much, do you?
I’ll wager that the vast majority of people living outside of the Western industrialized world would tell you that life—even with all its suffering—is still good and still worth it, and to believe so is not even close to Pollyannaism. For their sake—if for no other reason—I’m glad you don’t possess the power of sterilization!
But as long as you don’t, as long as you’re tucked safely away in your temple of pure thought, I’m laughing at you.