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Anti-natalism (and other problems)

Anti-natalism means arguing against having kids.

The End Goal

Some want humanity to be fewer, others want it to go extinct completely. I don’t wanna conflate the two goals; most of what I have to say applies to both, but otherwise I have the “fewer” category in mind for this post: those that wanna do away with humanity for the benefit of humanity’s remainder.

Besides, I already have this old post arguing against human extinction.

Limits to Growth

The flimsy glass card house pyramid scheme that is market capitalism can’t handle anything other than growth—there always needs to be new suckers born to support us in our old age.

The real, underlying economy on the other hand (when we talk about real things such as plants and houses and work hours and environment, not just “numbers go up”) has the opposite problem: the externalities of unfettered growth is increasingly unaccounted for because of market capitalism.

There’s this idea that sustainable ecology would be a heck of a lot easier if there were fewer people on Earth, and there is some truth to that.

Now, talk of “overpopulation” is, as I’ve said before, super messed up while we have this amount of animal ag, but, even so, there are probably limits to how many people can be here.

Limits to the Limits

Not that a smaller population will solve everything. Let’s say it gets nuked down to ten thousand. There is a chance those ten thousand people will still be enough to wreck the Earth. They’ll be like “Ho ho ho, now we have all the room in the world to drive mopeds and chop down jungles”. I know that the Jevons paradox isn’t an absolute inevitability, but it’s a pretty big risk, as anyone who’s gotten a bigger hard drive but way-too-quickly filled it up can attest to.

The Big Ask

Asking people to not have kids is a little bit like asking them to not breathe.

Now, don’t misread that as saying life is meaningless without having kids, or that people who can’t or don’t have kids aren’t fully alive. While I really regret not starting a family (I was too crazy when I was young and too old now that I’m old) I still find plenty of purpose.

If you didn’t have kids or aren’t gonna have kids, you’re still OK, but it’s still a pretty unreasonable thing to demand from someone else.

Analogously, people who are missing their left hand are still valid as human, still OK, but it’s still a pretty big ask to ask people to chop off their own hands! (Unless it’s for Vecna purps.)

(It should go without saying that it’s an especially disgusting ask when it’s asked only of other people, not yourself. CW racism: growing up in sinophobic Sweden where the narrative was “the Chinese need to put in a one-child policy so that the Earth doesn’t get overpopulated” was pretty messed up. Or, even locally, the sterilization mandates (that applied only to some groups, like Roma, mental patients, or queers—again with the oppression of the other and the lenience towards the self). Sweden is a messed up place.)

It’s a Pie-in-the-Sky Solution

My main annoyance is, and I’ve (anecdote alert) encountered this time and time again, is people who are like “I don’t need to eat plants or cut down on air travel because I’m not gonna have kids”… and then they do end up having kids.

It’s such a science-fiction, implausible, scapegoat of a solution.

Maybe I’m glass-housing it: I’m sure my own litany of “eat plants, you primitive screwheads!” sounds similarly pipe-dreamy—for example, two years ago I worked with some scientists and game designers who had built a simulation game to experiment “how can Switzerland stop contributing to global warming”, and one reason they hadn’t found a solution yet was that things like “everyone eats plants” was considered too out there (as opposed to the to them much more reasonable ask that everyone dies in a ball of flame).

I just don’t see “skip the burgers” to be a question on the same level as “don’t even get born”.

None of this to say that plant eating will solve everything. While ag animals are two thirds of the biomass, and they do need to go, they’re not fracking or flying or drilling or slashing or mining or shopping.

Also, because I know some of y’all in the back row will say “We consumer’s need to do zilch because it’s all big business’ fault anyway”:

In the blame triangle between consumers, business and politicians, I believe politicians have the biggest opportunity to break the “pass the buck” curse of inaction, but let’s all chip in and try to do our best.

So sober up from all your dreams about a distant-future depopulated world where big business have suddenly taken responsibility. Instead, individual and collective action is a pretty great idea right now.

We need to:

A smaller population can be part of cutting down consumption.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying a smaller population wouldn’t help. I’m not trying to kneejerk against anti-natalism. Instead, I’m trying to lay out some pros and some pretty bad cons.

If you can handle it, great. It’s just a huge ask to casually drop and it bugs me when people do that. “Hi, why don’t you just stop breathing and chop off your arm instead of complaining about climate change” as if was no big deal.