It is their firm belief we should stop procreating.
Who are the anti-natalists – and what do they truly want?
“Wouldn’t it just be better to blow a hole in the side of the earth and just have done with everything?”
29-year-old Thomas, lives in east England, and even though he wants to blow up the planet (as a thought experiment), he is sure about one thing – people should stop having babies, and mankind should eventually go extinct.
The movement is called antinatalism, and while its conception dates way back to old Greece, it has lately regained popularity through social media.
Their followers are spread around the globe and have various reasons for holding such beliefs.
Some of their main concerns are overpopulation, the impact humans have on the environment, the concept of consent, and genetic inheritance issues.
They are mostly concerned, however, with stopping people from having babies.
And even though they are a small movement, some of their viewpoints, mainly on the state of the planet, are steadily pushing their way into the mainstream.
While he does not regard himself as an anti-natalist, the Duke of Sussex has said he and his spouse are not planning to have more than two children, due to environmental concerns.
Thomas was not aware of the concept of anti-natalism prior to someone using the term to describe his viewpoints in a YouTube comments section some years ago. Since that day, he has turned into a loyal member of the anti-natalist Facebook group. It gives him intellectual stimuli and terrain to test his debating skills.
“I think it’s awesome, you’re discussing real life problems,” he says. “You’ve got an idea – let’s say humans do go extinct. What if humans then evolve again? Then you haven’t really solved the problem.
“There’s a lot of discussion, some of it gets quite touchy.”
However, Thomas’ belief in anti-natalism does not cover only the theoretical aspect. He thinks people’s lives have no meaning and has attempted, although in vain, to get a vasectomy through Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). Doctors can deny sterilizing a person if they believe it may be harmful to the patient in any way.
The issue of consent and the non-violence aspect
Regardless of the presence of the nihilists, there is no evidence that they are a threat to be taken seriously. But when they converse on the topic of extinction, to them, it is simply a debating exercise.
Thomas’ wish to press a big red button that would end humanity, however, is highly controversial since he would be bypassing one of the nihilists’ key principles: consent.
In simple terms, this is the idea that destroying or creating a life requires the consent of the person who will die or be born.
‘I’m suing my parents for giving birth to me’
Kirk is from San Antonio, Texas. He says he remembers a chat he had with his mom when he was only four-years-old. She told him that having kids was a choice.
“This doesn’t make any sense to me, to voluntarily put someone who has no needs or wants prior to their conception into this world to suffer and die,” he believes.
Kirk says that he became an anti-natalist when he was very young. He stands against the creation of human life because none of us asked to be born.
“If every person gave consent to play the game of life then I personally wouldn’t have any objection to that,” he says. “It hinges on the consent or lack thereof.”
The concept can also be viewed from another angle. The issue with the big red armageddon button is that many people on earth enjoy life – and most of us would not give our consent to ending the planet. Instead, Kirk and his comrades want people to stop giving birth voluntarily.
Problems with mental health
There is one more key component of the anti-natalist movement. Followers often share experiences of their own mental health and sometimes blame those problems on having children of their own.
One user’s post quoting another person’s writing reads:
“I have a borderline personality disorder, in addition to bipolar and generalized anxiety”. The anti-natalist added their own opinion: “This individual has two kids. I feel bad for the kiddos”.
In yet another group, a person was clearly considering suicide.
“I’ve had schizophrenia and depression,” Thomas writes. “Depression does run in my family too. I think if I have kids there’s a high likelihood that they’re going to be depressed and they’re not going to like their life.”
He also believes the group is often labeled by outsiders wrongly.
“People start labelling us crazy psychos,” he says.
However, he believes the truth is more complex than that.
Saving the planet?
Anti-natalist movements have increased in the last few years due to environmental and climate change issues.
There seems to be a large overlap between anti-natalist ideas and those of environmental activists.
“I feel that it is selfish to have children at this time,” says Nancy, a vegan, plastic-free, animal rights enthusiast and yoga instructor from the Philippines.“The reality is that the children being born into the world are creating more destruction for the environment.”
In the “very angry anti-natalists” Facebook group, a petition has been posted, which they hope will get the attention of the United Nations.
The title of the petition is “Overpopulation root of the climate catastrophe – worldwide birth stop now.” Thus far it has gathered more than 27,000 signatures.
The idea of lowering childbirth to curb overpopulation isn’t a new one, however. I the UK, a charity named Population Matters has been suggesting this for a long time now. But, unlike the anti-natalists, they argue in favor of the sustainability of humanity rather than its extinction.
“Our aim is to achieve harmony between the human race and the planet we’re fortunate to inhabit,” says the groups director, Robin Maynard. “If we have fewer children across the globe and smaller families we can achieve a much more sustainable population.”
The question here is, will the population’s increase necessarily lead to an environmental catastrophe? BBC Global Population Correspondent Stephanie Hegarty believes it is hard to say because the future is not easy to predict.
“According to scientific projections, due to economic development and dropping fertility rates, the population of the world is likely to plateau at about 11 billion in 80 years,” she says. “Whether the planet can sustain that or not – we do not know.
“It’s also very difficult to predict how many people the planet can sustain because it’s all about consumption. And that means everything from air, water, food, fossil fuels, wood, plastic – the list goes on and on,” she continues. “Clearly some of us are consuming a lot more than others. A family of 12 in a country like Burundi will consume less, on average, than a family of three in Texas.
“There are so many factors that are going to be changing over the next decade and the next century that we can’t predict right now.”
Insults and criticism
Along with other deep philosophical and ethical conversations raging on anti-natalist groups, there is a darker aspect many would find objectionable.
There are insults directed at children, while parents are being called things like “breeders”.
“Whenever I see a pregnant woman, disgust is the first feeling.” wrote one person next to a picture that said: “I hate baby bump”.
But according to the people who spoke to the BBC, that doesn’t mean they all necessarily hate children.
“I would say I personally like children and it is because I like them that I don’t want them to suffer,” Nancy says. “Maybe bringing them into the world would give me some pleasure but the possible threat is so huge I’m just not sure it’s worth it.”
In addition, in some such groups, posters believe that babies should not be born in war zones if chances of disability are high, or even to financially unstable parents.
Such talk can sometimes remind us of the practice of selective breeding, or eugenics.
Some anti-natalists were unsure about those ideas.
“What are their motives behind having a kid?” says Thomas when asked if he is concerned about children being born in war-torn areas. “In such a country there’s less hope that things are going to turn around.”
He isn’t that bothered about children being born into poor households.
“Obviously I’m against having kids… but I think you can be happy and in a low-income area.”
“My anti-natalism is across the board,” says Nancy. “Why are we picking and choosing some groups because they are in a position of disadvantage?”
So, what does the anti-natalist philosophy come down to?
“Do the best you can,” says Kirk. “Be kind – and don’t procreate.”
What are your thoughts on the anti-natalist movement?
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