Friday, November 29, 2019
From the New Yorker:
David Benatar may be the world’s most pessimistic philosopher. An “anti-natalist,” he believes that life is so bad, so painful, that human beings should stop having children for reasons of compassion. “While good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place,” he writes, in a 2006 book called “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.” In Benatar’s view, reproducing is intrinsically cruel and irresponsible—not just because a horrible fate can befall anyone, but because life itself is “permeated by badness.” In part for this reason, he thinks that the world would be a better place if sentient life disappeared altogether.
For a work of academic philosophy, “Better Never to Have Been” has found an unusually wide audience. It has 3.9 stars on GoodReads, where one reviewer calls it “required reading for folks who believe that procreation is justified.” A few years ago, Nic Pizzolatto, the screenwriter behind “True Detective,” read the book and made Rust Cohle, Matthew McConaughey’s character, a nihilistic anti-natalist. (“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution,” Cohle says.) When Pizzolatto mentioned the book to the press, Benatar, who sees his own views as more thoughtful and humane than Cohle’s, emerged from an otherwise reclusive life to clarify them in interviews. Now he has published “The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions,” a refinement, expansion, and contextualization of his anti-natalist thinking. The book begins with an epigraph from T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”—“Humankind cannot bear very much reality”—and promises to provide “grim” answers to questions such as “Do our lives have meaning?,” and “Would it be better if we could live forever?”
Benatar was born in South Africa in 1966. He is the head of the philosophy department at the University of Cape Town, where he also directs the university’s Bioethics Centre, which was founded by his father, Solomon Benatar, a global-health expert. (Benatar dedicated “Better Never to Have Been” “to my parents, even though they brought me into existence.”) Beyond these bare facts, little information about him is available online. There are no pictures of Benatar on the Internet; YouTube videos of his lectures consist only of PowerPoint slides. One video, titled “What Does David Benatar Look Like?,” zooms in on a grainy photograph taken from the back of a lecture hall until an arrow labelled “David Benatar” appears, indicating the abstract, pixellated head of a man in a baseball cap.
Read more here.