Reflecting on the Natalist Discourse

4 mins read

The discourse that occupies the American psyche says that reproducing and building a biological family is ideal. I disagree. Instead, I believe that the reproduction of human beings is unethical. This position is known as antinatalism. Reproduction is an ethical question because humans suffer. No one can escape the existential pain of life. Most of us have more material privilege than our ancestors, yet we are constantly in a state of discomfort. We are tired, lonely, hungry, thirsty, and sick. 

There are many considerations that one goes through when deciding to have a child, including maturity, readiness, and financial security. Missing from these is the ethical implications of having children. One’s child will inevitably suffer even if one happens to be the best parent in the entire world, and this suffering is not something that the child can consent to. 

The desire to build a biological family does not outweigh the ethical concerns of creating human beings. I understand that reproduction has deep cultural roots within different societies, and many people have a strong biological impulse to reproduce, but nonetheless argue against reproducing as a means of generating meaning in one’s life. Instead, those seeking to build families should consider alternative means of creating kin. 

My secondary appeal against having children specific to overdeveloped countries is the environmental implications. We cannot continue to consume resources at the rate we in the U.S. are. If everyone on Earth consumed resources like Americans, it would take about five Earths to sustain us. The problem is not overpopulation, but overconsumption, especially considering that a child born in the U.S. will consume far more resources than an entire family in many countries around the world. Choosing to have children in a society that overconsumes its resources like this is unwise. Until society is transformed into one that respects the Earth, reproduction will remain not just unethical, but unpragmatic. While corporations, not individuals, are responsible for the ecological mess that we are in, we are responsible for responding accordingly. Thus, refusing to reproduce is not just a means of reducing human suffering, but a pragmatic response to ecological disaster.

Inevitably, one will argue that we need to continue the human species. I think we must reconsider the endless cycle of birth and death, at least until the U.S. reaches a per capita consumption level that is sustainable for the planet. What I am arguing for is a radical departure from the way that we reproduce and build families. As a result, I strongly favor adoption, as the children have already been born, and we have the opportunity to provide them with better lives than they currently have. Instead of building one’s family through biological children, one ought to consider building kin through adoptive and chosen families. 

What I am not arguing for is government regulation of reproduction. Government regulation of reproduction has an ugly history in the U.S. that has led to nonconsensually sterilizing disabled, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and poor people as recently as the 1970s. What I am arguing for is a radical redefinition of kin through a cultural shift. We have to build a world in which the conception of family is not limited by biology.

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