As much as I don’t want to re-open the anti-natalism can of worms, I feel there is something I need to say and it applies to anti-natalism as well as many other irrational beliefs. I’ve had someone tell me that if you allow a very specific definition of “suffer”, then anti-natalism is logical because it builds off of that definition. Technically, I suppose that if you define “suffering” as “everything anyone ever does” and further refines it as something that “must be opposed at all times by all people”, there might be a point. However, I don’t see either of those as reasonable definitions.
The reality is, words have meanings for a reason, they make meaningful discussion possible by ensuring that everyone is talking about the same thing. So let’s look at a couple of dictionary definitions for the term:
Suffer: 1. To feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm, or punishment.
Suffer: to endure death, pain, or distress
Suffer: to undergo or feel pain or distress
None of those definitions implies the kind of thing that anti-natalists seem to think that it should, that everything that happens to people is suffering. Let’s take the one common term between the three definitions, “pain” and examine it. If I am not in pain, I am not suffering. I don’t happen to be in pain right now. There is zero suffering going on where I’m sitting. I would go so far as to suggest that this is the case for the majority of people on the planet at the moment. Thus, when anti-natalists state that “life is suffering”, it takes only a moment to demonstrate that such a statement is factually untrue. Some life may be suffering most of the time. Most life suffers occasionally. It is simply untrue that all life is suffering all of the time. Strike One.
Secondly, we can examine the second part of the argument, that suffering must be opposed by all. Says who? This is simply an empty, unsupported claim. They expect people to accept it, yet I don’t. In fact, I vehemently deny it. I don’t think we ought to oppose most suffering, just for the sake of opposing it. Suffering drives human innovation and technological advance. If no one ever suffered, we’d have no reason to improve living conditions. In doing so, we certainly will minimize suffering to a certain degree, but we’ll never wipe it out entirely, nor from a purely pragmatic standpoint, should we. If we did, we’d stop improving. The anti-natalists revel in logical fallacy here, appealing to emotion and engaging in the classical if-by-whiskey fallacy. Strike Two.
Therefore, when we get to anti-natalism phrased as such: “Life is suffering and suffering must be opposed by all, thus people should stop breeding to eliminate suffering”, we must reject the statement as irrational and unreasonable because the components are false. Life is not suffering and suffering need not necessarily be opposed by anyone, thus the conclusion that relies on those two faulty premises is likewise faulty. Logic 101. Three Strikes and they’re out.
We can get away from anti-natalism and see this same technique used in other arguments as well. How often have you seen a theist try to define “God is the universe”? They’re simply trying, as anti-natalists do, to define a term into existence that specifically works to their advantage. Life is not suffering and God is not the universe. We already have perfectly good words for these and it does not match the accepted definition of the other terms. You can no more do that than a racist could justify racism by declaring “black is inferior”. Just claiming that it is doesn’t make it so.
So we’re left with bad terminology as the only support for bad logic. Since life is not suffering and suffering is not something that must be universally opposed, then the claim that not breeding the human species into extinction is a good idea is a failed concept. Not that I expect them to recognize or accept that, their arguments aren’t based on logic or critical thinking, but on emotion.
Emotion almost never makes a worthwhile argument.