Antinatalism and Depression (Is there a link?)
In this article, we will discuss the connection between antinatalism and depression. Before we get to the point of understanding the connection, we will get to know about antinatalism and the debate in the field of philosophy regarding the same. We will also explore some other theories closely related to this phenomenon.
Are Antinatalism views and depression linked?
Many critics of antinatalism believe that antinatalists are often depressed individuals with a limited and pessimistic approach to birth and life. But are antinatalists actually depressed? That is a much-debated issue but the short answer would be that it is highly unlikely that all antinatalists have depression. It is also wrong to use the label of depression to disagree with a person’s moral, philosophical, or social beliefs. Before we get into the details of this we need to first understand what is antinatalism.
What is Antinatalism?
Antinatalism is the philosophical view where people believe that procreation is a morally wrong thing to do. People with the antinatalism views are called antinatalists. It is also a social movement where antinatalists urge or try to impose their views on the masses at large. Antinatalists also can have the beliefs extreme to the point where they wish the entire human race to become extinct.
The various notions surrounding Antinatalism.
There are many points of view that Antinatalists draw their beliefs from and some of them are mentioned below in a gist.
The religious point of view
The religious point of view dates back to Ancient Greece and 400BC Buddhist teachings. Philosopher David Benatar quoted Greek tragedian and text from the Ecclesiastes in his book titled ‘Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Buddhist teachings present the view: “Oblivious of the suffering to which life is subject, man begets children, and is thus the cause of old age and death. If he would only realize what suffering he would add to by his act, he would desist from the procreation of children; and so stop the operation of old age and death”. Many Buddhists and scholars do believe that the teachings were molded incorrectly by the antinatalists to prove their point.
The Environmental point of view
Antinatalists believe that climate change and environmental crisis can be resolved by bringing lesser children to the already crisis-stricken planet. They find it unfair to the children that they are brought into, raised, and expected to live in a world with mass displacement, resource use limitations, human encroachment over natural spaces, and constant natural calamities.
The Economic and financial point of view
Many antinatalists believe that overpopulation is the root cause of poverty and poor nutrition, lack of basic amenities for the already living people. Prohibiting procreation is considered a solution to poor health and living conditions.
Antinatalists also believe a low birth rate can ensure that the families and authorities can provide people with better facilities/opportunities and make their human rights more accessible.
In Lieu of procreation, antinatalists believe adoption to be a beneficial choice. Proactively deciding to raise a child already existing on this planet in better conditions than they currently live in can reduce the economic burden on the governments to fund the organizations providing shelter, care, and food to the orphans and abandoned children.
The Ethical point of view
Antinatalists believe that children are born into this world without their consent and believe that procreation is manipulation and harm, a unilateral and non-consensual sending of a human being into a painful, dangerous and morally impeding situation.
Criticism of this point of view is that it is impossible to seek the consent of a child to be born.
What is the connection between Antinatalism and Depression?
To understand the link we have to take a detour to understand a concept very closely associated with this.
Many scholars believe that people with depression have an edge over their non-depressed counterparts when it comes to perceiving reality. This does not mean people should push themselves into depression to have a clearer picture of situations around them. Instead, it says that people with depression may suspend their human biases to a large extent in comparison to people without depression. This suspension of biases leads to a more comprehensive and realistic image of life and situations. The term used to describe this phenomenon is Depressive Realism.
What is Depressive Realism?
Lauren Ally and Lyn Yvonne Abramson in 1988 developed the hypothesis of Depressive Realism stating that depression may render an individual with a more accurate view of the world than the non-depressed.
They brought into foresight a research study done in the year 1979. The study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, asked participants with and without depression to push a button to turn the light bulb on a computer screen before them. Actually, their action had no influence on the light bulb going on or off. On asking the participants if they thought they had any control over the light bulb going on and off, more participants with depression stated ‘no’ in comparison to the non-depressed individuals. The researchers then concluded that people with depression have a more realistic perspective on how much control they have in certain situations.
However, there were researchers who criticized the methodology of studies on Depressive Realism. There were other studies that happened to prove that people with depression were less accurate in their predictions about the future than their non-depressed peers.
Mental health experts claim that Depressive Realism may stand true only for people with mild to moderate levels of depression and not severe ones.
Coming back to understanding the connection between antinatalism and depression..
These concepts are linked because antinatalists are believed to be people who enforce their perception of reality to an extreme amount where they wish to minimize or curb the propagation of human species because of environmental, economic, ethical, etc concerns. To what extent antinatalism can help these pressing current issues of the world is a huge debate.
Though one cannot rule out the possibility that depression could be the reason for having a supposedly negative attitude towards life. An Indian man, not so long ago, sued his lawyer parents for giving birth to him without his consent. Although this incident received a lot of laughs one cannot dismiss the man’s views completely because he has a right to think and express as a human. Though, eventually, he was treated for depression and he let go of his antinatalist beliefs. His story makes the case for ‘antinatalist is equal to depressed’ strong.
Criticizers of antinatalists or pronatalists often point that prohibiting procreation is not a solution to these challenges. They also believe it is wrong to diminish the meaning of life to just the experiences of pain and pleasure. There is much more to life than suffering and death. Instead, spreading awareness and living the gift of life mindfully is what will actually prove to be of help to the planet. They believe that contributing meaningfully to the planet can be in the form of helping the needy, making donations generously, being mindful about resource usage and depletion, adopting children, adopting anti-pollution practices. Proactive measures like these can have a ripple effect and much greater impact on the planet and the world instead of deciding to not have a child who would be loved and cherished when born.
But, one cannot and should not jump into a conclusion that depression is the sole reason that drives people to have antinatalist thoughts. Like we looked at in the section above, there are many other points of view that people draw their antinatalist beliefs from. It is wrong to impose our personal beliefs about such issues on other people.
It is also disrespectful towards people with depression to use the label of depression on people who are not battling the disorder. Depression is so much more than just having a supposed negative view of life. It can make the ones actually suffering feel like the label is being discredited or being used loosely as per people’s whims and fancies.
It might make the sufferers feel that their wrenching persistent sadness, feelings of worthlessness/hopelessness, loss of interest in daily living activities, loss or gain of appetite and weight, sleep issues, are being minimized into having a pessimistic view on one phenomenon when antinatalists are labeled as depressed.
People with depression often have suicidal ideations. Antinatalists, in general, do not talk about ending their own life, they are against bringing new human life into this already crowded world. There is a big difference between the two.
Having an extremist philosophical or social view does not imply that there is an underlying mental health impairment. Having stated that, one cannot dismiss the courage or sacrifice of people who pledge to live a child-free life for the sake of the planet and having a noble perception where they visualize ‘well-being for all living beings’.
In this article, we discussed the connection between antinatalism and depression. Before we got to the point of understanding the connection, we dived in deeper to understand the concept of antinatalism, the debate in the field of philosophy regarding the same. We also explored the concept of Depressive Realism that is closely related to this phenomenon before we attempted to understand the link between antinatalism and depression.
If you’ve enjoyed the Antinatalism and Depression mentioned above, I would recommend you to take a look at Alan Watts on depression and Misanthropy and depression too.
Frequently asked questions: Antinatalism and depression
What is an anti-natalist policy?
An anti-natalist policy is adopted by countries/governments where the citizens are discouraged to procreate, particularly citing reasons of overpopulation. Governments do this by spreading awareness on family planning, increasing access to contraception, and sterilization. Sometimes the law of the country prohibits citizens to have more than one child or gives privileges to people with two or fewer children.
Which countries are antinatalists?
Countries with a booming population rate, which aim to reduce the birth rate, for example, China and India promote family planning and fewer children per family.
Is it better to never have been born?
Antinatalist beliefs have received a lot of backlash across the globe. People perceive it as a reductionist and pessimistic attitude towards life. People encourage antinatalists to perceive birth and life as a gift rather than a burden to sail through.
If this is a pressing concern or question for you to the point where you are considering harming yourself or others, please seek urgent professional advice.
Is Buddhism antinatalist?
Buddhism encourages its followers towards celibacy as an attempt to break the cycle of rebirth. They have this view of rebirth and karma and a wheel of becoming. One cannot break the wheel of rebirth unless one achieves enlightenment. Enlightenment consists in no longer being subjected to this continuous cycle of rebirth. Enlightenment is the the act of canceling all of the the mental properties that would cause one to continually be reborn into existence. One such mental property is the sexual need of a human being. This view then leads to no procreation which makes people or the antinatalists believe that Buddhism preaches antinatalism but that is not the case.
- Alloy LB, Abramson LY. Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: sadder but wiser? J Exp Psychol Gen. 1979 Dec;108(4):441-85. doi: 10.1037//0096-3422.214.171.1241. PMID: 528910.
Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/528910/
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