I don’t think any of us are stranger to the fascination that millennials (and gen z) have with nihilism. Social media is littered with memes saying they would rather be dead or just plain wishing to be dead. Add that to general teen angst, of shouting at your parents: “I didn’t ask to be born!”, then you realize that this case really shouldn’t be as surprising as it is.
Then again, no matter how many times it’s joked about it’s still just that: a joke. This is where Raphael Samuel differs — he has the conviction to see through his belief that not being born is actually the better option. A 27-year-old businessman from Mumbai, Raphael is a vocal supporter of the anti-natal movement called ‘Voluntary Human Extinction Movement’. In line with this, he is suing his parents for bringing him into this world without his consent.
He poses this question on his Facebook page, Nihilanand: If someone were to forcibly take you and make you live in a foreign place, force you to work, and endure pain your whole life this would be considered illegal on different counts (kidnapping, slavery, torture). So why doesn’t it count as such when it’s done by giving birth to you?
Photo taken from Nihilanand
To appreciate the merits of his case, consider this logic by known philosopher David Benatar:
Coming into existence, far from ever constituting a net benefit, always constitutes a net harm. Each life contains a great deal of bad — much more than people usually think. The only way to guarantee that some future person will not suffer that harm is to ensure that the possible person never becomes an actual person.
What this basically means is that suffering is a constant in every single human being’s life. We have all felt pain, in one way or another and even the most privileged person will admit to it. Because of that, it’s preferable for people to have never been born than to experience any of it. This logic comes from the popular sentiment in society that we ought to prevent suffering as much as possible.
If we can accept the idea that teenagers shouldn’t be having children because they’re less able to provide for them then why shouldn’t we accept that people, in general, shouldn’t be having children? The logic of the former relies on the likelihood of that child having a bad life. But we all have bad lives anyway, according to this thread of philosophy.
And yes, Samuel does defend it to its most extreme end: the human race eventually dying out. In an interview with BBC, he is quoted as saying:
There’s no point to humanity. So many people are suffering. If humanity is extinct, Earth and animals would be happier. They’ll certainly be better off. Also no human will then suffer. Human existence is totally pointless.
Photo taken from Nihilanand
But just because one strand of philosophy purports this to be true, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Several other schools of thought directly question this kind of thinking, and one of them is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism dictates that actions are “right” if they benefit the majority. The underlying implication here is that suffering becomes justified as long as it is in the interest of the majority.
Essentially: suffering is not always that bad. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate standard for whether a life is worth living or not. Some suffering is necessary for life — sitting through boring classes, minimal physical exercise, the pain of spicy food. If that pain leads to net good (a successful career, a healthy lifestyle, good food) then utilitarianism deems it justified.
At the end of the day (and as with most matters in philosophy), it’s a question that depends on the person. It’s an interesting thought experiment, one that even Samuel’s mother welcomes — she’s said to have told him: “It’s fine, but don’t expect me to go easy on you. I will destroy you in court.”
Unfortunately, because no lawyer seems willing to take up his case, the case remains a mental exercise for now.
What do you think about Raphael Samuel’s claims? Is it justified to sue his parents?