Why Substantive Argumentation Is Important - Rebuttal to a Recent TWJ Article
A recent article in The Western Journal levels substantial amounts of criticism at a new activist group and their cause. However, while the amount of criticism may be substantial the criticism itself is sorely lacking in substantiation. The main theme of the article is that antinatalism and child-free views are a sign of society’s impending doom and cultural destruction, though no real evidence to support this sentiment is offered. Rather, the author consistently appeals to both emotion and religion in their attack on the group and its ideals.
The group in question, aptly named Stop Having Kids (Twitter: @SHK_Movement), plainly states that they aim to popularize antinatalism as a compassionate effort to reduce or end human suffering. What it is about this aim that The Western Journal appears to take issue with is something I may never know, as their simple hit piece provides little in the way of reasoned criticism. Indeed, the Journal fails to even employ the most common critiques and arguments against antinatalism, such as the possibility of joy or life satisfaction outweighing the negativity of suffering. The article’s author just barely scratches the surface of the critique from religion (namely from Christianity and the other Abrahamic faiths) with the occasional mention of God, opting instead to focus their efforts largely on a drafting short screed against “leftists”, abortion, environmentalism, and other tangential topics.
Overall I deem this article to be a click-bait style hit piece obviously tailored to appeal to the emotions of a specific audience in order to generate outrage and drive website traffic. Since the author failed in the most basic task of delivering a critical blow against their target, I will kindly demonstrate to them how one that actually cares for their craft writes a scathing critique.
Whether you agree with the philosophy or not, the idea that antinatalism is in itself a philosophy of hedonistic, selfish interest is dubious on its face. What personal interest is there in demonstrating the harm generated by giving birth to yet another human being? I would argue that little, if any such personal interest could be honestly demonstrated and that even if it could, it is largely irrelevant – while it is important to understand the personal interests and bias of any individual or group, antinatalism as a philosophy offers little room to connect such personal interest to it as a matter of criticism. An antinatalist gains nothing from another individual deciding that creating a human being is unethical, emotional satisfaction aside. They will not benefit monetarily or in any other material manner from such decisions by others. The conditions of their life are highly unlikely to somehow improve if someone decides not to ever have children. That said, I think it is safe to dispense with this idea that antinatalist or childfree activists are driven substantially by some unspecified self-interest, at least in regards to the subject of ceasing human reproduction in general.
Further, I could just as easily claim that pronatalists (a moniker I’d assume the article’s author would comfortably identify with) are driven by self-interest in their quest to encourage other humans to multiply. More humans means more workers, a larger tax base, more soldiers for war, etc. This creates a clear material motivation for pronatalists, particularly those heavily invested in the higher level functionings of society such as the stock market, wherein a notable decrease in population may signal the coming devaluation of many assets and a decrease in the overall productive output of a given society. Of course most pronatalist arguments are rooted in religion or emotional appeals, but someone’s true motivation and their claimed motivation can often be two different things.
As for the authors other disjointed ramblings against SHK and antinatalism, there isn’t much to critique given the objective lack of substantive argumentation. The author consistently appeals to emotion (a well-recognized informal fallacy) in an effort to make the subject of their disdain out to be ghoulish fiends hell-bent on bringing about death and destruction, even referring to antinatalism as “the logical conclusion of our culture of death” – a point which the author never meaningfully expands upon as it is never made clear what “culture of death” they are referencing aside from connecting it to abortion. Another example of the author’s appeal to emotion is the vague, largely opinionated claim that everything “true and beautiful” is being attacked by “leftism”. This is another odd point of the author’s attack on SHK and antinatalism, as antinatalism as a sect of philosophy is commonly viewed as a fringe idea without widespread acceptance – including amongst most who consider themselves “left wing” politically. That said it appears the authors understanding of antinatalism as a subset of philosophy as well as left wing politics and any connection between the two entities is marginal at best.
The only other issue worth noting is that the author brings attention to SHK’s relatively small following on Twitter, currently sitting at 85 followers, as a point of criticism. This is a popular argumentative fallacy employed in spats that take place over social media, wherein a “larger” entity appeals to the fact it has a larger following in an effort to cement its own legitimacy while denying the legitimacy of the “smaller” entity, using the disparity in follower counts to suggest that because the larger entity is more well known they are also better informed and have a stronger argument. Of course this is nothing but a dishonest attempt to deflect from the weakness of the larger entities own argument – the idea is usually to engage the larger entities followers in a campaign against the smaller entity, hoping that they will be drowned in a tsunami of bad faith criticism and ad hominem attacks. This allows the larger entity to simply walk away from the debate without having to honestly address any flaws in their position, having successfully bullied their critic into submission. Put simply - follower counts do not reflect a given entities qualifications to discuss a certain matter, nor do they proportionally reflect the strength or accuracy of one’s argument. One last note - this point of criticism is particularly ironic considering that the person who authored the article appears to have less Twitter followers than SHK, standing at 68 as of the time of this writing with an account one full year older than SHK's.
Naturally I don’t expect that the article’s author will offer a counter critique, nor do I expect that they will correct their article to more accurately reflect reality. However, I found the author’s flimsy attempt to smear an entire school of political thought, a legitimate philosophy, and a small activist group all at once worthy of being thoroughly rebutted. Should any counter critique or reply be received, this space will be updated.