First things first, if you recognized the “aca-” pun in the title of this blog post, you need to get a life because apparently you’ve watched the Pitch Perfect movies one too many times (or maybe multiple times too many).
OK, not so irrelevant silliness aside, time to get a little serious. Not going to lie – birthdays are rather awkward for someone who identifies as an antinatalist, as I do (for an explanation of antinatalism, the Wikipedia article on it does a pretty good job of explaining the gist of the theory). Since in my view it is a harm to be brought into existence, and given that birthdays mark the anniversary of the day one was brought into existence, yeah it can be a bit weird to put it lightly.
I pull no punches about how I feel. Do I wish I had never been born? Without question or hesitation, the answer to that question is absolutely. I 100% wish I had never been born. As for the reasoning, I agree with Dr. David Benatar’s asymmetry argument between pleasure and pain. Whereas:
1) The presence of pain is bad, and
2) The presence of pleasure is good;
3) The absence of pain is good even if there exists nobody to benefit from that good, but
4) The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there already exists someone for which such an absence would be a deprivation.
When you consider this asymmetry, it follows that one is not benefited by the pleasures in life (even though they make a life go better than it otherwise would), but one is harmed by the pains in life. As such, it is always better never to be brought into existence.
That being said, antinatalism does not imply that we should all kill ourselves. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Death is actually a harm in and of itself. It is but one of many harms we will experience by having been brought into existence. In many cases it is a lesser evil as compared to continued existence, but it is still an evil nonetheless. Dr. Benatar explains this in more detail in his books Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence and The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions.
So with that, back to the topic of birthdays. Are they really cause for celebration? Maybe so. Again, antinatalism only speaks of coming into existence, not continued existence. Since we have already been brought into existence, maybe we should try to enjoy the time that we’re here. Maybe we should continue to learn and grow. Although our lives are cosmically meaningless, we do have the ability to give our lives temporal meaning. Another year older and wiser is nothing to sneeze at for the already existent.
Another perspective I’ve heard from some antinatalists (including one who is a friend of mine and actually shares my same birthday of the 18th of March) is that birthdays just mark one year closer to death. Perhaps that’s a little bit of a perverse view, but I can see merit in it. There will come a time that death is the lesser evil vs. continued existence. There comes a time in all of our lives that we are so overcome by pain that it’s not worth it to continue. Alas, that is a subjective value judgment and is up to each individual for his or her own life.
So are birthdays happy? I guess that’s up to the individual. It isn’t totally inconsistent for an antinatalist to celebrate a birthday, but it is a philosophical question that is hard to give an answer to. Whatever the case I’ll enjoy the cake, drinks, and the odd small gift. It’s those things that take the sting out of this thing called life after all.
I’m going to leave you all with this. This is a poem I wrote on my 27th birthday (2014 – five years ago). It is actually published in the 2014 edition of Famous Poets of The Heartland. I doubt I’m a famous poet but I guess I’ll take what I can get. Basically this sums up my personal view of birthdays the best I know how. I hope you enjoy it for what it’s worth.
That day which lives forever in infamy
Has once again come
The cursed day I was brought into existence
Arrives beating like a drum.
I try my hardest to forget about it
That wretched, awful day
For I’d have never been put here
If only I had my way.
As hard as I try not to think about it
Upon it I can’t help but dwell
My timeline overflows with reminders
All of them wishing me well.
I didn’t ask to be born
No, it wasn’t my choice
I screamed in protest that day
But it was as though I had no voice.
As this cursed day arrives
I can’t help but wish I had a gun
But I guess I might as well live
At least part of it has been fun.