Book Review: Better Never To Have Been by David Benatar

I think every one of us must be an anti-natalist at heart, and every argument you can think of in favor of non-existence is presented far more coherently and articulately here in this title than any argument I could possibly think of in favor of existence. Although the overall message becomes slightly redundant and/or repetitive over the course of 200ish pages, it can be summarized as follows (for those who lack the time or interest to plow through such a “truth bomb”): For the vast majority of people, the negatives of life most definitely outweigh the positives, and as for those in the minority percentage of people whose lives are blessed with more good than bad, they would never have missed the pleasures of living had they never existed to begin with. As an additional incentive in favor of non-existence, the minority of people who experience more good than bad in their lives would simultaneously rid themselves of any and all negatives they have experienced if they had never existed to begin with – thereby making non-existence a win-win scenario, since even the most fortunate among us are still forced to deal with the occasional pain/hindrance which all of us would be better off never having to experience.

This book struck a chord with me in particular because I believe I have always been an anti-natalist at heart. I can’t recall any point in my life where everything went according to plan or where I was genuinely happy to be alive, because even if I were, I would simultaneously always feel an underlying sense of dread that feelings of pleasure are not only ephemeral, but they are nearly always at the expense of others who live in perpetual misery and squalor. Sometimes I have felt that I am at the center of all the suffering in the universe: I don’t have what you could call a lot of fortune in life, being “cursed” with a combination of extremely poor genetics and completely clueless parents compounded by a complete lack of empathy or support from any of the people in our surrounding community. However, at the same time, there are quite a few people leading what could arguably be considered far more fortunate lives who I -wouldn’t- want to switch places with. As many aspects of myself that I would rather not retain, there are still others that those other people who lead arguably more fortunate lives are lacking in which I would never want to give up. I am sure that the average person would rather be more respectable and recognized for something more substantial than the Kardashians or Hiltons, for example.

We don’t get to choose any aspects of our genetics or circumstances, yet there are many repercussions for these uncontrollable aspects. Being born into a certain race, location, socioeconomic background, having a certain appearance or physical or mental condition can profoundly impact the well-being of any given individual; at the same time, being born into good fortune is never guaranteed to follow an individual throughout his or her life, as our lives are so easily malleable and at the mercy of random circumstance. In fact, it is arguably even worse for an individual to grow up in idyllic circumstances only to have them lose everything, rather than never even knowing what it was like to grow up in those circumstances and winding up at the same end position. What could be more cruel, after all, than knowing what it’s like to experience genuine happiness and pleasure only to have it ripped away after a few short years?

One important issue to note that the book neglected to mention which I think it should have is the importance of channeling the human experience through artwork. Although the pleasure induced by artwork is the result of suffering, I feel that the primary issue in modern Western society is the lack of emphasis on real art in favor of such crass forms of entertainment as reality television, 50 Shades of Grey or any other romance fiction, celebrities, a million pointless YouTube channels, etc. I am convinced that I grew up in a society that was basically a conglomeration of all the worst aspects of American culture, which is why I feel like this issue is particularly bothersome. Looking back at my first blog post, it’s obvious that feeling underappreciated is what has ultimately killed me.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Better Never To Have Been by David Benatar

  1. But you seem to be enjoying your self-indulgence and self-pity so much! Couple of words of wisdom: (1) You get to choose how you feel about things. Yep. That’s right. You can get religion, or Zen Buddhism, or Meditation, or just watch the first season of the “Kung Fu” TV series. (2) Perhaps the most important thing the Beatles ever said was this, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” So get out there and start appreciating other people if you want to feel appreciated.

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    1. It really isn’t anyone’s choice to feel a certain way any more than anything else is a “choice.” Ask yourself whether a gay person could think themselves straight, or whether a person could also choose to enjoy being punched in the face, and the answer to the question of whether emotions are within our control is obvious.

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      1. On the other hand, many people who were raised to feel gays were bad people have learned from those brave enough to come out that they’re pretty much just like us. Same for many people who once felt it was offensive to sit beside a black person. How we feel can be changed.

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