Avoidable Blood

It may seem that someone who defends that all sentient beings inhabit a terminal and frictional structure—and that it would have been better if we never existed—cannot revolt against the brutalities perpetrated by the socioeconomic order we live in and want change, but it only seems that way. One position is perfectly compatible with the other. I would even argue that one position follows the other, although I don't believe this always happens because we have different kinds of affections that lead us to different views of everything, including politics.

May the 3th 1808, by Francisco Goya

In the eve of this year's Black Consciousness Day, the whole country watched a video in the news showing the murder of a black man in a supermarket that is part of the Carrefour chain. The crime happened in the city of Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, the southern most state of Brazil. He was beaten to death by two white security guards who worked for Carrefour. All of this occurred while other white employees watched. The beating started after the man supposedly punched one of the guards, after he was taken outside for having argued with the checkout employee. His death was filmed by other shoppers.

This raises the question: would this have happened if the man was a white, blond and “well dressed”? When we look at the statistics, it is very difficult to believe so. According to data released by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Instituto de pesquisa econômica aplicada, Ipea), blacks are by far the most numerous victims of homicide in Brazil: the rate is 37.8 homicides per 100 thousand people (CERQUEIRA; BUENO, 2020). When we compare this figure with non-blacks (whites, Asians, natives), the rate is 13.9 homicides per 100 thousand people. The same occurs when we look at data regarding other types of crimes. It's as if blacks lived in another country, one that is far more violent and brutal.

A significant part of those deaths are perpetrated by security workers, be them private security or public law enforcement. It isn't news that Brazil has one of the most murderous police forces in the world—and that they almost always walk away without any charges, which contradicts the conservative narrative that Brazilian cops can't work properly for fear of being prosecuted.

Our law enforcers and security agents, from the high command of the army to the private mall security guard, are trained to defend white people who belong to higher social classes. This is the reason why the police can kill with impunity in slums, something they could never do in the richest neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro, like Ipanema or Leblon. One doesn't have to be a multimillionaire either in order to receive special treatment. All we have to do is to observe shopping malls in Rio's northern districts. Guards watch and follow more blacks than whites, by far. Even white beggars have more freedom to beg inside of malls than black beggars.

I could write about the hypocrisy and implicit racism of those who criticize Black Consciousness Day while praising Oktoberfest and other European celebrations at the same time, but I've done it in other texts. By this time, either people who think this way are completely ignorant to the point of not understanding anything that comes out of their mouths, or they're racists. In many cases, they're both. However, more and more there are those who, even though they know what's right, chose to do wrong because their affections don't allow them to act differently. Ernesto Araújo, the minister of foreign relations, is an example of this. Bolsonaro and his sons are also examples. They had every opportunity in the world to learn that they defend grotesque views, but something inside of them doesn't allow them to change.

The present silence of neopentecostal churches is also interesting, since normally they are so present in national debates when it comes to a bunch of different issues. When evangelical churches are criticized for defending the most oppressive structures that permeate the system we live in, two or three center-left evangelicals invariably come crawling out of somewhere and say: “But Martin Luther King was evangelical and progressive!” Someone needs to tell them that saying that doesn't change a thing. Besides, the taking over of the movement for racial equality in the 1960's by religious leaders also caused harmful effects for the black community in the United States that last till this day (POSTON, 2018; WARD, 2005).

So I'm not writing for conservatives, Christian fundamentalists, and groups not far from those two, because people who have these views can't even start to have an inner dialogue that would allow them to question their beliefs, save rare exceptions. This is unfortunate, but their affections do not allow them to have a critical internal dialogue.

My objective here is to briefly expound on how someone who doesn't see any purpose in an existence full of pain and ruled by the terminality of being can also defend the end of injustice and oppression that humans promote against other humans. How can someone defend the position that it would have been better not to exist—and therefore the correct course of action is abstaining from reproduction—and, at the same time, defend that capitalism has reached its course and humanity needs to find better alternatives? What makes a cosmic pessimist hold a positive view of the political struggle against systemic oppression?

When one considers life to be analogous to a forced labor camp where everyday some individuals are randomly chosen to be executed, like Cormac McCarthy wrote in his play—that became a film—The Sunset Limited (2011), sure, the correct thing to do is to abstain from reproduction. However, history shows us that humans reproduce themselves even in concentration camps and war zones (BLACKEMORE, 2018; DUBLIN, 1945). When we analise the birth rates in more prosperous societies, we see that they tend to be low, while the opposite occurs in undeveloped societies with high poverty rates and violence (NARGUND, 2009; GALLAGHER, 2018). It seems like the harder life becomes, the more we want to create new lives to share in the pain.

What should the oppressed do, then? Starting from a negative philosophical perspective, I think that even those who are not oppressed and belong to the most privileged groups in the world should not reproduce. If one really want it, the less children, the less suffering, therefore the “least bad” alternative is to have as few as possible, which would be one. Better yet, there's the alternative of adoption. According to UNICEF (ORPHANS, 2017), there's about 15.1 million orphans who lost both parents in the world, and 5% of them are less than 5 years old. From a negative philosophical perspective, the same ethical prescription is given to the oppressed as well: the best thing is to abstain from reproduction. However, it is perfectly reasonable to hear adults who belong to an oppressed group, like black people in Brazil or Palestinians in Gaza, that they have the right—and even the duty—to have children that will continue their struggles.

From the perspective of cosmic pessimism, all life is captivity, even the best ones, so reproducing is the same as bringing new consciousness into this prison. But there are people who live in shackles that go beyond the philosophical pessimist perspective. These people live in yet another kind of prison, one that presents itself as even more real. Such prisons are formed by artificial human structures of control—and they can and should be overthrown in order to make everyone's lives a little less bad. Of course this won't change the terminal structure of being, since this is an ontological datum inseparable from being itself. This will also not end the frictions beings face by merely existing. However, if we can make certain aspects of our lives a little better—especially for those who are already here, now—why not do it?

Negative and pessimist ethics like the ones we learn from Emil Cioran or Julio Cabrera tend towards minimalism, in the sense that in many cases, if not in almost all cases, our actions produce negative consequences which are impossible to predict. So, even if we adopt a negative ontology regarding the universe and come to the conclusion that antinatalism is the best ethical approach, it is beyond question to force others to adopt a position by force. Antinatalist philosopher David Benatar doesn't have any illusions about his ethical proposal. He states that there is no real possibility of convincing everyone, and there's even less of a possibility to force people to adopt this kind of philosophy. Beyond that, he argues that it would be a mistake to want to force our own philosophical convictions on others, and that we should keep a healthy dose of skepticism and caution.

There's yet another problem. Let's assume that tomorrow all living Palestinians decide for themselves to stop reproducing. That still wouldn't solve the problem that they themselves are oppressed today. The same would happen with all humans facing oppression from other humans. Therefore, oppressed peoples have every right to fight for an existence which contains less frictions, independent of their choice in reproducing or not. Of course that, from a philosophical pessimist stand, it is better if they chose not to perpetuate the misery of sentient life, but this decision is not conditioned by their struggle for justice and freedom. Those who have more privileged lives than most must understand this and support causes that help reduce the suffering of others.

By Fernando Olszewski

. CERQUEIRA, Daniel; BUENO, Samira (org.). Atlas da Violência 2020. Rio de Janeiro: Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada, 2020.
. WARD, Elijah G. Homophobia, hypermasculinity, and the US Black Church. Culture Health & Sexuality. S.l., v. 7, nº 5, p.493-504, set. 2005.
. POSTON, Lance E. Deconstructing Sodom and Gomorrah: A Historical Analysis of the Mythology of Black Homophobia. Athens: Ohio University, 2018.
.THE Sunset Limited. Direção de Tommy Lee Jones. Roteiro: Cormac McCarthy. S.L.: HBO Films, 2011.
. GALLAGHER, James. 'Remarkable' decline in fertility rates. 2018. Disponível em: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-46118103.
. BLAKEMORE, Erin. This Midwife at Auschwitz Delivered 3,000 Babies in Unfathomable Conditions. 2018. Disponível em: https://www.history.com/news/auschwitz-midwife-stanislawa-leszczynska-saint.
. NERGUND, G. Declining birth rate in Developed Countries: A radical policy re-think is required. Facts, Views & Vision in ObGyn. S.l., v.1, nº 3, 2009.
. DUBLIN, Louis I. War and the Birth Rate: A Brief Historical Summary. American Journal of Public Health. S.l., v.35, abr.1945.
. ORPHANS. 2017. Nota de imprensa da UNICEF. Disponível em: https://www.unicef.org/media/media_45279.html.