Be very afraid

Nobody has the answer. Yes, we might have figured out how certain aspects of reality work, from many fundamental laws of physics to the biological intricacies of viruses, but while that is highly commendable, it doesn't answer other pressing questions. Why are we here, what is the purpose of it all? Religions and philosophies offer diverse views on the subject, but no one knows the answer for sure.

We are in total darkness as to why we're here. Meaninglessness has even become a cliché. But when we really stop to think about it we see how frightening it is. After not being for an eternity, I suddenly am a decaying carcass, inhabiting a place where children get cancer and die horribly, a place where screaming babies were thrown into fiery pits as sacrifice to the gods, a place where animals capable of feeling great physical pain get eaten alive and torn into pieces — and nobody knows why.

Painting by Zdzislaw Beksinski.

This has been a central theme in the work of philosophers such as Peter Zapffe, Emil Cioran and Julio Cabrera. For Zapffe, blind natural selection produced a species with an overabundance of consciousness and intelligence. What once was useful for our survival ended up becoming detrimental when we started asking questions pertaining to meaning and purpose, especially when faced with life's many sufferings. It is pretty clear that we not only want to know if there is or if there isn't a meaning to our lives — we want meaning to exist, period. That is why we invented different meanings over and over again throughout our history.
As Cioran argues, we're apes who lost their hair and substituted them for ideals, which is the same as having illusions as far as he was concerned. For Cabrera, to exist as a sentient creature is to experience different forms of physical and mental frictions that constantly chip away our being and harm us, until eventually the friction kills us. Unlike other animals, humans can create positive values in order to keep the intrinsic negative aspects of existence at bay, but those values are never sufficient.
It's not surprising that each of these philosophers were in favor of some form of antinatalistic ethic. Whether or not there exists some metaethical foundation to which we can point at and unequivocally state that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are real features of the world, independent of our minds, the point is that those philosophers have defended the position that it is best not to bring new conscious beings into existence, since they'll always experience some harm no matter how good their lives might end up being — and non-existence never hurt anyone.
On that note, when it comes to the metaethical aspect of the pessimistic condemnation of birth, and how this condemnation is grounded, some questions might be raised. One could argue that, sure, we are all harmed by coming into existence, but a description of reality doesn't entail a moral duty not to do something like procreating, unless there exists some objective morality. Cabrera answers this by writing that the leap from factual description to moral prescription is not done via a cold and purely logical deduction, but through a combination of logical and emotional (that is, logopathic) elements: we don't only observe ethical relevant questions from afar but, as moral patients ourselves, we're always part of the world and in some way or another made to suffer as well.
Besides this, Cabrera states that every normative ethical theory presents the moral agent with choices, regardless of the presupposed metaethics involved. Presented with a set of options, and possessing knowledge of a certain normative theory, it is up to us to act morally or not. That is, whether one understands metaethics as being mind-independent or mind-dependent, objective or subjective, moral agents have to decide whether or not to act morally in certain situations, based on a normative theory of some kind. That's assuming the agent is at least vaguely aware of any, of course, but even something as simple as the golden rule can be thought of as a normative ethic.
Another pessimist and antinatalist philosopher, David Benatar, argued in an interview that the gap between factual statements and normative statements is always going to exist, but that it is up to the philosopher to make that gap as small as possible. He gives an example. Science tells us that we cannot breathe under water, it is painful and deadly to do so. Then, all things being equal, Benatar argues it's not much of a stretch to say that we shouldn't hold another person's head under water until they drown.
This example might lead us to assume Benatar is a metaethical realist, but he could only be a realist if we discard the notion of mind-independence as an important feature of moral realism — and we cannot do that when it comes to Benatar, because he assumes that there will always be a gap between descriptive and normative statements, which means that he doesn't (necessarily) view morality as something objective; that is, independent of our minds.
But I digress. It really is not important if moral facts exist in the world outside of our minds or not, since no matter the answer, it will be up to us as agents to decide how to act. But what is not up to us is that the world — and here I means kosmos, not just planet Earth — is a scary place we should all be afraid of, and that we as an intelligent species created a multitude of illusions to keep us going through this scary place, generation after generation.
The real gap we ought to be looking at is how we've been able to successfully separate the human world of culture, religion and meaning from the cruel and decaying world of reality, of nature. That we've been hiding death and disturbing knowledge from the masses is widely known among anyone who has studied beyond a certain level. Other than people living in extremely violent places, few of us understand how fragile we are and how utterly disgusting certain events can be.
Take for instance a fall from a significant height or being run over by a semi truck. Some of us have trouble understanding how a living person, with aspirations, loved ones, plans, can become so alien-looking in a matter of moments. Other than sensationalist news programs, showing (and viewing) scenes like that is considered in bad taste, a disrespect towards the victims and their families. Surely. But that's not the only reason why things like that are normally hidden. Mangled bodies are fear inducing, disturbing, and they make some of us question things that aren't supposed to be questioned.
Certain professions require viewing such scenes regularly. ER professionals, coroners, morticians, priests, rabbis, monks. And although morticians, coroners and ER doctors often say they're used to it, and that it's not a big deal, virtually all of the professionals I mentioned don't recommend that everyone should see things like that regularly. It desensitizes us, which is in itself a danger sociologically and even criminally speaking. But, besides desensitization, looking at or experiencing first hand certain horrors can also make us question the importance or the meaning of it all. After all, “how come people talk about the sanctity of human life when we or someone dear to us can end up looking like... that?”
Forget looking like that, what about the pain of being mangled and living long enough to feel the process? What about the pain of seeing our loved ones go through hell, be it by accident, violence, disease or psychological illnesses? What about the innumerable kinds of physical and mental pains in store for us? We forget that things that hurt us are far more abundant and intense than the pleasures and positive states conscious existence has to offer. None of that speaks in favor of any notion of sanctity that can be attributed to life. I'd like then to propose another rout for an antinatalist ethic: fear. Fear is a natural response certain animals face when they feel threatened in some way. It has helped humanity survive and thrive for hundreds of thousands of years. Before we had language, we had fear.

Now that we've come all this way, and realized that every myth and greater meaning we attributed to our lives are lies that were developed over time in order to keep us from fearing too much — since paralyzing fear would've turned us into easy prey —, maybe it's time for us to understand that certain fears are perfectly warranted.
Instead of managing our fears or embracing them, lets leave this island of horrors in the middle of a barren universe quiet after we depart from it, carefully enjoying ourselves and our loved ones while we still have some years left in us. Otherwise, we can continue creating new fearful beings that will have to surrender at least part of their cognitive ability to some illusion that masquerades how frightening reality is, in an never ending pyramid scheme — that will abruptly and violently end at some point in the future, since nothing lasts forever, not even our extremely successful, brilliant but otherwise misguided and ignorant species.
by Fernando Olszewski