One does not procreate on Patmos

St. Francis meditating, by Francisco Zurbarán

Despite drawing the antinatalist conclusion from cosmic pessimism, that is, despite agreeing that the best thing we can do to prevent the perpetuation of suffering is to stop reproducing, I do not like to constantly indict those who are parents, because I despise any kind of moral outrage. I believe that collective moral outrage is the kind of crap that lead to moments like the infamous “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as its newer versions.

However, recently I saw a tweet that stated the following:
“I’m 45. It’s highly likely our civilization will collapse before my 9 year old son is the age I am now. This is the reality of pushing on with business as usual.”1
The idea behind the tweet is noble. It alludes to the various tragic temperature records the planet had because of the warming due to human activity. It's true that we are collapsing the biosphere, at least as far as the sustainability of our civilization is concerned. It's even possible that we crossed some important thresholds, and it is inevitable that we will suffer some of the worst consequences of climate change. Some are already felt, but they are probably mild compared to what is to come.

But despite the noble intention of alerting the world, I confess that this 45-year-old father's tweet reminded me of the following words from Cioran:
“X maintains we are at the end of a ‘cosmic cycle’ and that soon everything will fall apart. And he does not doubt this for one moment. At the same time, he is the father of a—numerous—family. With certitudes like his, what aberration has deluded him into bringing into a doomed world one child after the next? If we foresee the End, if we are sure it will be coming soon, if we even anticipate it, better to do so alone. One does not procreate on Patmos.”2
It's not as if the issue of possible climate and civilizational collapse is a secret. Even if we didn't have this problem, throughout the 20th century, humanity was faced with the possibility of nuclear Armageddon. A minor nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be enough to collapse agriculture and starve billions of people.3 A nuclear war between major powers would, at best, send us back to the stone age. If that father's problem is the possibility of our global civilization coming to an end, then there is nothing he can say that will alleviate his guilt of fathering a child.

Antinatalism derived from cosmic pessimism does not necessarily take these issues into account. It is linked to the fact that sentient life is an incessant escape from negative states towards fleeting and illusory positive states. This would describe the reality of sentient beings even in a world where living creatures didn't have the ability to reflect on existence or create ways to self-destruct, something that was true for most of Earth's natural history.

For example, dinosaurs did not reflect on their existential condition, but they lived under the yoke of eternal flight from negative states, a struggle that has as its sole objective the perpetuation of the species. Dinosaurs also lacked the ability to self-annihilate. In the case of a species like ours, capable of producing absurd catastrophes that affect all of its members, issues such as nuclear war or global warming must be factored into the existential analysis.

Of course, if we were magically able to get rid of these dangers, the negative existential condition would still remain. But the fact is that we are not able to get rid of the danger of self-annihilation and, therefore, such a danger makes our condition as sentient beings even worse: we were capable of inventing even worse tragedies than those that nature already provides us by our mere existence.


Patmos is the Greek island where John wrote the book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible. There, while waiting for the end of the world, the disciple of Jesus remained isolated, without producing any descendants. Even if we do not agree with the thesis of cosmic pessimism that states that sentient life itself is a constant flight from negative states to fleeting and illusory positive states, we live under the threat of climate catastrophe and, although the Cold War is over, we still live with the possibility of destruction by nuclear war.

For all intents and purposes, today, the whole world is Patmos.

by Fernando Olszewski

2. Emil Cioran. The Trouble with Being Born. New York: Seaver Books, 1986. p. 141.