Interview with Tim Oseckas
Andreas Nilssen Möss
1. What was your own «evolution of thought» into antinatalism? Where did you hear about it, and did you accept it straight away or did it take time?
I was first exposed to the ideas of antinatalism through the writings of Peter Wessel Zapffe. I encountered his essay ‘The Last Messiah’ in the book ‘Wisdom in the Open Air: The Norwegian Roots of Deep Ecology’ (Reed and Rothenberg, 1993). As I searched for more information about Zapffe, I discovered the world of antinatalism and read all the books and articles I could find including ‘Better Never to Have Been: The harm of Coming Into Existence’ by Benatar, ‘Confessions of an Antinatalist’ by Crawford, ‘The Conspiracy Against the Human Race’ by Ligotti, ‘Every Cradle is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide’ by Perry, works by Schopenhauer and more recently ‘Antinatalism:Rejectionst Philosophy from Buddhism to Benatar’ by Coates. I have also just found an English translation of Julio Cabrera’s ‘A Critique of Affirmative Morality: A Reflection of Death, Birth and the Value of Life’ and look forward to reading this as well as Tremblay’s ‘A New Approach to Procreative Ethics’. Additionally, I have been influenced by The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) and the ideas of Les Knite (www.vhemt.org) who founded the modern movement, and Al Ma’Arri, a blind Arab poet and free thinker from 1000 years ago who expressed antinatalist thoughts and interestingly wrote a poem suggestive of modern vegan thinking, possibly as an extension of his antinatalism.
Prior to my discovery of antinatalism I confirmed my commitment to not procreating in 2008 at the age of 30 by having a vasectomy. I knew I didn’t want to have children and felt this act was necessary to ensure I was not responsible for adding another human to the planet. I had in fact previously seen the surgeon several years prior around 2005 to discuss the procedure without knowing about antinatalism as a philosophy. Perhaps the decision was influenced by my study of Buddhism and the concept of Dukkha, existential and absurdist philosophy, my own experience questioning the value, worth, and purpose of life, working as a nurse and seeing suffering, and generally questioning the values, traditions, culture, and habits of the society I was thrown into. Becoming vegan has also influenced my opinion about humans and wishing for their extinction because of the significant harms they inflict on other animals.
2. I remember when I ﬁrst talked to you that you said you were open about your position on antinatalism. A lot of people keep these beliefs to themselves (if you didn’t know). Why are you open about your views, and is it difﬁcult?
I’m generally someone who is outspoken about my views especially as they relate to preventing and reducing suffering in the world, so I’ve felt it important to speak up against procreation and advocate antinatalism as a solution to suffering and solving the problems created by humans, the most harmful and destructive species on the planet. I don’t find it difficult to be open about my views, but do find responding to people oppositional to antinatalism and supportive of pronatalism challenging at times, particularly their denial of the harms associated with life-death. Expressing my views has also impacted on my relationships with some friends and family members, which I think is what most people worry about. People seek congratulations on a pregnancy or birth get upset when they don’t receive the positive feedback and social reinforcement they’re seeking. Antinatalists are seen as ‘downers’, and I don’t think most people don’t want to be perceived that way. I believe it takes courage to risk the conflict and rejection that arises when ideologies clash, to risk changes in relationship, and a general non-conformist attitude.
3. What kind of responses do you get when talking about antinatalism to people completely new to the topic? In what way do you consider there to be a stigma against it?
A common response I get is, “if you think life is so bad, why don’t you kill yourself?” Some people, particularly vegans and other social justice activists defend their procreative acts thinking they’ve acted morally by bringing into the world a child that MIGHT help improve the world. Others on first hearing about the philosophy get it, even after procreating, and admit the truth of antinatalism.
There is definitely a stigma against those who speak up against procreation, and they’re dismissed and labelled as ‘downers’, ‘depressives’, ‘crazy’, ‘disturbed’, etc.
4. Do you have any advice to anyone who wants to be open about being an antinatalist and is scared?
Check were the fear or anxiety about speaking openly about antinatalism is coming from and reflect on what’s motivating one’s antinatalist views and explain that to others. Usually it’s care, concern, compassion, and empathy (philanthropy), or dislike for the harms and problems humans inflict on others (misanthropy), or both. Share links and books with people providing education about antinatalism. Be encouraging and not hateful. Nobody will listen to hateful rants or tirades
5. You have been active with vegan activism. From what I see in some of your facebook pictures, you’ve been involved in actual organized demonstrations and sometimes quite large ones. What is Animal Liberation? How did you get involved with this, and for how long have you been doing this?
Animal Liberation is a movement to free other animals from human systems of oppression, slavery, domination, control, exploitation, commodification, and killing. The movement seeks to end the breeding, exploitation, abuse, killing, and dismemberment of other animals for any purpose including: consuming their body parts and secretions; wearing their skins and hair; ‘testing’ on their bodies in so called ‘research’; forcing them to engage in ‘sports’ and ‘entertainment; killing them for recreation in forms such as ‘hunting’ and ‘fishing’; breeding them for financial profit to win ‘shows’ and to keep them as ‘pets’; forced labour, and; imprisonment in zoos and aquariums.
The movement is informed by an anti-speciesist view that challenges human supremacy and anthropocentrism.
I originally became involved in this movement around 2003 through volunteering with a group called Animal Liberation Victoria after I became vegan. I became aware of what was happening to other animals and I wanted to do something to help stop the needless horrors and the brutality. So I participated in several protests early on and became more active around 2011 participating in Open Rescue investigations taking video footage of victims and rescuing them from places of exploitation. I also got involved in public outreach and nonviolent direct actions to disrupt violent businesses such as shutting down a pig killing and dismemberment factory in 2015 and disrupting a major national ‘dairy’ lobbying group by occupying their office with other activists in 2016.
5. Would you consider there to be a bigger «taboo» around antinatalism than veganism, or do you think its equal?
Yes, I would agree that the taboo around challenging natalism is held more strongly than that of veganism as I have encountered many vegans who still support natalism and defend it vehemently, although I have also encountered vegans who support antinatalism. I think people feel more of a threat when human procreation and the perpetuation of the human species is challenged than when their support for non-veganism is challenged, although, from experience, some react just as strongly when their views on pronatalism or specieisism are challenged. People supporting both ideologies use the four ‘Ns’ of ‘normal’, ‘natural’, ‘necessary’, ‘nice’ in an attempt to justify their actions and support for procreation and non-veganism. Plus they use classic psychological defense mechanisms like denial when their behaviour and underlying beliefs are challenged.
6. What do your vegan friends and peers in general think about antinatalism? Do you see a relationship between veganism and antinatalism? Could someone who is convinced of veganism be convinced of antinatalism, or vice versa?
I have vegan friends who also support antintalism, some of whom have had created children and realised their mistake. Peers in general are more often than not supportive of procreation, but I do know several who admit feeling regret for creating children, probably more from a lifestyle position though. Veganism as a philosophy is opposed to humans breeding other animals for their uses especially because of the significant harms associated with those uses. Antinatalism as a philosophy is generally focused on humans not breeding humans for themselves, however it can easily be extended to other animals and therefore there is no reason why it should not be. I think if vegans can see that humans breeding other animals as means towards their end is harmful, then it isn’t much of a step to see that humans breeding human animals as means towards their own ends is also harmful. Humans may not be breeding humans to eat their body parts, wear their skin, test on their bodies, exploit them for entertainment, however children are treated like ‘pets’ and accessories in many ways and the harms experienced by those children and later as adults (if they live that long) can also be significant (e.g. disease, trauma, rape, murder, death). I think more people are making these connections, as I’m seeing more vegans in antinatalist forums and more antinatalists in vegan forums. Some people can be convinced more than others depending on their openness to questioning their conditioning and behaviour.
What some vegans in support of procreation seem to neglect, is that in forcing a child into existence and raising them to be vegan, they are exposing them to the trauma and suffering humans inflict on other animals which leads to grief, sadness, anger, frustration they would not have experienced had they not been born. I see that as part of the harm of coming into existence, witnessing the suffering of others which adds to our own suffering through compassion and another good reason for people including and especially activists for not bringing somebody else into this world. This could be another angle to use in trying to convince vegans that procreation is harmful, in addition to the fact that even vegans have an ecological and suffering footprint.
Antinatalists I think can be convinced to become vegan if they can see that being born is not only a harm to humans but other sentient animals, especially those forced into existence by humans and experience significant harm as a consequence. And if the antinatalist concern is with suffering, and empathy and compassion is driving force behind one’s antintalism, they can be convinced that veganism is driven by the same motivations to prevent needless suffering and death as antinatailsm but just extends that concern beyond human suffering.
7. You’re also an anarchist. Do you see being an anarchist is connected to being an antinatalist or a vegan, and why?
I see anarchism as being opposed to all hierarchies and systems of domination, oppression, and ‘authority’. Hence, I view speciesism/anti-veganism and human supremacism/anthropocentrism as a form of hierarchy that leads to the domination and oppression of other animals by humans and the harms they experience as a consequence. I see human procreation also leading to systems of oppression and domination, and I think our childhood is one of our earliest experiences of authority in the form of Adultocracy and childism, discrimination against children. We start off giving no consent to our birth, have no body autonomy, then we are forced into adult systems including ‘parenting’ that seek to condition, control, and dominate our thoughts and behaviour. I spent my teenage years experiencing the authoritarian dictatorship of my mother’s partner, so I learned to rebel early against systems of oppression and ‘authority’ and resist conforming. Additionally, if we are opposed to systems of hierarchy and oppression and other harmful systems that exist such as patriarchy or capitalism, then it’s best to avoid bringing new humans into those systems where they will not only also become victims of oppression, but also become preservers of those systems as long as they exist as privileged or oppressed, or as a consumer, parent, ‘student’, worker, or soldier.
8. Do you think it’s possible for future organized antinatalism activism in the same way the vegan movement have been doing?
I’d like to see antinatalist protests in front of maternity wards and counter protests to anti-abortion/’prolife’ activists at abortion clinics, and at hospitals where people are suffering and dying, at funeral venues, in war zones, wherever people are suffering, and also public education outreach. But I think a lot more support is needed for antinatalism to get to that point. Antinatalists not only challenge procreation, but ultimately the continuation of society, ‘civilisation’, evolution, and the entire human species, which I think people find a great threat to their identity, their religious world views, capitalism, etc., and it makes them question the purpose, value and worth of human existence. As Zapffe referred to, people have strong psychological defense mechanisms that prevent them from seeing reality fully, and when those defences are triggered, we know how people can react. I think Terror Management Theory explains well why ideologies such as pronatalism when threatened, provoke such a strong reaction from people to preserve their ‘immortality’ projects. Procreation and preserving the species is indeed one such project.
9. What are your feelings on meat-eaters and breeders? Do you contempt them, or do you mostly see them as uninformed (or similar)?
I see non-vegans and those who procreate as being mostly culturally and socially conditioned and uninformed, but also as people with psychological defense mechanisms utilised to keep them ignorant or in denial of the harms they perpetuate. So, I see education definitely has a role to play in raising awareness of the harms associated with non-veganism and procreation, but it’s limited because people have to be open to accepting new information and questioning their conditioning and ideas around procreation and the way humans treat other animals. I’ll also add that I’m continually frustrated and disappointed with humans in general and my hope is that they disappear from the planet sooner rather than later, which may happen given the suicidal course they are following at the moment destroying our environment and each other.
10. Where did you hear about Peter Wessel Zapffe, and what is your view of him?
I first encountered the ideas of Peter Wessel Zapffe in the book ‘Wisdom in the Open Air: The Norwegian Roots of Deep Ecology’ where his essay ‘The Last Messiah’ was published along with several other short works. Immediately his ideas made sense to me as a man who spoke honestly about our human condition and the conclusion that we must stop procreating. And his ideas around nature conservation also make sense given the existential need we have for those spaces in helping us get through the life-death we have not chosen and that when we destroy nature we bring more suffering on ourselves. His interest and participation in mountain climbing, apart from being a form of diversion or sublimation, may have been a confrontation with life-death, a testing of the boundaries through risking injury and death. I’m looking forward the English translation of Zapffe’s main work Om Det Tragiske this year. I see Zapffe being the main inspiration behind my antinatalism and I hope his book once published will reach a much wider audience. I’m glad to see authors like Ligotti and Coates make reference to him in their books and his influence growing through exposure.
I’m assuming Zapffe was not vegan, but I appreciate his reflection on the suffering of other animals in ‘The Last Messiah’ with, “[b]ut when the animals came to the waterhole where he out of habit waited for them, he no longer knew the spring of the tiger in his blood, but a great psalm to the brotherhood of suffering shared by all that lives.” Because of this insight, the archer then refused to kill and eat the animals when, “[t]hat day he came home with empty hands…”. He also refers to the “foul meal” he carries “…inside himself, yesterday it was an animal running freely about by its own will…”. I wonder if he had been exposed to veganism, if he would have also chosen that path in support of and as an extension of his antinatalism.