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Assume the world to be at least as good as it is now in 2019. Rule out involuntary or any human extinction caused by pain and suffering. Why would all humans cheerily, knowingly stop reproducing?

In other words, what would make humans voluntarily childfree, antinatalist, and swear by voluntary human extinction by 2030? I picked 2030 arbitrarily; ±10 years don't matter. Reddit has a list of arguments in favor of antinatalism, but they haven't caught on and most humans now in 2019 haven't adopted them, or else we'd all be antinatalist now! Thus I need more powerful reasons!

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closed as off-topic by ltmauve, A Lambent Eye, March Ho, AndreiROM, Draco18s Oct 16 at 17:54

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – ltmauve, A Lambent Eye, March Ho, AndreiROM, Draco18s
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you would have more support in philosophy.stackexchange.com as the largest reason to become an antinatalism is that being born creates suffering. However this is only a philosophical view held by some people and is the main argument Antinatalism seems to rely on. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Oct 16 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ To some extent this has happened in Japan, and I have always wondered why! What is the real reason? $\endgroup$ – Fattie Oct 16 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Fattie It sucks to pay for useless reckless brats in a largely slowing economy, that's why $\endgroup$ – Varad Mahashabde Oct 16 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ Do you really mean "cheerily" as in "optimistic and happy" or simply as "without resistance"? If the former, then that would be the biggest obstacle to coming up with a realistic answer to this question, I think. The reproductive drive is such a fundamental piece of human psychology that to eliminate it in such a way that those effected are universally in no way remorseful about its loss would tend to invite the philosophical questions of "are we even still truly human?" $\endgroup$ – jmbpiano Oct 16 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @VaradMahashabde , that's certainly an interesting thought. It's beyond the scope of this site but, one thought on that: many other societies also became exactly as obsessed with hard work at that time (a simple example is the Protestant Work Ethic movement - any bunch of Scots of that era will work any bunch of Japanese of that era in to the ground, and that's saying something!) and in those similar "work to death" milieu, there was not a decision by women to suddenly have no/few kids. Anyway, beyond this site - cheers! $\endgroup$ – Fattie Oct 16 at 15:05

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One of the primary reasons why we are driven to reproduce is our own mortality. It is an innate reality that we all die, and that the only way to achieve some form of immortality is to pass our genes on to the next generation. We can discuss all the human instinctive drives et al, but they are all based on the idea that the human condition ultimately ends in death.

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

But, what if immortality was achieveable in our lifetimes? What if there was a way for us to live a virtually infinite life?

I say virtually, because in the main we cannot live infinitely given that the universe is likely to suffer heat death at some distant point in the future and long before that (in about only a billion years or so) the earth will be uninhabitable for life due to the slight increase in size and heat of the sun during its main sequence period. But let's say for example that we know that we will live for the next few million years or so, unless there is some accident or otherwise that befalls us.

Dealing with those kinds of numbers, the need to procreate becomes redundant. Sure, with NO children, the human race would eventually become extinct, but for most people increasing lifespan by 4 orders of magnitude or more would effectively reduce their want or need to procreate to zero. The life they could lead in such a scenario would effectively be inhibited by children, not enhanced. We have no real need to pass on our genes and the cost in time, energy and funds of having children is no longer offset by a limited window of biological reproduction within a short lifespan.

In short, why not spend those resources on oneself?

This still fits the brief of 'voluntary extinction' insofar as accidents, misadventure and (in time) natural causes would eventually wipe out what humans are left. It is possible that a few millennia short of the end of our new lifespans we may change our perspective but for the foreseeable future children would be seen as additional competition for the finite resources of Earth that we could all now enjoy. Ultimately in such a scenario, a declining population would be seen as a good thing because there would be more to go around for those who remain.

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    $\begingroup$ This was basically my thoughts on the matter too, only I was going to go for a less cerebral "drug that lets you live a thousand years and gives you the body of a 20 year old but renders you infertile". $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Oct 16 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ Its basically true except for the facts that most people have kids not for the sole purpose of reproduction, but to follow social norms and by inner biological pressure (mostly women). My mom said to me that in order to have kids, you must be unaware of all the shit it's gonna put you through otherwise most people wouldn't have them and I tend to agree. When comes the moment to decide to have kid, most couple underestimate the kind of work it requires. So it's not a purely aware decision but more of a sentimental one. $\endgroup$ – werfu Oct 16 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ @werfu I dunno, some people have more than one kid, if you can imagine such a thing. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Oct 16 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ @NahynOklauq I'm sure the trope must have popped up a few times by now. There's something similar in Oryx and Crake, though with a nastier twist. Its a neat plot idea, that's for sure. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Oct 16 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ If you thought you'd get an upvote just because you blocked out a Fight Club reference, you were right. $\endgroup$ – DVNO Oct 16 at 16:32
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Sex Bots

Firstly there is nothing that will make all humans sign up to extinction. Humans can't agree on anything 100% be it extinction or the best flavor of ice cream. You can't get everyone to agree on anything.

That said, imagine living with the perfect man/woman. They listen to you, care about you, care for you and the sex is mind blowing. The only catch is they can't have children. Would you leave for a lesser partner and not be as happy?

Now an AI housed in an android/cyborg body could be indistinguishable from a normal human except smarter, funnier and more attractive. It's sole purpose in life is to make you happy. The only catch is it can't breed.

People wouldn't sign up for extinction but they'd happily get on the bus when they haven't given a thought to the destination. People will happily give up the future of the human race for personal happiness.

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    $\begingroup$ Downvoted cause some people can't handle the truth. They're happy enough thinking AI will build terminators to wipe us all out but don't like the thought of becoming extinct willingly because the AI did exactly what it was programmed to. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Oct 16 at 4:51
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    $\begingroup$ Not as imperative as you might think. Many people are actually choosing to be childless these days. A lot would also miss out due to age and the clock running out before they're ready. There is also pets as a replacement which some people do. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Oct 16 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt this. I know several people in their 30s who desperately want a child. Not sex, a child. I also know people who broke up relationships which were perfect in every regard except that their partner didn't want children. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Oct 16 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ A significant enough reduction would cause extinction in a few generations. $\endgroup$ – Gloweye Oct 16 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Thorne I think that your scenario is good for Terminator-style too. Think about it: few generations later human population is greatly reduced, while tons of smart and attractive bots are filling the planet. Not to mention xkcd.com/595 and xkcd.com/600. I think this it truly terrifying way of extinction. $\endgroup$ – val Oct 16 at 13:36
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Eternal Youth + High cost of living

Sure I might want kids some day, but at the moment I'm still paying off 300 years of student debt, maybe next millennium we will start a family.

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Drugs, and lots of it!

If you take sex drive and the will to have children as given and inalienable human, you see that extinction is very unlikely with the boundaries you have set. We are, after all, creatures with the will to survive, not only as individuals, but also as a species. And we are very, very good at surviving (maybe too good).

So how do you subvert survival instincts? Do Drugs, I tell you! If you are completely happy and no needs nor wants, you will do nothing. I'll quote from the movie Serenity:

The Alliance government used Miranda as a testing ground for the chemical agent G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate, or simply "Pax" (Latin for "peace"). It was added to the planet's air processors in order to calm the population and weed out aggression. The agent worked, but too well: 99.9% of the population became so lethargic that they stopped working, talking and, eventually, eating and moving. They simply lay down where they were and allowed themselves to die.

*agent G-23 might have unwanted side effects...

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Mind Control

Humans reproduce even when we don't want to. We have ideologies based around reproduction. We have biological drives so strong they can cause reproduction-obsessed mental issues.

In short, there is nothing that could cause the human race to cheerfully give it up without messing around in our heads to one degree or another. You'd have to find a way to extinguish religions, and you've ruled out pain and suffering, the predominant means, historically, of doing that.

So, though it might qualify as "involuntary", subtle enough mind control could also persuade its subjects (to wit, all of us) that becoming anti-natal, even if it's a radical shift from a previously deeply-held belief, was our own idea.

(As per the first link in my first paragraph, you'd also either have to have people line up for permanent sterilisation or convince people to give up sex, and I have to imagine the first would be the easier feat of mind control by a substantial margin.)

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To figure out how to get humans to voluntarily stop, you first need to know why humans reproduce. Some of the reasons off the top of my head:

  • Sex is fun (= body produces drugging hormone cocktail to ensure humans do it as often as possible to make the race survive)
  • Babies are cute and lovable and yes, there are people who love children and love working with children (= body produces yet more hormones to ensure humans take care of noisy and aggravating bundles of helplessness in order for them to grow up to become proper, sexually active humans)
  • Security when getting old (= who will be my doctor when I am old and fragile, who will produce food when everyone is getting old and infirm, who will perform all the services that keep society alive when everyone is over 70 years of age?)
  • leave an impact on the world for posterity (= make sure one's genes are spread as wide and far as possible)

Sex is fun

Give people either a substitute or a 100% effective way of birth control. A substitute can be a drug that gives a much better high than sex, or some kind of advanced sex bot that is just so much better at it than normal humans that people choose the bot every time.

Babies are cute

Try and find a substitute - a baby bot that smells right, feels right, acts right, grows right and is a lot less noisy and aggravating than a real baby. On the other hand, it might be a bit hard to convince someone to put in the necessary work (physical + emotional) for an artificial baby.

Getting Old

Either make everyone immortal or have machines that are high tech enough to slowly replace the workforce when it ages out. And with that I don't only mean machines that can drive a bus, but also machines who can build and repair machines that can drive a bus!

Heritage

Either true bodily immortality, or provide some kind of personality safe where you digitize people so that they can still influence things 200 years down the line

Solution: The Voluntary Matrix

I think it is very unlikely for all of humanity to accept being replaced by robots. Also, if robots look and feel human enough to be perfect substitutes for sex, children, conversation partners, and work force, it is debatable if those robots aren't human as well.

What might get you better results is creating a total Virtual Reality immersion that is addictive enough that people prefer staying in there to livinig real life. Kind of like "The Sims" on steroids in order to fool our base mammal instincts. Add some gamification for more addictive properties, other virtual worlds, etc.. Make sure that jobs and social interaction only take place in VR (for easier communication no matter where in the world you are, or some other such crap). Make sure that people never actually have to leave VR (no going to the bathroom, or having to do exercise to prevent physical problems), and that they neither want to. Getting old will not be a problem anymore because the VR avatar can be at any age and is not impeded by bodily concerns. The Heritage fact might be satisfied by programming VR stuff that will survive them. Or by giving immortality.

If everyone is in VR 24/7, nobody will have physical children anymore.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding that last one.. Imagine for sake of argument that the people were told that they could have children in the matrix. The necessary gametes would be combined to produce a real child which would be implanted in the Matrix with them as soon as possible. The catch? The implants to hook into the matrix can't be added immediately, so the child is simulated until then.. except that the baby-making hardware failed, and now billions of happy parents are obliviously raising fully virtual babies who will never be replaced with the real deal, and they themselves are growing old... $\endgroup$ – Ruadhan Oct 16 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Babies are definitely not cute. $\endgroup$ – JYelton Oct 16 at 15:39
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Some possibility: The government rewards you tremendously for staying child-free. They'll give you so much money that you would be crazy to want to have kids

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    $\begingroup$ At first I thought of this too, but immediately refused the idea: This is not a couple of hundred or thousand people, it's the entire planets fertile population you'll have to pay an enormous amount. That does not make everybody rich, it creates inflation. Prices would skyrocket, and these people would not be rich anymore. Only the few, denying to receive the reward because they really wanted children, would now be very poor. $\endgroup$ – Mads Aggerholm Oct 16 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ This is the wrong way around. You are not rewarded for having children, you are taxed for having them. Make having babies expensive: no tax breaks, no childcare subventions whatsoever, no organized childcare whatsoever, mandatory education until 16 but only private schools or at least insufficient public schools. Extremely expensive college (the USA is already leading the way here). $\endgroup$ – Law29 Oct 17 at 18:51
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How about virtual reality? If you don't know you're in a simulation, you may think you have kids, grand-kids etc, but actually don't have anything.

This is half looked at in the Dr. Who episode S04E08 "Silence in the Library", when Donna enters Dr Moon.

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Hedonism

It's something that already happened in the past. Italy, at the end of the Roman Empire, was almost desert (Indro Montanelli said around 6 millions in the whole peninsula around 400 A.D.) Caring children takes time and wealth. Romans were more interested in politics and banquettes, rather than to spend time with their heirs.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not an historian but wikipedia cite 50-60 millions people in the 4th century AD. Although some source talk about decline in population in history, they attribute it to events outside of human control (read big bad meteors). I can't find a source which links historic population decline to hedonism ... $\endgroup$ – Hoki Oct 16 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ According to Wikipedia, that's the esteem of the whole Roman Empire: the same source tells that a good estimate for "just" the Italian peninsula was around 6 millions.**BUT** it seems that, according to all the sources, it didn't change that much during the centuries (as Hoki said). So, probably, I have to agree with him $\endgroup$ – JaKaiser Oct 18 at 15:30
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A pandemic of a new virus (or some other biological or toxicological factor with global spread) that eliminates an instinct to breed.

There exist viruses, bacteria and parasites that can mind-control their host and result in real behavioral changes. For example toxoplasmosis causes mice to be suicidal, and there is research that it can similarly affect humans. There are other cases of behavior-altering parasites.

I don't think this necessarily qualifies as "pain and suffering". It depends on what other symptoms the patogen will have.

People won't have children if they no longer want to.

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I believe there is a Charles Stross story (I can't remember the name) where this happens as a result of a virus that alters brain chemistry to give humans much better direct perception of risks, costs and benefits.

The infected stop having children - and, it is implied, stop caring for the ones they already have.

This is not, strictly speaking, an antinatalist argument - because traditionally antinatalism holds that one should not have children because the children will face greater costs than benefits (suffering being greater than happiness); in this case, what changes is the parent's perception of costs vs benefits on their own part.

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Assuming you find something that works for most people (unlikely, as several of us have said), the ones who don’t go with the flow will have children. The majority of those children may well learn or inherit from their parents the same attitudes, thus reducing the proportion of antinatalists.

If these tendencies are countered by government intervention, you have the problem that governments also change over time.

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