Having been thrown into this life we do our best to make it tolerable. Each of us finds things and activities that make existence bearable and affords us distraction from the realities of the human condition. Culture and Civilisation are the names generally afforded to the greatest bulkwarks we have against existential despair and the ontological mess.
Anyone clued in to the reality of the human predicament should be able to acknowledge that these things/structures/institutions are provisional, contingent and ephemeral. However, those hostile to AN thinking make a serious error in mistaking these compensations for justifications. They believe that Culture, Society, Civilisation and so on make human life meaningful and worthwhile. Rather than view the individual human life as being the first and most important datum of existence, they afford this consideration instead to those abstractions. Hence they enable themselves to ignore real human suffering, and focus instead on concepts such as ‘Progress’, ‘the Future’, the Human Race’, ‘Culture’, ‘Society’ and so on. Consequently, whenever they encounter AN or any form of pessimism, they respond by referring to a supposed need to maintain the existence of any or a combination of those abstractions, regardless of how much individual (ie, real) suffering is required to perpetuate these things.
Now obviously it is undeniably a good thing that people have access to electricity, water, heating, distraction and entertainment rather than not. But we need to be aware that these things are palliatives and defences against the sheer nakedness of our existence. They do not form a reason bringing new people into existence. Think of how odd it would sound if someone said ‘I want to have a child so they can enjoy double glazing/ sit by a heater in the winter/ surf the internet/ admire the painting of Van Gogh’ etc. Yet this is a common gambit taken by those who defend life and procreation, although it is generally phrased more vaguely along such lines as ‘I want a child so as to give it a good life’ or some such variation.
As stated, certain facets of life may make it more bearable than otherwise, but let’s not reach too far. In fact, I would modify Benatar’s distinction between ‘a life worth continuing’ and ‘a life worth starting’. Strictly speaking, I believe no life is worth continuing; it may simply be bearable, and that’s it. If you talk about a life worth continuing, then an opponent of AN can say ‘well, if you think a life is worth continuing, then surely it has been worth starting’. To my mind, there is only the grim reality on the one hand, and distraction/diversion/delusion on the other. I don’t think life is worth starting or continuing. If I haven’t committed suicide, it’s simply because I haven’t yet reached the point where existence is absolutely unbearable, but perhaps that time may come some day, and that applies to everyone, AN or not.
So by all means, let’s try and make existence as bearable as possible without treading on anyone else’s toes, but let’s bear in mind that all we’re fundamentally doing is administering palliatives, not finding justifications. Just because there were examples of heroic self-sacrifice, humour, comradeship and courage in Auschwitz doesn’t mean that it was a good thing that Auschwitz existed, and this goes for life as a whole. Bandaging our own and each other’s wounds is a necessary and noble thing, but it would have been better had the scenario in which this is the best we can do had never come into being in the first place.