Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film, Wild Strawberries, is a beautiful story of an old man realizing that, even though he was a brilliant doctor who selflessly served his patients, he was emotionally reserved. No one could get close.
The film takes place in one day, as the old man drives to the town where he is to receive an honorary degree. Through vivid dreams he is able to experience the cost of his coldness—the loss of his first love and the infidelity of his wife. His daughter-in-law accompanies him on the trip, and she reveals the cost in the life of his son. When she told his son that she was pregnant, he replied, “Life is absurd, so I don’t want to bring any children into this world. I want to die myself.” (Not an exact transcript)
Bergman ends the film with the promise that his characters will be healing from this life-negating worldview.
The film brought to mind “The Case Against Kids,” by Elizabeth Kolbert, a review of three books about the ethics of having children. I was astounded to read about Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, by a philosophy professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, named David Benatar, in which he claims that the inevitability of suffering means it’s better not to be born at all.
Kolbert quote from Benatar’s book:
One of the implications of my argument is that a life filled with good and containing only the most minute quantity of bad—a life of utter bliss adulterated only by the pain of a single pinprick—is worse than no life at all.
She paraphrases more of his argument thus:
If we all saw the harm we were doing by having children and put a stop to it, within a century or so the world’s population would drop to zero. For Benatar, this is an outcome devoutly to be wished. "Humans have the unfortunate distinction of being the most destructive and harmful species on earth," he writes. "The amount of suffering in the world could be radically reduced if there were no more" of us…Benatar’s title refers to the passage in Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus at Colonus’ in which the chorus observes: "Never to have been born is best, But once you’ve entered this world, Return as quickly as possible to the place you came from." It also alludes to an old Jewish saying: "Life is so terrible, it would have been better not to have been born. Who is so lucky? Not one in a hundred thousand."
It occurred to me that this is the inevitable consequence when a culture no longer believes in absolutes: since there is no meaning to our suffering, it’s better not to exist at all.