For several obvious reasons anti-natalism is not a philosophy that's about to sweep the world. But it's interesting nonetheless as a vehicle of inquiry. Anti-natalists, it's possible that many or all of the questions/objections I'm about to record have already been addressed, but bear with me (and as always, your comments are appreciated).
My first counterargument is that in at least one case, myself, the happiness has outweighed the suffering, and had I been able to give my parents consent, I absolutely would have. I really, really like being alive; in fact being alive is one of my favorite things to do. And how I imagine an anti-natalist responding is: of course you say that, because you're the product of evolution, as such trapped by the cognitive distortions that make minds make genes spread. (See depressive realism.) Yes, that is almost certainly true. But the subjective equals the objective in affective states with only slightly less certainty than consciousness itself. In other words: if I think I exist, I do. Similarly, if I think I'm happy, I probably am. Whether my certainty that this state will continue is accurate, or whether it's appropriate to the situation that obtains in the external universe, is a separate question much more open to debate.
I was prompted to post this here after finding this passage in an article about John Updike and his biography; specifically about his religious concerns. It looks like the Talmud got to this question a while ago:
The Talmud (Eruvin 13b) similarly recounts how for three years the sages debated whether humanity would have been better off had the world not been created. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court of antiquity) "ruled" that humanity would have been better off had the universe not been created, but now that we do exist, we should at least "examine our behavior" (i.e., now that we’re here, we might as well try to make the best of things). Updike’s Bech seems to reach a similar conclusion, absent the moralistic caveat: "the void should have been left unvexed, should have been spared this trouble of matter, of life, and worst, of consciousness." The entire universe, Bech believes, is merely a "blot on nothingness."If all anti-natalism did was complain that we exist, that would be pretty pointless, but it does bear on ongoing decisions (i.e., don't reproduce). I find it interesting that the Talmud agrees broudly with anti-natalism! But the key is always what knowing the truth should make you do. Beliefs are arrangements of neurons, the purpose of which is to make muscles contract.
On a littriture note: I increasingly assume that Bech is Updike's fictional stand-in for Philip Roth. I've also begun to wonder if Updike was a well-organized pro-social psychopath (cool interests in general, predisposed to narcissism, difficulty making lasting romantic attachments and impulse control issues in the same arena, concerns with feelings of emptiness).