Why Don’t You Want to Exist?
I’ve never really understood why someone would intellectually prefer nonexistence to existence.
I understand why someone might emotionally wish to cease existing. I’ve experienced some emotional lows in my time, and I’ve heard enough from people who suffer from severe bouts of depression to understand why they would want to end it all (one of the better depictions of depression I’ve seen can be found in two parts, here and here, moderate foul language warning). I can also understand conceptionally why someone might physically wish to cease existing. If someone suffers from severe chronic pain, or is dying slowly and painfully of some terrible disease, I can understand completely why they might desire oblivion. That doesn’t mean that I believe suicide (assisted or non) is alright: but I can completely understand the motivation behind it.
What I can’t understand is an intellectual desire for non-existence. I don’t understand why people who are in good health (both mentally and physically) can decide philosophically that non-existence is superior to existence. That they would be better off if they had never been born. It’s something I can’t wrap my mind around. It seems completely alien. I’m reminded of a passage from C.S. Lewis’ biography. He wrote that a certain idea (namely that the mind was an illusion created from a series of cause and effect responses in the brain) “was, and is, unbelievable to me…I mean that the act of believing what the behaviorist believes is one that my mind simply will not perform. I cannot force my thought into that shape any more than I can scratch my ear with my big toe or pour wine out of a bottle into the cavity at the base of that same bottle. It is as final as a physical impossibility.” I feel the same way about people who intellectually seek nonexistence. Its a shape my mind seems incapable of taking.
What’s ironic is that for most of his early intellectual life C. S. Lewis (a great role model of mine) was such a person. He wrote that as a young man “I was also…one whose negative demands were more violent than his positive, far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my own permission.” I find it horrifying to imagine that death might end in annihilation and nonexistence: Lewis found it a comfort. “Death ended all. And if ever finite disasters proved greater than one wished to bear, suicide would always be possible. The horror of the Christian Universe was that it had no door marked Exit.”
I feel very similar to Lewis in many ways, but this is not one of them. I love life. For me there is no colder or more horrible fate than nonexistence. I’d rather burn in hell than cease to exist altogether. I’d rather spend my life in a tiny cell then be utterly destroyed. I’d rather be blind and deaf than thrown into the blackest of all possible nights. The very thought of annihilation terrifies me.
Instead I find myself agreeing heartily with G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton had an immense love of life. He said “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” I am intellectually thankful for each day I am given. I say intellectually thankful because I’m not always emotionally or physically thankful. It’s hard to be thankful on the day that your grandfather died, and it’s hard to be thankful after a day of constant pain in a hospital bed. But if I reflect on things I am intellectually thankful that I still exist. That I can still see the trees, and smell the grass, that I can feel the air on my skin; even if it is too hot and sticky.
I love existing. I can’t understand why anyone would intellectually prefer oblivion to existence. Please comment below if you disagree: I’d love the opportunity to try and understand your point of view.