So, is it birthright or birthwrong?
A young man plans to sue his parents for giving birth to him, and raises questions about the ethics of having kids today
Raphael Samuel's beard is clearly fake. In one photograph, his eyes are covered with what looks like a little girl's little bra. On his Facebook page, quixotically named Nihilanand, he has posts with in-your-face statements like Your parents had you instead of a toy or a dog, and You owe them nothing.
One irate post demands - Why should I suffer? Why must I be stuck in traffic? Why must I work? Why must I face wars? Why must I feel pain or depression? Why should I do anything when I don't want to? Many questions, one answer: Someone had you for their "pleasure".
A few days ago, Raphael Samuel hit the spotlights when he announced that he was suing his parents for having given birth to him without his permission and thus bringing him into a miserable world and a guaranteed wretched life full of suffering, pain and uncertainty. The BBC interviewed him and he was featured in a number of other publications. Donald Trump Jr tweeted, "I'm going to go out on a limb and say this definitely a liberal [sic]."
His parents, both skilled lawyers, don't seem very disturbed by their offspring's wackiness. Samuel himself says he loves them very much and thanks them for having raised him to be such an independent thinker.
His mother, Kavita Samuel, sportingly told this paper, "If Raphael can come up with a rational explanation as to how we could have sought his consent before he was born, I will accept my fault." She added that if she could have met him before he was born, she would definitely not have had him. But six months earlier, at breakfast, when Samuel broke the news to his parents, she hadn't minced words. "I will destroy you in court," she promised him.
But does Raphael have a point? The planet is visibly stressed. Tyrants and dictators are in charge and the odds are against children, the poor and the vulnerable. Wars last forever, devastating and uprooting millions of lives. Rape, violence and random brutality seem to be the norm. Pollution and reckless looting of the earth's resources is depleting our planet, destroying species at a historically unprecedented rate. Global warming is ensuring random ecological disasters and rising sea-levels, guaranteeing mass migrations and a hot, miserable planet.
Is it fair to bring a child into this world? Even if foetal consent is an idiotic idea, should gratuitous birth be made an offence? Those who believe the answer to this question is a clear Yes! now lead a movement called anti-natalism, believing that giving birth has become an irresponsible act.
Not everyone agrees, of course. The Buddha taught that pain and suffering are woven into life and there is no avoiding them, and preached detachment from pleasures and pains. Pain and suffering weren't invented in the 1990s, when Raphael Samuel was born. The caveman stepping out of his cave lived with the expectation of sudden, brutal death, hunger, helplessness and random weather.
Historians say there was far more violence and mass death from disease and wars in the Middle Ages (roughly 500 to 1,500 AD) than in the last 100 years. In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pulitzer-winning writer Stephen Pinker claims - providing solid numbers in proof - that we are living in times of unprecedented peace, security, ease, comfort and personal choice. Immunisation, peace treaties, advances in nutrition and medical technology, and instant communication driven by the human will to solve problems and improve life have reduced deaths, extended life spans and improved living standards across the globe.
So - what does the jury say? Is it indeed a better world or are we headed towards a nasty end? To be blindingly honest, a part of me has struggled with the fact that my two millennial children will deal with a world more chaotic, unpredictable and changeable than any I knew. Desperate to be of use, I began a book of letters with life advice to them but struggled to find any relevant wisdom. My baby-boomer world seemed to have no lessons for their millennial ones.
My son, 22, said, "First, please describe me as an anti-millennial millennial. I keep away from Raphaels - they are lazy, uninformed, entitled and uninterested in anything that requires more than a couple of minutes of their time. Raphael is clueless and superficial - he's getting a quick social media stroking and instant notoriety, but he doesn't know that life has always been like this. You have to work and struggle, but still live with hope and always do your best, believing in the human spirit, and do what you can to make the future better. That's how it's always been. That's why we are here today. In a world that can and will get better."
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org Send your feedback to email@example.com
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