Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence---rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should---they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one's life make one's life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence. Drawing on the relevant psychological literature, the author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence. The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view---that it is always wrong to have children---and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a "pro-death" view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.
The first thing that occurs to most people after reading this, I think, is if existence is that terrible, why bother writing a book about it? That would just seem to add to the problem. The second thing is that writing a book like this ranks right up there with making pornography as "things you can't do until your parents are dead".
However, I'm a very pessimistic person (I have to be heavily medicated to be as pleasant as I am), and this kind of perspective fits in well with how I instinctively view things. I used to think that the best thing I could do was to minimize the effect I had on the world -- not in an environmental sense, but in a social sense. I should just try not to infect others with my presence by avoiding personal contact and relationships as much as is reasonable. But of course, this wouldn't work because I always had some people who cared for me and to shut myself away from them would cause them distress. So it seems, either way, I'd cause harm.
The way God got me out of this was my wife. She is the rarest of all people: someone who is a) intrinsically happy, even cheerful, and b) not annoying. I had tricked myself into thinking that even though my pessimism was my instinctive and uncritical way of looking at the world it was nevertheless the more intellectual and responsible way of thinking of things. Optimism, I thought, was a naïve refusal to recognize the bad things about life. What I've discovered is that this is not the case. Pessimism is a refusal to see the good in things that is actually there, while optimism recognizes it. The fact that most good things have been polluted by the bad doesn't justify ignoring the good that is still there. I could say more about this, but I'll stop with that.
Now, from the description of Better Never To Have Been given above, Benatar would counter that we subconsciously trick ourselves into thinking existence is better than it is. Even though this is not the way I think, I could see myself believing this about others very easily. The way God gets me out of this is my kids. Both of my children are very happy, inherently happy. Being children, they of course have plenty of things that make them cry. But I was expecting them to be colicky, I guess because I thought that was just what all young kids were. Yet they give every indication of thoroughly enjoying existence. They behave, and have behaved since the days they were born, as if they perceive their existence as good; not just good, but as overflowing with wonder and glory. My point being that it's difficult to think of existence as bad when those who are thrust into it seem to think the opposite.
Now I suspect Benatar's claim is that even if you live a life characterized by great joy, as long as you experience one bad thing, all the goodness is negated; it would be better not to have any bad or good things happen to you rather than one bad thing and millions of good things. But I still think my kids' obvious delight in existence refutes this. And even though I have a strong inclination to agree with Benatar before I think about it, once I do think about it, I don't see any reason to think that negative experiences so outweigh the positive ones. Perhaps I'd have to read Better Never To Have Been before I can say that, since Benatar probably goes into some detail about it. But I fear that, for me at least, to read this book would be to enflame an unhealthy aspect of my personality, an aspect that is better left to atrophy.