“May We Live Long and Die Out”
How a global movement to extinguish the human race won its latest convert: me
In Portland, Oregon, hardly a weekend goes by without some kind of street fair or outdoor market. Even on a blisteringly hot Saturday last July, the Division-Clinton street fair was in full swing. Food vendors and political groups lined the streets; families with kids and strollers filled in the gaps. But one of the booths was not like the others. It had a prominent green banner reading, “Thank you for not breeding.” A table was perched underneath the tent canopy, with a cartoon of a dodo bird alongside a dinosaur with its left arm around a human silhouette. “Visualize VOLUNTARY HUMAN EXTINCTION,” it read. “May we live long and die out.” Behind the table was a man named Les U. Knight.
A young couple looked quizzically at the signs, then approached Knight.
“Is this about not breeding cats and dogs?” they asked.
“It’s about all domesticated animals,” replied Knight, smiling. The corners of his piercing blue-gray eyes turned up as well. “But especially humans.”
Knight, a tall, lanky man in his early seventies with a mat of silver hair, is the leader of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement—VHEMT (pronounced “vehement”) for short — a worldwide crusade of at least 9,000 people who have voluntarily decided not to have children. The idea behind VHEMT is that Homo sapiens have caused so much damage to the planet already that the only thing that can restore the balance is for humanity to go extinct, and the only humane way to do that is by refusing to procreate.
At first blush, the idea of mass self-extinction sounds so radical, so uncomfortable, that it makes you wonder whether the person behind it is troubled, or cynical, or at least blind to the wonders and possibilities of human life. But Knight insists he’s not a misanthrope, that he didn’t have an unhappy childhood, that he thinks pandas are cute. And he doesn’t think humans are intrinsically evil. He sees the beauty in the creation of all lives. It’s just…