Friday, 8 July 2011

Suicide: Immediate Future, Far-off Future, Empathy, EmpathyPlus

I think we, as antinatalists (discounting any theistic antinatalists), have a lot less to live for than the average person. We don't see living as necessary to attain some kind of long-term goal (e.g. an afterlife, immortality through children), because we know nothing will matter once we're dead. We most likely see the evils  inherent in the workplace, and in the school system, and having knowledge of David Benatar's works, realise that life is probably more suffering than good - as every bit of happiness (other than that arising from psychotropic drugs) is essentially the result of a desire - suffering - vanquished. And as I suspect most of us already know the pain and boredom and slow decline into a mental null that comes with old age. So what I'm wondering right now, is whether any, or even most of us, have decided to complete our natural lifespans. I know already that some of us intend to simply skip the whole old age thing, and I know that there are people like me, who don't off themselves simply because there are people who would suffer upon their death. But I'd like some confirmation on what exactly people are living, or dying for. As of the present moment, I think I know of a few reasons:
               1. A person may have desires or goals that bind them to this Earth, which will not relent unless they are put an end to (I think this is Franc's view - sorry if I've misinterpreted). I call this thinking in terms of the Immediate Future.
               2. A person may simplify the matter into what they want in life (pleasure) and what they don't want in life (suffering). They know that their life will most likely have more suffering than pleasure, so simply affirm that they should want to die. I call this thinking in terms of the Far-off Future.
               3. A person may, making use of their empathetic drives, realise that the suffering of the people left behind after their death would outweigh the suffering in their futures, so may decide not to commit the ultimate. I call this thinking in terms of Empathy.
               4. (I think tauriqmoosa has this belief) A person may, again making use of their empathetic drives, figure out that they might better decrease the total amount of suffering in the world by living and helping other people, and so alleviating their suffering, instead of killing themselves to alleviate their own suffering. I'd call this thinking in terms of Empathy+.


  1. I think there is also the issue that our survival instinct is very strong even when we know there is not any rational reason for it. Our base instincts often override rational thought. Millions of people who have very miserable lives go on living anyway, even if they deal with huge amounts of suffering on a daily basis. If people decided to go on living based purely on an evaluation of their lives, many people would decide it is not worth it.

    One thing that has always kept me going is wanting to find out what happens to the world and what happens in my life next. Again, there is no rational reason for this, but I do think it is something that drives people. As others have pointed out we have an "addiction" to certain things in life that we enjoy or want to keep finding out more about. Not necessarily a literal addiction (although that does motivate some people) but just having something we look forward to and want to continue experiencing.

  2. Agreed about 1, and I also agree with 4 as well.

  3. Excellent post, estnihil, and a very good question. Can't say I have a rational answer myself. Living becomes a habit before reason emerges and like all addictions it's hard to break. (Both Cioran and Charles Bukowski wrote that if you were born with the full faculty of reason you'd commit suicide before you reached four years old.) In my own case, I guess I'm living because the pain in my life hasn't yet become unbearable so I slog along, plus a very mild curiosity to see what will happen next. Of course that "next" may very well be the thing that could make life unbearable. And although I'm totally aware of others' suffering, I lack the moral gumption to make more than token gestures to alleviate it, an excellent reason for self-loathing:-)

  4. For me I'm set on pursuing 3 until I no longer have to, at which point I'm set on 2. Not for any philosophical reasons, just because the depression and anxiety I live through on a day-to-day basis put me in states that I'd rather not have been born for.
    Not to generalise, but I think most people actually go for 1, antinatalist or not. It's just the natural way of things to not contemplate your own death - for evolutionary reasons, I think.
    Thanks for your comments everyone, you've helped me yet again to understand things better on this big blue piece of space debris.

  5. These are semi-related paragraphs -- I don't want to evoke a tl;dr reaction from people thinking that I've put out a heavy treatise.

    I don't think antinatalism per se makes one have less to live for, but the same things that are likely to make someone an antinatalist are likely to make them feel that they have less to live for. Antinatalism and lacking much to live for share causes, and the latter also can cause the former.

    People who are melancholic, or are atheist, or are very sensitive, or experience lots of crap in their lives are especially likely to endorse antinatalism. With the exception of sensitivity, these are all also things that make one have less to live for.

    I guess you could say that there is, among other archetypes, "things are shitty" antinatalism, "there's no point" antinatalism, and "nonconsensual harm is wrong" antinatalism. And of course one is more likely to think that things generally are shitty if one feels that things in one's own life are shitty.

    But the deontological argument I think is pretty strong, or at least should be taken seriously even by those who are not antinatalists. That is, that it's wrong to non-consensually impose upon someone a package deal of suffering and joy.

    It's also eminently possible to think that life is in general a lot shittier than people think, but that one's own life is, on balance, more joy than suffering. This is basically my own position -- there are some lives that are on balance good and, from a strictly consequentialist view, ought to be created, but these lives are rarer than people commonly suppose, and are probably outweighed by the disutile lives. This plus the deontological argument is what convinces me that creating new persons is usually wrong, and that for it not to be, the situation has to be pretty exceptional.

    And then one can have personal prudential reasons not to procreate. One could want to avoid being directly responsible for someone for ~20 years and then indirectly and less acutely for the rest of one's life. One could be risk averse with regard to the quality of one's child's life -- even if you think correctly that your child's expected utility is positive, the risk of it being negative, perhaps massively negative, is too much to bear. People don't appreciate the prudential reasons not to have children as much as they ought to, from a purely self-interested standpoint.

    So while I consider myself antinatalist, it doesn't owe, I don't think, to personally wishing I hadn't been born and then, spurred by articulating this and empathizing with others, realizing that it would have been for others not to have been born as well.

    I actually don't think the meaninglessness of life is much of a knock against it. Meaning itself isn't good or bad. When someone says, "the meaning of life is X", it seems to me that that means, "given that one is alive, one ought to strive for X". The presence of a moral imperative isn't something that morality can judge (making someone feel a moral imperative, of course, can be judged -- if I made people feel they ought not to reproduce and ought to be more charitable with their time and resources, then that would be good; if I made them feel they ought to punch strangers in the face, then that would be bad): saying "It's good that it's good to do X." is incoherent.

    I guess acknowledging the meaninglessness of life and deciding to continue anyway is like being in a shop browsing versus being there to buy a specific item. There's nothing in particular that's pulling me, but it's a nice shop and there are some interesting things in it and I'm not bored with it yet, so I figure I might as well stick around. If the shop had never been opened, eh, *shrug*, but, still, I'd probably visit it again if I had the choice.