The View from Hell

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Why Don’t You Just Kill Yourself?

with 10 comments

On 3QuarksDaily (cool article by Tauriq Moosa btw), commenter Louise Gordon asks the question that’s on everybody’s mind: why don’t philanthropic antinatalists just kill themselves? She asks:

If you are an anti-natalist and think being alive is hell and suffering and an overwhelming bummer, why are you still alive? Is there some life instinct that’s driving you to stick around or you’re just not ready to check out yet?

I explain:

Let me explain by analogy. Two birthdays ago, my friends had a surprise party for me. I was in a very antisocial mood at the time, and it was a very unpleasant experience – but I suffered through it because I didn’t want to hurt my friends’ feelings. I didn’t just walk out and leave the party (though I feel I morally could have done, if it were bad enough for me). But mostly I wish they hadn’t had a party for me in the first place – I would have been better off if they hadn’t.

Ditto my mom giving birth to me. I wish she hadn’t, but my family and friends would be very sad if I peaced out of the party (though I still have a moral right to commit suicide).

Another problem is that killing oneself is hard. Barbiturates are tightly controlled these days. You’d be amazed how easy it is to survive a gunshot wound to the head. And then they keep you alive and do medical experiments on you without your consent. Not a pretty picture.

In more general terms, the question may be phrased as: If you have been the victim of injustice and a solution to your subjective suffering exists, why not take it? And the answer is: because the proffered solution (a) through no fault of mine, harms others whose interests I care about, and (b) through no fault of mine, will very likely put me in a situation that is worse than my current situation.


Written by Sister Y

March 16, 2011 at 7:47 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Yet another problem is that proponents of philanthropic antinatalism don't necessarily find life miserable. From the simple recognition that birth leads to death, the conclusion is perfectly compatible with the most exalted, life-affirming worldview imaginable.


    March 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm

  2. Very true.

    Sister Y

    March 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm

  3. If you [1] are an anti-natalist and [2] think being alive is hell and suffering and an overwhelming bummer, why are you still alive?

    [1] and [2] aren't especially related. Philanthropic anti-natalism is philanthropic. It's not the position that I wish I hadn't been born, it's the position that I wish no one had been born. Really, Louise's question doesn't have anything to do with anti-natalism. It seems like what she's trying to do is this:

    A. Sister Y thinks that life is hellish and miserable.
    B. Because of (A), Sister Y is an anti-natalist.
    C. Given (A), we would expect Sister Y to have offed herself.
    D. Since our expectations in (C) are not met, this casts doubt on (A), which in turn weakens Sister Y's position in (B).

    But (B), as Chip says, doesn't rely on (A).

    If your ethics are impersonal and consequentialist, it's still possible to be an anti-natalist and not think that life is bad, on the whole. Creating a person causes both joy and suffering to that person, and to others as well. If you are skeptical about attempts to commensurate joy with suffering (or good and ill, or benefit and harm, or whatever), such that a single accounting of the utility of creating a person cannot be arrived at, then anything other than anti-natalism requires a leap of faith. Anti-natalism is the only “safe” option.

    I personally am not convinced that this leap is never justified, so I can't call myself an unqualified anti-natalist, but I am a little bit (though just a little) surprised that non-anti-natalists, however thoughtful, seem to rarely move significantly in the direction of an anti-natalist position after having engaged in a discussion with an informed, well-spoken anti-natalist.

    The joy-suffering commensurability problem also can explain why someone who intuitively feels that life is chiefly suffering is unsure whether ending their life would make them better off. This seems perfectly symmetrical to what I personally feel — I intuitively am glad that I exist and wish to continue living, even absent attachments to persons I care about or the risk and distress that suicide would entail, but am deeply skeptical that I can meaningfully say that the good in my life really does outweigh the ill. I make the leap of faith that continuing to exist is the right decision, and while this leap may actually be disutile (if joy and suffering are indeed commensurable, but I just don't know how to commensurate them), it's a leap that I'm entitled to make for myself. It's deeply problematic, however, to make a similar leap on another's behalf.


    March 17, 2011 at 1:06 am

  4. I've always found the (b) part of the above retort to be overwhelmingly weak. If nothing else, wouldn't firing a double barrel shotgun into one's head do the trick (especially if you do it in a secluded area where you'd be guaranteed at least fifteen minutes to bleed out without medical attention)? In no way do I support the facile argument of, “Why don't you just kill yourself?” presented by pro-natalists, but I have a hard time understanding the difficulty of accomplishing suicide on a physical level. It seems that it would be far more beneficial to illuminate the mental/emotional dissonance one faces when one is about to pull the trigger (just watch the hesitancy in the body language of the Golden Gate Bridge jumpers before they make the leap in the documentary, The Bridge).

    Agitated Radio Pilot

    March 17, 2011 at 1:40 am

  5. I think you're right that likelihood of success is not the only relevant factor. Shooting, cutting arteries, and jumping from heights are not 100% reliable, but I can't say my hesitance to utilize those methods rests solely on the small possibility of failure. It's also the fact that shooting yourself, cutting your arteries, and jumping from heights are fucking horrible. That's why the only method in assisted suicide situations is the ingestion of a lethal dose of barbiturates.

    Sister Y

    March 17, 2011 at 1:50 am

  6. Exactly, most of the methods that are more than likely to succeed are “fucking horrible,” which I think is enough to suffice as a legitimate answer to the question at hand.

    We antinatalists like to imagine a button that, once pressed, would instantaneously and painlessly destroy the Earth. I'd simply like a button that would instantaneously and painlessly destroy me!

    Agitated Radio Pilot

    March 17, 2011 at 3:53 am

  7. “…shooting yourself, cutting your arteries, and jumping from heights are fucking horrible.”

    Except when you do them all at once. Then it's fucking hilarious.


    March 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm

  8. Or one can say, with David Benatar, that a life worth continuing is a lower criteria of value than a life worth beginning.



    March 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm

  9. Also, birth is something like a gravitational singularity: &

    After someone comes into existence, they create many problems … make many others need them … None of this could have happened without that.

    We do want to be “remembered well” after our death when we live … before our life began, that simply wouldn't have mattered …


    March 18, 2011 at 8:58 am

  10. My answer would be a simplification of Chip's: Because death is exactly the part of life that I find so objectionable.

    Ann Sterzinger

    March 20, 2011 at 1:49 pm

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