Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Not Commit Suicide? (Part 2)

Last Updated December 26, 2012


With every suicide, there are many losers and few, if any winners.  Even with the latter, the gains accruing to them as a result of an antinatalists suicide are highly trivial at most and often outright nonexistent.  This includes any alleged gains antinatalism’s critics say would accrue to sweatshop workers (namely that a suicide denies the sweatshop a paying customer), implying antinatalists should commit suicide if they are to remain true to the Least Suffering Principle.  However, not only would suicide fail to meaningfully reduce these sufferings, it would more likely increase them, namely by denying to legitimate garment factories or coffee plantations (“sweat-free” and Fair Trade™) paying customers (and hence profits). This reduces the number of people who “vote with their wallet” to stop worker exploitation, which in turn reduces the strength of the movement to raise living standards for exploited workers. Therefore, whatever trivial gains the sweatshop workers obtain through the suicide of a customer is more than offset by the admittedly equally trivial opportunity loss a sweat-free garment factory or Fair Trade™ coffee grower suffers from the needless loss of a potential paying customer. 

Even assuming that antinatalists would still be supporting sweatshops because some products cannot be bought from “fair practice” factories, it is highly doubtful that suicide would come even close to reducing the exploited workers’ sufferings by a noteworthy amount.  The suffering reduction would be so small that it is highly unlikely even the workers themselves would agree that the trivial gains accruing to them would outweigh the agony that the antinatalist customer’s deliberate death would cause the antinatalist’s own family and friends.  Even worse, it can be argued that effectively denying purchases to “sweat-free” and “Fair Trade” concerns removes inspiration for manufacturers of high-end products to choose a similar such path.


The last post left off with my claim that suicide  of even all antinatalists would reduce suffering on a worldwide scale by only a trivial amount at most, certainly by an unnoticeable one; contrary to what some critics' claim's imply.  So who do the critics think would benefit from an antinatalist’s suicide, other than possibly the antinatalist him or herself (but as show in the previous post, only at the expense of others)?  The following table illustrates each side's claims regarding who would be hurt or helped by an antinatalist's suicide.  Critic's claims are in the upper left and bottom right quadrants, the philanthropic antinatalist's  are in the other two. 

Antinatalist Continues to Live
Antinatalist Commits Suicide

Hurt by Decision
*Sweatshop Workers in the Third World: AN keep buying products from exploitative factories, at the cost of worker well-being.
Family and Friends

Highly Sensitive Distant Strangers*

*Everyone on Earth, present or future: AN keeps using fossil fuels, consuming and/or wasting food that could go to the poor, creating waste, etc.
Place of Employment*

Places the Antinatalist Shops*

The Antinatalist   (in some cases, i.e.. Knowledge of pain to family, friends and acquaintainces caused by death. Also if their death is through unusually pleasant means, which is very unlikely)

The Antinatalist: If he or she looks forward to their own death or if they think their life is not worth entering into. 

Helped by Decision
All who would be hurt by the ANs decision* (in the very loose sense that not doing harm is a help). However, Family and Friends would not be a GBIE. 
All those who are helped by the antinatalist's suicide*except the Antinatalist

The Antinatalist, for he or she will know that ny continuing to live, they spare close ones additional trauma beyond what their natural death would cause.  
The Antinatalist in their last few moments of life.

Asterisk (*) means “GBIE”, Genuine But Insignificant Effect. The astrisks reflect my own view of the situation, not that of the party making the argument.

As shown above, a critic can go out on a limb and say that committing suicide reduces exploitation of sweatshop workers in the third world, environmental damage, and consuming food that could otherwise go to the poor.  Yet, philanthropic antinatalists counter that the gains for these parties would be incredibly trivial compared to the grief and suffering the antinatalist's suicide would impose on their loved ones, family and friends. 

The critics' argument might work only against the antinatalist's "pinprick argument" - the "hard" argument that even a single pinprick experienced by a single person is an unnecessary amount of pain to suffer, based largely on the Benatarian Asymmetry

Brief Overview and Commentary of the Pinprick Argument

The argument states the following:

(a) Non-existent people neither need pleasure nor suffer from a lack of pleasure (including masochists, given that it's actually a pleasure, though it bears pain's disguise), due to the Benatarian Asymmetry and further explications given on the linked page
(b) Theoretically, no potential people have to (in the factual sense, as opposed to the moral one) come into existence; and had they never been born, 'a' would remain the case forever.
(c) Because of 'a' and 'b', it therefore makes no sense to say we should bring a potential person into actual existence so that they can experience pleasures of life.
(d) Non-pleasurable (i.e., non-masochistic) pain that is pointless, unnecessary, and serves no purpose is always a bad thing.
(e) Therefore, because of 'a' through 'd', even the pain from a single pinprick negates the value of all the pleasure one can ever receive.  
(f) Because of 'e', and because everyone suffers from pains greater than a pinprick - whether physically or emotionally,  it is immoral to bring new people into this world (or universe, for that matter).

However, in the real world, even most antinatalists place the threshold of a life too unbearable to be worth commencing and/or living tremendously higher than a mere single pinprick (or even paper cut).[1] Other antinatalist arguments emphasize the unknown future (i.e. "The Gambling Argument") and the lack of opportunity for consent to be born before being thrust into a realm which operates under these kinds of rules and produces these kinds of circumstances (i.e. "The Consent Argument"). [2] , [2b] Neither argument relies on single pinpricks and in fact deal with more realistic scenarios.  It is difficult to see how what might be called the "Exploited Laborers Argument" can work against antinatalist arguments that assume the threshold of "a life not worth living/commencing" orders of magnitude less strict than the inevitable single pinprick.[3]  

Even if there are a microscopically small fraction of cases in which someone believes their and/or our total lifetime happiness is indeed canceled out by a single pinprick, that still gives us no right to decide for them that they have misguided definitions and/or criteria of "a life worth living and/or commencing". True, we may have a right in some cases to decide for them whether a certain action is right or wrong, but only to the extent that those actions affect the well-being, dignity, or safety of other people.  This is not so when it comes to personal actions or opinions that cannot significantly grieve or threaten anyone else. For this reason, even if this issue proves to yield only subjective answers*, this subjectivity would actually work in the antinatalist's favor.  This is especially true if we cannot predict a potential future existent's standards, definition, criteria, etc. of a life worth commencing and/or living; which in turn supports the Gambling Argument against procreation.

*This is not a concession, only a contingency.

OBJECTION: There exist infinitesimal but genuine odds of horrible things happening to us due to even drinking certifiably safe tap water, or (a favorite of critics) driving a car across town. Yet we all perform these acts despite our awareness of the risks to others.

RESPONSE: See Appendix.

Hurt vs. Help: The Effects of an Antinatalist's Suicide on Others

Now we return to the starting point of this post, the issue about how much an antinatalist's suicide would reduce the overall suffering of this world. Referring back to the table outlining who would be hurt or helped by an antinatalist's suicide, this examines how and to what extent or degree an antinatalist's suicide would affect the following parties listed in the chart.

Family and Friends: Very negatively, both short run and long run.  As discussed in Part 1, the former is certainly the case while the latter is very likely; especially considering that family and friends are likely to be hurt worse by a close one's suicide than their natural death, or even their untimely death of any sort,  even years after their actual death.  Anyone who still doubts this only needs to ask someone whose loved one died several years ago which they would rather experience, a loved one's or friends natural death or that loved one's suicide. Many internet forums devoted to suicide grief support exist, such as this one.

If the sources cited in Part 1 are sound, then it is difficult to deny that suicide causes more grief, anguish, and even harm than does a natural death; particularly for first-degree relatives and spouses. Though the abstracts and studies did not address the next mentioned aspect of the matter, this blog's author speculates that even a person's demise by murder is at least fairly likely to cause less suffering for relatives than  that person's suicide would. At least the relatives would see their loved one's murder as an involuntary untimely death, thus leaving the deceased blame-free regarding their death. This also allows the relatives to pin the blame of death on someone else. A suicide's surviving relatives would not have even this consolation, for the killer in this case is the grieved-over deceased him or herself.

Coworkers / Place of Employment: Intensely negative but temporarily at most. Exceptions probably exist for coworkers who were close friends or admirers of the deceased. However, the workplace's employees as a whole would likely suffer much less in the long-term from the suicide than the family and friends would.  In the meantime, the short-run quality and/or quantity of work may well drop, especially for a small employer. Even so, it will likely rebound to previous levels after the typical duration of a grieving period for such circumstances.  Hence, after the grieving period, the suicide would not likely affect the firm's long-run productivity and quality. Overall, the suicide would have practically no affect on the employee's long-term mental well-being and the employer's balance sheet - unless the deceased was a highly valuable employee with exceptional or unique talents.  On average though, the effect on the employer and employees will be neglible to practically non-existent - financially, physically, and psychologically. 

Even if the suicide were to affect productivity and / or quality of output more than claimed above, this would only strengthen the argument against committing suicide.  At any rate, the emotional pain caused to coworkers and the owners of the place of employment is likely to be considerable, even if for the place of employment as a whole not as long lasting as for family and close friends.

Highly Sensitive Distant Strangers: Most likely trivial, moderately high but temporary at the plausible most. Even then, highly emotional reactions are likely to happen only if upon hearing or reading of the suicide, it causes a flashback of one of their own friends of one of their own friends or family members who committed suicide.  Still, the overwhelmingly vast majority of even sensitive strangers will suffer trivially - except perhaps in the very short run.  Almost certainly such people will not see their overall quality of life decrease. 

Establishments the Antinatalist Shops: Trivially negative at most, even in small towns with a likewise small customer base.  Certainly a well-run establishment in even the proverbial "one-stoplight crossroad community" would see customer base (and hence gross revenue and profits) reduced by only one in a few hundred at most, and much more likely less than that in the typical rural county seat.  This loss is certainly manageable for any competent store owner, and most incompetent ones besudes. In fact, even the store owner or manager, deeply concerned as he or she is with profitability, would easily feel more grief for the customer's death in and of itself (by whatever means) than the resulting loss of revenue.

Sweatshop Workers, et al: Trivial reduction in suffering at most.  This deals with multiple issues, some of them qualitative in nature, although even those do have a semi-objective component to them. 

Critics assume the following regarding antinataists and sweatshop workers (plus a whole host of other social ills)
(a) A single person remaining alive - antinatalist or not - contributes more total pain to sweatshop workers than that person's suicide would for others.
(b) The suicide of the end-customer would bring a net reduction in overall suffering (i.e., There would be a greater reduction in sweatshop workers's suffering than there would be an increase in the suffering of family and friends, and even familiar  acquaintainces).
(c) Even an unnoticeable amount of improvement in the sweatshop workers' condition is a worthwhile improvement.
(d) Suicide is the most effective way to reduce the sweatshop workers' sufferings.
(e) The sweatshop workers themselves believe the suicide of even a large number of their customers will lead to a substantial improvement in their working conditions.

Actually, when considering the broader picture surrounding worker exploitation, a suicide would, if anything, hurt the movement to halt worker exploitation (specific reference to point d).  A suicide deprives sweat-free garment makers, Fair Trade TM coffee growers, etc. of a potential customer (and hence a new "voice" and more power to the anti-sweatshop movement); not to mention deny profits to the the legitimate factories and farms, and hence motivating other factories and farms to treat and pay their workers more fairly.  For the sake of argument, though, let us focus only on the amount of pain the antinatalist causes by buying sweatshop-made goods.

Naturally, both critics and antinatalists will have to use some objective measure and data from which to argue in order to even approach anything resembling a meaningful answer. Unfortunately, there is no truly objective way to measure suffering in others, although the great majority will agree that death of a close is worse than that same person stealing $100 from your wallet or purse.

Even regarding the objective or semi-objective aspects of the sweatshop worker issue, an actual reliable estimate would require a formal (preferably comprehensive) study.  This study would examine multiple aspects of the issue. Among these would be minimum (a) a survey of the types of goods imported from sweatshops (b) reliable estimates of how many people work in sweatshops, (c) the percentage of goods sweatshops sell to each retailer  (d) the percentage of US citizens who do patronized the specific retailers who buy goods from the sweatshops (e) how many goods US consumers buy that is likely to be produced at a sweatshop. 

Only if and when such a comprehensive study is conducted can we even begin to make serious determinations about how much of the total worker’s misery the average person in each nation is responsible for.  Until then, we can ultimately do nothing more than speculate about how much misery each end customer is responsible for.  Within these limitations, I will hazard a very contingent guess about this matter.


These calculations assume (likely incorrectly) that all goods made, grown, or sold by the exploited workers will be evenly distributed around the world, based on each nation’s share of the Gross Global Product (in the US case, 20% of the Gross Global Product).  While undoubtedly untrue, the assumption is biased in favor of the notion that the US is indeed responsible for 20% of the miseries of the sweatshop workers.

Where it concernes exploited child labor, the  United Nation's International  Labor Organization report states that there are 250 million child laborers working in conditions considered to have a negative effect on their overall development, 60% of them in agriculture.[4]  While the report did state that in 2005 there were 200,000 children in Cote d'Ivorie alone who worked on cacao plantations,undoubtedly many more work on subsistence farms or small to medium-sized farms.  These farms will likely serve mainly the local or national market, or at most the markets of bordering nations. Hence, the larger global market does not contribute substantial to these childrens' miseries. However, other than the Cote d'Ivorie figure, the ILO child labor report addressed neither how many worked on small farms nor what percentage were on the plantations.  This makes it it is impossibly to meaningfully determine other producing nation's share of the responsibility for the maltreatment of workers within their jurisdiction.

Beyond the ILO report, Oxfam provides the best estimates of exploited labor in geneal, with 23.6 million textile workers that work in sweatshops as of 2003.[5]  Regarding this figure, the blog author will assume that the number of sweatshop workers who work in neither agriculture nor the apparel or allied industries is at least as great as the 23.6 million textile workers estimate.  Based on these findings and the assumption, we can give a round estimate of 300 million total exploited workers worldwide in all industries.

Nevertheless, as stated, estimates of the number of sweatshop workers can and do vary widely, not the least because there is no definition of “sweatshop” that everyone agrees about. Even so, we will argue from the highest estimates, which favors critics of antinatalism. Also for the sake of argument, we will focus exclusively on the oft-stated most voracious consumer of their goods, even on a per capita basis – the United States of America.  This assumption also strengthen the case for justifying antinatalists’ suicides, particularly among Americans. We will also ignore the potential problems generated for sweatshop workers of ashrinking customer base for the demand of the products they make.  

Estimating Anguish Caused Per Consumer to Exploited Workers
With a current world population of seven billion people, 300 million of whom are sweatshop workers, then given the assumptions discussed, the average person is responsible for close to 1/23 of an average sweatshop worker’s total misery. The greater the number of such workers, the more of a worker’s misery each person is responsible. Stopping here, we can say that it takes 23 suicides to relieve one exploited worker of their miseries, or that one suicide will relieve the worker of 1/23 of their miseries.

Undoubtedly, in the real world, this is an  extremely simplistic method of determining each person's share of a sweatshop worker's misery.  Nobody buys goods from every sweatshop and its agricultural equivalents, especially if they those goods only serve  the local, national, and bordering countries markets. Furthermore, wealthier individuals, even "blue collar" workers in wealthier countries, will buy a larger share of those goods.  The greater the nation's average wealth, the greater the number of goods the average person of that nation buys from sweatshops.  Hence, we need a new set of calculations.

As stated above, the ILO Report did not specify what percentage of child laborers work on plantations or other farms growing crops that are exported to the wealthy world (cocoa, coffee, etc), nor did it state the percentage of those who work on farms growing goods only for the immediate local, national, or regional market.  Therefore it is impossible to say what share of exploited childrens’ labor does benefit wealthy markets. Still, let us assume that each factory, farm, and plantation exports are evenly distributed globally with respect to each nation’s share of its Gross Global Product. For the United States, that is about 20%.

With the United States buying about 20% of the factory’s production, this makes US consumers responsible for one-fifth of the exploited laborers’ miseries.  There are two ways to view this: (a) US consumers are responsible for all the misery of 60 million sweatshop workers (300 million times 20%), or (b) US consumers are responsible for 20% of the entire misery experienced by all the 300 million (20% of the lifetime working hours of all sweatshop workers).  In either case, there are 300 million US consumers responsible for that misery, even if indirectly; from purchases of infant clothing and cribs to consumer goods the very elderly use.
However, this does not mean that if five U.S. residents completely stopped buying from any sweatshop within the next few days with no new consumers, one worker would gain complete relief from their sufferings.  A net loss of five customers will produce only a miniscule loss in gross revenue and/or net profit for the factory. It is safe to say that even the most ruthless capitalist would barely feel scratched by such a small drop in revenue.  Certainly the drop would not be enough to compel the factory to fire even one worker. Therefore, the worker would continue suffering practically the same level of misery after the loss as before.  Therefore, it is more likely that (b) is the case - US customers as a group are responsible for 20% of the total misery of all workers. 

With 300 million U.S. residents responsible for 20% of the Gross Global Product, the US's assumed share of each worker's misery is likewise 20%. To get the average US resident's share of each individual sweatshop worker's miseries, we divide 1/5 by 300 million.  This is 1 / 1.5 billion. In this case, this can mean either (1) each U.S. resident is responsible for 1 / 1.5 billion of all  the misery occuring all the time or (2) each U.S. worker can hypothetically be held responsible for the miseries suffered over  1 / 1.5 billion of the worker's work-life.

Admittedly the figure is probably very much higher for high-tech goods digital goods. For these, we can safely double the US share to 40% and consequently double the size of the subsequent figures for at least sweatshops producing “high tech” goods.  Even so, merely doubling a very infintesimal share of the US consumer’s responsibility for the workers miseries still makes for an extremely trivial amount  of suffering, no matter how measured. This still would not not affect the sweatshop management's decisions in the slightest. This is before we consider how many sweatshop workers actually earn their living assembling computers, cell phone, portable digital music players, and the like.

This leads directly to the next question: What is 1.5 billionth of a sweatshop worker’s misery?  Time at work seems the only semi-objective measure, so we will look from that perspective.  Assuming 80 working hours per week for 50 weeks per year, that is 4000 working hours per year, which is 14.4 million seconds exactly. 1.5 billionth of this is 0.0096 seconds, or just less than 1/100 of a second per year. That is how much misery the average US person is responsible for regarding one factory worker per year, and only double that with regard to our example of iPod, laptops, etc.). Even using a 16 hour work day 7 days a week for 51 weeks yields only 20,563,200 million seconds per year. Dividing that figure by 1.5 billion yields 0.0137 seconds per year. 

Regardless of which calculation you find most plausible, any one person's suicide for reasons of stopping sweatshop worker exploitation will be a quixotic act at best. This does not yet begin to mention the issue of buying from sweat-free factories (preferably in a "First World" country with realistically humane working conditions and salaries), which unlike a suicide, would have the virtue of giving real rewards to workers and factories who manufacture goods under civilized conditions.

Some will object that it is absurd to think any one person, including antinatalists, will buy products from every sweatshop in the world and certainly not within a year.  This is a strong objection.  It is most likely that the items the average person buys from a sweatshop include shoes, socks, pants, shirts, perhaps coffee and chocolate if we add in the foodstuffs.  We can also add goods bought every few years, namely electronic communication devices (cell phones, laptops, portable music devices, etc).  If each individual buys ten sweatshop items a year and that each individual good produced typically requires 30 sweatshop workers involved in the process, then – for the amount of time it took each worker to perform his or her task for that one particular item or unit to be sold individually - each American is probably responsible for the misery of 300 workers.

However, there is a crucial unknown in all this – how much time does it take for a typical sweatshop worker to perform one specific task for one specific good (or in the case of socks, the number of socks that are sold in a single bag for end-consumer use)?  Without knowing this, it is impossible to know how many minutes of misery each person who buys the product is responsible for.  Even so, it seems fifteen minutes is a reasonable absolute maximum estimate of the time for one person to complete his or her task for one item to be sold to an end-consumer, depending on the type of good sold.  

So assuming US residents on average buy one such item per year, the average US resident is responsible for fifteen minutes of worker misery per year for all those 300 workers.  This is not to say that the total misery caused to those 300 people in that fifteen minutes is the equivalent of all the pain of those 300 workers concentrated in one single worker within that fifteen minutes, or not even 4500 minutes (300 workers times fifteen minutes). Each person’s threshold of “unbearable pain or miserable” is quite likely to be above the pain suffered as a result of assembling that one product.  We can say five basketball players collectively feel X units of pain and exhaustion after basketball practice, but that is not the same as saying we can concentrate all that pain inside one person and assume it was unfair or unreasonable to make the whole team practice. 

So in this sense ¼ hour out of a whole work year of 4000 hours is 1/16,000 of a work year per worker for 300 factory workers.  In this case, 16,000 US suicides on behalf of that exploited worker would yield one single year of relief for him or her, and their other 299 co-workers on top of that. Even this assumes the benefits to the exploited workers will, in fact, actually accrue to those particular people who made, grew, or picked the suicide’s products. As explained above, this is a risky assumption at best. Thus, the charge to commit suicide is effectively asking us to believe that a typical sweatshop worker would be grateful for the suicide of one single customer who purchases from his or her workplace once a year; a dubious assumption at best, especially given the alternative of supporting anti-sweatshop activism and buying whatever one can from certifiably sweat-free manufacturers.  In fact, it is far more likely the sweatshop worker would prefer the antinatalist vote with their money rather than with a pistol or rope, especially if one agrees with the saying "Money talks, hogwash walks".

As stated earlier, all the above calculations are ultimately based on at least partial speculation, for there are simply too many unknowns in the process.  Regardless, it is clear that the amount of pain each person causes is such a tiny portion of that of the sweatshop worker that it is absurd to think that even the suicide of all antinatalists in the US (say, 1.0% of the total US population) will make any substantial difference in the life of the sweatshop worker.  It is doubtful that even the sweatshop workers themselves will consider the suicide of a distant person in a “First World” country would consider it worth the anguish they would put their family and friend through. Certainly they would think it less helpful than pressuring their employers and end-retailers to stop buying those goods until their employer makes definite improvements in their working conditions.

At any rate, even the suicide of all antinatalists worldwide will shave off only one year’s worth of population growth, in which case one year from now the world will be back in the situation it was in just before the suicides.   The same argument applies to environmental degradation, resource depletion, food consumption, and a whole host of other social ills – only a 1.0% decline in the total use of those resources at most, and only a temporary decline at that.

So with regard to the five questions at the beginning of this section, the answers are as follows:
(a) A single person remaining alive - antinatalist or not - contributes more total pain to sweatshop workers than the person's suicide would for others.
This, of course is subjective, but even assuming the worst case scenario – each US resident is responsible for fifteen minutes of pain per worker per year, it is highly doubtful the fifteen minutes of pain of that worker is greater than the pain of one person whose family member or spouse committed suicide.  The pain and misery from that fifteen minutes of work is very likely not as bad for the worker as the anguish and even potential mental health problems resulting from the suicide of a close family member.  This is especially true when the anguish from a close one’s suicide can last for years and certainly beyond those fifteen minutes.  Put another way, it would be amazing if even the great majority of poor people would rather have a stranger on another continent commit suicide than go through fifteen minutes per year of workplace misery.

(b) The suicide of the end-customer of a sweatshop would bring a net reduction in overall suffering (i.e., the reduction in sweatshop workers sufferings resulting from one less customer purchasing those products would be greater than the increse in family and friend's sufferings due to that same person's suicide).

As show above, even assuming that reducing sweatshop worker demand does bring about a reduction in suffering, that suffering will likely result in only a quater-hour's worth of suffering reduction at most.  As shown in the comment under (a), saying this small amount of improvement in the sweatshop workers' condition is worth the suffering of family and friends generated by a suicide simply goes against both human nature and everyday experience. 

(c) Even an unnoticable amount of improvement in the sweatshop worker's condition is a worthwhile improvement.

Perhaps in the abstract sense this is true, but when dealing with the real-world sufferings of exploited workers who are wanting relief as soon as possible, this is hard to believe. It would be the same as saying a mid-19th century South Carolina slave would have his or her situation improved by having 300,000 Americans (1.0% of the population in 1860) stop purchasing cotton products.  On top of that, we have to wonder - from the exploited workers' perspective - if an improvement unnoticed really is any improvement at all, let alone a meaningful one.

(d) Suicide is the most effective way to reduce the sweatshop workers' sufferings 

A dead person cannot engage in anti-sweatshop activism of any sort, or even purchase goods from a “sweat-free” plant.  If the consumer’s money is the strongest ballot to cast in favor of “sweat-free” goods and by extension the strongest motivator to get sweatshops to improve either pay or working conditions, then the suicide of those concerned with suffering is not exactly the most effective way to end sweatshop worker exploitation.

(e) The sweatshop workers themselves believe the suicide of even a large number of their customers will lead to a substantial improvement in their working conditions.

Of course it is best to ask the workers themselves, but given the above it strains credulity to think so.  If anything, the workers want those who care about suffering alleviation to remain alive and fight against the exploiters via activism and purchasing “sweat free” products.

After all is said and done, the most the critics' "sweatshop worker" argument may prove is that antinatalists should do more to engage in community activism to help reduce the sufferings of people in distant lands.  Even then, there may be some question as to whether they are more obligated to do so than other child-free singles their age. After all, if suffering prevention and mitigation should be part of everyone's basic ethics, regardless of whether one agrees that suffering prevention leads to antinatalism, then everyone ought to do what they can to speed the day when sweatshops the world over are a thing of the past. 
Furthermore, it is highly doubtful that even devoting every waking, non-working moment to “causes bigger than ourselves” would make the critics think twice before suggesting antinatalists commit suicide. After all, this world is full of injustices and inequities that demand everyone elses attention.  For such critics, no amount of suffering prevention and mitigation, no matter how relentless, will be enough – their real objection is that we espouse antinatalism in the first place.


[1] A paper cut's pain level is of a similar intensity level - even if both are considered trivial in intensity, the intensity levels of both remain quite comparable). The possible exceptions are hemophiliacs and any possible medical condition characterized by pain sensitivity on an unimaginable scale - physical or psychological. Even in these cases, antinatalists claim that only the person him or herself has the right to judge his or her life as worth commencing and/or living.

[2] The Gambling Argument states that we shoud not bring more people into this world because we cannot know the outcome of a potential person's life if brought into actual existence; particularly regarding their future well-being as society defines it. The conventional Gambling Argument usually relies on mainstream society's standards of "a life and/or conscious existence worth commencing and/or experiencing" (see note 3 for further explanation of the phrase). These criteria usually include some combination of the following types of well-being: physical, psychological, economic / financial, and others. 

[2b] The Consent Argument is a subset of the Gambling Argument. This differs from the conventional Gambling Argument in that it emphasizes the birthed person's own definitions, criteria, and judgements for "a life and/or conscious existence worth commencing and/or experiencing", whether for people in general or only for themselves.  The crux of the argument is that we cannot know what the potential person's views on the matter would be if we do bring them into existence. Due to this unpredictability, we should not bring potential people into actual existence.  Mainstream definitions and criteria are immaterial, for an individual's definition can and sometimes does vary significantly from the mainstream's; sometimes radically so.  Also immaterial is how well their own lives are going, whether by mainstream standards or even their very own (if the latter, then they could well see themselves as "just lucky, so far", and therefore concered that others - even their descendants - might not be as lucky as they have been so far).

[3] "A life worth living" is not necessarily the same as "a life worth commencing", for at least three reasons:(a) the birthed person may find life not worth living, even if his or her own life is superficially less painful than even most non-antinatalists (even both their parents); (b) the capricious nature of how, when, and where serious misfortune strikes; and (c) the person may develop more rigorous standards for "a world worth bringing children into" than those of either their parents or mainstream society.  This is the core notion behind the antinatalist's Consent and ultimately Gambling Arguments against procreation.  Whether the person's own definitions and criteria for "a world worth bringing children into" is a mere "subjective position" or the objective "right thing to do independent of our perceptions" is a matter of debate.  Still, even if the position proves subjective, the very subjectivity itself actually supports the antinatalist position, for we neither can predict any future existent's views in this regard nor have the right to overrule that person's own definitions and criteria for "a world worth bringing children into".

[4] (ILO, UN)

[5] (Oxfam Canada)


On Drinking and Driving: Confusing Duty-Bound Risk Acceptance of the Already-Existent With Imposing Risks of Existence on Those Who Did Not Need to be Born.
OBJECTION: There exist infinitesimal but genuine odds of horrible things happening to us due to even drinking certifiably safe tap water, or (a favorite of critics) driving a car across town, yet we all perform these acts despite our awareness of the risks to others.

There seems a pretty solid, though perhaps not perfect, parallel with this argument - the claim that insurance is simply another form of gambling. Some claim that buying insurance is effectively betting that an incident will occur when there's no substantial guarantee that it will.   The problem with this analogy is that with true gambling (e.g. craps tables, lotteries, etc), the risk of loss did not exist before the person made the wager, plus it is extremely unlikely he was forced in any way to make that wager.  However, as soon as the person made the bet or purchased the ticket, there was a substantial probability that the money would be lost; one that did not exist before the person decided to make the wager. 

By contrast, insurance covers risks that always did exist due to the inherent natures of three basic factors: the owned thing itself, the natural world, and human behavior (e.g., a car can have an unknown serious assembly flaw, be wrecked, flooded, stolen, etc.). Furthermore, many insurable items are practically impossible to do without and certainly so if one hopes to maintain both humane standards of living and a reasonable quality of life worthy of the names. You require to live in a dwelling. Loss of a dwelling is always a possibility for all dwellings as long as they continue to exist. Same thing with cars, your health, and even your life (in which case that loss is guaranteed, "when" being the only question).  Therefore, barring the very occasional wilderness survivalist, the very nature of modern life imposes upon us loss risks  that simply cannot be reduced to absolutely zero. 

As with insurance, already existent people are at the very least compelled to drive autos to work even if that activity could conceivably  hurt others or themselves.  First and foremost, not to do so will deprive them of income, or even visits to the grocery store, doctor, and a broad range of other destinations.  Furthermore, they are practically duty-bound to perform activities of non-zero risk for the sake of preventing guaranteed greater harms or injustices to others (simply living off others' resources when one is perfectly able to provide for him or herself, and without offering anything of sufficiently compensatory value to their benefactors. In a word, exploitation).  So in a sense, by traveling in a car for any reason (employment, groceries, etc), the person is giving up a little bit of safety in order to prevent an even more unsafe or unjust circumstance  from occuring. Put more simply, driving a car could be seen as a form of poverty insurance and/or prevention.

On the other hand, bringing a person into existence likewise brings into existence the possibility of negative circumstances that would otherwise not exist had that person not been brought into existence, somewhat comparable to purchasing a lottery ticket. There is simply no relevant comparision between choosing the lesser risk over the greater risk with choosing to bring a potentially existent person into actual existence. This is even more true given that there is no way to know that person's life course, nor a way to know how that potential person would actually define / set standards for "a world worth living in". This makes it difficult to see how birthing a person is not effectively gambling with the future well-being of that person. 

Now we go beyond the insurance-gambling analogy and deal with the actual essence of the argument.

The Existent

As implied above, it does no good to counter with the claim that practically everything we do has risks, even drinking certifiably safe water and traveling in cars. In these two cases, we are talking about people who already exist, and thus have an interest in remaining alive, happy, and/or preventing their own well-being from declining (if for no other reason than to prevent even greater sufferings from coming about, as explained in Part 1). 

Furthermore, the already existent likewise have a duty to not cause pointless and unnecessary harm to others, especially when the harmed party neither consents to be subject to such pain, nor likewise receives a compensating gain from experiencing that pain. Neither refusing to drink certifiably safe water, nor refusing to travel by motor vehicle for the reasons given above, nor the respective consequences for the person (even antinatalist) or their loved offer the surviving loved ones can plausibly offer any compensating gain for them that overcomes the death of their loved one under such circumstances. Such deaths or other hardships only create added burdens for surviving loved ones and possibly society as a whole (in the former case, greater anguish that suicide causes versus non-suicidal death in the former case; in the latter, in addition to the said family and friends, a greater burden on social services, charities, etc)

Also already existing person, by refusing to drink certifiably safe water, guarantees their own pointless and needless death and its inevitably consequent anguish for others, due to their easily avoidable premature deaths by their own hand (which as mentioned in Part 1, such deaths create more anguish among those close to us than our natural or even other involuntary unnatural death would). Similarly, though with a considerably less severe result, refusing to travel in a car ultimately results in a stark drop in one’s quality of life (and depending on the circumstances, unemployment and its consequent lowered availability of food, clothing, shelter, essential “consumer goods”, etc.). This creates negative impacts not just for themselves, but also their family and friends – and very possibly society as a whole via creating a higher caseload for social services, charities, etc. - negative consequences which all people have a duty not to commit and certainly such consequences that were avoidable, needless, and produce no compensating good for the aggrieved or otherwise harmed parties.

The Non-Existent

By contrast, the non-existent cannot suffer because their potential parent(s) refuse to bring them into existence on the basis of remote odds of an event happening. Nor can the non-existent have any need to experience what good in life does exist. The non-existent do not exist in any state, though potential future existents could become real at some point and therefore a legitimate subject of discussion. This is particularly true when we realize that we do have a duty to prevent or mitigate against future harmful events that can happen to future existent people, even those events whose effects we believe will happen outside our future lifespan. That includes our duty not to bring potential existents into a realm in which harmful things (and very possibly egrigiously harmful ones) can happen to them if the future existence of these people is a possibility - especially if (1) they do not need to experience good things and (2) consent to be born into a realm that operates under rules which permit, if not mandate, that all people in this world will suffer, with some people suffering quite egrigiously even when there is no need for them to suffer.

Last but not least, the potential future existent cannot have an interest in seeing humanity continue into the future. Nor really do any living people themselves have an interest in continuing the human species after their deaths, for they will no longer exist after they die and thus cannot care about the well-being of humanity any more.  The living can care about the well-being of those who will be born only after we ourselves die. We can only do so for the sake of those who will, in fact, exist. We cannot do so for our own sakes because our interests will cease after we die.

These differences between the circumstances of the present existent (to whom we owe presently-existing duties) and the non-existent (to whom we owe no such duties) renders spurious the comparision between driving a car / drinking water and a non-existent person.

From here, we can still say that assertions that giving birth to children is the right thing to do remains vulnerable to both the Consent and Gambling issues.


Anonymous said...

This all seems like quite complicated rationalizations for participating in an environmentalist death cult. And you wonder why people have so little respect for radical environmentalism; it's because it looks awfully like a cult.

fil rabat said...

Did you even bother to read the blog? Or are you just here to make drive-by sniping comments? At any rate, if you do disagree with this, I would like to know exactly why. Show me through point by point refutation, NOT with rhetoric.

PS: I'm not antinatalist for enviornmental reasons, so let's drop that claim right there.

Giordano Mirandolla said...

I am in the process of debunking your position on my blog

TimIII said...

Because it's hard. QED.
(my delightful jerkface response to every article whose title is a question).
Yes, I know I ought not to be alive. But killing myself would be very hard. If I try and fail, that's pathetic. Nature is a much more decisive and effective killer, might as well just wait my turn.

Giordano Mirandolla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Love yourself as you love no other be no man's fool be no man's brother
We're all born to die alone y'know that's the hell of it