Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Social Cost of Free Disposal

An anonymous reader sends this insightful question:
Belgium and Vienna

If we look favorably upon, as a consequence of the post-60s social pandemonium, the heuristic many ancient sacred prohibitions were entirely crypto-utilitarian public policy, doesn't the taboo of suicide in both eastern and western make you want to at least want to steelman the the pro-natalist/anti-suicide position, which I've not seen on your blog? Or a piece of Freudian self-critique.

You can't remove the barriers to suicide for the terminally ill without removing them for the non-terminally ill, history has shown that the slope is slippery, and I think you want that slope to slip right? For many, the nightmare of failed suicides is a feature, not a bug. To be very generous, suppose that a state apparatus is set up so that the pills can't be stolen to commit murder and everyone not in an altered state of consciousness can use it for free on site, a perfect implementation mechanism, might there not be a domino effect? Depressed son kills self, mother follows, so does father, completely formerly healthy and well adjusted sister 1 follows, sister 2 does too, friend of sister 1 and 2, etc etc until this happens.

And now even the happiest people who don't kill themselves out of sorrow are psychologically crippled wastebaskets; In high school we talked about smart people who ended up in shitty colleges and a common pattern was "s/he had a friend who committed suicide and s/he was so depressed for a few years he only got Bs and Cs." People regret things and wish other would've stopped them from doing stupid spur in the moment things all the time.

But we haven't tried it yet. But is it not possible that the very cost of experimentation is just too damn high?

It is almost certainly the case that true Free Disposal in the Bryan Caplan sense - in which suicide actually has no cost - would result in a world no one would want to live in. For one thing, a huge reason people feel compelled to stay around is the existence of social bonds; therefore, social bonds place a major cost on suicide; a world with truly Free Disposal would not allow social bonds to form. But social bonds are among the most basic human needs; a life without them would likely not be worth living.

The chosen-ness of life is not binary but a continuum. Gruesome punishments may be heaped upon the act of suicide, making it very un-free, or it may be actively promoted, making it much more free. The suicide restrictions of old cultures give us a good idea of the degree of freedom regarding suicide that may be permitted and still maintain a functional, self-reproducing society.

Your question illustrates an important dilemma: life is unfree, and must be unfree in order for it to go on. Both at the level of culture and at the level of the individual, the freedom to end life is at odds with the evolutionary goal of self-replicaton. Some will be miserable, and societies rely on keeping miserable people alive by force in order to survive. It is my contention that they do not necessarily deserve to survive.

The Old Ways are fascinating, intricate, carefully evolved structures, and they are also not that great. Certainly they have failed us under modern conditions vastly different from the conditions under which they evolved. A person choosing to have a child now cannot really offer it a functioning, reliably self-reproducing society in which to live; but lives in past societies were not necessarily worth living, either. Keeping humans in line with evolutionary goals requires the use of both force and illusion. I am very suspicious as to whether these goals line up with eudaimonia. If the freedom to avoid the experience of life results in this, then maybe it is not such a great experience after all.

24 comments:

  1. Assumption: Suffering and pleasure are in the brain and mediated by genetics. If suicidal People are allowed to die (or convinced by antinatalism not to reproduce), and not all People are suicidal, then the non-suicidal People will be the ones who reproduce.

    The suicide Prohibition prevents a selection effect to work that would otherwiese, over time, favor Brains that do not want their non-existence (at least stochastically).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are making another assumption, though: that everyone who would ever want to kill themselves would do so before having children.

      I don't know that that's true.

      Delete
  2. I was about to make a similar comment :-) I can imagine that lowering the barriers to suicide might quickly escalate to some sort of suicide epidemic, weeding out those without a sufficiently strong will to live. But maybe a self regulatory brake would kick in, as those that remain would find suicide more and more absurd and objectable and will again put a ban on it in place, "allowing" the population of "live-averse" people to recover.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think bans are needed at all. I think there are real differences between brains in the degree to which they like living and the ones who don't are fully replaceable by others who do.

      In addition, I also don't think Sister Y is correct when she writes this:

      "It is almost certainly the case that true Free Disposal in the Bryan Caplan sense - in which suicide actually has no cost - would result in a world no one would want to live in."

      No cost is obviously unrealistic since you at least need to make a new baby and educate and grow it to replace an adult human. But what if we had a world where suicide comes at no suffering to those who choose it and the rest of the world would immediately stop missing them?

      I postulate that such a world can and would be a very good world indeed. Neither is it true that societies would collapse - most people don't want to die, and we are now living in a global marketplace of social and economic bonds that contains 7 billion (!) players.

      Delete
  3. The previous two comments are heinously stupid.

    You simply can't 'out-breed' suffering. It's very much part and parcel of the experiential human condition as it nominally stands.

    The genetics 'responsible' for suffering are far too diffuse and a million miles from being the discrete arbiters of the suffering-pleasure continuum for an individual anyway (environment is far more important).

    This is why despite decades of research and the mapping of the human genome they haven't found genes (either through direct action or polymorphism) responsible for something as devastating schizophrenia. And even when there was an attempt to directly eradicate that through eugenics - the Nazi T4 program - rates of schizophrenia and psychosis simply didn't change in West Germany post WW2....



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And yet there is a clear correlation between schizophrenia and genetics. In addition, individual humans are replaceable simply because most humans don't want to die and those who do are in the minority.

      The suicide cascade to extinction model is absurd.

      In addition, you misrepresented our comments by implying they claimed all suffering could be out-bred (we never used the term even though you put it in quotes). We were, however, merely implying that there is a genetic basis to suicidality and the degree to which people suffer vs. like living, which is undeniably true, and that this genetic basis is indeed a target of selection, which is prevented by the suicide prohibition.

      It is simply false that the world needs slaves who wish they were dead. There is not one society that can function fully and solely by voluntary members.

      Delete
  4. The anonymous reader suggests that if there were no barriers to suicide, maybe suicides would lead to further suicides by grieving friends and loved ones, until the whole of humanity killed itself off.

    Whoever wrote that comment would seem to be very out of touch with the lives of most people. Most people are not suicidal, and would not become suicidal just because others around them were.

    The one thing I can imagine, that most resembles that scenario, would be an antinatalist culture which thinks it has used up all the positive potential of existing. A culture which has a prohibition on creating new consciousness, but which allows those who are already alive to make the most of their lives, and in which the potential of art, science, human relations, life in the universe, etc., has been mapped out. Suicide - peaceful, not regretful - would be a natural form of exit for people in such a final culture, and its numbers must dwindle over time, through a combination of death by suicide and death by accident or deliberate risk. But that is not the anonymous reader's scenario, which was one of emotional unbalance and contagious distress.

    I also disagree with our esteemed host's own remarks, that life without social bonds would be unbearable. I think many people would be perfectly happy to live alone in the world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "until the whole of humanity killed itself off"

      I believe that nobody here said that. Quite the opposite, actually!

      But that SOME people will kill themselves because they lose loved ones (which would happen more often, if suicide was easier), seems highly probable to me.

      Also, seeing that it really is an easy way out (if it were allowed to be easy) might push some people over the edge.
      Of course I don't know just how contagious suicide might really be.

      And that "most" people are not suicidal and wouldn't become either is really not saying much. 95% would be "most", but would still allow for a number of suicides that would be about 4 times of what it is now (in some western countries). And such a jump would IMHO warrant the term "epidemic2.

      Delete
  5. Social bonds won't stop forming just because suicide is legal. If anything, people will try to make life better so that loved ones don't want to kill themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Agree. My contention is that to make suicide truly costless, "free disposal" - that is, the world Bryan Caplan is convinced we live in - you would have to suppress the formation of all social bonds.

    As to suicide cascade, suicide is extremely rare below a certain IQ level. Dan Everett has said that the Piraha people do not commit suicide and find it ridiculous. Only relatively high-IQ people are vulnerable to suicide, so I am fairly sure there is a natural group that would survive even the most disastrous suicide cascade.

    I'm agnostic as to whether a society that can only exist by forcing miserable people to stay alive is worth preserving, of course. But also as to whether a world in which the average human IQ is 70 would be morally preferable to our own world. It certainly seems better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But surely IQ is not the primary parameter in suicidality? Mabe the Piraha have a low pain sensitivity or high mood setpoint - or maybe they are lying because their culture demands it. (just speculating here)

      Delete
  7. First of all, it's wonderful to see you back in the Blogosphere, Sister Y! Really missed you!

    "Depressed son kills self, mother follows, so does father, completely formerly healthy and well adjusted sister 1 follows, sister 2 does too, friend of sister 1 and 2, etc etc until this happens."

    Is that an argument? Isn't this what SHOULD happen, especially if people aren't -- prepared for everything life might throw at them?

    But I still think this domino effect is far-fetched. [Unfortunately?]

    ReplyDelete
  8. PING SISTER Y!!!

    I got an e-mail from Amazon today saying your book will not be published until October 2014. What is up?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It will almost certainly be out way before that.

      Delete
    2. Chip Smith here, of 9BB. I moved the release date to be on the safe side, but it looks like we are on track to beat it.

      Delete
  9. What can one say about Sister Y? While it's easy to mock her descent from "better than average antinatalist" to "fascist stooge" a more in depth analysis is needed.

    Sister Y is a very limited person. While her use of empirical evidence is, at least, laudable given the lackluster adherence to the facts so common amongst antinatalists and fascists both, she feels the need to reduce a fascinating garden of evidence to sham appearances of the same few concepts: status, signalling and sacredness, the three S's of Sister Y.

    As per this particular section of nerddom's protocols, everything must be reduced to a search for status, using signalling, and protected by sacredness. Status-seeking is, of course, as per antinatalist protocols, zero sum, and Sister Y has nothing but scorn for signalling as do most Bayesian appropriators of the concept: rather than admit that this is a difficult world that one has to survive in as best as one can(or not, may those who can't find peace) Bayesians continue to insist albeit implicitly, that signalling is terrible inauthentic behavior which they NEVER engage in. Signalling here achieves the status of acceptable, un-falsifiable ad hominem.

    Sacredness leads us to the most damnable part of Sister Y's presence on line: her ceaseless hypocrisy: despite proclaiming herself a bullet-biting utilitarian who firmly believes that only brain states matter(her dualism on the issue of self v. brain is an issue for another day) she shamelessly cuddles up to self-proclaimed tradionalist neoreactionaries, who could not care less about brain states so long as the self-respect of the wounded white male ego is preserved and dead, dying, and decaying institutions are the ultimate good. It might be asked, how much did George Zimmerman respect the brain states of Trayvon Martin's family? How much does the abusive spouse respect the brain states of their terrified significant other? Sister Y refuses to square her support for advocates of both atrocities with her so-called utilitarianism, and has even gone to the Janus-faced extremes of having two separate twitter accounts.

    To make matters worse, Sister Y harshly deletes critical comments on her blog while proclaiming that she and her friends are engaging in the important act of thoughtcrime, which she apparently uses to mean "freedom from outside criticism". One feels like a true free thinker would respect criticism, but fascists have always been cagey about support for free speech.

    So there we have it: an analysis of a once-promising blogger cruely dashed down by the forces of mediocrity, self-aggrandizing modes of thought(or "insight porn"), and insularity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Such venomous wit!

      Delete
    2. myrdradek, i normally like you well enough, but please hold your fire here, sister is a supremely nice and kind person who only surrounds herself with despicable fascists due to unique and respectable reasons. people with suicidal depression should be entitled to a lot of tolerance. trust me, i used to have it.

      Delete
    3. It might be asked, how much did George Zimmerman respect the brain states of Trayvon Martin's family? How much does the abusive spouse respect the brain states of their terrified significant other? Sister Y refuses to square her support for advocates of both atrocities with her so-called utilitarianism, and has even gone to the Janus-faced extremes of having two separate twitter accounts.

      Sigh. If you want to walk away from Omelas with utilitarianism of all things, you need very, very steeply scaling negative utilitarianism. I support it, but most of those fascists aren't like that; they genuinely feel no contradiction in torturing an innocent for the greater "good", and it's useless to appeal to their moral intuitions; they just go "LOL YOUR FEELZ ARE WEAK SLAVE MORALITY, LOGIC ONLY FOR THE MASTER RACE".

      And again, there's no need to bring Sister into this, she's a more or less unique case.

      Delete
  10. So... anonymous fascists watch Eva too. A sign from VALIS that I should be a little kinder to them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wait... did he, in fact, imply that returning to nothing is BAD? Euurgh, he's obviously just the same kind of lawful evil, low social intelligence, anal-retentive nerd fascist and needs to be shot by the NKVD, I'm being completely serious.

      Delete
  11. More to the point

    The Old Ways are fascinating, intricate, carefully evolved structures, and they are also not that great. Certainly they have failed us under modern conditions vastly different from the conditions under which they evolved.

    I always feel cognitive dissonance when trying to be both historicist towards institutions and pass any kind of value judgment, even in context. This just seems so contradictory on so many levels. It feels so instinctively weird compared to, say, Marxist history. Marxists have lots of sacredness in many things, of course, but their style of history is nearly free of (stereotypical) value judgment.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Have you written anything about race and average IQ? It's hard to believe someone this interested in anthropology, would not have read The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein. It would be nice to hear your opinion on the subject, not matter which side of the fence you're on.

    ReplyDelete
  13. My opinion is that no matter whether free disposal has negative consequences for society or not, it should be a person's right to end their own life if they want to. I feel this way because a person had no way to consent to being born in the first place, it was forced on them.

    I suspect the percentage of people who kill themselves would still be only a small percentage, since most people's survival instinct is strong and even people with very miserable lives take drastic measures to ensure they keep on living.

    ReplyDelete

Tweets by @TheViewFromHell