Voluntary slavery: a hypothetical scenario…

James at Diabasis, an antinatalist blog, posted an interesting (and at least somewhat realistic) hypothetical scenario:

It is 2070, and the plutocracy has won. Neither Occupy Wall Street nor anything else succeeded in checking the forward march of society’s top 0.1% to vast, indeed obscene, amounts of wealth while everyone else sank into comparative poverty. But there are at least some people in the bottom 99.9% who’ve found a way of making a living, at least for a while. Fertile young women with “good genes,” that is, genes likely to produce sexually attractive (or otherwise talented) offspring, can rent themselves out to be artificially inseminated with sperm from men who similarly have “good genes.” Upon giving birth their babies are spirited away without ever been seen by their birth mothers — a practice familiar from the bad old days before legal abortion. Where the babies are spirited away to are institutions that combine aspects of the orphanage and the bordello, where they are raised to become obedient and skillful slaves: living sex toys mostly, although some of the boys who show signs of musical talent will be given extensive singing lessons and then castrated — thus reviving an ancient and refined musical tradition for the pleasure of the elite. There are specialized corporations which manage the entire process from recruitment of wombs through insemination, training, and assignment to high-paying clients. The practice taken as a whole is called the Peculiar Institution.

One argument above all, though, was thought to silence all criticism of the Peculiar Institution, and it was this. Were it not for the Peculiar Institution, the children who were its “victims” would not exist at all! Iron logic shows this to be the case. No Peculiar Institution, no impregnation contracts. No contracts, no impregnations. No impregnations, no children. But if there were no children, then how could they get the Beautiful Precious Gift that is life? Sure, maybe it’s not fun to be castrated or to be used for…well, maybe best not to think too much about that. But you slaves surely wouldn’t reject your own lives, would you?

The point here is not that natalists are heartless assholes who support slavery, but that natalism logically leads to the acceptance of any authoritarian system, even clearly evil ones such as slavery. All James did was take the premises of natalism to their logical conclusion.

As for the Block Corollary, where “anarcho-capitalists” tediously argued that they don’t really believe in sexual harassment, natalists may argue that they don’t actually believe in slavery and that the conclusion is invalid. But that would miss the point. That natalists do not believe in slavery I cheerfully concede; but the premises of natalism themselves lead us to choose slavery in this hypothetical scenario (life is a gift, the Peculiar Institution allows many lives to exist, therefore the Peculiar Institution is good). That is to say, if they were in this scenario in real life, natalists would have to be for slavery or contradict their own beliefs (that life is a gift, that having children is an ethical act, and that therefore anything that helps women have children is good).

The only viable counter I can see for natalists is to argue that those children’s futures are too harsh to justify giving them life. But this contradicts the natalist argument that people do not regret having been born, and that the vast majority of people do not kill themselves. Surely this argument would apply to the slaves as well.

Here are some approximate suicide rates in 1850 United States:

2.12 per 100,000 for white people
1.15 for freed black people
0.72 for black slaves

(source: Suicide: individual, cultural, international perspectives, edited by Leenaars, Maris, Takahashi)

That is to say, most of the suicides from African slaves took place before their arrival, or shortly after their arrival. Settled African slaves killed themselves at far lower rates than their masters. So from this we can conclude, following natalist logic, that slave lives were worth living more than their masters’ lives. Granted, I have no data on whether the slaves considered their lives worth living. Based on the fact that people will make that claim even in the worse conditions possible, I assume most of them did.

So this is just my roundabout way of saying that the slaves in our hypothetical would probably say their lives are worth it, and that according to natalist arguments this means that their lives are actually worth it. So the natalist objection doesn’t actually disprove this form of slavery, but rather bolsters it.

I think that the scenario not only has antinatalist implications, but political ones as well. From the voluntaryist perspective, this slave system is entirely voluntary and contractual, so they should support it as well. Since we already allow slavery-like conditions to exist in cults on the basis that “they joined of their own free will,” it’s hard to see how they could not support slavery outside of such a context as well. My child renter argument is a simpler but similar sort of scenario, where children are born into a system of subjection and never chose it.

One may reply that selling a future child to slavery is an attack against the rights of the future child; but like the natalist, the voluntaryist should naturally argue that the consent of the fetus, not being a person, is irrelevant, and that the future child will be free to break out of the contract in any way prescribed by the contract. If this seems heartless to you, then I agree completely: treating human relations as contracts and not considering the rights of future persons is extremely heartless. But that is the consequence of voluntaryist policies.

If anyone objects and believes that voluntaryism or natalism do not imply agreeing to this scenario, then ey is free to try to prove it to me. My experience with the Block Corollary tells me that a lot of people will protest but no one will try to give any evidence as to why the scenario is not a logical corollary of their beliefs. I hope to be proven wrong this time, but I’m not holding my breath.

To be honest, if you are thinking of posting a comment trying to deny the corollaries of your ideology, I’m not going to authorize it unless you provide a rational justification as to why you believe the corollary is not a logical consequence of your ideology. You need to provide actual evidence either way. I am really tired of people just saying “but that’s not what voluntaryism is about!” Either you can demonstrate it logically or you shouldn’t be saying it.

Here is a question for each category of advocates to answer if they wish to try to defeat this hypothetical:

For natalists- What is your standard to determine when procreation is unethical? Where do you draw the line? How do you reconcile the contradiction between this line and your belief that life is a gift? If you start getting into relativism (“well, usually life is a gift, but not in this case”), then how do you conclude that life a gift in reality, especially given that many people experience lives as bad, or worse, as the ones described in the scenario? Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?

For voluntaryists- Given the fact that contracts can and frequently do clash with human rights, where do you draw the line between desirable and undesirable contracts? If you draw such a line, keeping in mind that voluntaryists believe that anything voluntary is ethical by its very nature, why do you still call yourself a voluntaryist?

7 thoughts on “Voluntary slavery: a hypothetical scenario…

  1. Gomi June 21, 2012 at 21:19

    First off, the slaves in that scenario aren’t voluntary. Furthermore, the vast inequality of the greater system arguably makes their parents’ contracts pretty involuntary too.

    Secondly, you could just as easily spin a hypothetical scenario that the “logical conclusion” of anti-natalism is an authoritarian system that enforces non-reproduction. Which is to say, any philosophy could probably be twisted into an absurd extreme. Doesn’t make it indicative or even really logical.

    And, since I don’t believe any life is a gift or that voluntary actions are inherently ethical, I’m not sure which pigeon-hole you want me to crawl into.

    • Francois Tremblay June 21, 2012 at 21:29

      “First off, the slaves in that scenario aren’t voluntary.”
      Sure they are. The parents agree voluntarily, and the children have no right to refuse (since they are fetuses, and therefore not persons). Same as for the child renter scenario.
      Furthermore, if you want to argue for voluntaryism but want to give fetuses rights, then you have to explain how these rights are allowed to trump otherwise voluntary actions, but not most other rights that humans hold (e.g. work contracts are allowed to routinely violate basic human rights such as free expression, freedom of movement, freedom of conscience, etc).

      “Furthermore, the vast inequality of the greater system arguably makes their parents’ contracts pretty involuntary too.”
      Non consensual, yes, but they are purely voluntary. They are under no coercion whatsoever.

      “Secondly, you could just as easily spin a hypothetical scenario that the “logical conclusion” of anti-natalism is an authoritarian system that enforces non-reproduction.”
      Enforcing non-reproduction is not authoritarian. I’ve already addressed that. There is no such thing as a right to reproduce.
      You don’t get to make choices for other people. That is pretty much the point of this blog.

      “Which is to say, any philosophy could probably be twisted into an absurd extreme. Doesn’t make it indicative or even really logical.”
      If you ignore the facts, sure.

      “And, since I don’t believe any life is a gift or that voluntary actions are inherently ethical, I’m not sure which pigeon-hole you want me to crawl into.”
      I am not asking you to crawl into any pigeonhole. It is merely your hostility towards me that makes you think you have to become my opponent. If you’d take the time to think about what you believe, we wouldn’t be having these constant circular discussions.

      • Gomi June 21, 2012 at 21:46

        “Sure they are. The parents agree voluntarily, and the children have no right to refuse (since they are fetuses, and therefore not persons).”
        Fetus and child are two biologically distinct stages. Distinct, in part, because of an ability to reason and make decisions. Once you can reason and someone forces you to do something without choice, that’s involuntary, pretty much by definition.

        “Enforcing non-reproduction is not authoritarian. I’ve already addressed that. There is no such thing as a right to reproduce.
        You don’t get to make choices for other people.”
        So, when society decides you can’t have children, and decides a fetus can’t be brought to term, that’s not making choices for other people? Anti-natalism has the same basic problem as natalism: they both ultimately come to a root argument that, for one perception of “The Good” or another, someone gets to decide for someone else. Either it’s decided you can’t have kids, or you’re deciding a kid has to be brought into this world. Basic flaw of extremist thought.

        “It is merely your hostility towards me that makes you think you have to become my opponent.”
        That and you swearing at me, insulting me, banning some of my comments and *sometimes* advocating what I perceive to be an oppressive philosophy in the name of anarchism. I’m not hostile towards you, Francois. You’re not the poor persecuted martyr. I *disagree* with you sometimes, and I’m not someone to keep quiet when I disagree. As you’ve said before, you blog for controversy. So, you get responses like mine sometimes. Doesn’t mean I’m hostile towards you.

        “If you’d take the time to think about what you believe, we wouldn’t be having these constant circular discussions.”
        I’ve thought very long and deeply about what I believe. I just apparently don’t fit the extremist strawmen you’re setting up in this post.

        • Francois Tremblay June 21, 2012 at 21:55

          “Fetus and child are two biologically distinct stages.”
          And since the contract is signed when it is neither a fetus, nor a child, but rather merely an idea, the point of your distinction is…?

          ” Anti-natalism has the same basic problem as natalism: they both ultimately come to a root argument that, for one perception of “The Good” or another, someone gets to decide for someone else.”
          So you don’t understand the difference between actions that are criminal and actions meant to prevent the criminal from striking again. You are truly an idiot.
          Just to spell it out for you: you don’t get to decide for other people, and if you do, then we have to prevent you from putting your threat into execution, or prevent you from doing it again. And that means that we do have to decide to stop you.
          Natalists want to impose their will on other persons, and we want them to stop. We’re not even actively stopping them. We’re just telling them to stop. Why do you compare us to them, you disingenuous piece of shit?

          “Basic flaw of extremist thought.”
          You don’t get to state that your stupidity proves that other people are stupid. Stop projecting.

          “You’re not the poor persecuted martyr.”
          I never said I was a martyr, I said you are a tiresome idiot. This discussion is yet another example of that fact. You refuse to acknowledge basic logical facts and use your refusal to “prove” that I am wrong.

          “I just apparently don’t fit the extremist strawmen you’re setting up in this post.”
          Prove that they are straw men or shut up.

  2. Gomi June 21, 2012 at 22:14

    “And since the contract is signed when it is neither a fetus, nor a child, but rather merely an idea, the point of your distinction is…?”
    My point is that you equated fetus and child in your comment, when they are not the same thing. Either way, and even when the future-slave is just an idea, it’s not voluntary when they become a person and don’t have a choice.

    Now, if the scenario was that members of the 99.9% were deciding to be the sex slaves and castrati for the 0.1%, because living as a slave was nicer than living in a slum or something, *that* would be voluntary slavery. Probably wouldn’t make for an effective argument on anti-/natalism, though.

    “So you don’t understand the difference between actions that are criminal and actions meant to prevent the criminal from striking again.”
    Like I said, anti-natalism decides for other people based on a perceived concept of “The Good,” just like a natalist who believes life is a gift and all children should be born is deciding for other people based on *their* perception of “The Good.”

    You perceive creating life as inherently doing harm, because that life, that person, will experience some degree of bad in their life (on a scale from cushy privileged life to hellish and painful). So, you argue it’s right to decide for other people, based on your perception.

    “You don’t get to state that your stupidity proves that other people are stupid. Stop projecting.”
    I’m neither a natalist nor an anti-natalist. Life is not a gift, not all life should be created, plenty of life is nothing but pain, but at the same time, some lives are good and not all life is pain. I believe no one’s knowledge is sufficient to be truly qualified to apply a blanket standard to all circumstances. So, both positions, on both extremes, are authoritarian oppression.

    “You refuse to acknowledge basic logical facts and use your refusal to “prove” that I am wrong.”
    Involuntary “voluntary slaves” are hardly logical facts, for one thing.

    • Francois Tremblay June 21, 2012 at 22:21

      “Either way, and even when the future-slave is just an idea, it’s not voluntary when they become a person and don’t have a choice.”
      The contract was voluntary. How can it magically become non-voluntary?

      “Like I said, anti-natalism decides for other people”
      There is no point in you commenting on ethical issues if you can’t even figure out the difference between an invader and someone stopping an invader. That’s the most basic ethical distinction that exists. If you can’t understand that, you can’t understand Tucker’s theorem, and you therefore cannot understand anything I write about ethics, because everything I write on ethics is based on Tucker’s theorem except my derivation of the theorem, you imbecile. So please stop wasting my time and restrict your comments to things you actually understand.

      • Gomi June 22, 2012 at 05:51

        “The contract was voluntary. How can it magically become non-voluntary?”
        Because the contract, in this scenario, wasn’t between the slave and slaveholder.

        “everything I write on ethics is based on Tucker’s theorem except my derivation of the theorem”
        Yes, Francois, I understand that. I’m not talking about Ben Tucker’s idea, but your extension of it to anti-natalism. In anti-natalism, *you* determine creating a life is wrong, a crime, a metaphorical invasion, and therefore justify your deciding for someone else.

        It’s about the *application* of Tucker’s ethics. The definition of “invader” and “invaded” in this situation. The determination of “The Good” that justifies the actions.

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