What Caplan thinks life is like. Like all idiots, Caplan’s worldview is more cartoonish than anything else.
SisterY raises a very interesting point in this entry: why do breeders consider starting a new life to be a no-brainer, and yet see many decisions about how to raise their children to be extremely difficult decisions? If any given decision about how to raise a child is difficult, then how can starting a new life, which incorporates all these decisions, be a no-brainer?
To give an analogy, it’s like immediately buying a broken down house and then being faced with a series of difficult financial decisions because of the need for renovations, permits, paying taxes, and so on. We would call that very irresponsible. And this only involves money, not human lives!
To counter this, Caplan and other natalists use a horrendously offensive argument which Sister Y calls the free disposal argument. Basically, that it’s okay to start new lives nilly willy and we shouldn’t feel like this is a big burden, because if the life is not worth living the child will just kill emself and the problem will be solved.
I hope I don’t have to explain why this is extremely offensive and why this is just another case of putting the burden on the victim (frankly I don’t really want to write an entry on such a disgusting topic, but unfortunately this way of thinking is so common amongst natalists that I really have little choice). But if this argument makes sense to them, then why are natalists horrified by suicide?
It is also very offensive for Caplan to call his argument “free disposal.” Suicide is not a “free disposal” of life, because it is not free (free as something you can do freely, I assume, not free as in beer) or painless. It’s easy for people to say that killing yourself is free or painless, but it’s not. “Free disposal” would be like receiving an actual gift (not life, which is not a gift but an imposition) and throwing it in the garbage once the givers are gone; “free disposal” is not like giving someone a house, which requires a great deal of work to sell and maintain in the meantime. Suicide is more like the latter than like the former.
The cartoon I posted at the top of this entry illustrates what an actual “free disposal” of life might look like. The fact that this is a funny cartoon, and not reality, proves that calling suicide a “free disposal” is absurd.
In the comments, muflax mentions rumspringa as another example which disproves “free disposal” rhetoric. According to Caplan, the low rate of suicide proves that life is worth living, because suicide is “free disposal” of life. But we can mount a parallel argument about the Amish: surely being Amish is inherently better than being non-Amish, otherwise many more Amish would take the opportunity of rumspringa to leave and join modern society. This argument seems exactly as valid as the free disposal argument and equally persuasive, and therefore contradicts natalists, none of whom as far as I can tell are Amish.
The reason why the rumspringa argument fails is exactly the same reason why the statistical argument fails: because being alive, or living in a certain society (such as the Amish) predisposes you to think and act in certain ways, to accumulate relevant values, and psychologically gives you a lot to lose if you abandon it. “Choice” comes so far down the line that it’s already a foregone conclusion in most cases.
At its root, this is another issue where consent is inferred or implied where no consent actually exists. False inference of consent is a major mechanism of control, and this is a very simplistic inference indeed. Inferring that people consent to life because they don’t kill themselves is as ridiculous as claiming that a man’s girlfriend consented to getting raped because she didn’t break up with him afterwards.
Basically, it makes the assumption that when one is accepting a “package deal,” one is accepting every single part of it. But there are plenty of reasons why one accepts package deals they are not entirely happy with. We all do it because we want to get a job, because we don’t want to be alone, basically because we want better social roles than the ones we had. So we take the good with the bad.
In the comments to Sister Y’s entry, Chip makes a similar point as to why Caplan’s position is paradoxical:
Most circumcised men do not go on to become anti-circumcision activists, aftet all. Does this make circumcision okay? Many people who are abused as children go on to abuse their own children, often defending their actions in hostile terms. If the rarity of suicide despite available methods constitutes evidence against the view that procreation entails special harm, then why shouldn’t the persistence of other seemingly harmful conduct — especially when perpetrated by victims — be weighted as evidence against the presumption of harm in such instances that do not bear directly on the value of being forced to live? Why should Caplan be convinced by the mob in one instance, but not in other cases? Gymnastics are required.
The argument also falls into the fallacy of confusing “starting a new life” with “continuing an existing life.” Suicide rates do not prove anything about life being worth living because suicide rates apply to lives that already exist, not to starting new lives. If any statistic should be applied here, it would be abortion (taking the decision to not start a new life, which somewhat more clearly implies that that life is not worth living), and abortion rates are far, far higher than suicide rates.
There is also the issue of hedonistic adaptation, which I have pointed out before. Part of our brain irrationally makes us believe that our life is worth living, even when it’s not. So the statistical argument is based on a known irrationality.
Finally, the “free disposal” is not a disposal of life at all. The life still happened and cannot be taken back. and this is the most fundamental and inescapable flaw with arguments of this type: existence cannot be rescinded. Suicide does not eliminate life but rather ends it, and there is a vast difference.
My wife pointed out to me that the free disposal argument is very similar to the Christian attitude about life: this whole concept that if life has an end then everything that happens in between must be completely meaningless. Likewise we’re supposed to believe that suicide makes everything that happened in between meaningless as well. This is false. Suicide cannot ever be a counterpoint to starting new lives, because starting new lives creates an irreversible fact of existence and irreversible harm.
In a similar way, this attitude that whatever happens to people doesn’t matter as long as they can kill themselves is very reminiscent of the Christian belief that the expectation of an afterlife trumps any amount of evil we go through in life. For natalists to desire to make life so meaningless seems to betray a pretty intense hatred of life, which is concordant with their rather cavalier attitude towards starting new lives. They are fucktards through and through.