The free disposal argument.

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.

11 thoughts on “The free disposal argument.

  1. David Gendron February 25, 2013 at 12:52


    • Francois Tremblay February 25, 2013 at 14:03


      • David Gendron February 25, 2013 at 15:10

        It’s only a test for myself.

        • Francois Tremblay February 25, 2013 at 15:20

          That’s what I said to your mom after I was done with her yesterday.

  2. Fred March 1, 2013 at 10:13

    “My wife pointed out to me that…”

    Really, you have a wife? No offense, but frankly I’m SURPRISED! Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I am curious why you of all people would get married.

    Seeing as:
    (1) marriage is usually a religious ceremony/institution/rite/ritual/sacrament/tradition,
    (2) a political institution (i.e. a legal contract, so-called “civil marriage”),
    I am puzzled why you would do it.

    The only real reasons to get married:
    * to form a stable monogamous union under which to care for and bring up kids.
    * religious obligations. (That way you’re not “living in sin” together.)
    * tax benefits.

    You, on the other hand are an atheist (you don’t believe in organized religion or “sin” so no religious reason for marriage), anarchist (you don’t believe in government or the state so I am baffled why you would patronize a political institution), antinatalist (presumably you never have kids, and you never will)*, and radical feminist (well YOU are not a feminist yourself apparently, but you advocate rad-fem, so you of all people should recognize marriage for the patriarchal institution it is.

    I understand the human needs for peer-bonding and long-term companionship, and sex, but you don’t need marriage to do it! Seeing as you are a strict atheist, a radical anarchist, an antinatalist, and an advocate of radical feminism, you are the very one of the last people on Earth who would marry.

    * I omitted another possible excuse for marriage. While you oppose producing human lives perhaps you and your wife are adopting or plan on adopting. Recognizing the benefit of a stable, heterosexual, monogamous relationship in raising kids (I am NOT bashing on same-sex parents or single moms, just saying that it is good for kids to have a mother and a father growing up…), perhaps you and your girlfriend tied the knot so that any kids you might adopt have the benefit of being raised by adoptive parents under matrimonial bonds. But then even that is caving into social pressures, rather out of character for a radical like yourself.

    IMNSHO, if you remove the religious justifications and the socio-political justifications (i.e. tax purposes), the idea of a childless or childfree couple marrying is one of the creepiest fucking thing imaginable. (Because marriage implies “contractual ownership” of one spouse by the other, a sort of gentler form of slavery.) Seeing as marriage is: (A) a ritualized or solemnized bonding for a mating pair (or other parental arrangement), (B) a religious tradition, or (C) a political contract, I imagine that in a hypothetical future society that is both anarchist and thoroughly atheistic, marriage would not exist at all except for parental bonds. So-called “companionate marriage” would be rightly denounced as a VESTIGE of the patriarchal institution known as marriage (i.e. a hybrid religious sacrament and legal contract with child-rearing duties). Please don’t take this the wrong way, but inquiring minds wish to know…

    • Francois Tremblay March 1, 2013 at 13:00

      That was an unnecessarily long post just to ask me why I’m married. We got married because we had to in order to stay together.

  3. Fred March 1, 2013 at 15:52

    Well, sorry if you found the post too long. I thought I raised some interesting points, food for thought, perhaps fodder for a future blog entry…

    And honestly, it’s really none of my fucking business. I was just curious, that’s all. I was quite surprised to find that you would be married given your worldview. Though you did not answer my (implied) question, I take it you and your wife do not plan on ever adopting.

    For the record, if you truly love a person, why would you need a stupid piece of paper to prove it, or to be together? (Particularly a stupid piece of paper by any of the institutions – civil, religious – in which you do not believe.) You HAD to? I would expect a man as intelligent and as principled as yourself would not fold so easily. That sort of calls your intellectual consistency into question. It sounds like your wife-to-be made you.

    No offense, but it seems like you’re totally pussy-whipped!

    • Francois Tremblay March 1, 2013 at 16:01

      No offense, but it seems like you’ve totally been banned.

  4. Michael December 3, 2014 at 21:44

    Sarah Perry aka Sister Y responds to Caplan in part one of her new book: Every Cradle Is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide (2014).

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