Commenter And bxz has pointed out a number of objections to the Asymmetry. Since there are a number of them and they are more developed than most objections to the Asymmetry, I thought I would write an entry discussing them instead of debating in comments (which I am trying not to do these days).
1)The presence of pain is bad
A) Pain is not inherently bad. Pain is but a state of mind, and because we can modulate our subjective experiences through practices of meditation, we can achieve a “happy” state of mind while in abject agony. One of the extreme examples of such practice manifests as self-immolation practiced by Buddhist monks (imagine burning alive without screaming and running around but meditating in jubilee). Ignoring the religious backdrop, this still shows that we are capable of changing our subjective experience of pain at will. Studies back this up.
Whether studies back this position up or not is not relevant, because this is not a scientific issue. I fully accept that the points stated may very well be true. I doubt that they are true, but it doesn’t really matter, because they do not prove that the presence of pain “not inherently bad.” What they prove is that the presence of pain combined with a certain practice can end up being not bad.
Let’s make an analogy. A guy gets stabbed. He’s taken to the hospital, they operate on him, save his life, and while doing so discover that he also has cancer. So they are able to remove the cancer early. The entire situation is, on the whole, a more desirable outcome than the guy eventually dying of cancer. Does that prove that stabbing people is good? No, it doesn’t. All it proves is that stabbing someone who has an undiscovered cancer might be a good thing, but the stabbing itself was still bad.
This is similar to the fallacy used by Absurd Being: to equate “the presence of pain is bad” with “the presence of pain, and badness, are synonymous.” These two statements are wholly different. The fact that a situation involves pain does not thereby prove that it is necessarily bad, if other elements or principles are also part of the situation (like the perennial example, a visit to the dentist). The Asymmetry does not imply that the presence of pain is synonymous with badness.
B) You say: “If your two options going into a long and painful operation is to bite a literal bullet or get anesthetized, which would you choose? Unless you are an inveterate masochist, the pain of the operation is not what you seek.” This justifies masochists as an exception to Benatar’s argument because suffering is a boon for them, hence better than not existing. I think this means that the logically consistent position isn’t antinatalism, but anti-non-masochism.
The point was not to make masochism part of the logic of the argument, but if you’re going to do this, then you ought to do it right and know what you’re talking about. First of all, being a masochist is not something we choose, it’s not like we can decide to be masochists tomorrow and seek out pain. Secondly, masochists do not respond positively to all pain. Sexual masochism, for example, is an expression of giving away control of one’s body to another person. A person can be a sexual masochist and still feel bad about stubbing their toe. Thirdly, there is a threshold of pain, in any kind of pain, beyond which even masochists cannot deal with.
So to say that the Asymmetry leads to “anti-non-masochism” (which I presume means: being against people who are not masochists or who don’t want to be masochists) is to ignore the reality of masochism and how masochists relate to pain. Yes, a masochist might experience pleasure at experiencing a long and painful operation. This does not therefore prove that pain is not bad. All it proves is that some people, in certain contexts, can ignore the badness of the pain.
Again, this is an argument pretty similar to the previous one: the fact that some people are masochists in certain contexts does not prove that the pain itself is not bad, it proves that, for some people, bodily or psychological reactions can compensate for that badness. But if you’re going to go down that route, why not argue that the Asymmetry proves that we should all have congenital insensitivity to pain? But, again, we don’t.
C) There are many other ways to get around pain.
1) Drugs (painkillers, MJ, LSD, etc.)
2) Cut off our part of the brain that is responsible for pain and suffering.
3) Genetic modification of human life to create negative emotion-free and pain-free organisms.
4) The future wonder drug that puts benefits of meditation on a pill
(Many of these are out there, but I’m just spitballing alternatives to preferring non-existence)
We already use painkillers, but they don’t change the fact that suffering is bad. As for cutting off the sensation of pain, congenital insensitivity to pain has shown us why that’s a terrible idea: pain is a signal our body needs in order to react to damage, and people who don’t feel pain also tend to die young precisely because of that.
Is it possible to imagine a world where we can safely eliminate suffering? Sure. And that would probably trivialize the Asymmetry as an argument. But we do not live in such a world. The fact that we can imagine living in such a world in the future does not mean it’s possible, let alone that it proves we should keep procreating in the meantime. The suffering of people born right now is more real than an imaginary world.
3)The absence of pain is good even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone,
A) Not if pain itself can be good or mitigated altogether, see objections to claim 1
B) This at least seemingly contradicts premise #4. You say: “The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom that absence is a deprivation.” A corollary of #4 is that non-existing beings do not suffer the absence of pleasure. #4 is logically true because people that do not exist cannot mourn not having ice cream (a non-existing ‘fetus’ person says, “it is bad that I do not get to enjoy ice cream”). In other words, (Statement 1) No one is actually suffering, so it isn’t immoral. Yet in premise #3 you say: “The absence of pain is good even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone.” In other words, you are saying that despite the fact that (Statement 2) No one is actually soothed, but it’s good. How can both of those statements be true at the same time? You dismiss the morality of discussing non-existing human’s suffering based on their non-existence; yet ascribe morality to the pleasure of non-existence. It’s like you imagine non-existing beings enjoying the fact that they aren’t suffering (saying, “it is good that we do not suffer since we do not exist”) and then scoff at people who imagine non-existent fetuses being condemned to the “equivalent of deliberately starving children.”
This is a mess. I have never argued for any attributes of non-existence, because non-existence has no properties. The statement:
(3) The absence of pain is good even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone.
clearly and directly excludes the position that it is about the absence of pain being enjoyed. That’s what the “even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone” part means. So no, it’s not like I “imagine non-existing beings enjoying the fact that they aren’t suffering.” There is no such thing as non-existing beings, and no such chimera is necessary to understand (3). All that (3) means is this: in the case that a hypothetical person X does not exist, the fact that there is some pain absent from that scenario is a good thing, and it is a good thing apart from any subjective experience. Likewise, the absence of pleasure is not a bad thing, apart from any subjective experience.
The last point in the comment was the old “why don’t you kill yourself,” which I’ve already discussed, so I see no point in going through that again. The general point here is that antinatalists are against procreation, the creation of new lives, not the end of existing lives. People who are living also have desires and values which would be frustrated by their death, and we all, as individuals, evaluate whether our future suffering is worth tolerating in order to fulfill those desires and values. Most people arrive at the conclusion that it is worth tolerating, and therefore they don’t kill themselves. Whether each person is correct about that evaluation is their own business.