How many of these people want to die today?

I really hate this form of argument but it seems common on less-wrong.

"If you don't want to do something right now you obviously don't want it ever or for it to ever be an option. "

If you apply the same form to anything else it becomes more obvious that it's not logical. Don't want to move away from your parents today? well then you must never want to. Don't want to eat that cake today? well then you must never want to.

Ditto for the fake "proof by induction" I once saw posted in one of these topics where someone claimed that if you want to live today and also will want to live tomorrow and the next etc then you must want to live forever.

It also implicitly assumes that everyone shares the same ethical system. Someone might be utterly against murder but would be quite happy if someone they really really hate gets hit by a train. That doesn't mean they want to kill that person today. Many people view suicide as wrong in it's own right, something to be avoided for the simple reason that they believe taking their own life to have some form of ethical injunction against it.

Alas, but no. The reason I don't expect my current decisions to be preserved into, say, the next year, is because I expect something crucial about my situation to change during the intervening period. For instance, take this example:

Don't want to move away from your parents today? well then you must never want to.

Sorry; that's just plain wrong. If I don't want to move away from my parents today, that's due to a number of reasons: I might be underage, still economically reliant upon them, still need to attend school, etc. On the other hand, I anticipate... (read more)

0tanagrabeast5yMy assertion is that there's a difference between wanting to die and being apathetic about having death sneak up on you, and that most old people are actually in the latter category. I'm not comfortable calling these people "deathist", preferring instead to reserve the term for those who would oppose the idea that death should be optional. I hold that the person who merely wouldn't mind not waking up tomorrow is usually just as content to keep living for one more day, and would likely be at least as content to wake up in a younger body. The guy living in his mom's basement who says he would like to leave is less ambivalent. He would much rather wake up in a place of his own, provided he didn't have to make the continuous effort normally needed to enable this. If dying took as much effort as getting and holding a job, I doubt it would be so popular.

Why people want to die

by PhilGoetz 1 min read24th Aug 2015175 comments


Over and over again, someones says that living for a very long time would be a bad thing, and then some futurist tries to persuade them that their reasoning is faulty.  They tell them that they think that way now, but they'll change their minds when they're older.

The thing is, I don't see that happening.  I live in a small town full of retirees, and those few I've asked about it are waiting for death peacefully.  When I ask them about their ambitions, or things they still want to accomplish, they have none.

Suppose that people mean what they say.  Why do they want to die?

The reason is obvious if you just watch them for a few years.  They have nothing to live for.  They have a great deal of free time, but nothing they really want to do with it.  They like visiting friends and relatives, but only so often.  The women knit.  The men do yardwork.  They both work in their gardens and watch a lot of TV.  This observational sample is much larger than the few people I've asked.

You folks on LessWrong have lots of interests.  You want to understand math, write stories, create start-ups, optimize your lives.

But face it.  You're weird.  And I mean that in a bad way, evolutionarily speaking.  How many of you have kids?

Damn few.  The LessWrong mindset is maladaptive.  It leads to leaving behind fewer offspring.  A well-adapted human cares above all about sex, love, family, and friends, and isn't distracted from those things by an ADD-ish fascination with type theory.  That's why they probably have more sex, love, and friends than you do.

Most people do not have open-ended interests the way LWers do.  If they have a hobby, it's something repetitive like fly-fishing or needlepoint that doesn't provide an endless frontier for discovery.  They marry, they have kids, the kids grow up, they have grandkids, and they're done.  If you ask them what the best thing in their life was, they'll say it was having kids.  If you ask if they'd do it again, they'll laugh and say absolutely not.

We could get into a long argument over the evolution of aging, and whether people would remain eager to have kids if they remained physically young.  Maybe some would.  Some would not, though.  Many young parents are looking forward to the day their kids leave.

A lot of interests in life are passing.  You fall in love with a hobby, you learn it, you do it for a few years, then you get tired of it.  The things that were fascinating when you were six hold no magic for you now.  Pick up a toy soldier and try to play with it.  You can't.  Skateboarding seems awesome for about five years, and then everyone except Tony Hawk gets tired of it.

Having kids might be like that for some people.  Thing is, it's literally the only thing humans have evolved to be interested in.  Once you're tired of that, you're done.  If some of you want to keep going, that's an accidental by-product of evolution.  And there was no evolutionary pressure to exempt it from the common waning of interest with long exposure.

The way to convert deathists isn't to argue with them, but to get them interested in something.  Twist them the way you're twisted.