Friday, May 30, 2014

Thoughts on Soylent, the new food substitute

Before I get going, full disclosure: I have not been able to try the stuff, on account of money.

There was a good article at Ars Technica recently about a new product called Soylent, and it made a lot of good points. Soylent, if you're not aware, is a meal replacement product that got it's start on Kickstarter, where it rapidly blew past it's funding goal, and eventually attracted other investors as well. It's supposed to be so nutritionally complete that three shakes per day would give you all the nutrition you need in a single day. And judging by it's FDA approved nutrition label, it can do just that.

But apparently some people hate the very idea of such a product, a product that could, in theory, let you avoid regular food altogether and be perfectly healthy. Yet some object, not in a "not for me, but ok" kind of way, but in a visceral, "it shouldn't be allowed" kind of way. It's that second reaction I have a hard time understanding.

One of the things mentioned in the article is that some people have pointed out is how easy it is to simply cook something healthy up in your kitchen. Except it's not that way for many, not just for people in third world countries, but for people right here in America, a food saturated country and culture if ever there was one.

I have struggled with hunger in my life at multiple times. Times when I was poor, times when I was homeless, and times like right now, where I'm employed, my wife is employed, but somehow, I still struggle to eat enough. I've been losing weight steadily for months, but not on purpose. True, I don't like that pot belly I've got, but neither do I like losing it because I'm forced to restrict myself. Sometimes I only eat once a day, other times maybe twice. I'm rarely truly full and satisfied. I have to struggle to balance my hypoglycemia against the lack of money we have to afford simple food. A product like Soylent, which shows promise in becoming truly cheap and affordable (the makers have stated an eventual goal of $1.50 per meal), is something I would jump at as a way to afford to be healthy. And yet there are people who think it just shouldn't be allowed? I find that, honestly, a disgusting attitude that lacks in genuine appreciation and empathy for the struggles that people right here in America are going through daily.

Aside from that, there's the issue of "it's easy to cook" that I just don't find to be true. I relate to the following from the article:
As many have pointed out in past comment threads on Ars and on other sites, cooking isn’t hard at all—whipping up a wonderful pan-seared salmon with a bit of olive oil takes literally less than 10 minutes. The Internet is bursting with easy recipes that can be quickly pulled together from simple ingredients. There is no excuse, I have heard many people say, for not being able to produce a healthy and delicious meal even if you’re pressed for time. 
To quote Ben Kenobi, what they’re saying is true—from a certain point of view. Though it may not be obvious to someone who keeps a full pantry, effective and sustained cooking requires an incredibly complex long tail of supporting knowledge and skills that a lot of geeks—me included—simply don’t have. With the possible exception of baking, cooking is a decidedly analog process, relying as much on deduction, intuition, guesswork, and experience as it does on measured ingredients and conditions. This "fuzzy" process can induce anxiety and actual fear in people who have never cooked before—especially geek types. 
Here is a simple recipe for cooking ground beef. I plucked it randomly out of Google because it looked easy. But right away, it’s filled with things that either require you to already be familiar with cooking or that will send you down endless rabbit holes of additional research. The recipe’s introduction talks about how to pick fresh beef and how you may or may not want slightly fatty beef. But how do you know? What effect does that have on flavor? Is it important? Can it be quantified? How do you make an informed choice about what you want your food to taste like based on these kinds of squiggly, soft parameters? Further, there are steps in the recipe labeled as "optional." How do you know whether or not you need those steps? What are the parameters defining optional, and what effects on the outcome of the recipe will they have? 
Step one says to "film the pan with a little" oil. How much is a little? It says "film," so does "a little" in conjunction with "film" mean to ensure the entire bottom of the pan is covered in oil? If so, to what depth, exactly? Or does "a little" semantically override "film" and you really only need a few millilitres? If so, how many? 
Step two says to "warm the pan over medium to medium-high heat." Which one is it? What set of initial conditions are we attempting to achieve? "Medium" isn't a temperature, so exactly how hot should the pan be? How do we know when it’s hot enough? Should we get a thermometer and attempt to measure when the pan has reached thermal equilibrium with the burner beneath it? 
Steps three and four are even more problematic. Step three says to break the meat into "several" pieces, but then step four says to "continue breaking the ground meat into smaller and smaller pieces." Why are these two discrete steps? Is there supposed to be a delay between steps three and four? What constitutes "several" pieces? How do we know when the beef is sufficiently broken up? 
And then, worst of all, we have to "sprinkle with salt and any spices"—how much salt? Is there a preferred ratio of salt to beef? And what kind of spices? There’s a tremendous variety available—how are we supposed to know, based on this recipe, which ones to use and in what quantity?
Until recently, I worked at a group home for disabled adults, and I had to cook. Rules were that meals should be from scratch whenever possible. I hated the cooking, positively hated it, for exactly the reasons laid out here. I found it a daunting, sometimes terrifying, prospect, and my attempts to follow "simple" recipes wound up in more than one disaster of a meal, or near disaster. Yes, I can brown hamburger, but a lot of things about cooking were still, and are still, a mystery of fuzzy complexities that belong in the Abyss. I love microwave meals for their simplicity: stick in the microwave for a specified number of minutes, and bam! you got a meal. Soylent sounds as easy as a microwave meal. Just mix, and go. No time wasted (because I also hate how long cooking takes for so little return--seriously, 30 minutes to an hour for something that takes ten to eat?), and no daunting, terrifying, fuzzy instructions.

If you're sitting there thinking "but cooking is easy!" still, consider this example from the article of something else that's easy, at least for some:
To turn the problem on its head for perspective: expecting someone without experience in the kitchen to jump in and make healthy food from a recipe is a little like expecting a non-technical person to sit down and compile a complex Linux application from source. It's not exactly hard—I mean, you don't even have to write any code! You just download your tarball, make sure you have your dependencies, set the options you want, and then it's just configure, make, and make install. The computer does all the work! You just sit there and watch it cook, er, I mean, compile!
Easy, right? Actually, that went over my head, so let me consider an example from my own kind of geekery: RPGs. Make a tenth level Pathfinder character for a campaign that features dungeon crawling and political intrigue.  It's not that hard. First, roll up some initial stats, using a standard 4d6 drop the lowest one method (or, if I'm the DM, 5d6 drop the lowest two, because I like things a little powered up). Second, decide on class. Of course, to do that, you may wish to consider what kind of character you want to play, and what sort of stats you got from your initial rolls. Do you want a tough, kick-in-the-door style of character that really doesn't like all these political games? Or how about a charismatic magic user who uses charm magic to, well, charm people? What about a sneaky, manipulative type? Etc, etc. Not that hard, though you really ought to consider the sort of campaign your in, and what the other players are making for their own characters. Someone needs to be a healer after all, especially when going into the trap and monster filled dungeon, or if there's an expectation of assassination attempts as part of all the politics. Then you need to pick skills: do you want to be good at climbing and jumping? How about book learning? And don't forget to pick your feats, and to choose from an array of class abilities. Once you're done with that, you still need to consult the Wealth by Level table to determine how much and what kind of equipment you can buy for your character. Then, plug everything into your character sheet, add up your modifiers, and you're good to go.

Easy. And a lot of fun.

Unless, of course, you're not into that sort of thing. I'm not into cooking. I hate it. I have no interest in being good at it, and don't know that I ever could be good at it. The frustration and hatred I feel for the process just makes the end result seem not worth the time. So, I'm sometimes forced to do it, but I'll avoid it when I can. Some are probably thinking "but it's a challenge that you should try to overcome! it's good to overcome challenges!" Sure it is, but why is this particular challenge one that anyone should be required to overcome if it isn't necessary? And with the advent of things like Soylent, it might not be necessary. That's a good thing.

There are more things in the source article that I really hope you'll take a look at, and consider carefully if you're still having doubts. For my perspective, anything that has the potential to be cheap, very healthy, and not a time waster, is something we should embrace. At least on behalf of those who can benefit from food that's cheap, very healthy, and not a time waster. I intend to be watching the prices on this, and if it drops enough, I'm grabbing some.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thoughts on free speech

There's at least a couple of different components to consider in looking at the concept of "free speech." There's the legal, political component, as mentioned in the First Amendment to America's Constitution. And there's the ethical and moral component. How does free speech apply in private lives and personal spaces, places that the government isn't a part of (ideally)?

I cannot speak to what America's Founding Father's specifically intended with the First Amendment, nor am I a lawyer who's up on the Supreme Court decisions regarding free speech. So, let me first say what I think a legal right to free speech, as it relates to the government, should be all about, and then I'll get to the ethical component in our private lives.

Any government that is meant to be a government for the benefit of the people, rather than the benefit of the government itself, should support a legal right to free speech. Governments are creations of humans, and as such will make mistakes in policy from time to time. A good government (by which I mean both an effective government, and one with the best interests of it's citizens in mind) would be willing to admit when mistakes have happened, and seek to correct them if possible. Free speech allows the citizens to criticize the government, to say when it thinks the government is wrong. It allows the citizens to lobby for change, and to express discontent with the way the government is doing things.

On the other hand, if the government only cares about it's own power, such as a tyrannical government, then free speech is something to suppress. The more citizens are allowed to criticize and express discontent, the more that discontent is likely to spread. When discontent spreads, there's a greater likelihood of revolts starting. That's not something a tyrant wants. A tyranny needs to control what is said, and when it's said, as much as possible if it wants to retain power.

That's what legal rights to free speech are about at a base level: power. In a government where the power is supposed to, in principle, rest with the people, then free speech is a means to keep the power in the hands of those people. In a tyranny, limiting speech, or even controlling speech, is a means to keep power in the hands of the government.

Now, when considering free speech in our personal lives, we need to consider speech in our home, in our emails, on our Facebook walls, on blog post comments, etc. Pretty much anywhere that isn't strictly a case of speaking in relation to the government, really. However, we don't need to necessarily consider them all separately. It should be possible to come to a general understanding of free speech that can be applied to the specifics of each of these different areas. And let me point out, I'm not speaking legally at this point, but ethically.

People should be free to express their opinions, generally speaking, but not if that opinion expressing is going to cause actual harm to others. Note that I said harm, not hurt. It can be difficult if not impossible to avoid occasionally hurting people, and at times may even be necessary for the long term benefit of the one being hurt. For example, if someone is being lazy, and you tell them such, they may be hurt or offended, but if telling them that gets them up and doing positive things, then it was a good thing that you told them. Of course, there are often ways that we can say even hurtful things in less hurtful ways, in an effort to achieve the good benefits we aim for, while minimizing the hurt or offense.

Being free to express our opinions gives benefits similar to those that we get when free to express opinions on the government. We can criticize each other in ways that allow an opportunity to change course, if needed, or perhaps for the other to argue why the criticism is unwarranted. This is, ideally, beneficial to the person being criticized -- or, if unwarranted, to the criticizer when it's explained to them why the criticism is unwarranted.

Now, sometimes I've seen people get called out on the use of certain language on people's blogs, or on personal Facebook pages. All to often, those who are called out will fall back on the "I have free speech" argument. But do you? If you're on privately controlled internet space, can you claim the right to say whatever you want, without consequences, such as blocking or banning?

No, I don't think you can. For one thing, there's the harm issue. Much of what people want to say under the guise of free speech is actually abusive or harassing, such as death threats, rape threats, abusive insults (constantly calling someone a cunt is going to be abusive), and so on. Free speech is important, yes, even in our personal lives, however, it's importance comes from the ability to freely exchange ideas and criticisms in a manner that allows for people to actually consider those ideas and criticisms, with an eye toward improvement for everyone involved. Calling someone names, hurling insults, being abusive, harassing people, etc does not fall under the umbrella of idea exchange and criticism with an eye toward improvement.

Sure, you could claim that name calling and insult hurling are forms of criticism, but they don't function to improve anyone involved. They do function to get people angry, which generally doesn't help them take in the criticism in a constructive manner. They also function to silence people, to make them reluctant to speak up when they see something they disagree with. And if they aren't speaking up when they disagree, then how is anyone going to be able to respond to that disagreement, and argue that they're wrong? Or, on the flip side, what if this insulted and reluctant to speak up person is actually right, but doesn't speak up because of the verbal insults they received in the past? Then those they would disagree with go on their merry way, being wrong. Do you want to be wrong, when you could be right?

But let me back up for a bit, and look some more at the idea of personal spaces, such as homes, blogs, or Facebook pages, and consider if limits can be placed there, even if the speech being limited would be constructive. Legally speaking, the law of America recognizes that the right to free speech is referencing citizens relationship to the government, and not the relationships of citizens to other, non-government related, citizens. But again, I'm not speaking to the legality issues right now, but to ethical and moral issues.

When we're in a person's home, that person has the right to limit the behavior that can occur within that home. This might mean no smoking in the house, or drinking, or drugs, etc. If we violate those standards, they are well within their rights to revoke our invitation. Personal Facebook pages, blogs, and other such sites are analogous to our homes. They're a private space that we have a right to control, including the right to limit people's speech to the non-abusive, non-harassing, non-hateful kind. Those who aren't willing to abide by such rules can certainly have their invitation (implied or otherwise) revoked by means of blocking or banning. Doing this helps to ensure that there is a safe space for people to talk about what might be difficult, triggering subjects, such as discussions of abuse. It also creates a space that is more conducive to constructive criticism that can actually spark some thought.

It may be that there are also limits to the control that one can exert over their personal space, but that's a subject for a different post.

Monday, May 19, 2014

On trust

I was asked recently whether I thought it was possible to completely trust someone in a relationship not to willfully harm you. But of course, we have to know what we mean by "trust" if we're going to answer that question.

It seems to me that "trust" is a question of knowledge. Can we know that someone we're in a relationship with, a partner, will avoid causing us harm? Some may claim that unless we can know with absolute certainty that a partner (or friend, or family member, etc) will not cause us harm, then we cannot trust them. That's a tall order. For there to be such a guarantee, a person would need to have perfect knowledge-- to be omniscient. This is not possible, even conceptually.

Any being that would claim to be omniscient could be mistaken. There could be something that the being didn't know, and didn't realize it didn't know, or even realize that there was something to know at all. As such, this being would think it was omniscient, without being omniscient. It would be mistaken.

So are we doomed to never trusting anyone, simply because there is no perfect knowledge? I don't think so. There are many things that we can claim to know, even though we might be wrong. I know that I'm sitting in front of my computer, on a chair, typing these words. It's possible that I'm simply dreaming, or hallucinating, or trapped in the Matrix, but while the possibility of any of these is non-zero, that doesn't mean that I must claim that I do not have knowledge that I'm sitting in a chair typing these words.

Knowledge simply doesn't need to be at a level of 100% to be considered knowledge. If it did, we could not ever claim knowledge of anything, not even scientific claims that have mountains of evidence. For example, I know that the speed of light is the maximum speed of anything in the universe. Every piece of evidence acquired to date about the properties of light, matter, space, and time, point to the speed of  light as the maximum speed attainable in the universe. But even that is not 100% certain. Not that long ago a group of scientists thought they had found faster-than-light neutrinos. Had that panned out, decades of physics research might have been brought into question as scientists tried to square all the evidence of the past with this new evidence (it turned out to be an equipment error, by the way). If we find ourselves in a situation where our knowledge is only 99.99999999% certain (such as the speed of light), we don't have to declare that a mere belief, or that we don't really know the speed of light. We do know. We must be cognizant of the fact that our knowledge could be proven wrong if new evidence comes to light (and is confirmed), but we can still say that we know with a high confidence level, such a high confidence level that it's as close to 100% as we can get. (Hat tip to Dan Fincke for the argument that I borrowed from for this part)

Trust is like that. Sure, we can never know with 100% certainty that a particular person in a relationship with us won't hurt us, or even harm us at some point. We can't even know with 100% certainty that they won't willfully hurt us. But we can take all the evidence of character that we've ever obtained or witnessed about that person, and rationally assess that they are trustworthy, and will not willfully hurt us, and especially won't harm us. 

Let me give an example. I've known my wife for roughly eight years. In all that time, I've never been apprised of a situation, or seen evidence of a situation, that would suggest that she isn't worthy of trust. What I have seen is her doing things like asking if she can share something private with others before she does, and, if I say no, I've seen her refraining from sharing it. I've seen her not take opportunities to dig at me in hurtful ways, even when she was angry or upset, even though she has tons of ammunition at her disposal. I've seen her tell me whenever she had a crush on someone, and she's never hesitated to tell me how those crushes are developing when asked. I can say without hesitation that I trust her completely.

Yes, there's technically an outside chance that I could discover she's betrayed my trust. But frankly, I think I'd have a better chance at winning the lottery jackpot. We can, and ideally should, make the effort to apportion our beliefs to the available evidence, but when that evidence accumulates, at some point we can say that we know, and in relationships, that we trust.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Things I've learned from past relationships

Like many, I've been in multiple romantic relationships in the past. And one thing I've noticed is that each one has taught me something, or (in at least one case) provided a significant reminder of lessons that I knew, but evidently had "forgotten." I want to explore some of those experiences. 

J. was my first romantic relationship. It was a very long distance one, as she lived in California, while I lived in Minnesota. In fact, we met online, and never got the chance to meet in person. I'm not going to bother arguing right now whether there can be any real feeling in a long distance relationship. My experience tells me it can be very real. 

We would talk for hours on the phone. And from those conversations I learned to open up to someone else in a way I had never done before. I learned to share fears and desires and dreams. I learned I could find support in the words and caring of another. Most importantly (perhaps), I learned to let myself love. Over time, the feelings changed. We were only together, romantically anyway, for a little over six months if I remember right. But we stayed in touch for a long time as friends, still having conversations that lasted for hours.

My second one would last, off and on, for years. My relationship with K. was also long distance, and also involved many a long conversation on the phone (though she was able to come and visit me once during that time). All the lessons I learned from J. would be reiterated, but more than that I started coming to accept myself more and more while I was with her. I learned that I didn't always have to pretend to laugh, for example. It used to be that when I found something amusing, I would force a laugh in order to try and let the other person know that yes, it was funny. But the laugh wasn't natural for me. It was rare in those days for me to genuinely laugh. My most natural response was to simply let amusement show in my voice or words, and maybe to have a small, mostly silent laugh. To please others, I would force myself to laugh. It always felt . . . tense. She taught me it was ok to do what came naturally. With her, I started learning to accept my own fantasies as just one part of me, and to be more of myself. She also made damn sure I treated her with respect.

A. overlapped my time with K. Obviously, I was open with A. that I was in a relationship with K. A. would be my first long-term, in person relationship. I wish I could say it was a great time. I lost my virginity to her, so that was cool. But after a while, the relationship devolved into fighting and fucking. I had an opportunity once to end it, and to my shame, let it continue in part because I wanted sex. When she finally ended it, I was relieved. I walked away from that relationship understanding that no relationship in the future could be just about the sex. There had better be something more if it was going to be worth pursuing or continuing.

My next relationship was with the woman who is now my wife, but first I want to talk about the one that happened while I was engaged. I had been friends with E., and eventually we tried dating for a while. She was a submissive to me in the bedroom, in the BDSM sense, but I fucked up and tried taking that into areas that I shouldn't have gone. I didn't communicate what I wanted, made assumptions about what she wanted, and generally acted like a bloody asshole. Eventually, I'm glad to say she had enough and called me on it. We broke that relationship off, but remain friends. What did I learn? Communicate. Don't make assumptions. Don't be an asshole. Sadly, I already knew all that, but apparently needed a reminder. I don't regret that the relationship ended (I see where she's at now, and I'm very happy for her; truthfully, I don't think we would've been compatible in the long run even had I done everything right), but I do regret my part in how it ended. I have very few regrets in life, but that is one.

And now, for my wife. All total, I think we've been together somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 years (she remembers better than I do). This August we'll celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. From her, I finally learned genuine laughter. I've probably had more true laughter with her in the past several years than I had in all my years before. I think that tone to our relationship was set from the first night that we met, when I chased her around our mutual friend's apartment with a head of broccoli. Every lesson that I've learned in the past has been reiterated through my relationship with her, and strengthened. Right from the start of us dating, we made sure it wasn't just about sex, that we had other interests we could share. We've been open with each other, communicating, sharing, and being ourselves. No matter what, she's had my back, and supported me in my endeavors, and I have tried to do the same for her. Some days, just having her around can make my day better.

So those are a few of the things I've learned from past romantic relationships. What have you learned?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What I mean when I say I want a secular government

I think some people misunderstand what I and many other atheists mean when we say that we want a secular government. Some people think that means that we want a specifically atheistic government, one that sets atheist ideas at the top, and relegates religion to second tier, or no tier at all. That is not accurate, so let me explain what I mean when I say that I want a secular government.

A secular government, in my view, is not an atheistic government. Instead, you might call it an agnostic government. It's a government that basically says "There are many proposed answers to the questions of gods and the afterlife, and what these answers would mean for humanity. This government takes no stand on any of those proposals. It may be that humans are reincarnated, or are rewarded or punished in a Heaven or Hell, or there may be nothing after this life. It may be there is one god, many gods, or no gods. This government makes no claims to knowledge or belief regarding any of these possibilities. Instead, this government must focus only on what it can know in this life, and deal with things as they come at us in this life, without regard to any possibilities or implications for gods or afterlifes. Thus, all religions will get equal treatment under the laws of this government, with no endorsement of any one above the others, whether explicit or implicit."

On the surface, such a stance may seem to favor atheism, but I don't think it does. For example, I'm anti-death penalty, and part of that stems directly from my lack of belief in an afterlife. I think it's unconscionable to deliberately and willfully end the life of another (without their consent), when doing so means a genuine, complete end to their existence and experience of this, or any other, world. I think I would have an easier time accepting capital punishment if I believed in some form of an afterlife, as that would mean death wasn't the end of experience. A deliberately agnostic government, on the other hand, can take no recourse to either an atheistic argument against capital punishment, nor to a theistic argument for or against the death penalty. It would be forced to deal only with what is right in front of it, and thus would have to give some other rationale for or against the use of the death penalty.

All policies and laws would be similarly limited in the potential reasons used to justify them. An agnostic government would be able to give equal treatment to a diverse panoply of religions and worldviews, in a way that a theocratic or specifically atheistic government would have trouble doing. Want to display a monument to your religion or worldview on public property? Fine, but equal time and space will be granted to other groups wishing the same thing, or no time and space will be granted to any group. Want to start government meetings with an invocation from your religion? Maybe, but again, equal time and opportunity must be granted to other groups wishing to do so, or no time is granted to any group. And by the way, in such a situation, what's wrong with a simple minute of silence? Each person can pray if they wish, or simply take that time to collect their thoughts. Hell, check your email on your phone or tablet if you want.

An agnostic government doesn't care if Little Johnny brings a Bible to school to read in his free time, so long as he's not disrupting class. The atheist can bring some other book to school to read in his free time, the Muslim can bring the Koran, whatever. So long as no one is attempting to disrupt class to proselytize for their point of view, no problem. Prayer in school? Again, as long as you aren't disrupting anything or demanding special privileges, you can pray to your heart's content.

The key here is that no one religion or religious view is treated better or worse by the government, and that people are generally left alone to practice their faith as they see fit, so long as they aren't harming others. And if anyone looks at that sentence and thinks it's a bad idea, then can you tell everyone why you think some particular religious group should be privileged above others, or perhaps treated worse? Can you tell us all in terms that will convince those who aren't a member of your own particular group? Saying something like "if we don't make God part of our government he'll punish us" isn't especially compelling to anyone who doesn't worship your particular god.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Further thoughts on the ethics of suicide

A friend was kind enough to buy me "Stay:  A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It," by Jennifer Michael Hecht. Having taken the time to read it, I wanted to ponder some of Hecht's arguments against suicide, and perhaps give a few thoughts of my own. I'm not going to even attempt to hit on all the arguments presented in the book. This should be read more as what thoughts the reading inspired in me, rather than a proper review of Hecht's writing, and should also be read as a companion piece to my first post on the ethics of suicide.

Argument from Community

We are connected to each other, and it causes suffering of others when we choose to kill ourselves. We leave behind others who have to try and process the fact that someone they cared about has killed themselves, that the suicide was suffering to such a degree that they considered death to be a viable choice. This causes suffering that no one should have to go through. If it's unethical to cause unnecessary suffering in life, it is also unethical to cause unnecessary suffering by choosing death. I do find this compelling. One problem I see, however, at least from a psychological perspective, is that when someone is in that state, it can frequently be difficult for them to truly see that people care about them. How do you persuade someone to hold on, to keep living, if they believe that they are socially alone, that they have no community to speak of?

Argument from Influencing Others to Commit Suicide

In part because of our connection to each other, when we commit suicide it has a documented effect such that it can influence others to commit suicide as well (which Hecht goes into detail on). In Hecht's view, this makes it a form of delayed murder. I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to call it "murder," but I think I can still see an argument for a degree of responsibility. Although, that brings up an interesting question: to what extent can we be blamed, or praised, for the actions that others undertake through our influence? When I was suicidal in the past, I tried to keep it firmly planted in my mind that regardless of what forces I thought were pushing me, the ultimate decision would always be mine, and mine alone. I couldn't blame anyone else for it. I hesitate to make this comparison, but to some extent, this seems like blaming the victim of rape for the influence their actions had on their rapist. Yet, it seems to me that a rapist is completely responsible for his or her own actions, and there is no blame that can be assigned to the victim. So can you truly be blamed for your suicide influencing others to commit suicide? I find myself uncertain.

Argument from Future Self

People change. Depression waxes and wanes, as do suicidal thoughts. Our future self may not be the suffering individual that is currently considering suicide, so long as that future self is given a chance to live. By committing suicide, we deprive that future self of any future possibility of happiness, satisfaction, or any other good thing that may come. Me being me at this moment, I have to say that I'm very glad none of my "past selves" have succeeded in committing suicide, so this is an attractive bit of reasoning.

Hope. It's an extremely difficult thing to cultivate at times, and especially difficult to cultivate when in the midst of depression. The worse the depression, the harder it is to find any sense of hope. But we know that even some of the worst depression has better days, days that aren't quite as bad as the others. This fact alone can serve to give hope that there will be better days down the road. It may take time, and we may need help (in the form of therapy, and/or meds), but we can get there. If we kill ourselves on a bad day, then we deny all the good, or at least better, days to come.

Suicide used to be called "self-murder," before the days when it gained it's own word. I think that's an apt way of looking at it. It's murder of oneself (even if it isn't delayed murder of others), and murder of the self that could have been. For whatever reason it is wrong to murder another, it is then wrong to murder oneself. Even if we say that one of the reasons it's wrong to murder is that it denies the right of the other to make a choice, or actively goes against their choice, suicide is still wrong. Do we actually have the right to deny our future self the right to make a choice, any choice? The right to try and flourish?

In "Stay," Hecht quotes John Stuart Mill as discussing the possibility of someone selling themselves into slavery, which he considers as a null and void contract from the beginning (p177-178):

The ground for thus limiting his power of voluntarily disposing of his own lot in life, is apparent, and is very clearly seen in this extreme case. The reason for not interfering, unless for the sake of others, with a person's voluntary acts, is consideration for liberty. His voluntary choice is evidence that what he so chooses is desirable, or at the least endurable, to him, and his good is on the whole best provided for by allowing him to take his own means of pursuing it. But by selling himself for a slave, he abdicates his liberty; he forgoes any future use of it, beyond that single act. He therefore defeats, in his own case, the very purpose which is the justification of allowing him to dispose of himself. He is no longer free; but is thenceforth in a position which has no longer the presumption in its favor, that would be afforded by his voluntarily remaining in it. The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom, to be allowed to alienate his freedom.

If we cannot sell ourselves into slavery because it denies us our very liberty to choose, then we surely cannot be justified in suicide, which not only denies the ability to choose, but the ability to change our mind.

One more point. Though I would never wish on anyone the suffering that can lead one to contemplate suicide, and indeed would wish for the very opposite, given that people do experience such suffering, I would like to point out the silver lining in the rather dark cloud. If we can learn to get out of depression and past suffering, or even to just find better days within the depression and suffering, then we can become stronger. We can take the lessons we learn, and use them to be stronger in the face of our own suffering. And as we become stronger, we will find that the better days are even better, and, going back to the theme of hope, we just may come out the other side a stronger person who suffers less.

At least, that's how it's been for me.