The Pain Paradox
So the looming question a lot of people seem to have been wondering is am I still alive? Well, obviously I am, but I do notice my health deteriorating steadily. Basically I’m on heavy doses of narcotic pain pills in order to manage the pain. As I am still greater than 6 months away from my projected date of death, I am not yet eligible for physician assisted suicide and I don’t dare try to take matters into my own hands with a less-than-certain death that will leave me suffering even worse than I am now. In short, I am ready for the pain to be over.
However, one of my childed, pro-natalist friends recently challenged my world view in light of my newest hobby. I was tempted to dismiss it at first, but I think it’s a challenge that is worthy of a serious look. In taking this serious look, I will discredit the notion, but I will grant that it is a notion that can’t just be dismissed willy-nilly.
As I have not written here in awhile, most of you are probably unaware of my newest hobby. The past few months I’ve become really into body art. Yes, folks, I mean tattoos. I’ve had three tattoo sessions in the past two months (a small first tattoo on the wrist, phases 1 and 2 of a large shoulder piece) with a fourth session scheduled for just six days from now (final phase 3 of said shoulder piece). I actually enjoy the process (for me it’s almost meditative) and the artwork at the end is icing on the cake.
So my friend seems to think that my affection for tattoos seems to be an example as to why the Benatarian asymmetry is false. I will show why this is not so and why it is still consistent with the Benatarian asymmetry.
First of all, make no mistake about it. Tattoos hurt. Period, end of story, do not pass go, do not collect $200. There is a lot worse pain one can feel mind you, but the point being is that getting a tattoo will involve some level of pain (depending on where you get the tattoo it can either be mildly annoying or excruciating). As I enjoy even the process of getting a tattoo, does this mean pain can actually be a good thing in and of itself? This is what my friend is calling into question, and this is what I will demonstrate to be false.
In the case of existent beings, pain is a fact of existing. There’s just no way around that. Pain in and of itself is a bad thing. However, for beings that already exist, enduring some pain might be worth it if the benefits from said pain will save some pain and/or suffering later. A perfect example of this would be vaccinations. Much like tattoos, shots hurt (and IMO they actually hurt worse than getting a tattoo in a less sensitive location!). However, I (and most people, I think) would argue that the pain of a shot is minuscule in comparison to the pain of pertussis, diptheria, polio or a whole host of other vaccine-preventable diseases. I would agree with this statement, which makes vaccines in and of themselves a net benefit despite the pain of the vaccine at the outset.
I view tattoos in the same light. When I am getting a tattoo, sure the pain of the needles piercing my skin hundreds of time per second cannot be ignored. It is there. However, with that pain comes a massive adrenaline and endorphin rush. I’ve tried a number of drugs over the years, and none of them give me a high quite like the tattoo process does. That high allows me to escape the world for a time being because despite being in pain, I actually feel GOOD. At the same time, the mental endurance and focus required to get through the pain of the tattoo process really helps to center me and in a way it’s almost meditative at the same time. High + meditation = ecstasy. Of course, the resulting artwork at the conclusion of the process is the icing on the cake. Not going to lie, I admire my tattoos in the mirror for a moment when I get dressed in the morning. In such a way, the pain of the tattoo process is tiny compared to the rush and meditation of the process and the satisfaction the resulting artwork gives me.
Now, the only reason either of the two examples I have provided matter is because I am an extant being. If I did not exist, that does not matter. In a non-existent state, I would be unaware of the pleasures that tattoos bring. So for non-existent me, not having the experience of getting and/or having tattoos means jack shit. Existent me craves that rush and meditation constantly because existent me benefits from it (and I would argue not being in that zen state is actually a greater harm to me than the pain inflicted by the tattoo machine). Non-existent me does not suffer from not having this experience because non-existent me is not consciously aware of the rewards, but non-existent me avoids the pain of the tattoo process (and every other type of pain for that matter). Hence pain is still a net negative and the Benatarian asymmetry still holds.
In conclusion I should say I harbor no ill will toward the friend who challenged me on these grounds. It definitely made me step back and think of an adequate justification. However, I remain stedfast in my agreement with the great antinatalist philosophers (both modern and ancient) that it still is better never to exist.