This Comment of the Day, by new commenter David C, is more emotional than most EA COTDs, but the topic is an emotional one: suicide. Checking the web on the topic, there are so many essays and articles about why suicide is not a “selfish act” that I sense a politically correct mandate at work. Depression is a serious illness that is stigmatized, depressed people commit suicide in large numbers, ergo criticizing suicide is a cruel attack on victims who deserve only sympathy and empathy.
I will accept a rebuke for writing in the post that “suicide has been accurately called the most selfish human act of all.” I should not have written “accurately,” and I apologize and retract it. It is an act the is often selfish, unless we want to absolved suicides from all responsibility for their actions, which seems to be David’s orientation.
I am not entire inexperienced in the area of depression and suicide. I served on an NIH task force on the former, and have had a roommate and three first cousins kill themselves. One cousin threw himself from an overpass and fell through the window of a passing truck. Selfish? The truck driver could not continue driving after experiencing that trauma. His brother deliberately drown himself in front of his former fiancee as she watched helplessly. Selfish? Often…not always…suicide is an intentional act of aggression and hostility toward society. The harm these acts do to family and others is extreme: I’ve seen it. Do note that the post comment upon was about grandstanding suicides for effect, involving people hurling themselves off a prominent public attraction. David’s argument seems to be “they are sick,” so they can’t be blamed—none of them.
I also believe that sanctifying suicide makes it more common by making it more acceptable. Once, when it was considered a crime and a sin, society looked on suicide as a shameful act. As with addiction, sex outside of marriage and unwed pregnancy, removing the element of shame also increased conduct that has serious societal drawbacks.I think its fair to say that killing oneself has serious societal drawbacks, and that if potential suicides were encouraged to give serious thought to how their deaths would affect others, they might seek less violent solutions to their very real problems. Or should be take the position that the depressed are not capable of being ethical, and we should not expect them to be?
Here is David C’s Comment of the Day on the post, Sunday Ethics Picnic, 8/15/2021: Afghanistan Accountability And Suicide.
I have avidly followed your blog for well over 2 years now. Occasionally I feel let down by some of your remarks on mental health, but perhaps my expectations are unreasonable as it is not your wheelhouse. The pandemic has shown us many things but chief among them is that every person’s mental health can be vulnerable in the right circumstances. I know this is very complicated issue but I feel equipped to make some points.
Yes it is a myth that talking about suicide will plant and germinate the idea in a person’s head. Hotlines are more accessible than ever with smartphones. Whether people avail themselves of hotlines is one question, and whether they help is another, but it is always better to be aware of the existence of the resources that are out there. And yes, as far as I know there is research that suggests that if people are fixated for whatever reason on a certain means of suicide, they will not turn to another method if access to that method is removed.
To tar the act wholesale as selfish in my eyes tends to be a facile dismissal of what is a profoundly complex matter. And if that accusation is launched one could certainly charge those who demand the person in pain remain alive as equally “selfish” at least. After all, isn’t it easy to ask other people to endure pain that you don’t experience? Not to mention when it comes to such an issue of such great sensitivity I don’t find such language to be helpful and conducive to anything positive. We need to be talk openly, and in many cases it is just dead inaccurate. And as someone with a mountain of experience in crisis intervention, I can tell you why: in many cases these people are convinced, literally convinced that their families, friends, society, the WORLD is better off without their presence. Selfish…what a word to describe them! And whether you think their thinking is misguided or distorted or whatever doesn’t matter (even if it may be) because what matters is what they believe at the time of their action. I have no doubt you can appreciate that.
I would agree that carrying out suicide in such a public way, making them party to something like that, is not….shall we say, good. It’s unfair to the witnesses. You say though: “knowing that they will cause the maximum amount of trauma to the living”? Did they? A lot of time it is done on a sudden impulse and we cannot rule that out. No time for consideration. And maybe they are so focused on ending their own agony that other considerations fall by the wayside.
I know it can take for many people a lot of imagination to even begin to conceive of the desperation that someone who does something like this might have been feeling. I know I am inclined to be more understanding than many, though at the same time I do try to have empathy for those for whom understanding does not come naturally because I recognize that our ability , and this is a universal , to empathize is a function of our lived experiences.
I am just trying to view this in all its complexity as well as I can, and be wary of being so quick to ascribe motives or thoughts to people. I mean, one of the victims was a barely a teenager, a child! I am sure the young age (and all the victims were young) informs the controversy.
As far as trauma on the living goes in general, I can tell you that the pain some suicidal people feel/felt is much worse and it is often compounded by the knowledge that they’ll be facing it for the rest of their lives. I know the general public has a tendency to underestimate the severity of what some people experience or fail to appreciate that not everything is able to be ameliorated or mitigated by treatment, which follows from the things I mentioned above. In a word : it sucks. Hard. For everyone. The people afflicted or suffering, the people in their lives, and the world at large. I’m sure you know that reality doesn’t always square itself away neatly and I also know you know it is not wise or truly helpful to overly reduce complex things. And few topics match these in their complexity.
I guess I didn’t answer your question about the best course of action. I don’t know. The people who might consider using it aren’t demanding protection from it. I don’t have any coherent proposal regarding this sculpture but I just wanted to share some other thoughts on the topic. I don’t expect you to fully agree but I wanted to write nonetheless.