Friday, June 27, 2008


Reading today on the Reluctant Blogger, I came across an affecting piece about suicide. Reluctant is right that suicide is taboo. Talking about it is not easy – well, except to suicidal people who on the whole rather like to talk about it, often too much, their burdened, less miserable audience might feel.

Society’s default position on suicide is that it is ‘selfish’. This fashionably modern defect is the vestige of a historical scorn for the deed that, regrettably, used to be far more severe. Failure to be buried on consecrated ground, you know. You can’t get more resounding an expression of contempt than that.

Setting aside the outstanding, logical difficulties presented by an act of self-destruction being understood as an act in service of the self, other objections can be mentioned. Reluctant invited feedback and perspectives on suicide. The comments are thoughtful, touching and insightful. I recommend them for anyone interested in the subject.

I added me ‘two cents’, as it is said. Where did that phrase come from?

'Suicide is a selfish act, but this, in my opinion, is because the suicidal state of mind that leads to it is so often that of a mind inaccessibly cut off from the capacity to feel its living, relational connections to other people.

When you are the only reality that you can feel, it is to be expected that you would behave in a selfish way.

So I'd say that while suicide is selfish (and depression itself a selfish emotional state), this doesn't mean I don't feel a deep, fully forgiving compassion towards those who wish to, or do, commit it.

The atomisation of human society into isolated individuals bereft of a sufficiently organic, shared sense of belonging to a community, is, I would say, the fundamental background reason for the possibility of suicide.

The wealth of reports from those who say they are glad that they didn't commit suicide after wanting to, together with psychiatrists belief that ambiguity and ambivalence of resolve very often characterise the suicidal mindset prior to the deed, tells me that suicide intervention is a justifiable policy, albeit, I accept, complicated in its implications.

Pathetic as it may sound, my suspicion is that suicidal people just aren't getting the right amount of the right type of love in their life. Medication and analysis is often incapable of providing such love, alas. This is not to blame their friends or families, however, for not loving them, as being loved and feeling that you are loved can be very different things. Besides, love should be more readily available and present in society in general.

Another interesting perspective is to think of suicide in terms of the age old tension and conflict between the 'ego' and the 'true self' - a dialectic usually, but not necessarily, conceived of in spiritual terms.

The ego, our superficial sense of self, our personality, built from our projections, ambitions, fears and attachments is, I would suggest, universally dysfunctional. Spirituality is the quest to transcend this and access the timeless, deeper, unconditioned self which is only love, only peace, only joy. I think many people try to access this purer, more authentic psychic ground through activities such as, for example, alcohol, drugs, the passionate love of art, political or religious fanaticism, extreme sports, orgasm and the rhapsodies of romantic love -things which unite them to something larger than themselves.

We are trying to escape ourselves in order to find ourselves, because something in us tells us that this - our humdrum everyday ego-bound, conflicted, consciousness- is not all that we are.

Understood in this context, I see that suicidal people, then, are not so very different. The difference is a question of the degree of the desire to escape, not a different kind of desire.

Since atomised societies tend to increase ego strengthening, narcissistic tendencies, this confirms, to me, my original thoughts about atomisation and suicide.

This is a really sympathetic, thoughtful post of yours. Tragically, yes, suicide is taboo."

Ok, more like two dollars, than two cents.


Anonymous said...

What a lot of blogs you have - it took me ages to find the right one! Obviously I read this in the original on RB! I was briefly in Bratislava last year for work. I have to say I really enjoyed it.

Jonathan said...

What were you doing in Blava? Not teaching English, like me, by any chance?

Yes, I have a laughable quantity of blogs. A pity LOT is way down the bottom of the list. Its under the 'my page' link, though, which one had hoped would help.

Must change the location to Kuwait. Bratislava is but a dream now (like the women and the beer)

Anonymous said...

Good stuff.

i'd only say suicide is selfish if, for example, your suicide seriously inconveniences people, e.g. you're a train signalman and you decide to top yourself mid duty.

i do think it's sometimes an attempt to escape oneself. i see the suicides of Viginia Woolf and Hart Crane (both by drowning) as an attempt to escape the limited self, which at the time must have seemed intolerable. If you study The Waves or Crane's poetry their suicides do seem like a joining of the oceanic.

Jonathan said...

It's the lack of compassion and imaginative sympathy suggested when people pour scorn on the self-slaughtered, by calling the act 'selfish', that I object to.

I accept, though, that it is selfish in that people who kill themselves had not considered the act's negative effects upon those they know to a sufficent degree to have stayed their hands.

But my point is that this is often because they were perhaps not able to, because they were not able to suffiently feel the reality of their connections with others in the self-trapped states that they found themselves to be in.

There may also be the thought: I do love these people in my life. That is precisely why it's ok, even right, that I die - so I can stop being a burden on them.

Backed up by the reflection: If these people love me, they will want what is best for me. They may not think that this is that I die, but they are not me, and I know to the contrary.

Ironic, too, that in a society defined by universal selfishness, the projected accusation of selfishness cannot be witheld from those who seek to leave it.

Anonymous said...

Hi there Jonathan,

Thanks for the link and the write-up. I think that of all the posts I have written, that one elicited the most thought-provoking responses in my comment box.

I just think that it is impossible for us to understand the state of someone's mind at the point at which they commit suicide. I know that when I was depressed (and I was not suicidal) I was a different person and I have no idea how I got to be different or really how I got back to being me. It's scary.

But thanks. I'm glad you found the piece interesting.

And look - there's my friend, Mutleythedog.

Anonymous said...

There's a nice detail in John le Carre's 'A Perfect Spy', a character wraps his head in a towel before blowing his brains out: so that there won't be a big mess for others to clean up.

Jonathan said...

It's difficult to understand suicide, certainly, but I could never agree that it is impossible, or that we should, in defeatist vein, give up the quest to understand its deepest motivations.

I think that one should never commit suicide. I say that despite being compassionate and understanding towards it, etc. It's most justified, of course, in the case of painful, terminal illness, but I separate the question of euthanasia from sucide for conceptual reasons, as it has very little to do with depression as primary cause; and depression is suicide's major motivation.

Suicide in one case can be noble. When it leads to the saving of many others. Think of Spock at the end of Star Trek part II. But, alas, heroic opportunities for an exit are few in these ultra safe days.

If one is determined to take your life, there is still scope for doing it in the least detrimental way. Besides getting your affairs in order (wills, etc), needs of dependents, etc. Some thoughts on the 'perfect suicide': a) Make it look like an accident. b) Do it in private. c) Ensure, if possible, that your body is discovered by health care professionals who do not know you. I can see that achieving a, b and c, simultaneously might well be impossible.

Best not to do it all. It may very well not be painless for you, and certainly wont be for others who know you.

Simon said...

To my thinking suicide is a form of rage as much as it is an escape.
What were the last thoughts of a suicide?
"That will show her/him!" Thwarted lover.
"Thank God!" Terminal cancer sufferer.
"........." Adolf Hitler.
"I deserve this." Drunk driver who has killed a child.
Perhaps the reasons are so varied and the motives pure, albeit pure rage, shame or otherwise that it is a wonder that more of us don't choose to preemt fate.
If alienation is an important factor so too must be over identification with a society or religion to wit Kamakazi or suicide/homicide bombers.
To remain untempted to DIY can be a result of a modicum of happiness or a straight forward sense of self. Perhaps the balance of mental health is subjective depending on circumstances as much as anything else.

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