Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Final exit

As long as we're discussing suicide, I'll venture two more observations before reverting to other topics:
i) It's often said that people who commit suicide weren't in their right mind at the time. That's said to express sympathy for their condition and mitigate their guilt. And I'm sure it's frequently the case. You have people who kill themselves because they were emotionally overwhelmed at the time. 
However, I think it's an overgeneralization to suggest that's always the case. Suicide can be a cool, clear-headed choice. I think of the late George Sanders. He acted in a number of classic films. Now Sanders was a genuinely mean person. As he put it, he found it pleasant to be unpleasant. And he killed himself at the age of 65. In his suicide note, he said "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough."
For an aging atheist, that's a perfectly rational attitude. As Albert Camus said: "There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that."
Ironically, the harshest statement I read about the suicide of Robin Williams came not from Christian Matt Walsh , but atheist Keith Burgess-Jackson:
Jackson isn't merely disapproving, but disdainful. Jackson shares the philosophy of fellow atheists like Richard Dawkins, who say we are the "lucky ones." The mere fact that we are here means that we won the lottery of life, beating out our competitors in the race to fertilize the ovum.

He takes suicide as a personal affront. It offends his secular outlook. This life is all you've got, so make the most of it. 
Yet, when life ceases to be fun, why drag out the inevitable? 
To say it's rational doesn't mean it's right. Certain white-collar crimes may be rational. It may entirely be rational for a banker to cleverly drain several accounts of millions of dollars, transferring the funds to Cayman accounts or Swiss bank accounts, then skip the country to another country without an extradition treaty. Unethical, but logical. Coldly logical. 
Suicide can be rational from the viewpoint of an atheist. But, of course, that's a blinkered viewpoint. 
ii) To my next point, it's often said that suicide is a selfish act. I think people generally say that to stigmatize suicide in the hopes of deterring suicide. And that's a good thing. We want to discourage people from committing suicide. 
It's also true that suicide can be selfishly motivated. Take revenge suicide, that's intended to inflict pain on the survivors. Suicide can also be selfish in the sense harming those who are left behind–even if that's not the intention.
Yet I suspect that suicide is generally the loneliest decision in the world. A decision someone must make all by himself. By himself and for himself. An action which, in itself, epitomizes his sense of isolation, alienation, and desolation. 
Some people commit suicide because they won't be missed. And they know it. They leave no one behind. That's the problem. 
I'm haunted by a phone call from some 35 years ago. My father answered the phone. Turned out it was a girl he knew from high school. Did he remember her?
He hadn't seen her or spoken to her for about 50 years. Imagine a woman around 70, combing through the phonebook, searching for names of old classmates from 50 years ago. Dialing the number in hopes of hearing a familiar voice at the other end of the receiver? The world is full of people like that. 

1 comment:

  1. I've read the recent posts on suicide with a note of personal interest. A cousin of mine killed himself rather violently a few years ago. No note, so the family was left to piece together his state of mind. I wasn't close to this particular cousin, we were the same age, but ran in different circles. He wasn't a believer.

    I saw the family struggle to find meaning in the aftermath. Why? That was the unanswered, and maybe unanswerable question.

    I sometimes wonder about the human tendency to find "meaning", even (or maybe especially) in situations and events that may otherwise appear meaningless.