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Suicide should be slightly stigmatized

For people on the brink of suicide, struggling with excruciating suffering, no good would ever come — and wanton cruelty would certainly result — from stigmatizing their difficult situation. I wish for all such people to be treated with nothing but compassion. For instance, compassion makes me hope that no such person would ever browse the open internet, for the internet is filled with toxic and unwholesome content certain to aggravate suicidal tendencies. So if this describes you, then I would kindly beg you to not read further. I guess that's a trigger warning.

I have mixed views about trigger warnings because when writers address the public, they must assume the type of reader they hope to produce through their writing. That's how writing works. That's how writers contribute to culture, rather than merely giving it more of whatever it already is. If independent writers on the internet considered themselves at all responsible for not triggering a tiny minority of suicidal depressives, almost by definition we would tend toward a culture fit for suicidal depressives. But would we really want a public culture fit for suicidal depressives? Would a public culture fit for suicidal depressives not be, essentially, a culture of death — or even a culture for death? I don't think anyone would want that. I have nothing but sympathy for the suicidal, which is why I hope they have the support networks necessary to keep them off the internet. I would sooner ban the suicidal from the internet or forcibly remove my friend or family member from the internet, than discourage public thinkers from reflecting frankly about suicide. For some reason, the former options are seen as tyrannical and hurtful, and the latter is seen as humane, but I see these normative charges in reverse.

Compassion and sensitivity to those currently on the brink of suicide is certainly reasonable, but what about people who are already dead from suicide? I believe the dead should be respected, generally, but surely the present and future of life should also be respected. Should the compassion we extend to accomplished suicides really be unlimited, as seems to be the case now? This is now the norm, explicitly or implicitly, for nobody ever seems to speak ill of the suicide decision. Whether they were friends or foes, suicides are almost always seen as honorable casualties of mental illness and/or political neglect. In the case of infamous evil-doers such as mass shooters, suicides are typically not criticized because it's seen as useless or because the suicide pales in comparison to the other evils committed.

Suicide should be slightly stigmatized, for the person who commits suicide abandons us. There are many among the living who have been tempted to leave us, but don't, often because somebody needs them. This is good of them, and they endure their suffering to be good. You cannot affirm the goodness of those who bear the burden of their own suffering in order to serve others, without affirming that many suicides must therefore possess some kind of negative ethical charge. Suicide is quitting, and sometimes quitting is an unavoidable necessity and sometimes quitting reflects weakness, impatience, disloyalty, and other dimensions of poor character. Quitting is slightly stigmatized, in the sense that it's vaguely discouraged and its opposite is generally admired ("determination", "perseverance", etc.), but we also understand there are cases in which it's unavoidable or even the correct decision. Suicide should be stigmatized in this way, but currently it is not. If we spoke of parents who abandon children with the same unconditionally solemn generosity we apply to suicides, we'd sound like monsters (and the suicide abandons far more people than an absent father).

One reason why someone might be unconditionally generous toward past suicides is if they don't really mind being abandoned, perhaps because they never really cared about the life that chose to end itself. If I wish to stigmatize suicide slightly, it is because I value the lives of those who would consider quitting. Indeed, their quitting feels to me like abandonment precisely because I value their lives, because I rely on others to keep going, to keep me going. Our collective tolerance for past suicides makes the living feel like nobody would mind if they quit, which is depressing enough to make one suicidal. Whenever someone quits, I do mind, and I think we all should — at least slightly.

When not to go with the flow

The task of identifying the line between good and evil is like infinitesimal calculus. Mere intuitions are insufficient, which is why "going with the flow" so easily ends in evil. Many marriages fail this way, as sincerely innocent intentions to "make friends" or enjoy "a rich private life” all of a sudden become adulterous affairs or irrecoverable distances. To keep innocence from turning to guilt requires strict and formal tools, just as one cannot eyeball the derivative of a curve, but when it comes to good and evil the objects of analysis are typically difficult to measure. This is the genius of socially conservative Christian norms around sex and marriage, which are often seen as stupidly strict prohibitions, e.g. never having alone time with a member of the opposite sex. Secular cosmopolitans today laugh at this norm, but are the scoffers and mockers really doing so well? In the context of this particular example, marriage, one error on the side of adultery does more damage than several errors on the side of foregone other-sex friendship experiences. As a result, some educated cosmopolitans run around with many "friendships" and failed marriages, scoffing at the paranoia of Christian family values, although the latter include some superior, evolved formalities to deal with overly complex identification problems we are incapable of solving intuitively "in the moment." Whenever a fatal point on a map is hard to detect, it makes sense to prohibit any entrance into the smallest definable region around the undetectable point. Unconditional prohibition may be the most sophisticated rule in contexts where many hidden chutes toward the netherworld are known to exist, even if a sizable range of perfectly innocent and desirable experiences must be forgone.

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