From Tajikistan Travels: “Sharifmo explains that she, her mother and her son, Mustapha – now aged 2, live in one room in her brother’s house (her husband is away indefinitely working in Russia but they are not wanted there. Her brother is violent and she is scared of him and she has at times felt suicidal. She suddenly stands on a chair and shows us how she wanted to hang herself. Sharifmo was only 12 years old when her parents arranged for her to be married. It was the middle of the civil war and soldiers used to come to her parents’ house and threaten to take her. Sharifmo’s mother told her that it was better for her to marry than be raped.” [Her husband is away indefinitely working in Russia, since there is no work where they live, but can rarely send money, so the family lives in complete destitution].
In nature there are no rights. “Rights” are a human construct, a political and moral idea to regulate human behaviour, reinforced by laws. Our complex and overcrowded human society needs this construct to try to balance people’s freedoms, because so much modern human activity interferes with or restricts freedoms in one way or another. We just don’t have enough ‘room’ (physically or culturally) to allow everyone absolute freedom, so we have established this idea of ‘rights‘ as a means of restricting some people’s freedom to avoid its negative impact on everyone else’s. Rights are a replacement, a compensation, for the reductions of freedom that are an inevitable requirement of civilization. Every right we ‘grant’ reduces the absolute freedom of someone else. My right of assembly reduces your freedom to crush opposing views. A girl’s right not to be forced to marry against her personal wishes reduces many religions’ freedom to subjugate the wishes of the individual in the interest of the collective.
Most scientists believe sick animals go off by themselves to die. This is not purely altruism, though it can free up the rest of the flock from the responsibility of looking after a particularly vulnerable member, and reduce their exposure to any contagious disease. It is rather an instinct to be alone during time of great suffering. Alone, under cover, often means out of harm’s way, less visible to predators, improving its chance of survival if the illness should prove to be temporary.
In early civilization suicide was both illegal and viewed by religion as sinful (and remains so today in many parts of the world). Suicide is, after all, an affront to the political order. It suggests that all is not right with the world, and maybe those in power have some responsibility for that. In the case of prisoners, it is a means of ‘cheating justice’, so extraordinary measures are taken (in almost every country in the world) to prevent incarcerated people from killing themselves, to force-feed them when they go on hunger strikes, and to drug them so they can be declared sane enough to face justice, including execution.
Making suicide illegal is, however, unpalatable to political leaders, since it appears very heavy-handed, so politicians have encouraged religions to make it their business to frighten adherents away from suicide with stories of eternal suffering, and condemnations of cowardice and social irresponsibility. For those not susceptible to religious propaganda or fear of legal prosecution, the state has in recent centuries begun to use the pseudo-science of psychology to declare people ‘mentally ill’ and hence lock them up and keep them alive against their will, indefinitely (a true ‘life sentence’). Most people (who don’t often encounter the ‘mentally ill’) have now been effectively brainwashed into believing that ‘mental illness’ is a real disease (and not what it really is, a metaphor for “socially unpopular thoughts, feelings and behaviours”), and into believing that, with mind-altering drugs and ‘therapy’ it can be ‘cured’. No matter that experiments have repeatedly shown that all animals, including humans, subjected to prolonged crowding or other severe stress manifest endemic “socially unpopular thoughts, feelings and behaviours” (we call these manifestations, among other things, wars — but these manifestations, since they are led by political leaders, are exempted from the definition of ‘mental illness’).
There is no limit to this slippery slope, as the Bush regime is now planning on testing all children who exhibit “socially unpopular thoughts, feelings and behaviours” of all kinds, in the views of government-certified psychiatrists with close links to the pharmaceutical industry, and subjecting them to mandatory expensive drug treatment, and removal from their parents’ custody if they don’t comply.
And of course, when there is no “mental illness” excuse for preventing suicide, as in those who are suffering unbearable and sustained physical pain, the politicians jump back in and ban ‘assisted suicide’, so you end up with the absurd situation that committing suicide is not illegal but assisting someone who begs you to help them do so is murder. Such a tangled web we weave!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that suicide prevention is always a bad idea. Many people have dark moments in their lives when they did things, or tried to do things, they later regretted. But suicide is not often a spontaneous decision, and I believe there should be limits on the ability of the state to strip away freedoms, including the freedom to take one’s own life, when the exercise of those freedoms does not severely interfere with the freedoms of others, and is prohibited merely as an exercise in complicit state and religious sanctimony. While talking about committing suicide, and even a sloppy attempt at suicide, may in fact be a ‘plea for help’, anyone who thinks people who commit or seriously attempt suicide are merely screaming for attention or attempting to make others feel badly, is guilty of fuzzy thinking, horrific insensitivity to anguish and suffering, and cruelty to all concerned.
Suicide is an act of desperation. Here is a story, written shortly after the photo above was taken, of one such act. It was not the woman in the picture, but another very young woman, with four young children. We do what we can. And if that fails, we do what we must.
The most political suicides of all, of course, are those of ‘suicide bombers’. Bush wants the press to refer to them as something else less suggestive of martyrdom. In an article today in Alternet, Nichole Argo reviews studies of suicide bombers and concludes that bombers are not motivated by brainwashing, religious fanaticism or extreme poverty (they come from predominantly middle-class backgrounds) so much as by peer-to-peer communication and solidarity. Knowing someone personally who has ‘signed up’ to wage war against a perceived oppressor or injustice is the main attribute of recruits. They also have a sense of ‘nothing left to lose’: “As one Palestinian told a reporter: ‘If we don’t fight, we will suffer. If we do fight, we will suffer, but so will they.’ ” The witnessing of civilian casualties, suffering and destruction provides the tinder for suicide bombers to act, she says, but it is social networking, affinity, personal connection, not ideology, that drives it.
It has nothing to do with courage, or with cowardice, and it is not anti-social, and not a ‘statement’. Suicide is a personal act, a final act that acknowledges the actor simply felt he, or she, alone, had no other alternative. In some cases, we might have been able, or might yet be able, in time, to create some other alternatives. In most cases, there is nothing wecan or should do.
Ultimately it is not political, it is personal, a bringing to an end of unbearable individual anguish. It is not about us at all.
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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