Letting Sleepy Dogs Lie

By Jin-yeong Yi

I am neither for nor against suicide. I like to think of it as a decision that each individual is to make for him or herself after much consideration and soul-searching. However, I find I hold a rather favorable view of assisted suicide–including assisted suicide for those who are neither physically disabled nor terminally ill. This is for one major reason, which is that assisted suicide does not consist in advocating or encouraging, let alone forcing, people to commit suicide, but in helping them follow through with an act that they intend to carry out with or without assistance.

Pro-life activists argue that suicidal people should be given help in living, not dying. While this line of argument sounds reasonable enough, it doesn’t fully take into account the question of why people seek assisted suicide organizations in the first place. It’s not like none of them considered–or, for that matter, tried–psychotherapy, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of psychotherapists. Is it impossible that they’ve already weighed all of their options and have concluded that they need an emergency exit?

I also find it not a little ironic that the same powers that be who allow people–including military veterans–to languish on the streets deny them access to the most effective means to liberate themselves from the misery that they do little to alleviate. (Even the magistrates of ancient Athens were considerate enough to supply citizens with hemlock, in case life became too unbearable for them.)[1]

Needless to say, keeping assisted suicide illegal leaves suicidal people to take matters into their own hands. Dying a voluntary death is, in fact, harder than it looks. Many “amateur” attempts at suicide fail, not infrequently leaving the victim with serious and permanent injuries–in other words, in a state that they might find worse than death. As the Swiss assisted suicide organization Dignitas points out:

[I]n up to 49 out of 50 cases, trying to end one’s life without expert knowledge leads to failure; often with severe consequences for the individual’s health and with high risks, also for third parties, resulting in a lot of suffering and a serious impact for society…[2]

If it is hard to die at all, it is even harder to die a clean death that will result in the minimum amount of inconvenience and danger to others. Methods such as vehicular impact and suicide by cop leave blood on the hands of unwitting individuals, and methods like gassing, drowning, and jumping may yield results that are, to say the least, inconvenient for people in the vicinity.

It may help to see this life for what it is: a brief stop between birth and death. This world is a vast airport terminal: people come and go; no one stays. You might say that life is a preparation for death.

This is not to say that I don’t have any reservations about an early death. What I lack in moral objections is compensated for by emotional ones. If there is someone you know who wants to die, and you care about that person, you don’t want them to go away; you want them to stay and exist happily, or at least comfortably. But if they are completely set on going away and there is nothing that you or anyone else can do about it, then at the very least you want them to go–to travel–in the best way possible. You want them to fly first class. You want them to be sitting on the best seat in the plane; to be attended upon by warm, friendly, and courteous stewardesses; to be served nice food.

The bottom line is this: if an individual has resolved to depart this world ahead of schedule, and no amount of drugs or rhetoric can persuade them otherwise, then they might as well leave parsimoniously, painlessly, and peacefully.

Notes

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/03/death-becomes-him/307916/

[2] http://www.dignitas.ch/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11&lang=en

Recommended Reading 

http://idontwanttohang.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/a-mothers-perspective/

http://idontwanttohang.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/a-fathers-perspective/

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Reflections on the Riddle of the Universe

By Jin-yeong Yi

Black hole

“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”

—Socrates

What I know can fill a book. What I don’t know can fill entire universes. And what I am not certain of fills all of reality itself.

Upon realizing just how difficult—if not impossible—it is to ascertain anything in this world, one despairs of ever forming a solidly grounded opinion on things. Why should we even try?

No one, living or dead, genius or idiot, monotheist or polytheist or pantheist or deist or agnostic or atheist, can convince me that they have the answer to the riddle of the universe. That is perhaps why I have so much sympathy for the Skeptics of ancient Greece and Rome, while rejecting their doctrine of ataraxia.

The riddle of knowledge is the Riddle of riddles. How can one know what is real, what is true? It seems impossible to even imagine what the answer might look like. Maybe every red pill is just another blue pill in disguise. How can one truly know whether one knows something or not? This riddle may be unsolvable.

But we’ll continue to try, because our minds demand answers. Whether we are humble cracker-barrel philosophers or eminent department chairs of elite universities, we will continue our pursuit of that elusive thing we call truth.

Will the answer to the riddle of the universe ever be revealed? If it is, I imagine that it would be a target that no one in history has ever hit, and that it would be far greater than all of our speculations combined.

The (Non)Preciousness of Life

By Jin-yeong Yi

“No gods, no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no human free will – are all deeply connected to an evolutionary perspective. You’re here today and you’re gone tomorrow, and that’s all there is to it.”

—William B. Provine

I remember the first few times I watched this video. I am no vegetarian or vegan (tried the former in high school but gave up within several weeks), but as someone who had kept hamsters as pets during childhood (not very successfully, I am sad to say), I found myself deeply moved. Here was a tiny and fragile creature that had faced a future of either being fed to reptiles in infancy or being preyed upon as adult, and perishing in less than half a decade in any case. But here it was, safe and sound, being raised with such tender care. As I watched it resting contentedly in its owner’s palm, I couldn’t help but think: if even a mouse can be loved so dearly in an indifferent universe, what possibilities does that suggest for us?

Life is cheap, and that may well be precisely why I value it.

We All Live in Purgatory

By Jin-yeong Yi

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry - Fiery Purgatory

Trapped in purgatory
A lifeless object, alive
Awaiting reprisal
Death will be their acquisition

The sky is turning red
Return to power draws near
Fall into me, the sky’s crimson tears
Abolish the rules made of stone

Pierced from below, souls of my treacherous past
Betrayed by many, now ornaments dripping above

Awaiting the hour of reprisal
Your time slips away

Raining blood
From a lacerated sky
Bleeding its horror
Creating my structure
Now I shall reign in blood!

—Slayer, “Raining Blood”

One time in an art class in high school, I was listening to a conversation being held among classmates I was sitting with. One of them, a female punk, wondered aloud if this world was Hell itself. When her friend disagreed, arguing that it wasn’t “bad enough,” she immediately shot back with “How do you know?” Incidentally, the late Chuck Schuldiner (Death) actually once said that this world was Hell, and that there were demons in people.

I tend to take a more moderate position. In my post on Painkiller, I noted that I saw the game as a metaphor for life, and I feel strongly as ever about this. This world is neither Heaven nor Hell. This world is Purgatory. Unlike Heaven and Hell, Purgatory is a mixed bag–here one finds beauty as well as ugliness, good as well as evil, reasons to live as well as reasons to die. Also, unlike Heaven and Hell, Purgatory is not static; it’s a journey rather than a destination. It is a temporary state of being, one full of perils–and possibilities. Above all, it’s a perpetual war, full of uncertainty, chaos, horror, suffering, and death.

If we’re here for a reason, I doubt it’s to pursue happiness, which is as elusive as a pot of gold on the other side of a rainbow. The sum of my observations and experiences suggests to me that, if we’re here for a reason, it’s to do battle, to oppose our wills and wits to the howling fury of demons within and without us.

So pick up your sword–or your Painkiller, if you happen to own one of those–and brace yourself for the next battle, with a smile of grim determination on your battered and bloodied face. Having some kickass music playing in the background wouldn’t hurt either.

Suicide, Fear of Death, and Fear of the Afterlife

By Jin-yeong Yi

Cinema in Australia

“It will generally be found that, as soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life. But the terrors of death offer considerable resistance; they stand like a sentinel at the gate leading out of this world. Perhaps there is no man alive who would not have already put an end to his life, if this end had been of a purely negative character, a sudden stoppage of existence.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Suicide”

What if there is an afterlife, and suicide is punished as a grave sin? This possibility doesn’t worry me all that much. Besides the fact that the probability of an afterlife is minuscule, if not minimal, reward and punishment seem rather meaningless when one considers the fact that we are ultimately not responsible for what we do. We are not responsible for what we do for the reason that we do what we do because of what we are, and we are ultimately not responsible for what we are.

“What is it restrains people from suicide, do you think?” I asked.

He looked at me absent-mindedly, as though trying to remember what we were talking about.

“I… I don’t know much yet…. Two prejudices restrain them, two things; only two, one very little, the other very big.”

“What is the little thing?”

“Pain.”

“Pain? Can that be of importance at such a moment?”

“Of the greatest. There are two sorts: those who kill themselves either from great sorrow or from spite, or being mad, or no matter what… they do it suddenly. They think little about the pain, but kill themselves suddenly. But some do it from reason—they think a great deal.”

“Why, are there people who do it from reason?”

“Very many. If it were not for superstition there would be more, very many, all.”

“What, all?”

He did not answer.

“But aren’t there means of dying without pain?”

“Imagine”—he stopped before me—”imagine a stone as big as a great house; it hangs and you are under it; if it falls on you, on your head, will it hurt you?”

“A stone as big as a house? Of course it would be fearful.”

“I speak not of the fear. Will it hurt?”

“A stone as big as a mountain, weighing millions of tons? Of course it wouldn’t hurt.”

“But really stand there and while it hangs you will fear very much that it will hurt. The most learned man, the greatest doctor, all, all will be very much frightened. Every one will know that it won’t hurt, and every one will be afraid that it will hurt.”

“Well, and the second cause, the big one?”

“The other world!”

“You mean punishment?”

“That’s no matter. The other world; only the other world.”[1]

—Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons 

There’s also another reason why I see little reason to be concerned with the possibility of punishment, and that is the fact that one searches in vain for a “Moral Law” that exists as an intrinsic part of the fabric of reality. If a “Moral Law” does exist, it is so nebulous that it seems most unlikely that one could ascertain whether suicide is “right” or “wrong” in the first place. For all we know, suicides are rewarded and non-suicides are punished in the next life. As preposterous as it may sound to most, it goes to illustrate just how ambiguous and vague this hypothetical “Law” really is.

To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet 

But what of death itself? For some, like the late Peter Steele, the thought of “going nowhere” after dying is too much to bear. For these people, I have a simple thought experiment. Think back to last night, when you were lying in bed in a state of dreamless sleep. Try to recall the emotions you were experiencing during that time. Did you feel any anxiety? Any fear? Regret? Sorrow? I doubt it. Chances are, you recall nothing. You weren’t unconscious in that your body was ready to respond to external stimuli, but you were unconscious in that the movie screen in your mind was blank. You were not conscious of being unconscious, and you surely weren’t conscious of how you felt about being unconscious. In the same way, if we assume that death is absolute and permanent unconsciousness, the fear of it is as unfounded as the fear of sleep would be.

Either way, suicide only hastens what is all but completely inevitable, not bring about something that would otherwise never be. If death is nothing but a cessation of consciousness, there is nothing to fear, and if death is inevitable, there is little point in fearing it in any case. In the immortal words of Epicurus:

“Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.”[2]

Infester – Chamber of Reunion

Room of reunion… Join with the departed,
Souls trapped in a timeless sanctuary of darkness.
… Witness the secret places which shall not be perceived by man.
Talisman strung in remembrance of the dead,
Resurrect visions kept in capsules of existence.
Perception enhanced by smoke and hypnosis,
Subconscious prayers for entreaty.
… Come to call, reappear in form!
Transcending through the boundaries of ancient knowledge.
… Notice the transient beings
Which thrive on your fear,
Their meager existence I have already experienced
… Moving closer to the core,
I engulf in luminescence,
Acquired from this cerulean consumption,
The resting place of emptiness…
Where blackness robs the spirit
Chamber of reunion
… I may not return to this chamber.
From the blood, we are born of sadness…
But thy celestial spirits are breathed into me,
So I may never know.

Notes

[1] Chapter III: The Sins of Others

[2] Letter to Menoeceus

The Sweet Silence of Sleep

By Jin-yeong Yi

CharlieCLC - Color - Black

When I was in high school, I used to wonder why there were people who enjoyed sleeping during the day. I was–and still am–the type of person who rarely had trouble filling in his free hours. Whether it was reading a good book, playing a good computer game, practicing the guitar, or studying languages, there was always something I found worth doing. Sleep was so…boring, mundane. I mean, it certainly felt good–I enjoyed the sensation of dozing off–but it was hardly productive. What’s so great about lying in bed doing nothing–during the day, no less–when there is so much to explore, to strive for, to accomplish? …Especially considering that sleep consumes nearly an entire third (think about that for a moment) of one’s life.

After many years, I’ve finally realized why one would value sleep as an end in itself. The reason is quite obvious: it’s the same reason why people value death: there’s peace to be found in it. Dreamless sleep is a taste of death. How often can the average person find genuine peace and quiet in modern society–indeed, anywhere? When we aren’t being disturbed by other people, we are distracted by our worries about the future. In other words, we are constantly plagued by noise, both external and internal. Sleep cancels all of that out in a way that nothing else, even the best music or meditation, can. Unconsciousness brings about a peace that is so profound, so absolute, that it precludes even the awareness of it. And, as it doesn’t cost half a cent, even the most destitute can avail themselves of it.

Suicide: Scourge or Savior?

By Jin-yeong Yi

Vincent van Gogh - Wheatfield with Crows

“That society who has not the ability, or who is not willing to procure man any one benefit, loses all its rights over him; Nature, when it has rendered his existence completely miserable, has in fact, ordered him to quit it: in dying he does no more than fulfil one of her decrees, as he did when he first drew his breath. To him who is fearless of death, there is no evil without a remedy; for him who refuses to die, there yet exists benefits which attach him to the world; in this case let him rally his powers—let him oppose courage to a destiny that oppresses him—let him call forth those resources with which Nature yet furnishes him; she cannot have totally abandoned him, while she yet leaves him the sensation of pleasure; the hopes of seeing a period to his pains.”

—Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach, The System of Nature 

It seems obvious that the debate on assisted suicide ultimately comes down to the question of whether suicide itself is right or wrong. Many of the arguments against suicide, it seems to me, are predicated on religion. In terms of rhetoric, one probably need not look further than G. K. Chesterton:

“Under the lengthening shadow of Ibsen, an argument arose whether it was not a very nice thing to murder one’s self. Grave moderns told us that we must not even say “poor fellow,” of a man who had blown his brains out, since he was an enviable person, and had only blown them out because of their exceptional excellence. Mr. William Archer even suggested that in the golden age there would be penny-in-the-slot machines, by which a man could kill himself for a penny. In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane. Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the suicide is not: that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury: for each has received a personal affront. Of course there may be pathetic emotional excuses for the act. There often are for rape, and there almost always are for dynamite. But if it comes to clear ideas and the intelligent meaning of things, then there is much more rational and philosophic truth in the burial at the cross-roads and the stake driven through the body, than in Mr. Archer’s suicidal automatic machines. There is a meaning in burying the suicide apart. The man’s crime is different from other crimes—for it makes even crimes impossible.

“About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some free thinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe. And then I remembered the stake and the cross-roads, and the queer fact that Christianity had shown this weird harshness to the suicide. For Christianity had shown a wild encouragement of the martyr. Historic Christianity was accused, not entirely without reason, of carrying martyrdom and asceticism to a point, desolate and pessimistic. The early Christian martyrs talked of death with a horrible happiness. They blasphemed the beautiful duties of the body: they smelt the grave afar off like a field of flowers. All this has seemed to many the very poetry of pessimism. Yet there is the stake at the crossroads to show what Christianity thought of the pessimist.”[1]

While I agree that Archer’s view is dubious (the last time I checked, a “golden age” consisted of mass flourishing, not mass extinction), I also find myself in vehement disagreement with Chesterton’s condemnation.

True, Chesterton himself did contemplate suicide in his adolescence, but in the above passage he speaks as someone who is rationalizing his religious beliefs, not someone who has truly known the power of the desire to die. According to his logic, exterminating 7 billion people pales in comparison, both literally and figuratively, to taking one’s own life without injuring anyone else. It follows that a Vincent van Gogh, say, or a Dimitris Christoulas,[2] commits a far graver crime than a Genghis Khan or a Joseph Stalin. As long as the murderer asks God for forgiveness, he will be given a far more lenient sentence than the suicide, and he will, unlike the suicide, be given a proper burial. Personally, I think that such a notion is breathtakingly ludicrous and silly, and hardly deserves a reply. I must say of Chesterton what Eugene Rose (Father Seraphim) once said of Arthur Schopenhauer: “[He] does not speak to us as one who knows, as one who has truly had a vision of the nature of things.”[3]

I tend to see myself as avoiding both extremes of opinion, the one represented by Chesterton and the other represented by Archer. In other words, I see suicide as being neither an absolute “good” nor an absolute “evil.” In my view, the decision to stay and the decision to leave are more or less equally valid. Let those who wish to live continue their struggle in this world of suffering, and let those who wish to die embark on, ahead of schedule, that great voyage that awaits each and every one of us. I can praise the former for their courage to cling onto life, and the latter for their courage to embrace death.

In an interview, Ludwig Minelli, founder and director Swiss assisted dying organization Dignitas, notes a peculiar pattern he has observed among potential suicides throughout the years:

“Seventy percent of our members which have got provisional green light [for assisted suicide] do never call again. It’s very interesting.

“They are just looking in order to have a choice, to make a choice, because normally they are in a terrible dilemma. … Would I have to go through the whole illness until the so-called natural death, with all the pains, with all the difficulties, or must I make a very risky suicide attempt? When we are getting the provisional green light, this is a sort of opening an emergency exit. So they know, ‘I could go through this emergency exit if really I am in difficulties,’ and this is calming them. …”[4][5]

When I say that suicide saves, I am not being flippant. Of course, the act of suicide destroys, but the possibility of suicide is, as it turns out, a double-edged sword. With it comes the realization that the world has only so much power over you, and that it can rule you only for as long as you allow it to. Those who are truly prepared to die have little left to be afraid of. As strange as it might sound to some, the clear knowledge that one can liberate oneself from an unbearable existence at any moment one chooses can give one not only strength but also a sense of near-invincibility, which can give rise to the will to “oppose courage to a destiny that oppresses”–if only for another day.

Notes

[1] Orthodoxy, Chapter V: The Flag of the World

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/05/greece-suicide-tributes-retired-pharmacist

[3] “Schopenhauer: System; Comment,” quoted from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene

[4] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/suicidetourist/etc/minelli.html

[5] Mr. Minelli goes on to note: “Not only never come to Zurich, never call again. We never hear from them. Then we get the invoice for the membership fee for the next year, and then they will pay the membership fee, but they will never call again. It’s very, very interesting.”