The Quiet Genocide

By Jin-yeong Yi

Eastern Orthodox hieromonk Damascene Christensen once wrote:

“Suicide takes the lives of 6,000 of the young generation in the U.S. each year. This phenomenon is something unheard of in the history of the world. Why should this be, if the world is truly becoming a better place? Suicide is the last Genocide.”[1]

In Japan alone, there have been over 30,000 suicides each year for the past 14 years.[2] That’s over 420,000 deaths. 420,000 individuals who died not because they were murdered, or because they succumbed to cancer, or because they got into a fatal accident or a natural disaster–but because, for one reason or another, they decided that they would be better off dead than alive. 420,000 dead and counting. And that’s just in one country.

Mass suicide may not be the last genocide, but it doesn’t seem to get as much attention as mass murder. If, say, a terrorist group captured 10,000-30,000 people (or even just 10% or less thereof) and announced that they would execute them all within the year, there would likely be a great deal of outcry around the world.

Of course, such a scenario is very different from mass suicide. Suicides are often isolated incidents; even with suicide pacts, the deaths are spread out and, what’s more, they are frequently unpredictable. When the murderer and the victim are the same person, it’s not exactly easy to protect one from the other.

But the point still stands. Hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people are dying by their own hand year after year.[3] Some of them may cause a scene by throwing themselves off buildings or in front of oncoming trains or cars, but others fade away quietly. We have a bestselling suicide instruction manual in Japan and assisted suicide organizations in all over the world that attract not only the terminally ill but also the suicidally depressed.[4] The body count climbs, and the problem remains unsolved. By the time I finish composing this sentence, another person will take their life, and millions if not tens of millions of others are at this very moment seriously contemplating doing the same. And it does not seem that a whole lot is being done about it.

Is there a solution? It’s likely, seeing that suicide epidemics of such proportions seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon. But whatever the solution is, obviously it will have to penetrate much deeper than any token government program. It doesn’t take a physician to see that combating the symptoms of a disease is not the same as neutralizing the actual cause. And if suicide is a problem, then the present society is very diseased indeed. Restoring the will to live may demand nothing less than a radical transmutation of society from the ground up. While it is most improbable that we can turn the Earth into Heaven, moving it in the direction of Heaven and away from Hell is surely always an option.

In the meantime, there appears to be little that can be done, except on an individual level. Life is a losing battle from the start, and ultimately it is every man for himself. As Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption says, “it comes down to a simple choice, really: get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”

Notes

[1] http://www.stinnocent.com/seraphim/dtw/dtw4/suicide.htm

[2] http://www.tokyotimes.com/2012/suicide-in-japan-exceeds-30000-for-14th-year/

[3] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/234219.php

[4] Although the services of such organizations are available to only terminally ill clients; unqualified, suicidally depressed people have been known to forge medical documents in order to gain eligibility.

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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/

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

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.”

The Suicide’s Wager

By Jin-yeong Yi

Craps

In late 2006, Ludwig Minelli, a Swiss lawyer and the founder of Switzerland-based assisted dying organization Dignitas, provoked controversy when he advocated for clinically depressed Britons the right to assisted suicide. Argued Mr. Minelli:

“I think we should find a modern attitude to the problem of suicide.
“We should see in principle suicide as a marvellous possibility given to human beings because they have a conscience to withdraw themselves from situations which are bearable for them.
“If you accept the idea of personal autonomy, you can’t make conditions that only terminally ill people should have this right.”[1]

British anti-assisted suicide organization Care Not Killing points out that there is always the future possibility that those suffering from depression, including the terminally ill, will change their minds about taking their lives. Of the latter, a spokesman said, “Almost invariably, they change their minds over time… and die in due course peacefully and with dignity.”[2]

The argument that someone could change their minds later on is interesting and worthy of consideration. That we do change our minds is a given. Two lovers might get married, each of them completely convinced that the other is “the one,” only to experience disillusionment and divorce a few years later. One might ask, should a father refuse to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to her lover because either of them “might” change their mind at some point down the road?

I do not deny that suicide is another animal altogether. Some decisions, such as the acceptance of a position at a company or the purchase of a new car, can be reversed upon changing one’s mind. But the termination of one’s existence can never be reversed.

As a thought experiment, I’ll put forth a wager that is, structurally, not unlike Pascal’s Wager. It goes something like this:

(0) There is no afterlife in which you will be punished for committing suicide. Death is final. (Assumption)

(1A) If you commit suicide, and your future would have been worthwhile, then you have lost.

(1B) If you commit suicide, and your future would not have been worthwhile, then you have neither gained nor lost.

(2A) If you don’t commit suicide, and your future turns out to be worthwhile, then you have gained.

(2B) If you don’t commit suicide, and your future does not turn out to be worthwhile, then you have neither gained nor lost.

(3) Either way, there is no permanent gain or loss, as death is final. The only question that remains is the amount of time that separated one state from another.

As you may have noticed, this wager ignores the consequences that the potential suicide’s actions might have on other people. It is generally assumed that it is “better” for everyone else–or at least not harmful–if a potential suicide continues to live, but admittedly we cannot know this for sure. There’s no telling what events the combination of genetic-environmental factors and happenstance will give rise to during the course of one’s life. John Smith’s suicide might mean the financial ruin of his struggling family, but his survival might mean the unpremeditated murder of his dictatorial boss. The possibilities are endless. Causality might lead him to drive drunk and accidentally hit someone 18 years later. Causality might lead him to get married and produce a prodigy that will go on to make vital contributions to theoretical physics. That is perhaps the chief weakness of a purely consequentialist ethic: as there is no reliable way to predict the future, there is no telling just how one’s existence and choices will impact the world one inhabits, and whether it will ultimately be for the “better” or for the “worse.”

If I have a point, it is this: that we simply don’t know, and that there’s no way of knowing whether the decisions we make are ultimately the “best” ones, and this is because the future is always uncertain. Every action we take or do not take is a gamble to some degree. Suicide is no exception. All we really have are our thoughts and emotions in the present, the fragmented memories of the thoughts and emotions we had in the past, and our clumsy speculations about what might be and what might have been.

Notes

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-406174/Clinically-depressed-allowed-assisted-suicide.html

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/switzerland/5369613/Swiss-suicide-clinic-helped-depressed-man-die.html

Suicide Saves

By Jin-yeong Yi

“As life is commonly the greatest blessing for man, it is to be presumed that he who deprives himself of it, is compelled to it by an invincible force. It is the excess of misery, the height of despair, the derangement of his brain, caused by melancholy, that urges man on to destroy himself. Agitated by contrary impulsions, he is, as we have before said, obliged to follow a middle course that conducts him to his death; if man be not a free-agent, in any one instant of his life, he is again much less so in the act by which it is terminated.

It will be seen then, that he who kills himself, does not, as it is pretended, commit an outrage on nature. He follows an impulse which has deprived him of reason; adopts the only means left him to quit his anguish; he goes out of a door which she leaves open to him; he cannot offend in accomplishing a law of necessity: the iron hand of this having broken the spring that renders life desirable to him; which urged him to self-conservation, shews him he ought to quit a rank or system where he finds himself too miserable to have the desire of remaining. His country or his family have no right to complain of a member, whom it has no means of rendering happy; from whom consequently they have nothing more to hope: to be useful to either, it is necessary he should cherish his own peculiar existence; that he should have an interest in conserving himself—that he should love the bonds by which he is united to others—that he should be capable of occupying himself with their felicity—that he should have a sound mind. That the suicide should repent of his precipitancy, he should outlive himself, he should carry with him into his future residence, his organs, his senses, his memory, his ideas, his actual mode of existing, his determinate manner of thinking.”

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

“Life is not so desirable a thing as to be protracted at any cost. Whoever you are, you are sure to die, even though your life has been full of abomination and crime. The chief of all remedies for a troubled mind is the feeling that among the blessings which Nature gives to man, there is none greater than an opportune death; and the best of it is that every one can avail himself of it.”

—Pliny the Elder

“When, in some dreadful and ghastly dream, we reach the moment of greatest horror, it awakes us; thereby banishing all the hideous shapes that were born of the night. And life is a dream: when the moment of greatest horror compels us to break it off, the same thing happens.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Suicide”

One of the more interesting books I have on my shelf is Wataru Tsurumi’s notorious Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru (The Complete Manual of Suicide), which was published in the early 1990’s, during Japan’s “Lost Decade.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: an instruction manual detailing various methods (from overdosing to freezing) that can be used for self-destruction. It’s a symbol of our time.

One would think that such a book would invariably give suicidal people the encouragement and resolve to fulfill their death wish. So it might surprise you to learn that it may, in fact, have prevented suicide in some cases. A Japanese reviewer of The Complete Manual of Suicide, writing in 2007, explains how the book helped him, and in doing so, he explains how suicide, or, rather, the idea of suicide, can give one the strength to live on.

Here is the full review[1] below (my translation):

I was saved 

By Wan 

I myself read this during a considerably difficult period of my life.

Really and truly, I was saved.

If it weren’t for this book, I probably wouldn’t be alive right now.

Irresponsible reviewers and carefree hypocrites criticize this book, but this is the kind of book that “genuinely suffering people” need.

I wonder just how many people were driven into a corner by the “one must live on” mentality.

“If you have a mind to die, you can do anything” is also a big lie.

The important thing is to have a firm hold of the option of suicide within oneself.

It is to attain peace of mind from “being able to die when push comes to shove.”

So what’s needed are “actual methods for dying,” and the “confidence of being able to apply them.”

With these things, you can, for the first time, gain the courage to live.

I want this book to be read by, above all, those “suffering people,” of course, but I would also like to have other people (the thoughtless, irresponsible and carefree people who say “Value your life”) read it, think and think, think and think, and think it through.

Life is kinder than we realize. For all its hardship and horror, it usually doesn’t force us to stick around and endure it ad infinitum. In most cases, we can choose to walk away from it all any time we wish.

If you, dear reader, happen to be contemplating suicide, I won’t make the mistake of promising you that “it’s all going to get better.” Unless one can actually predict the future, that is a most silly thing to say. There’s no guarantee that it will get better; it’s just as likely, if not more likely, that it’s all going to get worse.

What I will tell you is that, if anyone is going to rescue you from self-annihilation, it is likely that it will be none other than yourself. As the Buddha said, “No one saves us but ourselves.” And why is that? Perhaps it’s because no one knows you better than you know yourself. No one else has the same degree of access to your thoughts and your emotions. No one knows your darkest secrets and deepest desires better than you do. If the question is how you can find the will to live on, only you can help yourself, and the most other people can do for you is to help you help yourself.

Or maybe you don’t need help. Maybe you don’t need saving. Maybe you’re convinced, like Jon Nödtveidt supposedly was[2], that you’ve reached the peak of your life and that you’ve gotten everything you wanted out of life, and that any more time spent in this world would be superfluous. If no one knows you better than you know yourself, chances are no one understands you better than you understand yourself. And if no one understands you better than you understand yourself, who is more “qualified” than you to decide when your story is over?

Either way, take a good look at that fragile thing you call your life. At all times your life is in your own hands. It’s as fragile as a sapling. Will you crush it? Or will you spare it and, for better or worse, see its development to the end?

“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

Notes

[1] See the original review at Amazon Japan.

[2] The Dissection frontman and lead guitarist, who took his life at age 31, had said, “The Satanist decides of his own life and death and prefers to go out with a smile on his lips when he has reached his peak in life, when he has accomplished everything, and aim [sic] to transcend this earthly existence. But it is completely un-satanic to end ones [sic] own life because one is sad or miserable. The Satanist dies strong, not by age, disease or depression, and he chooses death before dishonor! Death is the orgasm of life! So live life accordingly, as intense [sic] as possible!”

An Answer to Camus

By Jin-yeong Yi

“If we turn from contemplating the world as a whole, and, in particular, the generations of men as they live their little hour of mock-existence and then are swept away in rapid succession; if we turn from this, and look at life in its small details, as presented, say, in a comedy, how ridiculous it all seems! It is like a drop of water seen through a microscope, a single drop teeming with infusoria; or a speck of cheese full of mites invisible to the naked eye. How we laugh as they bustle about so eagerly, and struggle with one another in so tiny a space! And whether here, or in the little span of human life, this terrible activity produces a comic effect.

It is only in the microscope that our life looks so big. It is an indivisible point, drawn out and magnified by the powerful lenses of Time and Space.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Vanity of Existence”

“LIFE: To be born in imbecility, in the midst of pain and crisis to be the plaything of ignorance, error, need, sickness, wickedness, and passions; to return step by step to imbecility, from the time of lisping to that of doting; to live among knaves and charlatans of all kinds; to die between one man who takes your pulse and another who troubles your head; never to know where you come from, why you come and where you are going! That is what is called the most important gift of our parents and nature. Life.”

—Denis Diderot, L’Encyclopédie

What’s the purpose of life? What’s the point of living? As a nihilist, I do not believe that life has any intrinsic meaning or purpose. There are people who believe that, without intrinsic purpose, life is not worth living. I’d say that whether your life is worth living or not is up to you. The way I see it, it’s a question of feeling, not fact, and that desire is purpose enough.

For me, Camus’s question, “Why not commit suicide?” isn’t terribly difficult to answer. First of all, it is all but certain that the Grim Reaper will come for me eventually whether I want him to or not, and there’s no need for me to summon him ahead of schedule, at least not right now. If I have even half a reason to keep living, why not continue with my journey and see where it leads? I, for one, am interested in seeing how my story ends.

Another reason why I’m not in too much of a hurry to kill myself is that the disappointments of life have their impact lessened by my belief that experience as a unified whole is more important than happiness. Happiness comes and goes, while experience is for keeps.

So why live? I think each person must find their own answer. Here’s mine:

I live to learn, to improve myself, to experiment, to explore trails on which few have trodden, to overcome challenges, to reflect, to grow, to wonder, to enjoy, to laugh, to love and be loved, to be inspired, to create, to experience Beauty in its myriad forms, to dream and to accomplish my dreams, and to see just how far the rabbit hole goes. In a word, I live to live.