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What I think most people fail to understand is the ingredient of desperation inherent in the motivations behind, as well as in the contemplation of suicide. At least in my case, as well as others I've spoken to. Suicide was almost always at the forefront of my mind for a decade or so, and the most exasperating thing was that I knew I'd never be able to perform the act, precisely because of the hurt I'd cause to the people I love. And yet, I wanted to kill myself with all my being! I felt like a fly caught in the amber of my circumstances. You have no idea how many hours I spent, daily, working through scenario after scenario, trying to find that perfect method that would allow me to slip through the veil without ripping holes in other lives. I never found what I was looking for, and eventually I guess I just accepted the futility of trying.

I know I am not a unique case, and I suppose most of the motivation behind my antinatalism efforts comes from my understanding of what deep pain is, both the mental and physical sorts, and my wish that others not be given the 'opportunity' to suffer these things. I have to admit, I don't have much patience with peoples' blithe dismissals and pollyannish counter-assertions. Although, I suppose I am at the same time grateful that they've managed to find a happiness which, for the most part, has eluded me. I think about my daughters, and I certainly don't want them to learn the hard lessons I have. But, I also don't want them to breed, and I've tried to explain the risks involved in creating new lifeforms, and to question the foundation of assumptions and prejudices that keeps this passion play from winding down.

I salute you, Sister Y, for engaging this subject in such an open and challenging way. Thank you.

I have two questions. First: Sister Y says that many unsuccessful suicides " may be reabsorbed into the anti-suicide position of mainstream society." Isn't that another way of saying "They decide to keep living?" Given that the "anti-suicide position of mainstream society" is based on a will to live? If the formerly suicidal person is convinced to choose life instead of death, is that somehow a bad thing? Do you see it as a form of brainwashing? Isn't that unfairly judgmental of the 'mainstream' will to keep on living?

Second: Is there an age limit beneath which suicide might be considered a premature and uninformed decision? Is 21 old enough to soberly make this irrevocable choice?

Okay, those are my questions. I hope that you, Chip, and Sister Y will accept my sincerest hope that both of you stick around, as genuine and based on my appreciation of your big brains and generous hearts.

Thanks for your comments, Jim.

Sister Wolf, the problem I have is not with people genuinely choosing to live because they want to - I think that's unambiguously great. The problem I have is this: there is only one acceptable point of view that may ever be expressed in our culture, and that is the anti-suicide point of view. I feel it is religious in nature. I don't think there's any evidence for the reality of brainwashing, even in religious cults, but we don't need to posit brainwashing. A background of only one socially acceptable choice available, especially one backed up by coercive tools to restrain those who disagree, is enough so that we should at least look critically at the purported "decisions" of suicide attempters to continue to live - just as we should look critically on the "decisions" of those who participate in female genital mutilation. (No real brainwashing there, either.)

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I don't think a low suicide rate of one-time suicide attempters (if 13-19% is really low) is good evidence that people all just stop wanting to die.

That line-drawing question is an interesting one - why sick old people but not me? Why me but not a 20-year-old?

Interesting interview. I differ fundamentally with Sister Y (and presumably with Chip) on the notion of the moral permissibility of suicide, and for this very reason have no proclivity to challenge her on this point. Debates, I have found, are only fruitful when one agrees on first principles with one's opponent.

It so happens that I just finished reading THE SAVAGE GOD, a book by Alfred Alvarez, which is both a firsthand account of the author's own suicidal tendencies and a sort of literary-cultural examination of suicide, how it has been viewed throughout Western civilization. Although I find the book not wholly satisfying (Alvarez too easily conflates the thirst for martyrdom among early Christians with suicide, for one thing), I do recommend it on the whole. It is thoughtfully written has the aesthetic benefit of being unsentimental, which is rare when the subject is anything relating to death.

By the way, I'm a Shyamalan fan too. I thought "The Happening" was one of the best films of the year so far. I found it amazing the brutalization it took from critics. And interestingly (related to the theme of this post), it's about an airborne toxin that causes a sudden massive outbreak of suicides.

Re: The Happening - even aside from the response of critics, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention jumped all over it (http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_ID=7293A51D-CF1C-2465-179A6B215F535F21), which goes to show that they have too much money and no idea what to do with it.

I came across a clip from a computer game railing against life and the suffering it entails. The narrator is, of course, the arch-villain.

Sister Y, jim has said he holds off on suicide because of the pain it would cause to others. Is that your issue as well, or is it mostly just the lack of an effective means to do it (no "Painless Pill")?

TGGP, pretty cool video. In so many of these mythical, good vs. evil face-offs, the antagonist offers a 'truth', but one which is either partial, or twisted- at least, according to the apprehension of truth from the protaganist's perspective. The serpent in the Garden of Eden offered knowledge; but a knowledge which was against the rules to obtain. Of course, the reason for the taboo is usually left out, or at best, murky. Thus it is with life: it MUST go on! Why? Well, because...THAT's why! It's 'sacred', or a 'gift', or, 'life sucks now, but some day!'

My mom called me the last week. After living 73 years as a more-or-less nominal Christian, she finds herself believing (or not believing, as the case may be) along atheistic lines. In her words, 'faith is nothing more than hope in the face of the horrible alternative'. That alternative, of course, is that life ultimately comes to nothing. That all the suffering of the world is NOT somehow intrinsically valuable, and that it would have been better off if it hadn't gotten started in the first place. I never thought I'd hear the words "I'm suddenly beginning to think like you" from her. Funny, though; I just can't bring myself to feel good about that.

TGGP - good question. I'm not sure which is dominant. If I actually had a bottle of Nembutal, the answer would be clearer to me. Sometimes I wonder if my purported altruistic concern for the feelings of people who love me is just a form of "sour grapes" for the fact that I lack the much-desired Peaceful Pill.

In my own case, I'm fairly certain that I have a moral right to commit suicide - that my own suicide would not be morally wrong. However, it would be unkind to several people. And it's important to me to be kind.

I think there are ways to minimize the unkindness. I have studied the reaction to many suicides reported in the press. The ones where family and friends seem most okay with it are cases where the suicide had previously pretty clearly tried everything - had made an enormous effort to stay alive, if only for the sake of others. That long, arduous struggle, trying everything, where close friends and family see the person suffering miserably for years - that seems to help the survivors to understand, to hurt less, and to be less angry with the suicide. So I guess that's my project for now.

Ideas like "suicide is always preventable," "depression is always curable," etc. interfere with the effectiveness of this sort of harm-minimization project, though. I think survivors and suicides would both be better off if people were more realistic, and less sentimental, about suicide.

I think it's important to keep in mind that, while it might be frustrating to hear someone argue that statement "X" is true (in this case, X meaning "suicide is wrong") "just because," in fact all moral propositions ultimately come down to first principles, which can neither be proved or disproved. Christians and other believers in transcendent, supernatural truth have first principles, as do materialists and atheists.

I agree, though, that too many people blithely dismiss a point of view and call it absurd or ridiculous just because it is unfamiliar to them, and I think antinatalists and those who argue in favor of suicide are among those who often get the brunt of such unearned dismissiveness.

Andy: I think you're right, IF one buys into the deontological authority of certain axioms. However, I'd assert that morality develops from the bottom up, solely based upon human desires and predilections. Of course, some of those predilections wind up embodied as universal cultural maxims, due to the commonality of certain traits within the species. These work as stabilizing agents within the community, are recognized as such, and are thus granted the status as 'moral truths' (I'm sure there's also a genetic component to all this; but again, I'd argue that such predispositions are the result of evolutionary processes, and not givens from on high).

This is why I believe all efforts to discover what's truly 'right' are ultimately misled, and futile. It's also my problem with the term 'intuition' when used as a claim- or at least, as some sort of fuzzy, mystical 6th sense- in seeking moral truth, or guidance. Morality isn't something 'out there' to unearth; it's simply the cultural byproduct of people living together, coming to terms with their own sensibilities, both individually and in the aggregate, along with the psychological internalization of rules of behavior, and maybe of feeling. At least, that's my take on it.

Jim-- But it seems to me that your belief about the origin of morality is also a first principle. You have your reasons for believing it, and perhaps you have what you take to be compelling evidence for its truth, but ultimately (like all first principles) it can't be proved or disproved. You subscribe to it or you don't. Bringing us back to square one.

Andy- Reason is a tricky subject. In a sense, it's the overaching principle against which all these other conversations are subtexts. And while it's true that reason can't be 'proven' in the sense that we can't stand outside of it so as to either ultimately confirm or falsify it, neither can it validly be questioned, since any question already presupposes reason's validity. In other words, any coherent challenge to reason is forced to play by reason's rules, thus immediately becoming self-stultifying. Now, you might try shaking your fist at it, and uttering a sentence like "Barbeque spaceship immediately bong-bong," but you wouldn't be communicating anything. So, we're pretty much forced to accept reason if we're to have any meaningful conversation. But reason is no arbitrary axiom we've pulled out of thin air. It's the essence of thoughtful, meaningful discourse. It's the tool with which we explore the world. Unlike philosophical theories like morality, ethics, and the like, which all require reasoning to even exist, reason itself is the backdrop against which all these conversations take place.

Recently, I debated this a bit on another website with a theist, who argued that everything is ultimately based on faith, including reason. I begged to differ, pointing out that all faith is based on some object, some priciple or historical claim, or whatever, and that faith is ALWAYS approached from the standpoint of reasoning (whether good or bad reasoning is beside the point here). In a nutshell, faith is simply a personal assurance of one's own reasoning; thus, reason maintains its preeminence, with faith being a subsidiary byproduct.

I fear we've gotten a bit off topic here, but if you'd like to follow the thread of my similar conversation, you'll find it at http://blog.evangelicalrealism.com/2008/08/28/the-greatest-agnostics-of-all/ . Take care, Andy...jim

Andy seems to make the interesting point that religious folks and evolutionary biology reductionists are in the same boat.

Along the lines of Socrates, we should ask:

(religious folk): is it right because God loves it, or does God love it because it is right?

(evolutionary biology reductionists): is it right because we evolved to think it's right, or does our rationality, the product of evolution, give us the ability to do a higher criticism of morality?

Concerning the former, I find myself rather uncomfortably on T. Aquinas' side, concurring that Euthyphro's dilemma is a false one. God's nature is consistent with his moral stance, and our 'moral intuitions' are the trickle down effect of His will. So morality becomes ultimate in the sense that it reflects the Ultimate Maker's wishes; although, personally I'd still consider that a relativistic sort of morality, but since it's relative to the guy with the biggest stick, any disagreements of our own ultimately mean squat.

As to the latter, I'd have to say...hmmm...both? Although 'right' in this case lacks the sort of intrinsic, free-floating value of the former. It becomes more of a 'according to tests, sample A tastes better than sample B most of the time, to most people'. Maybe Chip's next publication should be along the lines of 'The Myth of Underived Moral Principles'...or, sumpin' like dat. Hehehe!

Good news on the right to assisted suicide:

Sister Y, I thought about you the other day and here's why:

A troubled young woman who I formed a bond with, died from an overdose, and was ultimately located by her family in the morgue.

It's so hard for me to process the fact that she's gone from the world. She was indeed miserable and self-destrictive. But she was magnetic in her own way, and very affectionate.

My feeling re suicidal thinking such as yours, Sister Y, is: Since one day you will be dead, and dead forever, why not stick around until then? You are secure in the knowledge that death awaits you and it is eternal. So, why the hurry? You are still capable of enjoying human connections, presumably you still enjoy food and sunshine. Life is all too short, as most old people will testify.

I am not questioning the morality of suicide or your right to end your life. Just asking, why not see what else life may offer before throwing it away?

Sister Wolf, I am sorry about your young friend. I read about it earlier but I wasn't sure what to say. It sounds like you made her life better and showed her some love.

It's true that there are interesting things in the world. The world is bursting with fun and with interest. I am actually a big fan of a large number of people, and of the human species in general. But, to me, the fun and interest in the world do not do a bit to make up for pain. This is a feature of my psychology, and has nothing to do with the much-debated Benatar asymmetry - but it's true, neither emotional joy nor physical pleasure nor intellectual epiphany take the slightest sting away from pain and suffering. Suffering is psychologically salient, to me, and memories of pain, and expectation of pain, are psychologically available to me in a way that pleasurable memories or expectations can never be. The one simply does not weigh against the other (psychologically, and also in the wider sense of value). I don't write about this, because I don't think it's interesting and I'm not sure this idiosyncrasy of my psychology is widely shared. The non-suicidal people I know, at least, do not share this experience. But it is the core of mine. No psychiatric drug has ever changed this for me.

So, since the fleeting joys of life can never make up for the suffering life entails, and since there's certainly no objective reason to live or meaning to life, the only reason for someone like me to live is for the benefit of others. At best, life might become bearable, but never meaningful or desirable for its own sake.

Okay, Sister Y. I hear you.

Now I have another question, damn me. That's how I am, but again, my aim is true, to quote Elvis C.

If there were a drug that could alter your prespective, and effectively remove the propensity to experience psychic pain, and remove the black cloud that colors you life.....would you be willing to take it?

Or, do you believe that you would cease to be the "real" you, if this change came about?

(I personally resisted antidepressants for YEARS, arguing passionately against losing my "core self." Now I see how wrong I was. I am still me, just without the crippling depression.)

xo Sister Wolf

I would totally take it! I've been on probably two dozen psych meds of many, many kinds, including tons of antidepressants, in various combinations, under the direction of more than half a dozen doctors. I have no problem with them, except for the fact that they didn't work. (Also, I don't think they should be forced on anybody - not least because, in many cases, their clinical effectiveness is overstated. But also, people should have a right to be depressed/crazy if they want to. I don't want to.) I was even open to ECT but wasn't a candidate for it. I can't die, so I am very much interested in making life bearable! Biking 100 miles and running 20 miles a week helps a bit, but nothing has ever, ever put me into "I'm glad I didn't succeed in committing suicide" mode.

I am in favor of effective treatments for misery of all kinds, including depression. I just don't think they exist, in the deep sense.

See also, Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon, http://www.psych.umn.edu/psylabs/happness/happy.htm.

By the way I really like your work re: Sarah Palin.

Sister Y, I'm so glad to hear you like my Sarah Palin tirades. I find great pleasure in the camaraderie among those who leave comments.

Look at the miracle of forming bonds in cyberspace! It's not an argument against suicide...but it is cause for a moment of gratitude, I think.

I'm glad I came across Chip, and you, Sister Y. You know where to find me if you want company and/or atheist blessings!

You state that, "There is no easy, comfortable, sure, and widely accessible method available - no Peaceful Pill. I argue that this is a moral horror."

You also inform that you are an engineer?

C'mon Sis, you can do better than that.
Non-practicing suicide?
Very clever but you're not fooling me.
You're waiting for......????

That's the first person who's ever said anything like that to me. You'd think I'd get it all the time.

I'm not an engineer, though. It is just that my undergraduate school is known for engineering - giving me "smart layperson" cred at least, as in, if I can't figure it out, how do we expect suffering, sick 80-year-olds to figure it out?

I started writing instructions out for you and then caught myself asking, "Geez, what am I doing?"

I need people that are prepared to die. I wish I could catch everyone jumping off a bridge or pressing the pistols to their temples or sucking on the tailpipe exhaust in their cars. I need that army of people pushed to their private despair.

People willing to commit suicide are powerful. A crowd of such people united and focused on a single goal could transform the world.

So start a movement, brother.

I tried to commit suicide at age 15 and failed for the reasons listed by Sister Y.

40 years later I look back and realise I have one 40 year long consistent regret.

That I failed when I was 15.

When you murder someone it's a crime.

But when life is worse than death, isn't it a greater crime to keep them alive?

Do you mind if an unintellectual Christian chimes in? How can you say that life is just despair? Haven't you seen life outside of yourself? It is true that life can be full of suffering, but there is also peace and joy in life. Have you really tried to obtain this? I know you said you were atheists, but what if you are wrong about God? What if Jesus really is the Christ? The Bible, which you seem to be familiar with on other pages, says that God sent His son Jesus to the earth, and He died for our sins. Do you know what that means? If this is true, and I believe it is, then there is a way to overcome sin and the results of it that we face. If you are into philosophy, have you honestly given Kierkegaard a chance? I don't think you are asking the right questions; or do you want to be where you are?


Thanks for chiming in.

Speaking for myself, I would never say that life is "just despair." But despair is part of life for most people. And for some people, at some times, it can be unbearable.

On matters of religion, we simply -- and profoundly -- disagree. I think I have a genuine sense of what Christians mean when they speak of the Christ and His message of salvation for all mankind. I just don't believe it. I don't even believe (with certainty) that Jesus Christ was a real person.

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