Ars Philosopha — June 25, 2013, 2:00 pm

On Suicide

And why we should talk more about it

Death of Socrates. Image from the Wonders of the World Collection, New York Public Library

Death of Socrates. Image from the Wonders of the World Collection, New York Public Library


he recent brouhaha over a spread in Vice magazine featuring artistic representations of women writers who took their own lives has me thinking about suicide. For years, growing up, I was obsessed with the thought; among my earliest memories is the desire, at age three or four, to run in front of an oncoming bus. Not because I wanted to see what would happen, but because I was sure I knew what would happen: I wouldn’t have to live any longer. I suspect there may be a suicide gene. My elder brother reports of wanting to kill himself from a very early age, and of having had to battle with the desire many times in his life. We know that suicide often “runs in the family”; three of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s four brothers killed themselves, and Wittgenstein at various points contemplated doing so — this despite his family’s enormous wealth and intelligence and its privileged position in Viennese society.

We tend to talk about suicide most when a famous person kills himself. There was, we all remember, the flurry of argument about suicide — much of it indignant, even outraged — when David Foster Wallace took his own life. His friends were deeply hurt, and many of them were writers, so they wrote about it. “[E]very suicide’s an asshole,” wrote Mary Karr, in a poem about Wallace’s death. “There is a good reason I am not/ God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.” Suicide, seen as among the most selfish of acts, pushes a button in us that even murder doesn’t.

That self-destruction should be morally blameworthy because of its selfishness is, if not paradoxical, at least a bit odd. After all, if there is one thing I am entitled to as a human being, only one right I am permitted, it ought to be the right to life: this right, it has often been argued, is a kind of necessary precondition for any other right one might claim. But does it make sense to say that I have the right to life if I don’t have the right to end it when and as I choose?

Albert Camus suggested that the only serious philosophical question is whether or not one ought to kill oneself. Suicide, he wrote,

is merely confessing that [life] “is not worth the trouble.” Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering.

Camus’s conclusion — that the very meaninglessness of life ought to provoke us into a kind of mulish defiance toward the rationality of death — is not entirely satisfying. At one level I agree: to go on living is to say “Fuck you” to a universe that doesn’t give a damn about us. When Camus writes that we “must imagine Sisyphus happy,” we know that the greatest part of Sisyphus’ happiness must derive from the knowledge that the very gods who condemned him are now watching him, with frustration and grudging respect, push that damn boulder up the mountainside again and again. They can’t break him. But if the universe doesn’t know I’m telling it to screw itself, and if I’m still stuck here suffering, Camus’s solution turns me into the irritable French waiter who refuses to quit his job merely because he dislikes his customers so much.  The customers don’t know why he’s grumpy (if they notice him at all), so whom is he really punishing?

Arthur Schopenhauer observed that it is only in the Judeo-Christian tradition that we find the wholesale condemnation of suicide, despite the fact that neither the Old nor the New Testament contains much mention of it. But Schopenhauer’s radius is a little too small: Buddhism and Hinduism also warn against the dangers and irrationality of suicide, depending on its motivations (in many Buddhist and Hindu accounts, taking one’s life to escape suffering only increases suffering in the next life). For Schopenhauer, suicide can be a perfectly reasonable choice (if you are indeed miserable, why prolong the misery?) or even a morally praiseworthy act. What courage it must require, he writes, to end one’s own life when one can see nothing better to do with it. Or when, as was sometimes true in ancient China and at the height of the Roman Empire, the shame of defeat could be so great that to go on living was an affront to oneself and one’s peers. Schopenhauer quotes Stobaeus:

The good man should flee life when his misfortunes become too great. . . . So he will marry and beget children and take part in the affairs of the State, and, generally, practice virtue and continue to live; and then, again, if need be, and at any time necessity compels him, he will depart to his place of refuge in the tomb.

Shakespeare’s suicides die for honor or love. And as the self-immolations of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam War and in Tibet today remind us, suicide may be a profoundly morally praiseworthy thing. To take one’s life in protest of human injustice seems far more rational than to go on living in protest of the injustice of the universe.

We may feel that the suicide is failing in some debt he or she has to society. But as Hume puts it in his essay on the subject,

[S]uppose that it is no longer in my power to promote the interest of the public; suppose that I am a burden to it; suppose that my life hinders some person from being much more useful to the public: in such cases, my resignation of life must not only be innocent, but laudable. And most people who lie under any temptation to abandon existence are in some such situation; those who have health, or power, or authority, have commonly better reason to be in humour with the world.

It’s unlikely, as Hume points out, that a person who feels satisfied with his lot will wish to take his own life; much more common is the suicide who — mistakenly or no — sees himself as useless, even harmful, to the people and world around him. In perhaps the most famous defense of suicide ever offered, Hume writes: “I believe that no man ever threw away life while it was worth keeping.”

The Suicide Oak, New Orleans. Photograph from the Library of Congress

The Suicide Oak, New Orleans. Photograph from the Library of Congress


am not endorsing suicide. Hume is wrong: many people have thrown away or tried to throw away lives well worth keeping (the Wittgensteins are a good example). My elder stepbrother Paul leaped from one of the tallest buildings in Calgary when I was seven years old, and I wish he were still around. I have tried it, and, happily, I have failed. A few months ago I was in the mountains of southern Brazil with a Tibetan Buddhist monk, a retired firefighter, who told me (we were swapping stories of how we became Buddhists) that he had tried three times to kill himself. I admitted my own attempts. “We’re in the most shameful club of all,” he said. “We are the ones who couldn’t even do that.” It’s true: people are furious with you if you succeed and contemptuous of you if you fail. 

“But your wife, your parents, your children!” we want to remind the would-be suicide. Here’s the darkest paradox of that dark night of the soul: it is precisely the suicide’s willingness to sacrifice his family’s happiness that serves, in his mind, as further evidence that he’s the kind of person who, in the long run, will only harm the people he loves by sticking around. This sounds like the most contemptible form of self-pity. But we can’t reproach the suicidally depressed for feeling too sorry for themselves: that is symptomatic of a mind no longer able to bear its own existence. “Yes, I feel too sorry for myself,” the suicide will happily admit, “so sorry for myself that I can’t take it anymore.” You can drown in self-pity, but knowing that self-pity is morally blameworthy doesn’t make things better, it makes them worse.

What is to be done? I began this little inquiry by mentioning the silly, self-righteous complaints people have been making about Vice’s photo essay depicting artist-suicides. “Exploitation!” “Sensationalism!” It’s an unfortunate, hypocritical fuss in a culture that both glamorizes the act and expresses moral outrage over it. (If you want to see some sensible comments about the shoot, look at what Joyce Carol Oates has to say, here.) Being unable to talk about suicide openly, even when a fashion spread in a popular magazine is what provokes the conversation, is genuinely damaging. I was dismayed when Vice’s editors decided to take the photos off their website, because they had initiated a lively and mostly interesting (if not always well informed) discussion. 

I remember when, at about age fifteen, I finally mustered the courage to tell my father about my desire to kill myself. I could talk to him about anything: he was one of those New Agey crying dads who erred on the side of embarrassing his kids by speaking his mind. But when I brought up suicide, he replied, “Son, don’t even say those words.” I have three daughters, and I now understand how he must have felt. But I still believe open discussion is critical. Suicide is on the rise in America: more Americans die by suicide than in car accidents, and suicide by gun is almost twice as common as homicide by gun. (It’s hard to know how to feel about that last statistic.) Middle-aged men in America are committing suicide at an accelerating rate. When I was in treatment for depression, I found that meeting and talking to other people about suicide was profoundly helpful; I saw what a loss it would have been had those people succeeded.

A friend once said to me, “Suicide leaves behind nothing but miserable people blaming themselves.” My psychiatrist, a wise eighty-seven-year-old woman who has been practicing six days a week for more than forty years, told me, “Think of the example it sets. For your children.” That remains the most compelling argument I’ve heard against suicide: it sets an example — for one’s children, of course, but for others too. It isn’t that we want people to “tough it out.” It isn’t that we think the suicide has acted out of moral weakness. It’s that, when we look at the people we knew who committed suicide, they were often the very people we most appreciated having around. We need more of those people, not fewer. The bad weather of depression can and does change. The argument for awaiting such a change presupposes that life is worth living for its own sake, which I think is the deeper point Camus was trying to make. As far as we know, life is the only game in town. 

Single Page

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  • EKSwitaj

    There are a lot of good points about the subject of suicide in this piece. Unfortunately, the discussion of the Vice piece shows no real engagement with (or, frankly, understanding of) the criticism of it. Talking about controversial representations of women writers without talking about gender is obviously a problem, but what may be an even more fundamental issue is that the author fails to see that discussing how suicide should or should not be represented is in fact a way of talking about suicide, even when those statements are critical of a particular representation. Oversimplifying such criticism and dismissing it as silly actually goes against the kind of open conversations the author wishes to advocate.

    • SRR126

      Actually the author is fine here – ‘talking about talking about…’ is stupid.

  • pythagosaurus

    Please let me know if there’s another exception in the animal kingdom, but I believe humans are superior in their capacity for self-destruction. I’d guess it’s part and parcel with self-consciousness, the ego and such. I “play” with thoughts of suicide, only as a game to inspire other paths of thought. I’ve seen enough walking shells of drug-fried minds to include some addictions as slow suicide. I appreciate any writer who wants to add to the discussion and keep the door open. Luckily for the human race, most folk never smell life’s futility (Ecclesiastes-all is vanity), and are satisfied with play and pleasant- enough to keep going.

    • Frankthebank

      I don’t know, I’ve never seen humans mindlessly throw themselves off cliffs in mass numbers like… LEMMINGS.

      • Charles Cosimano

        The Somme.

      • Janthonyz

        That was a hoax, I hope you know.

  • no name

    pythagosaurus wrote, “Luckily for the human race, most folk never smell life’s futility….” This well expresses exactly the isolation of the depressed person. I have long felt that there is little point to talking about depression, especially the depression I experience, with people who have not experienced depression themselves and so cannot understand it. When the depressed person is feeling particularly down on her/himself, there is often no one around to turn to. Understandably, the sadness and isolation can become unbearable to some. And even if the worst of the depression temporarily passes, the very real sense of isolation does not.

    • Frankthebank

      And when you do try to talk to someone, it doesn’t help when most people hold the attitude of “get over it” like you can just flip a switch and be happy. My parents hold this attitude, which is why I never talk to them about anything in my life. But then who else do you talk to? My best friend, who has three kids but one diagnosed with epilepsy, and has been laid off twice in the last three years? “Sorry you feel down, bro, but I’ve got worries of my own.” I also think on the whole people would rather avoid these uncomfortable conversations with the depressed. But if that is so, where is one to turn without paying for bloody therapy?

  • Better IntheShade

    While I appreciate the need to address this topic and discuss it regardless of the public’s distaste, I don’t really think that Vice’s take offered anything beyond a pseudo-controversial photoshoot which attempted to use the suicide of real women to mask the banality of yet another group of attractive models selling clothes. The depiction of these suicides was for commercial reasons, not to say something profound about suicide, and was an unnecessary affront to the relatives of these women left alive, of which there are many.

    • elizabeth

      i completely agree.

  • Roman Joseph Totale

    M.C. Martin has to get Vice’s back since they’ve been crucial backers in backing his play — getting over from the KC academe into the demimonde of the dirty realist pensee, hell even getting his dry nuptial “Cool Memories” jaunt to Vegas out on the page, granted with his bride on by-line. But it’s fair play IMHO, and nothing to detract from his welcome presence on the web, I genuinely enjoy reading him.

  • Sarah L.

    Thank you, Mr. Martin. I may not be an intellectual, well-educated, well-off, well-spoken individual, but I am a human being. I do not wish to argue with the article, nor do I wish to defend it against those who may find it worth arguing against. I simply appreciate it as a human being, as someone who has struggled with their own demons. As cliche as it sounds, this was a little ray of hope for me, a reason to feel a little less alone, and a reason to have hope for myself and others like me. On a strictly emotional level, and completely self-conscious of my age, ability to write, and level of education, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    • charlesjshields

      Don’t go, Sarah, you’re needed here.

    • Anon

      No need to feel self-conscious of or apologetic for anything at all. You are as legitimate as the next person to occupy a small space in this world. The fact that people respond to your post tells you you’re connected to some other souls … Please keep carrying on.

  • Cate

    ” … does it make sense to say that I have the right to life if I don’t have the right to end it when and as I choose?” Actually, yes, I think it does make sense. You have a right to not have your life taken from you by someone else. That doesn’t mean you own your life, that it is entirely yours. A family member committed suicide two months ago, and when he did, he didn’t just take from himself; he stole from the people who loved him.

    • Jordan O’Brien

      Then those who loved him (including you) are being selfish by not understanding the obvious pain that led to such an act. Your loss in unfortunate, but I’m sure the victim’s pain was even worse, and that’s the part most people will never understand.

  • C_Before_E

    I have a theory that the first gradual and now radical shift to Digital/Mobile World has left a lot of human wreckage in its wake. In a time that has little use for middle-aged people who are not plugged-in digital whiz kids, some are getting a message — they are not wanted. Be kind to your loved ones, my friends, even if they are no longer cutting-edge….

  • marcus reilly

    beautiful and thoughtful exposition

  • InvitedGuest

    As a double suicide survivor (a parent and years later a best friend) I wish more talk of suicide would revolve around the fact that it is a direct derivative of mental illness.

    We make the connection that certain avoidable behaviors cause certain diseases and death (smoking/lung cancer; obesity/heart disease). But too often mental illness is disconnected from suicide. The knee jerk reaction is to blame the victim (“selfish act”), or to romanticize it as a form of expression.

    The fault lies in a society that chooses to remain ignorant and objectively fails to heed the death and disability that is owed to mental illness, or to do anything about it.

    Btw, the reason that guns cause so many suicides is because guns are so incredibly effect at causing death, compared to other ways of committing. I mean, hell yes!! It is the gun that is dangerous, not the gun owner……..and its effectiveness in suicide proves that point.

    • GM52246

      Co-sign. Depression and bipolar are hugely *biological* diseases. They’re caused by not having enough seratonin, or having a weird seratonin uptake system, or having an imbalance of the proper chemicals. Life experiences can *trigger, exacerbate, and influence* the disease, but it starts with biology. It’s like diabetes, except worse, because people’s brains don’t keep telling them to not take their insulin, or cause them to think they’re worthless just because they have diabetes.

    • Zaotar

      The societies with the highest rates of suicide (Korea being at the top of the list) have almost no guns. If you *genuinely* want to kill yourself, it is incredibly easy for any able-bodied person to do. Guns are irrelevant.

      But besides that point, this was a very interesting article, on a heartbreaking subject.

      • EC

        In 2006, after years of suicides among young men in the Israel Defense Forces, authorities forbade the troops from bringing their rifles home on weekends. Suicides dropped by 40 percent, according to a 2010 study by psychiatrists with the IDF and the Sheba Medical Center.

        Those attempting suicide for the most part act on impulse, often after surprisingly brief periods of deliberation. But the impulse also passes. A survey of people who deliberated about killing themselves but did not act found that for about half, the suicidal period lasted less than an hour, according to Miller.

        Among people who made near-lethal attempts, 24 percent took less than five minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt. Seventy percent took less than an hour, according to a 2001 University of Houston study of 153 survivors.

        Although people who attempt suicide often suffer from psychological distress, Miller said, they don’t act until a “last straw” — a loss, a humiliation, an arrest.

        “That’s the time when you can lose control of your ability to act in a sensible way,” he said. “When you are at your wits’ end, what you can reach for determines whether you live or die. All you have to do to die is lose control for one minute.

        “If you’re in a house with a gun, there’s a lot more of a chance you’re going to die,” he said.

        Living in a home with a gun increases the suicide death risk two- to 10-fold, Miller said.

        [Excerpt from “Experts: Reducing Suicides Means Gun Restrictions,”, Stars and Stripes, December 04, 2012, Reducing Suicides Means Gun Restrictions]

  • Vlad Tepes

    “The bad weather of depression can and does change.”

    Maybe it changes for a few days and maybe a null existence fills the time between “depression” and those few happy days, but I don’t think the bad weather necessarily changes. (14+ years …)

  • jansand

    As someone who has thought about suicide periodically over a long life I have always been persuaded by the alternatives and found them worth investigating. We are each individuals and have individual values so to generalize about something like this is not sensible. If life becomes totally bleak such as in a painful terminal disease suicide would seem to me to be quite reasonable. No one owes anyone else happiness when that involves prolonged misery of one’s self. If you live long enough you get used to the inevitable misery of losing people you treasure and I have lived long enough to accept that. Death is inevitable anyway and if life holds absolutely no attraction one might as well die. But one must always keep in mind that there might be other possibilities. As in the famous Dorothy Parker poem, consideration of how repulsive the transition might be might deter one from accepting that final choice.

    • zaotar

      I would suggest that your minor children are indeed owed happiness even if it comes at the expense of your prolonged misery.

      Now if your prolonged misery isn’t genuinely making them happy (as is often the case with a terrible marriage), that’s a different story. And once they grow up, they have to stand on their own. But it simply isn’t true that your personal happiness inherently trumps the claims of everybody around you. You don’t get to leave your children impoverished and anguished just because you are deeply unhappy. To do so makes you an asshole. The fact that you are suffering greatly doesn’t change that.

      • jansand

        You cannot easily generalize about that. The situation depends greatly upon individual circumstances and personality. A highly disturbed and perhaps violent personality is certainly no gift to a child and one suffering greatly and requiring huge services merely to maintain life is a terrible burden on everyone concerned. Not everyone is particularly useful nor beloved and it certainly is a relief when they have finally gone for good. To believe that it is wonderful or even useful to have a nasty tempered miserable person continually demanding attention and services from people unable to fulfill them is a huge mistake. And if that intolerable person wants intensely to be out of incurable misery then it probably is better if that is taken care of.

        • EC

          Didn’t you read the first line? “Now if your prolonged misery isn’t genuinely making them happy….”

  • Al_de_Baran

    ” ‘[E]very suicide’s an asshole,’ wrote Mary Karr, in a poem about Wallace’s death.”

    This statement is ignorant and contemptible in many ways, but what puzzles me is why the author dignifies it by calling it part of a “poem”.

    • DorothyP

      He made sure his wife found his body. Sounds like an asshole to me. Karr’s a prickly writer, and she knew Wallace well. Her poetry might not be to your taste, but she’s hardly ignorant.

      • Al_de_Baran

        It’s the generalization (“every”) that I object to and find ignorant, not necessarily the particular case.

        I am certainly not going to argue matters of taste, but vulgar lines of prose should not be confused with poetry, even by today’s low (non-existent?) standards.

        • 1234

          “…And forgive my conviction
          that every suicide’s an asshole. There is a good reason I am not
          God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.
          I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite
          your best efforts you are every second
          alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in…”

          • 1234

            You’re criticizing a line from a poem by calling it vulgar prose, but–be honest–did you take a moment to read the entire poem? If you don’t think you need to read the whole poem to understand what is poetic about it, then you don’t know a thing about poetry.

  • Jefferson

    The moment I heard the verse, I somehow could not help but memorize it; from Joni Mitchell’s “Song for Sharon:”

    A woman I knew just drowned herself
    The well was deep and muddy
    She was just shaking off futility
    Or punishing somebody
    My friends were calling up all day yesterday
    All emotions and abstractions
    It seems we all live so close to that line
    And so far from satisfaction

  • ip3

    There are the classic suicides, the slow suicides (addicts) and the walking dead (your typical pasted-on smile, debt-ridden, hopeless, middle-class worker zombie)

    Life, it seems, is in short supply.

  • Ben Bochner

    What if Sisyphus symbolizes that stuff the we must do, without knowing why? Why does our heart keep beating? Why does the sun keep shining? Why do 2 hydrogen atoms bond with one oxygen atom? Perhaps there is a joy in this slavery. Perhaps the stars smile as they exhaust themselves. Perhaps life itself is the rock being rolled uphill, one excruciating step at a time? Listen to the work songs of a chain gang and you will hear the music of the universe.

  • Ben Bochner

    What if Sisyphus symbolizes the stuff we must do, without knowing why? Why do our hearts keep beating? Why does the sun keep shining? Why do 2 hydrogen atoms bond with one oxygen atom? Perhaps there is joy in this slavery. Perhaps the stars smile as they exhaust themselves. Perhaps life itself is the rock being rolled uphill, one excruciating step at a time. Listen to the work songs of a chain gang and you will hear the music of the universe.

  • Martho

    Thank you mister Martin for this article, I found the ending paragraph beautifully and very skillfully written. It’s clear that it comes from both somebody ‘from the trenches’, so to speak, and also evinces a clear, sincere finger that points in lighter directions

  • rameshraghuvanshi

    When you suicide you are closing all future possibility of your life.Most suicide occurred to revenge to love one,give suffering to her or he.I think psyche of Western people are pessimist ,so there are more suicide in western world.Japans suicide mostly on honor,Hindu religion condemned suicide.they think suicide is cowardly deed ,those who cannot face reality they want to run away from life.True courage is live any condition,even you cannot find out ultimate truth till love the life wholeheartedly ,and only die natural death

  • Archies_Boy

    As far as I’m concerned, suicide is a reasonable choice for people with terminal illness and excruciating pain. To force such a person to go on living just to have them around a little while longer is pure thoughtless selfishness. Let there be “Death With Dignity” laws established throughout the country. Let loved ones in agony be relieved of it by their own will and their own hand, and let those who love them say a loving goodbye and appreciate that their sufferings are over.

  • CarlosM

    “Camus’s conclusion — that the very meaninglessness of life ought to provoke us into a kind of mulish defiance toward the rationality of death — is not entirely satisfying. ”

    Isn’t Camus’ point against suicide is that if life is meaningless, killing oneself is just as (or perhaps more) meaningless?

    Sisyphus is happy because he wishes to push the rock, negating the punishment.

    My 2 cents.

  • crayonita

    Yes! Beautiful article. I suspect our well-intentioned ‘take suicide seriously’ campaign has had the unexpected effect of stigmatizing the sorts of feelings that a great many have. I really think, as someone who has been there and now couldn’t be further from that desire, that it would have been a benefit to me to hear that these feeling are common and that they pass. I wish I had heard ‘Get help but feel no shame. Get guidance, learn to navigate the dark corners, keep your eyes peeled for purpose. It’ll come, kid. I’ve been there.’ But of course I was more likely to hear, “Don’t say that. I’ll take you to a mental hospital.” Please more public discourse. Please.

  • The Wet One

    I’ve always said it’s a good day to die. I don’t say it much anymore these days, but I think it’s still true.

  • MidwestMet

    It has been a long time since I considered taking my own life. The last serious thought I gave to it was 1998, but through counseling, I was able to get through it. I cannot say that my life is far better now – in many respects I am in the same rut I was in back in 1998, in some respects (financially) probably worse off. But while I do often think, “How can I go on for another 30 years or more like this?” I think of suicide far less.

    I have only one person that matters to me – my sister. Although I only see her about twice a year, we email/IM every day, and talk on the phone weekly. The thought that I would leave her behind, to deal with punches that life throws at you by herself, is an outcome that I cannot accept. I am 12 years older than her, and barring an accident, I will pass before she does, and that alone is unnerving to me. I tried my best to protect her from our overbearing parents, through career setbacks, and even helped her with the rent from time to time, even though that put me deeper in debt.

    Many years ago, when she was going through a tough time, and thought of suicide, I was not surprised. The two of us, plus our older brother, did not have the best domestic situation growing up. I did not try to shame her, or say, “How could you do this to me?” Instead, I told her what was probably the most useful bit of advice I got through therapy – that no matter how awful the pain you are going through, no matter how terrible the times, it will pass. Just as all good things must come to an end, so does pain.

    As others have stated, for those people who are debilitated by disease, and kept alive only with machines and painkillers, suicide should be an option. But if you are in reasonably good health, but are still going through some tough times, talk to someone. You have no idea that there is someone out there, that you may not even be thinking about, to whom you matter more than you can imagine.

  • Peggy

    As a terrific procrastinator who suffered from suicidal depression in my youth, I can testify (at 65) that this is an instance when putting something off until tomorrow that you’d planned to do today is a really good choice. Lassitude generally has a bad reputation, but if you’re depressed, bring it on.

  • Charles Cosimano

    The important thing to remember about suicide is the absolute irrelevance of the opinions of others at the moment of the act, and after it.

  • sirlarfalot

    This is so relevant an article and readers’ comments add real substance. Their generosity here with their contributions is of great value. A good reason to LIVE. My feeling is that it would be so beneficial if it was published with comments, in all directions, to a world wide audience.

    I appreciate you Clancy Martin and everyone single one of you who shared your thoughts here. Thank you.

  • wgoetsch

    Most commentators here seem to be relatively young, and some at times have admittedly been mentally unbalanced. I am old now (an old picture from better days to the left) and kind of falling apart physically, I can hardly breath; and am not having a lot of fun after a long and fulfilling life. This seems to me a different case than those brought up here. I think about it sometimes. But I don’t think I could do it. I am still optimistic long after optimism is objectively warranted; maybe I can still eke out some pleasure through reading, but winter is depressing. This feeling against suicide just seems built-in, perhaps genetic, or cultural from the Midwest. When I was young suicides were despised and that follows me still. Yet rationally I can see nothing against it. But I’m afraid I’ll have to go out the long, slow and natural way, and I’m not looking forward to it.

  • Voice in the wilderness

    My comment will likely be dismissed or explained away by others, but I hope some who read it will hear what I have to say. Articles like this one all too often are way too dismissive of the pain that some of us live with every day. If I hear one more person tell me how “selfish” suicide is, I swear I will shoot myself tonight and be done with it. Like the awful quote in the article, “Suicide leaves behind nothing but miserable people blaming themselves.”, it suggests that those who suffer–yes, SUFFER, from suicidal depression–should just go on suffering so we don’t disturb the lives of those around us.

    My life has been colored by suicide from an early age–I’ve lost two family members, several friends, and I’ve been down to the hospital twice myself after failed attempts. I have been hospitalized about ten times for my condition. I live with suicidal ideation every single day of my life. It is like a window on the wall, sometimes I see the window across the room, some days I look out of the window, some days I lean out, some days I (try to) jump out. I have been on all sorts of psychotic drugs since I was a young teenager. Now in my 40s, I am acutely aware every fall that I may not make it through another winter. Medication, therapy, psychiatry, etc, provides some respite, but no real relief for people like me. Depression of the sort that I live with not only drains me of life, it is physically debilitating and–as that old tv commercial says–it is sometimes outright physically painful.

    Here is what is TRULY SELFISH: telling someone like me to suck it up and keep going. On my worst days I get the rope from the closet and throw it up over a beam in the garage (having failed twice before is an actual disincentive. Nothing sucks then waking up after a failed an attempt and having to pretend you still want to soldier on. On an average day I just have to keep away from the edge of the platform and NOT jump in front of the trains whizzing by. On my best days I don’t actively think about all the chances I have to kill myself during the day, but just wish I could simply die accidentally–MY baseline normal is a wish not to live. I cannot explain how difficult it is to ever be planful or goal oriented when I have to live like this every day, and put on a brave face for those around me. It is unbelievably tiring to have to do that, be “on” for others all of the time.

    I did not choose this for myself, who would? The saddest part is I am one of the smartest, kindest, and funniest people you would ever meet. Yet mental illness has completely derailed my life. No amount of medication will ever “fix” me. I know how I will die. I just don’t know when.

    I’m sorry if this part of the truth is uncomfortable for others, but it is a reality that many of us face (though my opinion and my story is mine alone). When I die, I hope people will be glad that I do not have to suffer and struggle anymore, that I can finally rest. In peace.

  • BA

    “Think of the example it sets” … oh man, that’s the same thing my therapist said to me when I brought up suicide. They must learn that little line in grad school, because it certainly works better than telling someone it’s selfish or that it won’t solve your problems. There have been times when I thought I was better off not living, but I still loved the children in my family (nieces and nephews) enough to think about how it would affect them.

  • bill

    Hi I think suicide is reasonable im 36 done six years jail have been bashed to the point of ressusitation hit beaten torn alcoholism drug abuse clean now. Pumped full of anti depressants want employment but
    not able to get help because sickness allowance so no government help prodded and guinea pigged by pshycs and councellors left to fester in the wounds opened post tramatic stress disorder no friends because of my depression loss my car and a business I was running. Left by myself to reflect. I see my new worth and place in society. It is my problem.

  • dawn

    Like your step brother, my stepson flew out a window of a tall building in Paris; my mentally-impaired sister threw herself out a window of her senior home and survived her suicidal attempt. She now communicates better with people, despites her mental problem. Although I do not believe we can prevent suicide in most cases, we may be able to make an impact on others with our uniqueness of language, or thought, as Wittgenstein wrote, although he also believed this to be “a superstition (not a mistake).”
    Even if this were a mistake, I still go on trying to give my sister the feeling of uiniqueness, whether it comes from language or the heart.

  • KevinKelly

    I’m not a fan of impulsive suicide based on the usually mistaken idea that one’s suffering will never end. Rather I’m a huge fan of a planned suicide in the context if intractable suffering while one still has the mental and physical ability to execute it (pardon the expression) without leaving a mess for others to clean up. Most people wait too long and slip into a situation where they don’t have the means or the ability to end their life. I say we should begin with the end in mind (and very few seem to) with questions like “what do I want to happen to my body?” How do I want to die?” Where do I want to die? “At what point in my life would dying make more sense than continuing to live?” How do I facilitate my death in a way that does not injure others?” these questions should be asked and answered long before the need arises. It amazes me that so few people are even willing to discuss these questions.



September 2015

Weed Whackers

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Tremendous Machine

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A Goose in a Dress

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The Genealogy of Orals

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Romancing Kano·

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I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.


Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

The Prisoner of Sex·

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“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Gangs of Karachi·

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“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Weed Whackers·

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“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
The Neoliberal Arts·

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“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:


An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

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Subways Are for Sleeping


“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

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