September 16, 2014

Suicide & The Future Self: Philosophical musings on the nature of suicide and why we should stay

[Content Warning]  This post, if you can't tell from the headline, will be dealing with the topic of suicide. This topic can be triggering for folks with a suicidal ideation. It does deal with my thoughts on how to overcome...but those thoughts necessitate discussion of the topic itself.

I recently finished up Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by Jennifer Michael Hecht. All I can say is WOW. If you haven't read it, definitely do--it's an amazing look at suicide as a whole and why it is never the right choice.

One of the points raised about suicide is this:

Suicide should be eschewed because you are valuable to your community.

That is a paraphrasing, but an accurate one. You can tell me how accurate after you read the book. :)

So I started musing on that point. Suicide is immoral because of the community and our commitment to it. As an American, with all of the fierce individualism that that entails, I have to wonder how strong an argument that really is.

How do community rights trump individual rights?

My thought process was this:

  1. I own my body. It is mine.
  2. What I own I can dispose of in ways that I see fit.
  3. Because I own my body, and because I can dispose of what I own as I choose, I can choose to end my life.

This doesn't seem productive. It seems the antithesis of arguing against suicide. In fact, I've come the conclusion, through this reasoning, that suicide is okay.

Now, you may have noticed that this is incredibly simplified--and I agree. I plan on doing a follow up post looking at that *second* point in more detail later on, in a way that will actually justify the point above, versus this post's point of offering another way to look at it.

But let's carry on. So I also looked for other instances where I would agree with community preceding individual as a matter of course.

My basic presumption is this:

The rights of the community do not trump the rights of the individual.

 I agree with this, superficially. It's an oversimplification, but not a totally inaccurate one.

And it's true for most things--the community can't tell me what to eat or wear or say. If I want to eat bacon every meal every day until I die in bacon-saturated euphoria, the community can't tell me not to. If I want to go out in shorts and a tank top in freezing whether, the community can't tell me not to. The community cannot force me to see a doctor or accept medical treatment for cancer or heart disease or diabetes. These are my rights and actions and choices, based on the concept of autonomy in my own life.

So that begged the question: Are human beings truly reducible to their value to others and nothing else?

No. No one owns you but yourself, and your primary commitment should be to yourself. Respecting yourself is, in my opinion, the foundation of all moral decision-making, because that respect, that understanding, is what allows us to truly transcend and extend that respect to those around us.

So only you own yourself. We are back at that point.

But you exist at all times--past, present, and future--all at once. All of those identities are within you, right now, currently.

Your past self you owe nothing to but remembering. The past is over and done, and all you can do, all you owe to that self, is your dedication to remembering what you have been through, experienced, and learned.

Your present self, in this scenario, faces trouble and sadness and thus is confused. This self is not making clear decisions because they are facing so much turmoil in that moment.

Your future self, however, is still undecided. That self is not committed to this course of action. That self represents the full potential that you possess, all of the decisions and timelines and meaning that you have in you, compromised in that future self.

What now seems unbearable may tomorrow be ended and that future self may exist in a world free of this pain.

What your  present self would do would deprive that future self of that potential, of that future.

Could that future also hold harm? Surely. It's entirely possible...and yet, is it truly more possible than that future that is free? I strongly doubt it.

What you end, then, is not a surety born of pain but a possibility compromised of unsettled alternatives, many of which are statistically likely to be positive.

It is that potential that is stolen, more than any other aspect, that renders suicide unconscionable. You can argue that it is the only aspect that gives suicide a moral absolute.

When we see a victim of a tragic and violent death, we say, "Such a waste. So much potential." The same thought process applies here--but the victim is your self, your future self.

It is wholly wrong to deprive that future self of the chance to see a certainty no longer rooted in the tumultuous musings of melancholy and chaos.

On those grounds, suicide, while it should be a choice left to the individual, should be one that we wholly reject at every turn.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please don't hesitate. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And please...please stay.

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