Setting my face against the cold late August wind,
that swept away from January, to cool the summer’s end,
I pulled my coat around my neck and brought my hat down low,
Then on I trudged, against the gust that chills my spirit so.
When someone is considering suicide, they’re treated as if they’re sick, or physically ailing in some way. There must be an imbalance in their brain chemistry. If only certain drugs might be administered in time, or maybe therapy and life coaching, tragedy might be avoided…or so it’s generally thought.
Among the more conservative element of society, the suicidal person is treated with less pampering; conservatives are far more hostile. It’s almost an insult to desire death; the suicidal man, in this sort of society, is treated with scorn, disdain, or comments of the following sort: “Go ahead. If you don’t want to be here, we sure as hell don’t want you here.” Many of these same also claim the title “Christian” and are quick to inform anyone who still listens, that suicide is the only unforgivable sin. In accordance with Bible-Belt religious tradition, the scoundrel has committed murder against himself and, as such, is unable to beg forgiveness in life, and must face judgment without evidence of a penitent spirit.
I can speak authoritatively about all this, because I’ve been considering suicide for some number of years (especially after ending my military enlistment).
I thought at first my brain needed healing, so I found ways to re-balance my chatecholamine receptors through the strategic use of herbs, vitamins, and amino acids; the results were exactly as promised. Within minutes of taking my first concoction, the depression seeped away.
But this wasn’t a lasting solution. I still wrestled with a major issue, namely: life seems ultimately meaningless, without purpose, and devoid of any discernible direction. And the more I studied philosophy, the more I realized the entire western world reflected (in some manner or other) my personal struggle.
Might one still desire suicide, who is in perfect mental health? Might it still be desirable for rational reasons? Why exactly should one go on living?
I’m not the first to face these sorts of questions. Dostoyevski realized that very few men are intelligent enough to realize the question is there to be asked. When I read about this opinion of his, I had a momentary spike of pride in myself for being one of the lucky few who managed to stumble into this “enlightened” state, although, after thinking on it more, I realize I might be very unlucky.
The average man is content to live life without ever asking the major, existential question: “Why?” He’s perfectly happy living day to day, and this, as it might turn out, is the blissful normativity that all humanity must seek.
Western philosophy has taken two paths since Immanuel Kant – the one path says all reality is a flux of unrelated material. “Matter in motion”. This “sea” of elements is taken in by our minds, arranged, and presented to our first-person selves in a coherent picture. Our minds create the reality we experience, this path says. The other path says the world out there is, as we see it (more or less) and that it’s arranged that way by God.
On the one path there is a “void” or, the uninterpreted sea of matter in motion onto which our mind has to impose a meaning. The ultimate question “Why?” is answered with a resounding “no reason” or “you must make your own reason”.
I, of course, take the other path, the one that says God has created the order we experience. But so many people leave off at this point. How is positing “God” an answer to the question “why”?
For a man desperately looking for the an answer to this, looking to Scripture isn’t immediately helpful. In fact, it is very discouraging sometimes. The Bible answers this question directly:
Meaningless, meaningless! says the teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless…What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
I have read Ecclesiastes over and over, trying to figure out the meaning (ironic, I know). But in the end, I just can’t seem to figure it out. Dostoyevski’s work is the same way. He gives the impression that he’s solved the question, and I believe he very well may have, for all the good it does me.
Dostoyevski’s view of life (in my opinion) is like trying to reason through some poem by T.S. Eliot, or Donald Davidson (or any of the other esoteric poets). You know there has to be some deep meaning in it, but you can’t figure it out for the life of you, there’s no enjoyment in it, and you know that the majority of those around you who, while reading it, laugh knowingly as if they’ve gotten the joke, but are really just pretending; they have no clue what it’s about any more than you do, they’re just not honest enough to admit it.
A the end of ‘Brothers Karamazov’ Mitya, one of the brothers accused of murder and sentenced to life in Siberia, was arrested. Before he was captured, he had planned on killing himself; the love of his life didn’t return his feelings (so he thought at the time) which caused him to engage in dishonorable conduct. All this was too much for him, and so he was going to shoot himself with his prized dueling pistol. But while in prison, he learned that his feelings were requited; and on top of this news, he gained some new sense of life. Dostoyevski puts in his mouth a long line of reasoning about why it would be worth living, just for the sake of living – just for the sake of seeing the sun shine.
But I just didn’t get it. It was like reading an esoteric modern poem.
Add to this Solomon’s assurance that there is no meaning at all in life, and there seems no reason to carry on. With God there’s no meaning (the Bible says it) and without Him, there’s certainly no meaning – where are we then?
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?
I think last night, I finally realized what this means.
My best friend and I were smoking cigars, and looking out over the dismal swamp, watching the snapping turtles and storks. I told him I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve never fit in. In highschool, I couldn’t hang out with the country boys, because I didn’t live far enough into the country. I couldn’t hang out with the city boys, because I didn’t live close enough to the city. As a photographer in the military, I was constantly posted to jobs that required me to do things other than photography so, unlike the other guys, who were able to confidently compete in their chosen field, I was always playing catchup, learning new skills on the job, and being an outcast. And once I discovered the true nature of America, I realized how much of an outcast I truly am – no one wants an antique European these days.
We’re the only group of people encouraged to kill ourselves. “Just crawl off and die”, we’re told. “There’s nothing here for you; no woman will ever want you; no business will ever hire you; no church will ever admit you into the membership; no circle of friends will ever embrace you!”
Well, with all due respect, you Satanists – you don’t know who the hell you’re talking to.
Even if everything they say were true, I’d still oppose them. But why? Why muster all that exhausting emotional fortitude? It’s all meaningless, after all.
I think that verse in Ecclesiastes is saying that satisfaction in our labor, and the small, “menial” pleasures we find in life, are all we have to live for. Family, friends, and satisfying labor. And not, mind you, labor for the purposes of completing something – Solomon says that’s meaningless as well. No matter what you do with your labor, no matter what is built, it’s all fleeting, passing, and meaningless. No – labor, for labor’s sake. Labor for the sheer thrill of it.
Does all this make me a hedonist then? A hedonist willing to fight for the small pleasures?
I guess so – they’re the only things worth fighting for. Everything else is meaningless.