Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Hope, Change, and Suicide

Liberalism, as James Burnham observed 50 years ago, is "the ideology of Western suicide." And although Glenn Beck will never be our cuppatea or muggagrog, he is correct that we are speeding down the historical highway, oblivious to the washed out bridge up ahead.

Which got me to wondering: why do people commit suicide? And more to the point, is there any analogy between individual and collective suicide?

I have only one book on the subject, but I've never read it. I think I picked it up at a library book sale for a buck. It's by the Father of Suicidology, so it looks sound. Let's see if we can learn anything about why our cohorts are so bent on the destruction of western civilization.

Before cracking the book, here is what I know about suicide just based upon personal experience. Obviously it is related to depression, but what is depression? Clinical depression is often characterized by sadness, but more often it is marked by a pervasive sense of meaninglessness. The severely depressed person is devoid of meaning; or, to put it another way, his only meaning is relentless pain. But while it is a psychic pain, it is so intense that it is perceived as physical. Such a person may harbor ideas that he is riddled with cancer or suffering from some other fatal illness. Depression "feels" like death.

One of the most common features of depression is anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure, satisfaction, joy, or any other positive emotion. It is a kind of living hell, because in the absence of pleasure, the person literally doesn't know which way to turn. He can do this or he can do that, but it doesn't matter, so he ends up doing nothing. The doing of nothing is just an outward reflection of the inward nothingness.

The last severely depressed person I evaluated was completely anhedonic. Not only did he have no positive emotions, he didn't have any "negative" ones either. He just felt dead. While not actively suicidal, he didn't care if he died, and had passive wishes that death would simply "take him." It was as if he were pervaded by an absent-positive as opposed to a present-negative.

America is not a sad place. But it is an anhedonic place. To get a sense of this, one would have to "participate" in contemporary America, which the Raccoon refuses to do. When I say that America is anhedonic, imagine being strapped to a chair and being forced to watch its television, or listen to its contemporary music, or read its popular fiction. Any normal person would soon fall into despair and give up hope.

As it so happens, on Saturday I ran out of books. While I have several in the mail, the earliest they would arrive would be today, so that meant two days with no innertainment. Therefore, I did something I hadn't done in many years, which is to set foot in a bookstore. What a dreadful experience! It was the local Barnes & Noble, and it was about as uplifting as shopping for books in Soviet Moscow. The crap people read! It was like being in the cathedral of the Death Culture.

It did yield one important lesson for the boy, however. He's always hearing about how important it is to read, but it all depends on what you're reading. Like anything else, 95% is worthless at best.

Back to suicide. Shneidman makes the important point that suicide didn't exist before the mid 17th century, because it would have been impossible. What he means is that belief in the afterlife was universal, such that killing oneself wouldn't be the end of one's difficulties. Indeed, one might find oneself in even deeper in the soup: "It was simply not possible to extinguish oneself forever," because "the essence lived on."

This implies that only a secularized society can truly destroy itself, for "only those who believe that this life is the only life [can] commit suicide." Conversely, overtly suicidal Islamist movements and regimes aren't suicidal at all, because they are convinced they will be rewarded in the afterlife.

This puts an interesting twist on the "clash of civilizations," because we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back. In other words, Islamists fight with both this life and the next (as no doubt do most of our actual fighting men; it is just that they are led by the likes of the one-worldling Obama).

I wonder of we could have defeated the Soviet Union (or Nazi Germany) had it not been for the fact that they were unyielding this-worlders while we were still mostly both-worlders back then? Was the atheism of national and international socialism a kind of cultural suicide?

Conquest's Reflections of a Ravaged Century is the finest postmortem of the ideological wars of the 20th century I've ever read. What does he say about the subject?

Why does the revolutionary embrace revolution to begin with? It must be because he feels hopeless about the present but hopeful about the radical transformation he wishes to bring about. Hope and change are the lingua franca of every revolutionary, but they are always grounded in a hatred of the present. This is why they become even more hateful after the radical changes, because they never result in the hoped for utopia. Look at how much more transparently hateful Obama has become over the past eight years. It's all he has left.

Conquest cites the example of the celebrated Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who was asked in 1994 whether the Soviet... experiment had been worthwhile, or if he nursed any regrets in supporting it: "You didn't have the option. You see, either there was going to be a future or there wasn't going to be a future and this was the only thing that offered an acceptable future."

In other words, he was utterly hopeless about the world as it existed before the Revolution. The interviewer then asks about the millions of deaths due to famine, and Hobsie responds that even in hindsight, "the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing."

To put it in contemporary terms, if only the magical hope were justified, then all of this destructive change would have been worthwhile!

Indeed, if we continue our present course, someday an Obama supporter will be able to say: "true, we hastened the destruction of western civilization, but if only you could appreciate the magnificent vision of what we had hoped for, you would see that it was worth it!"

Returning to that interview, Hobsbawm is asked, "What it then comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?" Without hesitation he responds "Yes."

So, that's the mentality we're dealing with. I mean, this guy was in the upper echelons of the tenured.

The point is that the secular leftist doesn't have hope for an afterlife, but this hardly means that he lives in "reality." Rather, he just displaces the hope and ends up living in un-reality. Conquest talks about the "unreal assumptions" that drive such people, "a quite different set of motivations, based on a different political psychology."

This being the case, we fundamentally err if we simply project our own psychology into these people, and imagine they have the same motivations. We cannot do it vis-a-vis the left, just as Obama is delusional in doing it vis-a-vis Iran. Such rubes "assume that the light of their own parochial common sense is enough. And they frame policies based on illusions."

These are the same people, mind you, who never shut up about multiculturalism, but Obama treats Iran like the Harvard department of Middle Eastern Studies. He thinks he's dealing with Edward Said.

There are other reasons for suicide, but one can see how they tend to flow from an anti-Christian metaphysic. For example, some suicides occur "when an individual's ties to his community are too few or too tenuous." Being that man is trinitarian and relational right down to the ground, it makes sense that life might be perceived as not worth living outside conditions of intimately relational love.

Sheidman also speaks of a kind of suicide "deriving from excessive regulation of the individual, where the individual has no personal freedom and no hope." Think of Winston in 1984. Is life worth living in the absence of Christian freedom? "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor 3:17). Therefore, where there is no liberty, God cannot get his Word in edgewise. There is no space for the divine freedom. I can imagine feeling suicidal under such dreadful conditions.

Here's another interesting type, what he calls ageneratic suicide: it relates "to the individual's 'falling out' of the procession of generations; his losing (or abrogating) his sense of membership in the march of generations and, in this sense, in the human race itself."

This very much reminds me of the function of Tradition, and also of Chesterton's comment to the effect that we live in a democracy of the dead, or that our true community includes those who preceded us and those who will follow. The left obliterates this thread, thus the casual dismissal of dead white males and the callous destruction (and sale) of living black babies.

There is also aggressive suicide, AKA ultimate payback. I can't help thinking that Obama's anti-American aggression is of this nature.

Then there is the anhedonic suicide alluded to above, which Sheidman calls "apathetic suicide": it "results from a sense of worthlessness," "in a desire to manifest self-contempt, to reject oneself, to put oneself down.... One's life is seen as having a negative value..." It reminds me of this little exchange at Happy Acres:


maineman said...

You know, when you read Johnson's "Intellectuals" one of the patterns that stands out is the unholy trinity of narcissism, rage, and quite often self I destructiveness.

maineman said...

(er, self-destructiveness)

Or, from Esolen today: The man who sets himself against human nature will know no bounds to his hatred.

Van Harvey said...

"... It was the local Barnes & Noble, and it was about as uplifting as shopping for books in Soviet Moscow. The crap people read! It was like being in the cathedral of the Death Culture."

Oddly enough, this weekend I had a similar experience in ours. From the pierced and tattooed and pink haired staff, selling coffee, cakes & books with the same 'I'm cool, you can tell that by my distant frown, these are yummy, buy', to the books celebrating self and nothing, it had that feel of cultured death.

But you can find some green spots, hidden behind the tombstones, here and there.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, they still have a lot of the classics, but I wasn't looking for that. The Christianity/religion section was particularly pathetic.

julie said...

Wow - Just yesterday, we too stepped into our local B & N for the first time in months if not a year. The kids love it because they can play with the trains, and also there are sticker/ activity books. I haven't bought anything to read for pleasure there in years, though, as wandering through the aisles too often leads me to, well, anhedonia. I agree with Van, there are hidden spots of interest if you really want to search, but odds are anything a raccoon wants for spiritual edification will be absent, with extreme prejudice.

Gagdad Bob said...

It's not even a good place for Legos, because they charge list price.

What would I do without amazon?

julie said...

"You see, either there was going to be a future or there wasn't going to be a future and this was the only thing that offered an acceptable future."

We were watching Downfall last week, and the scenes where Magda Goebbels chose death - not only for herself, but in particular for all of her children - were probably the most horrific; her reason, of course, that "My children cannot grow up in a world without National Socialism."

julie said...

Re. the Legos, no kidding. Speaking of which, we just bought some for the boy in advance of Christmas, as there are some pretty good deals right now. Talk about an expensive habit!

Leslie said...

Julie, I have buckets and buckets of Legos taking up closet space...I wish I could send them to you. The B&N closest to us closed up shop this year. I see it coming for all bookstores.

julie said...


Thanks, Leslie - I appreciate the sentiment. In truth, there are days when it already feels like we have too much (though notably, to a five-year-old it is strictly impossible to have too many Legos), and I know that many doting family members will be adding to the collection. They can't help themselves. Perhaps some day we will sell them by the bucketful on Ebay...

Gagdad Bob said...

Hanson has a similar diagnosis:

"In the case of modern America, Britain, and Europe, the sheer material bounty spawned by free-market capitalism and legally protected private property, combined with the freedom of the individual, creates a sort of ennui. Boredom is the logical result of that lethal mix of affluence and leisure. It is not just that Westerners forget who gave them their bounty, but they tend to damn anonymous ancestors who worked so hard, but without a modern sense of taste and politically correct deference."

Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "The Christianity/religion section was particularly pathetic."

Yeah, ours had always been poor there, but it used to have a nifty and unique aisle, Philosophy & Math/Science, down one side, and up the other it had Poetry & Mythology/Stage. Sometimes it was fun just to stand there and take in the titles and people watch the odd mix of people trying to keep the others behind them.

They fixed that about two months ago though, halved their stock and sent them to the for corners of the store. Slashed their SciFi/Fantasy too. It's kinda depressing now, but I suppose I still go and hang out as a ghost would haunt an old haunt.

Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of contemporary fiction I'll never read, a misanthropic genius chronicler of human insignificance.

julie said...

Speaking of depression and anhedonia, too. They should package the title with a selection of razor blades and instructions for taking one final bath. At least, I assume it's depressing because if her stories had a note of good humor or even an appreciation for the absurd, it would not be misanthropic, nor a chronicle of human insignificance.

I bet she's fun at parties.

julie said...

The really sad thing, though, is that if she stands out in the realm of short fiction for writing misanthropic stories, she must write at the absolute nadir of hopelessness, because there is a lot of competition. I can't even remember the last time I picked up an anthology of short stories (as found at, say, Barnes & Noble) and found anything good, decent, hopeful or uplifting.

dicentra63 said...

Boredom is the logical result of that lethal mix of affluence and leisure.

When astronauts spend any length of time in null gravity they begin to lose muscle and bone mass. Without the constant pull of gravity on the body, it stops wasting energy reinforcing bones or strengthening muscles.

They can exercise all they want or take calcium supplements or hook up those electronic stimulators to keep their muscles twitching but the bone and muscle mass will be lost.

Individuals in a prosperous society might be able to maintain some degree of fortitude but society as a whole absolutely will not.

Sorry, but there it is.

Gagdad Bob said...

Must be why they never stop making up phony struggles like black lives matter, feminism, and transgenderism.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"America is not a sad place. But it is an anhedonic place. To get a sense of this, one would have to "participate" in contemporary America, which the Raccoon refuses to do. When I say that America is anhedonic, imagine being strapped to a chair and being forced to watch its television, or listen to its contemporary music, or read its popular fiction. Any normal person would soon fall into despair and give up hope."

Aye, it is no wonder that so many people seem bored to death. At least that's the sense I get when I read comments elsewhere sometimes, and that's even at conservative blogs. There are so many worthwhile things one can do, but the things that are "popular" or the "in" thing are not it. It all lacks God, hope, meaningfulness, purpose, virtue, goodness, etc., etc.. So of course a Fodless culture leads to the road of nihilism and boredom.

Never before have we had the technology to search out truth so easily, and yet most people seek illusion or distractions, and wonder why they can't feel a passion for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Or, indeed, to feel much of anything. I reckon a lot of blame falls on public indoctrination, and the propensity to eschew the tried and true wisdom of past generations of wise guys.

If the "freedom" of Godlessness leads to this kind of walking deadness one would think that the freedom of atheism and nihilism is quite the opposite of what it's advertised to be. For I see no freedom in it, just a pathetic illusion of freedom that is really a poisonous slavery, and a very poor illusion at that.

Perhaps this helps explains the cultural fascination with zombies and vampires. In any sense, I sure am glad there are raccoons, and that Hid is real, or I would probably be very depressed right now.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hmm...that's odd, I meant to say He not Hid.