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Monday, December 03, 2007

The Ultimate Selfishness

I've been thinking a bit, recently, about suicide. No, not me personally, just suicide in general. Honest, really, no need for concern, I'd really rather not kill myself (or die any other way, thank you very much). My recent suicidal thoughts (wait, that really didn't come out the right way) came about from a conversation I had a few days ago.

It's pretty obvious that people commit suicide for only a handful of reasons: they're crazy, they're crazy, or they're crazy. That's pretty much it, the way I figure it. Since, from both an evolutionary and a creationist (or should I say design-ist) perspective, the fundamental driving force behind our existence is living, it's hard to see, within this paradigm, how anyone with a properly functioning brain (or capacity for self-awareness, anyway) could possibly commit suicide.

(As an aside, I can already hear people shouting -- or maybe that's just in my o'erweening head -- that there are plenty of reasons why people would willingly give up their lives. Yes, there are, and this is not the post in which these reasons will be discussed. Suffice it to say, for the sake of this argument, that committing suicide is not that same thing as giving up your life for a good reason.)

So, people commit suicide for a number of "reasons". (I use quotes here to indicate that, while the committers may call them "reasons", there's nothing reasonable about any such justification for suicide.) First there's the "poor me" excuses: my life sucks; I can't take it any more; I don't know how I could go on. Then there's the delusional mutterings: Jesus is waiting to meet me on the other side; I'm ready to transcend to a higher plane; I won't really die, this is just a temporary setback in my immortal self; the voices in my head are telling me to jump to my death. I don't think anyone is going to reasonably argue that the latter group is not a big bowl of mixed nuts. The former group, the self-indulgent whiners, well, that's another story.

Surely, some might say, a person's life is his or her own, to do with, or dispose with as he or she pleases. Yes, you could say that, but if you believe that about yourself, then you are selfish.

Selfish? Why is that selfish? Well, first, let's look at the definition of the word (from http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?selfish):

Main Entry: self·ish
Function: adjective
Date: 1640

1: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others
2: arising from concern with one's own welfare or advantage in disregard of others <a selfish act>
3: being an actively replicating repetitive sequence of nucleic acid that serves no known function <selfish DNA>; also : being genetic material solely concerned with its own replication <selfish genes>
self·ish·ly adverb
self·ish·ness noun

Now, ignoring the whole DNA connotation, we can focus in one one particular aspect of the definition of "selfish":

concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's [self] without regard for others

Basically, this means that a person who exhibits selfish behaviour does so only with concern for themselves, without regard for others.

Now, when someone commits suicide based on the "poor me" justifications, they do so without consideration for the effect their actions will have on those around them. Think about it. Would it be okay for someone to spit in her mother's face, simply because she was unable to cope with the state of her life? How about someone setting his brother's car on fire? What about... well, I think anyone can get the idea well enough without my having to come up with more depraved and disturbing examples.

So, would any of that be okay? It's hard to say yes to that without being selfish. The effects of any such anti-social behaviour are strong enough that most of them are prohibited by law (even if such laws are not always enforced). In fact, the only violently anti-social reaction to one's own inability to deal with the state of one's life is suicide -- and that's only because the law does not have provisions for prosecuting dead people.

So, you kill yourself, oh poor you, you couldn't take it anymore... and you leave behind a wake of emotional destruction and turmoil that lasts for decades after you're gone. You don't care; you're not there to deal with the consequences. It's a bit like making a big mess in the kitchen of the house you've just sold, on your last day of occupancy before moving permanently to a third world country. Why should you care how big a mess it is -- you won't be around to have to clean it up.

Your parents spend potentially the rest of their lives mourning their loss and wondering what they did wrong in raising you. Your siblings beat themselves up over whatever inconsequential thing they think might have been the incident in your childhood that pushed you too far, and spend the rest of their lives worrying about their own children, trying to avoid setting off the suicide genes that may be lurking in their gene pool. Your husband or wife, regardless of how well you may have been getting along with him or her, feels guilty, and awful, and rejected, and also has to deal with the funeral arrangements, and consoling any children you've left behind, and trying to make up for their loss by being two parents at the same time, with no chance of reprieve in the form of a weekend visit with the errant parent -- and I won't even go into the financial strain your actions will cause. Friends will have their lives disrupted, and never be sure they couldn't have done something different that might have made a difference.

But you didn't care about any of that, you just cared about your own pain. How is it any different, really, than losing your job, fighting with your significant other, getting splashed by a car as it drives through a giant puddle beside you, and then not stopping to help when the nice old lady from up the block bumps against you as you walk by, trips on the curb, and cracks her forehead open on the sidewalk? Yes, you're in pain, emotional turmoil, your life sucks, the world seems like it's out to get you, but can you really turn your back on that much suffering? Can you just ignore it, and continue on, leave it behind you because you no longer care? You can? Really? Well then, you're selfish.



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