I think about suicide about once a week. I don’t mean that I am doing any serious planning. Nor am I whiling away the hours spinning the cylinder on my revolver. It’s just that, in one way or another, suicide enters my mind on a regular basis as a possibility, as a question, or as a social phenomenon.
Lately I’ve been thinking about it as a result of some unwelcome news. I found out that two people I knew casually, both of whom lived in a southeastern city I used to call home, had taken what my mother used to call “the coward’s way out” (more on that appellation shortly). One of them chose a pretty unusual method: He drove his sportscar at high speed into the wall of an underground parking garage. The impact killed him instantly. I’m not sure how the other fellow ended it all, but the news was a shock to me. Although I barely knew him, he was a smart, good-looking, well-liked guy who seemed to have every reason to go on living. His distraught friends created a Webpage in his honor on which, in addition to praising him, they also frankly expressed the pain and bewilderment his suicide had caused them.
These weren’t my first suicides. In the same southeastern city, I knew a man – universally loved and full of humor and good will – who shot himself after his wife died of cancer. And there was another acquaintance, just down the road, who locked himself in his room, swallowed the barrel of a Mauser machine pistol, and blew out the back of his head. His roommates didn’t find him for several days.
I went to junior high with a girl, of whom I was quite fond, who shot herself about a year after my family had moved to another city. Reportedly, following a trivial argument with her parents, she had marched upstairs to their bedroom and shot herself with her father’s revolver (which he thought he had successfully concealed in a dresser drawer). Plus, as I’ve reported in another essay, my grandfather killed himself when I was eight years old. My parents told me at the time that he’d had a heart attack, and I only found out the truth when I was in my thirties. When I confronted my father with what I’d discovered, he answered (with the gallows humor that was typical of him), “Well, he shot himself in the heart.” (And indeed he had: with a shotgun, pulling the trigger with his big toe.)
Oddly enough, however, what really got me thinking about suicide in recent days was the news about the death of the 22-year-old son of actress Deborah Rush, whose work I’ve always enjoyed. She played the stepmother on Strangers with Candy, a “cult series” which is a guilty pleasure of mine. Rush married the son of Walter Cronkite and together they had two children, both boys. One of these, Peter, committed suicide in his dorm room just a few days before graduating from Colby College. The news made The New York Times, People magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and other news outlets. On its Website, Colby published heartfelt recollections from Peter Cronkite’s many friends – none of whom seemed to be able to shed any light on why this poor kid would take his own life. Everyone described him as happy, busy, and outgoing. (The suicide occurred in 2015, but I only recently learned about it.)
This is one of the big, bewildering things about suicide – especially when it’s the young pulling the trigger. Many of these cases are frankly inexplicable. And such cases seem to be increasingly common.
Only a few times in my life have I ever thought seriously about committing suicide. It was always – no surprise here – when I was very depressed and entertaining the idea that maybe everything would be better if I’d never been born. Only once did I come really close: For a few minutes, more than a decade ago, I lay in bed with the barrel of a vintage Second World War-era Walther P38 pressed against my head, the hammer cocked and my finger on the trigger. (If I’m going to go, I had reasoned, I’m going to use the very best.) In a moment, I’ll reveal why I’m still here to tell the tale.
Now, lest you jump to the conclusion that there is something wrong with me, I think that such thoughts are perfectly normal – for a person such as myself. I have longed believed that all highly intelligent, thoughtful people have contemplated suicide at some point in their lives, probably more than once. I doubt, however, that I will ever act on such thoughts (for reasons I shall also reveal anon). So – please – don’t post anything in the comments section trying to talk me in off the ledge. There is really no need.
The reason the intelligent and the thoughtful consider suicide ought to be very obvious: They see more of what is wrong with the world, and with life in general. My readers are discerning people, and they know that presently there is more wrong with the world than right (and perhaps it has always been so). We are living in the inverted world, where everything is ass backwards. Everything vile is celebrated and everything noble is attacked and despised. I need hardly compile examples, as my readers are far too familiar with what I mean. I have actually attempted on occasion to list all the things that are falling apart in our Western world. The experience is overwhelming and a guaranteed recipe for depression (and possibly suicidal thoughts). Is it any wonder that so many feel so hopeless? And, to be more specific, is it any wonder that so many white men feel this way, and that their thoughts turn to ending it all? For suicide in the West is primarily a white male phenomenon. As to the youngsters who take their own lives, who can blame them for wanting to opt out of the world their parents and grandparents have made?
When you sum everything up, it almost seems like the burden of proof is on the man who recommends we not choose suicide. So, let’s examine the case against.
As I mentioned earlier, my mother always described suicide as “the coward’s way out.” I recently acquired the CD release of an old LP treasure of mine from childhood: Disney’s The Haunted Mansion. This record was released to commemorate the ride at Disneyworld (which I visited when I was seven or so). At one point on our spooky tour of the Mansion, we find a corpse with a noose around his neck, dangling from a chandelier. Quoth Disney’s raven: “He chose the coward’s way out! The coward’s way out!” (I suspect this would be deemed too scary – and moralistic – for today’s kids.) This interpretation of suicide is quite old, but is there any truth to it?
I imagine so. Certainly, there are cases of people who have committed suicide over problems they could have solved, with a little tenacity, or feelings they could have overcome. My grandfather committed suicide over financial troubles, and I’ve always wondered if it was because he couldn’t bear to face my grandmother and tell her the truth (she had ice in her veins, you see). But consider some other examples. If a captured spy commits suicide rather than reveal secrets to the enemy under torture, this is hardly an act of cowardice. I’ve always imagined that I would kill myself (eventually) if I were ever diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Again, this is not cowardice. I am simply unwilling to allow myself to reach a point where I have lost my mind and my dignity and have become a burden to others.
Consider also the suicide of Dominique Venner in 2013. This was, again, hardly an act of a coward who could not face up to the state of the world or the state of his health. It was the act of a patriot who – in addition to being 78 years old and ailing – “was trying to awaken the people of France” (quoting Marine Le Pen). On the other hand, I do certainly think that if one of our twenty-something Counter-Currents readers committed suicide over despair at “the way things are,” this would be senseless. And it does smack of cowardice (and self-pity). Why not stick around and fight the way the things are? (This is a point to which I’ll return in a moment.) In general, however, “the coward’s way out” is far too simplistic a generalization about suicide.
Some philosopher – I cannot remember who it was – once argued that the choice of suicide rests on a bizarre sort of contradiction. In choosing suicide, one is really acting out of a love of life. One behaves as if one wants to exchange a bad situation for a better one. It is as if one says, “I will be better if I just kill myself.” The “as if” is crucially important here because, of course, if anyone thought this way consciously and explicitly, they would never go through with the act. Needless to say, it is ridiculous to think that you are healing yourself, helping yourself, or making your life, situation, or experience “better” through suicide. Quite obviously, suicide puts an end to all life and experience (for you, at least). Nevertheless, it really does seem as if some people are choosing suicide as a form of self-improvement.
And here is another philosophical take: The novelist Walker Percy argued somewhere that the contemplation of suicide can be liberating. Consider: If you know that you are perfectly capable of going through with the act of taking your own life – of annihilating yourself – then how can anything else in life phase you? You have already faced up to the fact of your own death – indeed, you have established that causing your own death is a viable option for you. If you are capable of this sort of choice, then surely you are capable of facing whatever challenges life throws at you. This way of looking at things not only shows that those thoughts of suicide intelligent and thoughtful people often have are not without utility, but also serves as an argument against suicide (at least in certain circumstances). Again, if I can face up to – even choose – my own death, then surely I can handle living. It’s a clever argument, but it has never been decisive in my own thinking about suicide.
One of my Facebook friends shared a meme that read, “Suicide doesn’t end the pain, it just passes it on.” This is a bit cloying, but in fact it is quite true. In a great many cases, it is hard to sympathize with a man who kills himself, because the act just seems incredibly selfish. Once, years ago, I flew into San Francisco, and my friends (who lived in Berkeley) were more than an hour late picking me up. Traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge had been completely halted by police because some man was threatening to jump (and was eventually talked down). “What a selfish bastard!” I thought. And I’m sure those were the thoughts of everyone else affected. Whatever this man’s problems were, he didn’t seem to give a damn that he was impacting the lives of thousands of commuters.
But this kind of self-centered self-pity, and disregard of others, is characteristic of many suicides. Indeed, all of the cases of suicide I discussed earlier – those that have touched my own life in some way – were cases where the suicide was unnecessary, even inexplicable, and caused tremendous, avoidable pain to those who were left behind. This is one of the primary reasons I didn’t pull the trigger that day when I had the P38 pressed against my head: I knew that my death would hurt too many people. I couldn’t do that to them – and when so many stand to be hurt so badly, suicide seems like a callous and selfish choice.
There is a further reason I have not chosen suicide (and would not choose it): I just have too much to live for – too much to do. My life is filled with meaning, and it comes from the conviction that I devote myself to things that are of vital importance. I am speaking, of course, about my devotion to the cause that brings my readers to this Website: the cause of saving our race and our culture. If they are lost, then all is lost. (I am assuming I don’t need to explain what I mean by this; if you require an explanation, you can find it here.) The realization of our predicament imposes an enormous obligation on us – on those of us who are awake. Given the enormity of our plight, I realize that my own personal problems are meaningless. And I realize that I must work for this cause, without ceasing. I realize that I may not “retire” – and that suicide would be an unforgiveable dereliction of duty.
I hate to sound like an existentialist, but if your life lacks meaning, then make it meaningful. If you despair at the state of the world, then fight those forces that threaten to destroy your spirit. If your convictions are mine, then lift yourself out of your petty preoccupations through devotion – in whatever way you are able – to the only cause really worth fighting for in the world today. All are welcome and all are needed. Until we have won, no one has the right to opt out, by suicide or by any other means.
Of course, once we have won, you can do whatever you like.