Ironically, committing suicide may often be more courageous than committing murder. For instance, it is common enough for people to commit murder simply out of revenge or anger or brazen indifference. By contrast, it is ever so rare for people to commit suicide for such reasons. Indeed, people very rarely commit suicide in order to harm a person. Rather, they do so because have come to the conclusion that staying alive no longer has the moral significance that it used to have. Thus, staying alive can be more cowardly than committing suicide.
But I suspect that there is going to be a significant rise in the number of people who commit suicide. And modernity itself may be the reason why that is going to happen. Let me explain.
Families no longer have the geographical stability that they used to have. And one deep, deep consequence of this change is that increasingly families no longer provide the kind of direct face-to-face affirmation of the tremendously ill that once was commonplace. All by itself, being around loving family members can be a deep, deep form of affirmation that mightily underwrites a tremendous sense of being valued in the life of an extremely ill person.
But with the sharp rise in mobility, families no longer have that kind of stability that was so very commonplace just a few decades ago. Another major factor is technology. I shall say something about that below.
In September of 2014, the Washington Post published the following article: “Tourism to Switzerland for Assisted Suicide is Growing, Often for Non-Fatal Diseases”. I am not surprised at all. Why? Precisely because the kind of cross generation stability that was commonplace among families no longer is commonplace. And there is very real sense in which it may understandably make very little sense for an elderly person to go on living if the person does not have loved ones around. Merely being kept alive in a home for the elderly has little if any deep psychological appeal. For just as there is no equal to a parent’s simple “I love you” when said with tremendous depth of emotion, it is likewise the case that there is precious little to be said for staying alive if all that this amounts to is being fed and bathed in some home for the elderly, because each family members is busy living here or his own life to really be a part of the elderly person’s life.
As I have already indicated, there will definitely be a rise in suicide. And I hold that the rise in suicide will have a most disconcerting correlation with rise of the place and importance of technology among human beings.
It is a striking feature of technology that it does not really privilege face-to-face interaction. It is striking just how animated people are these days merely by the fact that they are texting back-and-forth. People are starting as kids giving more weight to texting and on-line games than to actual face-to-face interaction. Indeed, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that parental love of itself is competing with technology as kids attach more importance to their technological gadgets than to the affirmation that comes from their parents.
As the place of technology in the lives of human beings continues to rise, suicide will increasingly seem to be an ever so natural option for the elderly. This is because the very affirmation from this and that family that in the mind of an elderly person made life worth living will be increasingly less common. And the profound irony here is that so many young people growing up will have enormous difficulty understanding why face-to-face interaction is so important to their elderly parents. It is against the backdrop of that very reality that committing suicide will increasingly become an act of courage on the part of the elderly. Committing suicide will be a very profound way for the elderly to their life in their own hands. And that, I suggest, is precisely what those who are courageous will increasingly do in a world which, thanks to technology, increasingly trivializes face-to-face interaction.
So between the increasing rise of both mobility and technology, death will more and more and more appear to be an ever so reasonable alternative for the elderly that far surpasses merely staying alive in some nursing home.
© 2014 Laurence Thomas