Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On Group Suicide

Suicide is easier as a group activity. There now seems to be a  suicide cult in Bridgend. This is said to be internet based - the net, of course, is a very good way of getting together to die. The Japanese young are especially vulnerable. But why is it easier to get together to die? Jim Jones persuaded all his followers to die together and Japanese soldiers in Iwo Jima jointly blew themselves up with hand grenades - this is the basis of the most harrowing scene in that most most harrowing film Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima. In both cases it seems clear that group dynamics made suicide easier. Introspectively one can see how this might work. We all behave differently in groups - especially when we are young - and do things we would not consider doing alone. But this doesn't say quite enough. The question is: why is this thing, the idea of suicide, in particular so transformed by group dynamics? I suppose it's something to do with the ultimate consolation - you are not alone. Self-murder is the ultimate act of love or comradeship. When asked the question, 'Are you prepared to do THIS for me?', 'no' becomes the most difficult answer, the answer that says you don't belong.

14 comments:

  1. It was not the red caps which drove the pals brigades over the top. They helped, but it was the army and the imprinting of the years prior to the war to 'be with' your brother, there was more groups at that time than one could shake a stick at. Also, Valley Forge and all that, the Esprit d'corps , the unit, corps, country, God, of the US marines.
    They are using something there already. A something, that does not take that long to bring to the fore. It is not loyalty, -that is a perversion by armies,- but akin to it.
    But, Iwo Jima or Ypres, the result was the same.

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  2. As you point out, we all behave differently in groups, but especially when we are young. Group suicide is thus probably something far more prevalent among groups of young people. As we know, the young are psychologically fragile and thus highly suggestible. And this has never been more exploited than it is today.

    Is it possible that some particularly vulnerable young people could be seduced by the contradictory idea of death as both a statement of individuality and of group solidarity? And furthermore, as a guarantee of instant recognition? Fame, even? I don't know. It is very sad.

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  3. When i was young i was of course drawn to suicide, but even then i would have recoiled in distaste from the thought of group suicide. A Kleistian suicide pact with a special girl, yes, maybe, but with a group, God no.

    Now i'm old i still like the idea of death but fantasize instead about being killed as i commit an act of selfless homicide, perhaps running amok through Random House or Penguin or Faber with a machete and a blowtorch, before finally falling under repeated blows to the head.

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  4. i've just had quite a good idea: why don't we all commit suicide at some point today?

    Who's with me?

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  5. The young are vulnerable to strong emotions and strong passions, they are also sensitive to reality in a way that adults have become numb. This is a dangerous combination in these phoney times when there is little to inspire and little true adventure available to the young. The significance of groups of like minded individuals is that they reaffirm your belief/suspicion, they enclose you within a larger reality than your own and if the group concur then this can become a valuable truth, more worthy than any half truth the corporate media driven circus world can offer a young mind, a young heart.

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  6. That's quite good, anon.

    I'm in, elberry. I've just finished reading all the posts and comments about power on your site. They have definitely put me in the mood.

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  7. i'd strongly advise against reading the comments on my blog unless you're mulling over suicide and just need a little push in the right direction...

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  8. Suicide is an interesting subject. I am inclined to believe that in terms of free will, it is a valid option for any adult, though never when other people are harmed in the process. In respect of the big picture, a few suicides don't add up to a hill of beans. That said, as a teenager, there were many times when I contemplated suicide and may even have seen it through if I'd had a simple painless method to hand (such as a gun). I would never think of ending my life now and it would have been a great waste had I done then. To conclude therefore, I think it is important to protect the young especially from suicide and such suicidal communities and to give them at least a term of adulthood to decide whether their lives truly are worth ending or not.

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  9. I think it was Robert Lowell who said (and I think I've quoted it before) that if we all had a dial on our wrist that we could turn for an instant painless death, few of us would survive long.

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  10. I'd be absolutely hopeless at it and I'd be afraid of letting everyone down. On the other hand it might be a good place to meet women.

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  11. Susan B., worried,January 23, 2008 4:22 pm

    I have teenagers, so this is a topic that worries me. Teens are unbelievably impulsive, even the very intelligent, reflective ones. Our paper had a front-page story a few days ago about a high-achieving teen who, in a moment of frustration and shame, jumped out of his 9-story bedroom window. Amazingly, he survived: though of course his body is very badly broken.

    As for the dial on your wrist, the absolute best version of "suicidal hindsight is 20/20" is the story of "the Pillowman" in Martin McDonagh's play of the same name. Very creepy, exceptionally effective.

    Thought for the day: Love those around you and show them compassion. You never know what's in their minds, even when they're smiling.

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  12. Very true, Susan - but have you noticed how many people you see crying on the street these days? That never used to happen, at least not in England. Could the suicide thing be linked to the fashion for emotional incontinence, which obviousy encourages acting on impulse?...
    It's one of the more horrible mysteries of life that some people just seem to get a sudden overpowering suicidal urge, apparently out of the blue. I had a teacher who was the most stolid, respectable, 'ordinary' type you could imagine - family man, lay preacher, pillar of the community - who got on his bike one lunch hour, pedalled methodically up to the railway station and lay down on the electric rail.

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  13. I never see people crying on the street here -- at least, not if they're over about 5 years old. And what the hey has happened to that "stiff upper lip" that Brits are known for???

    As for your teacher, that's exactly the sort of thing I'm afraid of -- misery I can't sense in someone I love. On the other hand, outside of teen suicides (because, as anonymous said, they haven't lived long enough to realize "this, too, shall pass"), suicide is quite frequently linked to mental illness and/or substance abuse.

    But, really, Nige, where do you see adults crying on the street? Wall Street this last week *maybe*!

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  14. i don't understand why everyone finds it so difficult to comprehend why it'd be easier to die in a group. You aren't alone and no matter where you go or what might happen you and that other person will be connected forever in this world.
    specially since I'm young and you go through so much shit when you just don't know what to do it'd be easy to succumb to going with someone else.

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