More Americans are killing themselves. Suicide is most common among individuals who are relatively young or old but a recent 10-year longitudinal study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that suicide among baby boomers, people roughly between the ages of 35 – 64 has increased nearly 30%. This number only hints at the extent of the epidemic given that many suicides are unreported. Guns are still the weapon of choice of those who murder themselves but prescription opiates such as OxyContin and oxycodone seem to have become a signature method of this generation as well. Poisoning deaths increased by 24% over the duration of the study. This increase in suicide rates coincides with a dramatic decrease in the financial prospects of many people in this county and the study cites the economic recession as the major cause of the suicide epidemic.
The magnitude of this epidemic is apparently so vast and intuitively illuminating as to the extent of the failure of our society’s institutions that both political parties seem to prefer to ignore the issue rather than attempt to frame it towards political gain.
But what exactly does the suicide epidemic tell us about our society? Nothing terribly good at a first glance which is probably why most people turn away from the issue much like most mainstream media and politicians.
It tells us, among many other things, that Durkheim articulated something profoundly true in 1897 when he suggested that suicide has social causes even though it is an individual act. He argued that suicide was most closely correlated to the extent to which a person was integrated in their society as well as the extent to which their desires and expectations of life we’re ‘morally’ and pragmatically ‘healthy.’
Durkheim observed that Protestants were more likely to kill themselves than Catholics who were in turn more likely to kill themselves than Jews. He argued that the former faiths created comparatively closer-knit communities and classified suicide that resulted from an experience of loneliness or ‘not-belonging’ as ‘egoistic suicide.’ He believed that men killed themselves more often than women, which they do now as they did then, essentially because they have fewer obligations to, and less support from, other individuals in society.
Certain slaves or wives would throw themselves upon funeral pyres or into tombs, samurai, kamikaze pilots, ‘terrorists’ and other individuals will ‘altruistically ‘commit suicide for some sort of ‘greater good’ of society and Durkheim classified this tendency, the dialogical opposite of Egoistic Suicide as Altruistic Suicide.
Durkheim also observed that suicide rates coincided with dramatic economic recessions. He noticed that they coincided with dramatic economic growth as well however. People kill themselves when their expectations of life cannot be met. Rich individuals with extravagant expectations will kill themselves just as surely as poor individuals with modest expectations will kill themselves if either individual is ever unable to realize their desires even though the rich person’s material needs may indeed be over indulged in spite of being unfulfilled. Anomie specifically referred to an experience of malaise, discontent, restless agitation and lack of fulfillment which was the result of affluence and over-indulged material needs as opposed to poverty and penury. He believed that the ‘modern’ moral deregulation of socially acceptable material expectations he observed in his time was endemic and constant within trade and industry and ‘Anomic Suicide’ is arguably Durkheim’s most damning and morally poignant as well as his most subtle and discreet critique of capitalism.
Fatalistic suicide is the opposite of Anomic suicide. The suicide occurs because an individual’s passions for life cannot be experienced because they are oppressed by rules, institutions and various social agents.
Suicide by Durkheim ultimately forces us to wonder if suicide is a actually a choice that people make for themselves even though it is arguably defined and viewed as such in mainstream western culture just as Durkheim’s sociology, (like that of other founders) forces us to become aware of the extent to which we are making fully rational decisions free of external coercion and compulsion.
Durkheim argued that egoistic and anomic suicide had an affinity with one another and are probably empirically indistinguishable, as essentially were and are all the social causes of suicide which are just as invisible to our everyday senses of perception and consciousness as the fact that the Baby Boomer Generation is engaging in mass suicide. It certainly seems likely that many Baby Boomers probably feel alone and disconnected from society, incapable of maintaining the American Dream they were indoctrinated with as well as the middle-class standards of living they were coerced into pursuing and which still seem to serve their generation as the measuring sticks of their worth as individuals.
All of this said however, why are the Baby Boomers the one’s killing themselves? Baby Boomers have arguably worked the least towards and benefited more from capitalism than any other known generation in recorded history.
So why aren’t those of us who must live in the polluted wake of their decadence and destruction killing ourselves (more often than usual)? Suicide is the third leading cause of death of people ages 15-24, which is of course highly unjust, but why haven’t suicide rates increased for the Millennial Generation? (people born between 1980 and 2000). Why, despite un-payable debts, the degradation of unemployment, or the invisible and legal degradation and harassment that ‘privileged’ Millennials are forced to endure in workplaces and their parent’s basements and why, despite the inability to own homes, manage households and create families, and why, despite higher rates of obesity and even depression more paradoxically still are Millennials ironically more optimistic about their future than Baby Boomers?
Furthermore, why the fuck haven’t I killed myself yet? Seriously. I realized on my last mushroom trip with my unfortunate girlfriend that people kill themselves while experimenting with psychotropics not in order to escape the effects of the drug, but rather because the drugs make the patient/victim realize that it is impossible to escape certain limitations and confinements that society places upon us. I recalled a moment from early childhood, long before I had ever learned anything about seppuku, which has since always been a source of stimulation for my imagination, when I pointed the first blade I had ever earned toward my abdomen because I was curious about the sensation that it might produce within me as opposed to wanting an escape from anything as far as I can remember. I’m not sure if there’s any meaningful difference in hindsight even though I am grateful that my mother chose not to pump me full of any drugs in spite of whatever the therapist may or may not have said to her, because the process of autonomously medicating myself over the recent years has helped me come to understand and accept my own suicidal tendencies well enough to articulate them through writing.
Am I integrated with society? I’m too white to be Oneida and too Oneida to ever be white just like I’m too male and too white to ever be an Occupier and too prone to boredom to occupy a career I don’t actually care about as I am a park for it’s symbolic significance, and I could go on so yes, it seems that I’m certainly integrated with society in spite of myself perhaps if only by virtue of the fact that I’m clearly in locked in bitter, egotistical conflict with it.
Are my expectations of life morally and realistically acceptable? No, not at all. I expected that I would enjoy a higher standard of living than my parents and grandparents would because I was educating myself more and pushing myself harder than they ever could have pushed me directly out of spite in order to push back at them for having pushed so hard and expected so much out of me in the first place. My mind still hasn’t fully accepted the crass lifestyle compromises that I and many others will have to make in the near future but worse even still is that I grow progressively unable to endure the limitations that school, work, and debt have become upon the full realization and expression of my creative potential.
I am tired of the effort that I have to exert in order to silence the incessant trumpeting I hear from every giant pink elephant in a corner of every space in every house, home, family, classroom, dojo, job, street, park, group or any social role that I have attempted to occupy. The realization that I have (barely) repressed desires to kill myself didn’t strike me as profound as the realization that I have actually been indulging my death wish, as countless others in my true occupation have, by articulating things that would encourage other people to want to kill me, in the hopes that someone else might put me out of my misery. Friends on Facebook were startled by the number of comments involving gun violence on the link to an interview I did with Al Sharpton during the first week of the Occupation of Zuccotti and I imagine that the asshole in Chicago with the badge and the baton would’ve put a little more force behind the baton he swung at the soft spot on the top of my head if only I had shaken my tambourine at him a little more vigorously before I started running away from him. My stronger, slightly more dominant if not more naïve instincts toward life can only subdue my insidious instincts toward oblivion only so well or so it now seems to me.
What’s keeping my generation alive? Are we Millennial more tightly interwoven with one another? Is social media preventing egoistic suicide by creating tighter communities and even families than churches, governments, corporations, schools and households? Perhaps. It seems to me that Millennials are more likely to accrue social stature by means of accruing social esteem by means of creatively expressing and presenting special moments of experience that shape and define the identities they aspire to live (as well as the items of consumption that define and express their identities) via social media, whereas status for the Baby Boomer Generation has been traditionally measured and displayed through the accumulation and ownership of various forms of material property.
Are our expectations, those of the Millennial generation, for life realistic? Have we truly given up our hopes for the first world comforts and luxuries that we were raised in? My generation has no idea what’s realistic to hope for from life. I imagine that the future of the U.S. and the global culture of capitalism it has created will be truly amazing or truly catastrophic, or perhaps this is just wishful thinking on my part. Either way it seems difficult for many of us to identify any stable basis for happiness other than our own unique, authentic means of self-expression. It seems to me that potentially ‘successful’ Millennials have little choice but to fully cultivate the creative impulses that previous generations were forced to alienate themselves from in order to survive the demands and limitations of an older, obsolete form of capitalism that was not yet based upon the increasingly free exchanges of knowledge, services, and content.
One suggestion made by a researcher that seems intuitively correct to me is that perhaps it is the hope and excitement having to ‘live not a worse life, but a different live. Capitalism as we know it is breaking down and crumbling, we will have to live differently, but its shadow is long. What kind of a different life is feasible in the wake of its collapse? Alternatives have always existed and have always made it harder and easier for those of us aware of them to endure that which we’d prefer not to.
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