The Suicide Culture

I just started reading the book Mind, Modernity, Madness and it raised a very disturbing thought.

I used to be appalled at cultures where parents were expected to abandon, expose, or simply kill children that didn’t conform to cultural expectations (i.e., deformites, etc.).

The premise of this book is that each individual mind functions as a miniature copy of our culture. It is cultural ideas that cause parents to expose deformed children. It is also cultural ideas that cause people to commit suicide when they don’t conform to cultural ideals.

Thus, what in primitive cultures was left to others, we must now do ourselves. We fool ourselves if we think our culture is more humane than those of the past. Is it more humane to make a parent kill a child, or to allow the child become conscious and then make her kill herself?

Similarly, I never understood the mindset of Japanese pilots who committed suicide in WWII, the famous kamikaze. But what is more humane, a society that encourages its soldiers to kill themselves because they believe they are honorable, or a society that encourages its members to kill themselves because they feel unworthy?

Now, you may argue that our society does not encourage suicide. In fact, we explicitly discourage people from doing it, and provide resources to prevent it. However, our culture runs deeper than explicit teachings. If people do it on a regular basis, it is part of our culture. Maybe it is even a necessary part of culture, or at least an unavoidable side effect of the liberty and freedom to determine our own identity. But we should at least be humbled by its existence. In some ways, our culture is more cruel than the barbarians of the past.

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