Living as a Suicidal: In Defense of ash

Non-ashers may question the validity of ash and our identity as suicidal people because ashers are alive. It might indeed seem intriguing that one could adhere to the ash values and still be alive. It might seem even stranger that we participate in ash, and even claim were genuinely helped by ash, more than by the conventional psychotherapeutic system. This text is meant to clarify the problem "how to live as suicidal" in the eyes of non-ashers. It has an additional purpose: to prove that ash is not "pro-suicide", as it is often presented in the media, but genuinely pro-choice; that suicidal people can live, even live a better life than non-ashers, by accepting their identity as suicidal rather than by trying to eliminate the suicidal feelings from their souls — as conventional therapy urges us.

1. Voluntary life versus coercion to live

The freedom to die can be analyzed at a conceptual level. We are sad we live in a time and in a society which does not recognize the right to commit suicide and thus forces us to live. As ashers, we are in search of a voluntary life, and reject a life lived under the coercion of staying alive. People who emphasize suicide prevention urge us to choose to live, as one author[1] proclaims, but the tactics they employ consist rather in fooling us[2] and coercing us to live. Choosing an option is impossible unless one may choose the alternative option, so choosing life is impossible without being able to choose death. The tactics of the agents of suicide-prevention resemble those of political parties in a totalitarian system, where there is only one legal Party (e.g. the Communist Party, in Communist dictatorships) and all citizens must vote that party and that party only. Since all other parties (if they exist at all) are illegal, elections in such countries are rightly considered fraudulent. The same can be said about choosing to live: we don't really have the option to live as long the society's authorities (such as the religious and psychiatric systems) prevent us by all means from choosing, or even contemplating, the alternative option (suicide). Ashers who are alive genuinely choose to live, as they consider suicide to be an option for themselves: indeed, they live as suicidal. To live as a suicidal, as an asher wants to live, is to own one's life in a radical sense. From our point of view, non-ashers, who live without the awareness of death and without the possibility of suicide, are lived rather than live[3].

Secondly, choosing to live while preserving the freedom to commit suicide has a psychological dimension. It is more pleasant to do something because we want it, than to do the same thing under coercion. The feeling of voluntariness is pleasurable, as it confers the control over one's fate. It is a common-sense observation that people enjoy those activities that they freely choose much more, than those they perform under coercion. Little kids and teenagers sometimes refuse to perform certain things just because they are ordered by adults to perform them, as they want to preserve a feeling of independence, to prove they don't obey blindly what they are told to do. Religious people compare God with a great Father of all humans: if we assume that life and everything we do is ultimately caused by God, we are like kids who refuse to obey blindly the Father's authority. Even if we do what He wants us to do, we prefer do so because we choose accordingly; and we cannot choose to act in a certain way unless we can choose to act otherwise. (If in the above analogy "God" is replaced by "natural necessity", "the Destiny" or "the stars" — for those who believe in astrology — the idea is preserved). The freedom to commit suicide secures us against the blind dependence to any impersonal power.

The freedom to die is therefore the freedom to live. Since all living beings will ultimately die no matter if they want this or not — the coercion to live is equivalent with the coercion to die: with the obligation to die when death comes, and not when one chooses it. Non-ashers condemn suicide by encouraging and exploiting people's instinctive fear of death, that's why for them death comes unexpectedly, takes them by surprise, as they consider it an inherently bad thing. They know death will come but refuse to think about it. On the contrary, an asher has prepared for death for a long time before it comes: he is immune to the fear of death that conditions non-ashers.

There is a third aspect why we ashers want to choose to live rather than be coerced to live, that is: we want to live with the freedom to die. This aspect pertains to the lucidity of ashers which obliges them to make the choice between life and death. Choosing life or death is the most fundamental and probably the most paradoxical choice one may make, as both options must be actual (although at different moments of time) for a choice to take place: indeed only a living person may choose to die, and on the other hand we will all die no matter if we want or not. We can only choose in a proper sense the time of our death, but in an absolute sense we cannot choose either life or death any more than we can choose to have a body or to become older and older with time's passage: we may only lose sight of these things, if our attention is diverted from them. Thus, ascetic sects may divert their members' attention from the fact that they have bodies (and sexual needs), Mephisto may divert Faust's attention from the passing of time in order to satisfy the latter's desire to stay always young[4] and psychotherapists may divert the attention of their suicidal patients from the fact that they will die (as everyone will). The reasons of these tactics of diverting attention are cultural: indeed death is a taboo in our society, as sexual needs are a taboo in circles of monks. Conventional psychotherapy pursued in a pro-life culture urges us to eliminate suicidal feelings by stimulating our fear of death. A different approach might be to accept the patient's suicidal feelings by eliminating or trying to diminish the fear of death. Indeed, it is not clear which is of the two is worse or less "natural": the fear of death or the suicidal feelings. Pro-life therapy assumes that the first is acceptable and the second are "bad" — because it conforms to the values of society. A pro-choice therapy might ask the suicidal patient what s/he desires to eliminate: the fear of death or the suicidal feelings. Unfortunately, outside the ash subculture such a therapy is not possible.

We, ashers, don't agree with the cultural taboo of death as we are not afraid of death, or are less afraid of it than non-ashers. We know death will come and want to be prepared for it. We believe that the fear of death is not beneficial as we think that a life whose duration we may control can be better than a life lived without this control. We adopt the attitude of the Greek philosopher Socrates (whose death was a passive suicide)[5]. He remarked that it was absurd to be afraid of death, because death is either exchanging the company of humans for that of gods or death is nothing. In the first case, it values much more to be dead than to be alive, and in the second case it is absurd to be afraid of a dreamless sleep[6]. Insofar as we are suicidal, we ashers are more lucid than non-ashers. Suicidal people in our age are customarily directed towards sources of "help towards life", as suicide is not socially accepted. Such help succeeds when the suicidal person accepts the cultural taboo about death and the tactics of eliminating suicidal feelings. But it fails in other cases, when the suicidal person raises (consciously or not) the question: "since I will die, why shouldn't I die when I want to die, rather than when death comes?" Such a suicidal person is more lucid than ordinary people and may adopt the ash values (freedom prevails over life), instead of those of society (life prevails over freedom). Their condition as ashers may become better than those of non-ashers, of people who are afraid of death and stigmatize suicide. The reason is that non-ashers try (ultimately pointlessly) to evade death by any means, to postpone it as long as possible.

It is ironic and contradictory that in our age religious people are "pro-life" and condemn suicide, by exploiting people's instinctive fear of death — although religions believe there is life (perhaps a better life) after death and there is something outside this world which values more than this earthly existence. On the contrary, atheists are more ready to accept suicide — although they believe there is no life after death, nothing outside this world[7]. I think it would be rational that religious people should encourage suicide and atheists should reject it — the reason of this irrational situation is, as the ASH FAQ Debate pointed out[8], the fact that religions as we know them today actually evolved as methods of social control. I always felt pushed towards suicide precisely by being taught the concept of God and the existence of something beyond this world — indeed, I felt that God (if He does exist) could only be kind to those who have the courage to leave this world and speak directly with him, so I could never understand why religion considers as the gravest sin the act it should admire the most.

The life of an asher (a suicidal) may be better than the ordinary life, the life of the non-asher because the asher is not afraid of dying. The mere existence of ash, the fact that many ashers claim they were helped by it, proves this fact. As long as in our society everybody knows in advance they will be incarcerated in psychiatric wards if they mention a concrete plan to end their lives, communication with psychotherapists cannot be sincere. Pro-life psychotherapy is not always effective, because for many suicidal people, the acknowledgment of their right to die, and the availability of the means painlessly to take their lives if and when so desired, may diminish their feelings of anguish and effectively prolong their life.

For ashers the thought of suicide is a liberating thought, rather than a pathological one. They are persistently and implicitly suicidal. As psychologists have noted[9], suicidal feelings often return: a patient who thought once about suicide will probably think of suicide at some later time. The reason is probably not so much medical — that these people suffer from a recurrent disease, but axiological — that these people are not certain about their values: they are not sure whether they accept the values of the society (life prevails over freedom) or those of ash (freedom prevails over life). It is regrettable that in the contemporary society, which rejects suicide as a personal freedom[10] it is impossible that a genuine debate over the values of a person take place. There might be some people who became so accustomed with their suicidal feelings that they think it is undesirable and counterproductive to try to eliminate them, as they know these feelings will recur. These people may become ashers, and live as ashers: as suicidal.

2. Eternal youth and protection of memories

I will try to argue that living as suicidal may mean nothing else but staying young. The coercion to live, set upon us by the pro-life society, is all the more unpleasant as life is not an object (as the metaphor of the "gift" granted by God suggests), but rather a process: the continuous transformation of our persons from young into old and finally dead. Once we are born, we are condemned to become old, and nobody ever asks us whether we want this becoming or not. We ashers are not comfortable about being forced to undergo the transformation from young into old, for which we never asked. For non-ashers, the desire to live is the most basic desire, that underlies all their other desires. But they are not lucid enough, as this desire to live as long as possible has obviously some costs: Nobody can live a long life and stay at the same age: living a long live involves ageing (which is usually considered unpleasant, the state of youth is usually considered happier than old age).

Most people prefer to be old rather than to be dead, although they prefer to be young rather than old[11]. They try to oblige ashers to become old. This is wrong, because a voluntary life may be better (and more lucid) than a life lived under the coercion to live, as I tried to argue in the last paragraph. Some ashers may think that the costs of becoming old exceed the benefits of staying alive, so they are suicidal because they don't want to become old: they want to remain young. From an asher's perspective, old age is something that should come (if it comes) because it is freely chosen by the person, rather than because one is forced to become old. Ageing is like moving to an unknown country: some people may want to travel to it, others may refuse it. Still, in a pro-life society, we are condemned to age from the day we are born. It is sometimes said[12] that the wish to commit suicide should be justified when a person loses control over his or her "bodily functions" (which happens in ill elderly people) — but what bodily function is more basic than the slow, implaccable transformation from young into old, to which we are condemned from the day we are born? Nobody has real control over this process, which is life itself.

The pro-choice stance of ash seems revolting as it acknowledges the right to commit suicide even for young people. But this may easier to accept once we note that ageing is not only the slow degradation of a young body into an old one. Ageing is also psychological: time passes faster for old people than for young people[13] and this is related to the fact that the older we become, fewer significant memories are acquired. In the popular Romanian fairy-tale "Youth without age and life without death", the Prince succeeds in staying young and immortal by (apparently) blocking time, as a few days in the paradise correspond to decades of years on the Earth. He can achieve the state of being young and immortal only by forgetting his previous life, by apparently erasing his memories. He is however brought back to earthly life (which eventually ends in death, as any earthly life does) by the memories that suddenly haunt him when he visits the The Crying Valley. In the Paradise nothing changes. Since nothing changes, he needs no memory, as he remains at a static age. If time passed and things changed, he would need continuously to adapt himself to new circumstances, and this adaptation to new circumstances (which characterizes our ordinary, earthly lives) involves the continuous activation of old memories and acquiring new information. Indeed, what we remember changes from a time to other time, and a person never (or almost never) has all his or her memories available to contemplate. Indeed, we sometimes say "I thought I had forgot this thing, but now I remember it", and this proves that memory is not the mere storage of old information that is available for future use. Memory is pragmatic: what we remember depends on the situation in which we are, and in different situations we remember different things.

It is effectively the memories that kill the Prince in Youth without age and life without death, by bringing him back to the earthly life — which is ageing towards dying. Ashers are more lucid than the Prince in that story: they know they cannot achieve youth without age and life without death so they may prefer to be dead instead of becoming older, or prefer to live while simultaneously being prepared for death. Indeed, we know that, if we became older, we would not only acquire new knowledge, but also forget a lot of things; erase memories or not thinking about them. As we saw, memory is pragmatic: what we remember depends on what we need to act, so what we remember at different moments of time varies. (People who spend their life in different countries remember in one country what happened to them in that country and in the second country what happened to them in that country — this is obvious since they need to behave differently in each country). A person obviously changes during his/her lifetime, and the memories that are present to one's mind in a period of one's lifetime time are not the same as the memories that are present to one's mind in another period of one's lifetime. Indeed, youth and old age are psychological, not only biological categories. It is possible that someone in their 20s or even teens may be more mature than other people in their 60s or in their 70s. It might indeed be the case that some people are suicidal because they feel old at young ages and simultaneously they want to present their youth.

During our lives, we lose our identity insofar as we build it. This happens because, as I showed, we remember different things at different periods of time, at different ages. We can only acquiring new information and new habits at the cost of forgetting old information and old habits. The preoccupation with suicide may be understood as a way of protecting one's memories, of one's identity as a young person. Indeed, at the age of 23 or 25 one may have the feeling that one's life is fulfilled, that one has experienced too much for anything essentially new to happen; that if one acquired new information, new knowledge — one would change one's lifestyle and one could do so only at the price of forgetting. The older we get, our identity is lost insofar, not only built. That people lose their identity through ageing is proven by the mere fact that people change (their preoccupations, their interests and their habits and their memories) during their lifetime.

I started by invoking the story Youth without age and life without death as it shows how the desire (perhaps the commonest human desire) of avoiding death and old age, to be immortal and always young, is impossible and cannot be satisfied by living the ordinary life, of a non-asher, any more than by being unborn (as the Prince preferred to be). The interpretation that I advocated suggests that the solution to the problem "how to acquire youth without age and life without death?" may be: to live as an asher, to live with the freedom to die always available. As his stay in the paradise proves, the Prince secured for a short time youth without age and life without death and he did by stopping the passage of time, by ceasing to acquire new information and alter his memory. But his apparently succeeding in stopping the passage of time while in Paradise is only a hideous reminder of the fact that he had actually (if he had lived his earthly life) already become old and approached death. By moving to the paradise, he only stopped the awareness of his ageing, by erasing the memories of his childhood, that will ultimately return and kill him.

Every human feels that older one gets, one has the feeling that time passes faster and faster; it often happens that when an old person remembers what happened one year ago, s/he has the feeling "But I feel like it was one week ago, or yesterday!". This is the psychological proof that one has become old. The fact that the Prince is suddenly haunted by memories of his earthly childhood suggests that the flight from memories — which is mandated by the necessity of securing immortality and eternal youth — is ultimately impossible. Once we are aware that we cannot escape our memories, we may want to retain our identity as it is conferred by our memories acquired until young age: to leave things as they are, not to change them. We may have the feeling that our lives are fulfilled, and that continuing to live may harm our identity, our memories. One may be suicidal because one cherishes too much one's memories. We will lose memories if we continue to live, because we will have to adapt ourselves to new situations of life. But (as Youth without age and life without death proves) old memories will ultimately return, so we will be at the same point where we started. Living as suicidal may mean living while preserving one's identity as a young person: to refuse to consider worth shaping one's identity any information that was acquired a certain age at which one feels that one's life is fulfilled[14]. Living as suicidal may be a better life as it is a means (the only means) of preserving one's youth.

3. Ambivalence of the will to die

To the question "why haven't we committed suicide so far?" the answer is that we are ambivalent about suicide. Psychologists often point to this ambivalence[15] and pro-lifers usually consider this ambivalence as an argument that suicide should not be regarded as a personal freedom. I want to argue that the ambivalence of the suicidal is not a reason not to acknowledge suicide as a right. It is obviously difficult not to be ambivalent about the decision which is the most important of a human's life: whether to be or not to be. A more common term for "ambivalence" is "hesitancy". Suicidal people are often hesitant about their true intentions, that's why many suicide attempts fail[16].

Ashers who live as ashers, with the freedom to die, may want to live[17], but not the life they have. It is possible to want to live. but live in a different age than the present one. For example, ever since I understood that I was probably allotted 80 years or so of existence on this Earth, I felt I would prefer to live eight years in every century of our millennium, rather than 80 years in a row since the date of my birth. Or at other times I wanted to live while preserving the memories of my youth and became suicidal once I realized that ageing involves forgetting of memories, losing of my young identity (see previous section). Thus, the desire to commit suicide is not an unconditional Yes to death, but a No to the particular life one has.

A suicidal person may be hesitant in a different, stronger sense: even if one has chosen to die, one may hesitate about the time and manner of the act of suicide; about the suicide method to be used. This hesitation is partly due to the fact that suicide is not socially accepted: it is difficult to do something with which nobody agrees.[18] This explains why some people may choose to die and yet be alive for a long time: they haven't yet chosen a particular method, or are not prepared to commit suicide in certain circumstances (e.g., if an important relative would suffer) although they would be prepared to commit suicide in different circumstances.

Some of us attempted suicide in the past and failed. We may however regret we failed in our attempts, as we feel that our suicide attempts are part of our identity as ashers. We live because we are not prepared to pursue further attempts right now, because we are afraid of the consequences associated with a failed attempt (physical and psychological pain). Indeed, many of us live while trying to secure the means painlessly to commit suicide: we stock lethal poisons with which to take our lives. Having at our disposal the means to take our lives if and when we so desire gives us a feeling of peace, of comfort. It is regrettable that the current accepted attitude towards suicide (encouraged by the psychiatric system) is that of hysteria, expressed in the instruction to deprive at any cost the suicidal people of the means to end their lives peacefully[19]. Indeed, by prohibiting us the access to the means of taking our lives whenever we want, those who insist on suicide prevention are guilty for our suffering. In some cases, the very possession of these means is what keeps us alive, by diminishing our feelings of fear of pain and procuring us a feeling of comfort. That's why we are suicidal and still alive: we live as suicidal[20].

4. Will analyzed

To clarify how it is possible to want to die and still live, a different route is to analyze the concept of Will.

4.1. Will involves lack of Will: implicit wills

How can someone want to die and still be alive? A naïve picture of the Will invites itself: it is that of a mental force that acts upon the body (and the world) by moving it and changing it. Actually, we are never in full control of something. The reason is that any will hides a lack of will. What we will depends on what happens independently of our will. For example, if I want to fly next week from Paris to London I must implicitly want many other things that I cannot control, e.g. that no meteorite should fall on Europe that week, that my plane should not crash, that the map of the world should not change by affecting the borders between countries, that my body should not be transformed into the body of an elephant, that war should not break between England and France. All these wills are not explicitly entertained: one's mind is not focused on them as they point to very improbable events, that one cannot control and happen independently of our Will — yet they are implicit wills, as one's will cannot be fulfilled unless they hold. Most fundamentally, any will is a will that time should pass, that we should become older as we will: there is a small temporal gap between explicitly formulating a will and fulfilling it (if the wish succeeds). If time stopped no wish could be effective. The most important implicit factor of any will, in the case of most people, is the will to stay alive: if one died immediately after formulating a will, the will could not be fulfilled. Therefore we never want only one thing: by explicitly wanting something that we can control, we implicitly want many other things, that we cannot control. What holds for any will holds also for the will to live or die. One never wants, in a proper sense, only to be alive or only to be dead: one can want this only by wanting other things as well.

4.2. Will cannot control the circumstances

There is a second sense in which any Will hides a lack of Will. One cannot control all the circumstances in which something happens: indeed, if one wants to fly tomorrow from Paris to London one cannot want (in a proper sense) to fly on a plane, as one has no alternative (it is impossible to fly on a bird's wings or on a bus); I cannot want that Paris be on European soil and London on an island, as I have no alternative and no control over these things. Our power to act on the world is fatally limited. The lack of will that is implicit in any will means that we cannot control all the aspects of the event that we want to happen, when we want something.

For most people, the wish to be alive is the most important implicit factor that underlies their wishes. It is also the most important circumstance desired: indeed, when we want that something happens, we want that we are alive when it happens[21]. But this factor is not very important for ashers. We are more lucid than ordinary people in that we question the obligation to live — as it has been pointed in the first paragraph of this essay. We want a voluntary life, rather than be coerced to live. Non-ashers are prey to the blind will to live, which masks the fact that their life will end in death. Ashers want some things, as long as we are alive. How is it possible to want something without wanting to stay alive?

4.3. Will and Time of the event willed

A third aspect to be noticed about Will. The question "does a suicidal person want to die or to survive?" is misleading because Will is directed towards a moment of time. When we want something, we may want it to occur earlier or later. Some ashers want to die by suicide, although not in the immediate future. They desire to control their deaths, to control the duration of their lives, and they are suicidal, although they continue to live. There is no contradiction about this: it's like the case of someone who wants to marry but remains a bachelor because he hasn't so far found a spouse that suits him. The case of the ashers who are suicidal because they don't want to become old proves that people sometimes want to commit suicide, but not now. It is unfortunate that the current societal attitudes, manifest in the attitude of suicide prevention, present all cases of suicides as being impulsive and equate "being suicidal" with "being in a state of clinical emergency". Some suicidal people are indeed impulsive, but it is wrong to suggest that one can only commit suicide by yielding to an impulse.

4.4. We can now answer how it is possible to want something without wanting to stay alive

The answer is that suicidal people are, as I pointed in the first section of this essay, more lucid than the non-suicidal people. Ordinary people, who, moved by the fear of death, are lived rather than live, dedicate themselves to arbitrary tasks and purposes. They illusion themselves with the idea that something is worth pursuing (e.g. successful career, money, beauty, fame) without realizing that all these goods are transient and all values that can direct a human's pursuits are doubtful, if regarded from the point of view of God. Indeed, the 20th-century philosopher Wittgenstein wrote that "The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time"[22] — an aphorism that (like Heidegger's considerations about death in Being and Time) always incited me to commit suicide as a means of leaving this world in order to discover what is outside it (if anything). During their lives, people become so accustomed with their earthly pursuits that they no longer realize they are arbitrary — thus, people who want to be rich claim that the search of richness is worth pursing more than other purposes, the people who want to be famous claim that the search for fame is worth pursuing more than other purposes, people who want to have political power think that the pursuit of political power is a purpose worth striving for. All these people are irrational: their lives are moved by purposes they set for themselves — but they cannot ultimately justify "why do you pursue this purpose and not other purpose"? The ultimate answer can only be "because I must live and do something". All non-suicidal people are irrational in that they forget that, even if they succeed in all the purposes they set for themselves, their gains are temporary and vain: the rich will not go to the grave with their money, successful politicians elicit hatred, beautiful people lose their beauty as their bodies age, and fame is always vain. When they don't succeed in what they want, they suffer — as if the purpose they had pursued was worth pursuing in an absolute sense. Ordinary, non-suicidal people don't realize that the Will is blind, as Schopenhauer famously holds[23], as it is actually objectless. People deceive themselves when they want something — as they can't offer rational grounds why they want exactly that thing. Only ashers (suicidal people) are aware that the Will is blind, that no purpose in this world is really worth pursuing. So: when an asher wills something in this world, s/he wants it with a bit of irony which prevents him/her from losing oneself in pursuing any purpose with the fanaticism that sometimes moves ordinary people, in search of their worldly pursuits. Their lack of passion for worldly affairs prevents ashers from suffering because of any failure in this world. Thus being suicidal may protect one from the suffering associated with failing in this world.

5. How to live as an asher in society

I will discuss now the social aspects of the life as an asher. We are alienated as we live in a society which does not recognize the freedom to commit suicide. We belong to ash as we feel the need to express our suicidal feelings without the fear of being condemned for them. Ash has thus become a micro-society. However, our belonging to ash may alienate us further from the rest of society, which is pro-life and will probably not accept our identity as ashers. Indeed, it is not possible, or hardly possible, to say openly that one believes in the right to commit suicide or implicitly contemplates it[24] — this may lead to conflicts with other people (e.g. a patron may refuse to hire you if it is discovered you are suicidal, are involved with ash or even had psychiatric hospitalizations)[25]. An asher may be led to live a double existence — in the dominant society (which values life more than freedom) and on the ash newsgroup (which values freedom more than life). This may lead to inner conflicts and worsening of the quality of life of the person in cause, if one is not prepared to abandon either the ash subculture or the dominant society (in which one must live and, presumably, work). How are they to be solved? A possibility is to claim that one has had some personal problems in the past but one solved them with the help of good psychologists or religion (even if one doesn't believe in either). Another possibility is to speak in an indirect way about suicide with one's entourage, by saying one is not afraid of death, that death will come to all of us, that one feels old.

These problems could be solved if society accepted suicide as a personal freedom, as we believe it should be the case. Indeed, the rate of suicide in all societies throughout historical times and geographical areas seems to be relatively constant (about 1.5% of all deaths)[26] and there is no evidence that it will be significantly higher if suicide were accepted, rather than repressed as it is the case now. Indeed, there is no evidence that rate of suicide among participants to ash is higher than the rate of suicide among participants to newsgroups oriented towards prevention; as everybody knows[27] the availability of information about suicide methods (via internet or books such as Humphry's "Final Exit" or Geo Stone's "Suicide and Attempted Suicide") did not unleash a wave of suicides[28]. We discussed in the first section of this essay about the fear of death, which is in our days stimulated by the pro-life religious institutions, and we argued in the first section of this essay that it is not beneficial in any way at the level of an individual. I want to argue that the fear of death is not beneficial for society either: it is not beneficial either for people who are suicidal (which are alienated, as we saw, from society) or for those who want to live long lives: indeed, ordinary people are "trained" by the current societal institutions (including the psychiatric system) to be shocked when they hear someone express the desire to commit suicide; they are presented a simplistic picture of the suicides, according to which all cases of suicide (and suicide attempts) are impulsive, and can only be impulsive — although some are obviously not. Indeed, the Western society has rejected suicide, although it has throughout its history accommodated different ideologies (religious and not religious) that required their members to be ready to sacrifice their lives for the "good" cause (be it a sect or other of Christianism, or Communism). It seems ironical that suicide as a personal freedom was traditionally repressed precisely by those people who were always ready to trigger wars and slaughters: how could people be motivated to take part in wars, to kill each other if they are not very convinced they must stay alive?[29] Moroever, by presenting all cases of suicide as necessarily impulsive, the contemporary Western society stimulates the natural but irrational fear of death — which the Socrates in the Apology did not have.

The attitude of suicide prevention is inconsistent insofar as it resorts to coercive means of keeping people alive (by prohibiting their access to the means of painlessly take their lives). Suicide prevention thus recognizes that some people stay alive not because they like to live, but only because they are too afraid to commit suicide. What is, indeed, the maturity or morality of a society which keeps its members alive merely because they are too afraid to commit suicide? Shouldn't a society be much better if its members lived because they freely want to live, rather than because they are coerced to live? These questions will have to be addressed sooner or later by the Western civilization. We hope sooner rather than later.

— Carthago deleta, January 2009.


  1. Lucy Biddle, Jenny Donovan, Keith Hawton, Navneet Kapur, David Gunnell, "Suicide and the internet" British Medical Journal 2008;336:800-802 (12 April).
  2. Book review of Quinnett-Suicide. The forever decision.
  3. These thoughts were suggested to me by the passages in Heidegger's Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) about the awareness of death as constitutive for authenticity (esp. Div I, chapter 6, §§44) and lack of this awareness as a mark for the fall in the impersonal das Man (They). Heidegger did not, however, endorse suicide — he condemned it.
  4. A popular Romanian fairy tale called Youth without Age and Life without Death that can be read here is a meditation on the same desire for immortality and youth, which is impossible as it requires stopping the passage of time and erasing memories. This beautiful story can be read online in several English translations, for example here:*articleID_40-oarticles_details.html
  5. as he refused to evade the death penalty he considered unjust, although he could have done so; see Plato's dialogues Aplogy and Criton.
  6. Plato-Socrates' Apology 17a to 42a. For Socrates' arguments that death is not a bad thing, see
  7. Heidegger throughout his Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) speaks about the human person (Dasein) as being-unto-death and of the awareness of death as essential for authenticity, as opposed to the fall into impersonal life. His philosophy is atheistic, as he equates death with nothing. Yet he unexpectedly condemned suicide in his 'Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegriffs' — probably because of his religious background and probably because he was afraid not to be accused (like Goethe) of unleashing suicide through his work. It is ironical that the fear of suicide and his religious background did not prevent Heidegger from being a Nazi.
  8. The ASH FAQ Debate:
  9. "Recurrence of suicidal ideation due to treatment with antidepressants in anxiety disorder: a case report" Doron Todder[1] and Bernhard T Baune[2,3] , Journal of Medical Case Reports, 2007
  10. except perhaps in the case of the terminally ill, which is not discussed here.
  11. The Prince in Youth without Age and Life without Death thought differently: he preferred to be unborn rather than to be condemned to age.
  12. By Euthanasia advocates. ASH supports Euthanasia movements in their struggle, but wants to make suicide a right for everybody who persistently desires it, regardless of their medical condition. Indeed, Euthanasia wants to create a category of people (the terminally or the incurably ill) whose life may be ended at their request and thus values less than the life of other people. This objection against Euthanasia would disappear if suicide were a right for everybody and the criterion for it should be persistence of the suicidal wish, not illness, as ash holds.
  13. By "time" I mean the psychological time, the inner feeling of the passing of time — the physical time is obviously uniform if we forget (for the sake of simplicity) about relativity.
  14. The Prince in Youth without age and life without death was not suicidal: he rather preferred to stay unborn rather than live the life of ordinary ageing towards death.
  15. This argument is used especially by Herbert Hendin, perhaps the most convinced opponent of suicide as a personal liberty. He wrote that "a request for assisted suicide is ... usually made with as much ambivalence as are most suicide attempts. If the doctor does not recognize that ambivalence as well as the anxiety and depression that underlie the patient's request for death, the patient may become trapped by that request and die in a state of unrecognized terror" ("Suicide, Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: Lessons From the Dutch Experience," Testimony. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Oversight Hearing, April 29).
  16. Geo Stone, Suicide and Attempted Suicide Carroll & Graf Publishing (30 Mar 2001) writes that about one third of all suicide attempts are not sincere, in that their perpetrators don't actually want to die and one third are ambivalent. The Swiss euthanasia organization Dignitas claims that only 2% of all suicide attempts end in death. (I was unable to check the accuracy of this information).
  17. As the first section of this essay tried to prove, only ashers may properly speaking want to live. They live, whereas non-suicidal people are lived.
  18. The ASH FAQ Debate:
  19. The reader may consult any suicide prevention site for information on this issue. They advocate a policy of prohibiting people from having access to means of committing suicide. An example is and other sites with a similar content.
  20. Lev Tolstoy wrote a drama, titled The Living Corpse, about a man who decided to commit suicide but lacks the courage to do it.
  21. With the exception of posthumous wishes, but we may forget this situation for the sake of simplicity.
  22. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.4312.
  23. In his World as Will and Representation, the sections about "The World as Will".
  24. There might be good social reasons for stigmatization of suicidal individuals — indeed, who could hire a person who doesn't even promise to stay alive? Such problems could be solved by laws which prevent an employee from committing suicide as long as s/he is under contract, allowing the employee freely to commit suicide once s/he is no longer under contract.
  25. Psychiatric Stigma follows you everywhere you go for the rest of your life, a warning from Lawrence Stevens, J.D.
  26. Wikipedia article about suicide,
  27. Lucy Biddle, Jenny Donovan, Keith Hawton, Navneet Kapur, David Gunnell, "Suicide and the internet" British Medical Journal 2008;336:800-802 (12 April).
  28. Goethe wanted to stay always young and felt sad about ageing; as a proof see his Faust. He thought about suicide as he depicts it (in a non-condemnatory way) in his early work The Sorrows of Young Werther. He was accused (probably falsely) of unleashing suicides through his work. But this seems as nothing if one thinks of the number of innocent people who have been killed in the name of books like the Bible, the Koran or Marx's Capital.
  29. It is ironical that monotheistic religions nowadays condemn suicide in the name of the "sanctity of life", despite having encouraged wars and slaughters throughout their history. Presumably religious institutions believe that life is sacred only in times of peace — actually the leaders of all religious sects encouraged war against other sects in the name of a certain "correct" interpretation of God's words, ever since the time of the Bible (half of whose text describes inter-tribal slaughters) until the present day. If one wants to enlist as a mercenary and risk dying by killing other innocent people, this is allowed (as there are many wars, most of them encouraged by religion), but if one wants a pill with which to take one's life, this is forbidden. It seems that the reason why religions have condemned suicide is that they wanted their subjects to be motivated to kill for the "correct" interpretation of God's words.


Last update to this page: Jun 15 2010.