The Suicide Epidemic in Perspective
Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, these are only a couple of the higher profile names amongst the tens of thousands of suicides which take place on a yearly basis in this country. The ending of someone’s life being the most tragic thing to take place for friends and loved ones of the person committing the act; answers are inevitably searched for. The U.S. government has several agencies with the aim of studying and preventing suicides: Mental Health Services Administration, National Institutes of Health, and Health Resources Administration, just to name a few amongst several. Several ideas are proffered as potential cures to reduce the suicide rate, such as getting pets, going out more, more and stronger anti-depressants, however none of these touch on the underlying social and structural causes behind the suicide epidemic. Even with all the money and resources, being put into the problem the fact is that it’s getting progressively worse with no end in sight. From 1999 to 2014, the suicide rate increased 24%. With suicide being the 14th leading cause of death for females and the 7th leading cause of death for males, while for those aged 15 to 44 it’s the third leading cause of death. All of this with the knowledge that because of the social stigma which surrounds it these figures have most likely been under-reported with the actual numbers probably being significantly higher.
Characteristic of the society we live in today is the blinders most of us put over eyes when it comes to problems of a social nature. Suicide being done by individuals is generally not considered a social problem, but besides the loved ones who are effected by the taking of the suicide victims life, there are root causes which come into play as to why individuals take their own lives, causes which transcend the mental illness diagnosis popular today and go back to human nature and the social context we come from. There are very few instances, which can be classified as being individual in nature, being isolated from society and not causing extended ripples into the larger social arena. The more society evolves the more evident it becomes that the lines, which used to separate private from public have always been more arbitrary than scientific and need to be reconsidered.
Suicide is not a recent phenomenon, there’s a history which is affecting today’s individuals and their proclivity to taking their own life. Looking back hundreds of years to the beginnings of the industrial revolution, certain trends begin to reveal themselves. As people began to leave the countryside for the city there began to appear an increase in crime, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, political instability, and mental illness. What was happening, was what at first appeared to be individuals moving into densely populated cities fulfilling their social natures, was actually isolating them from the most important aspects of their social natures. Simply being around other people is not enough. Meaningful relationships need to be formed with those we have contact with. That’s why the social ills which so often accompany modern society are less prevalent in pre-technological agricultural based societies where neighbors live far away from each other and social contacts are less numerous than urban environments. Being part of a family instills structure and values upon individuals, working the land which has been worked on by relatives for generations creates the sense of being part of something which transcends the individual. The Church, the School, marketplace is full of individuals which know each other; there’s a sense of being part of a community where individuals share a common history and cultural outlook. Unemployment being relatively rare in these agricultural based communities is still dealt with by extended family and communal structures which serve as a safety net for individuals. Suicide is rare in this environment as the individual has the knowledge that he belongs to something greater than simply what exists in front of his eyes.
In pursuit of greater wealth and excitement the individual that leaves the countryside not only abandons his roots, but also his family. This is not done intentionally and often the individual will start a new family of his own in the city. However, the effects go much further than that. The city is full of people from different areas of the country and world. The connectedness which defined the individual’s previous life disappears. The social safety net provided by the family and larger community is replaced by either nothing at all or payments from a distant bureaucratic agency. Steady familiar employment is gone replaced by instability, and going from job to job. Work, which used to be part of a larger overarching structure which gave meaning to the individual now becomes an impersonal distant relationship characterized by a hostile management which feels itself as something unique from the laborer, trying to expand profit by extracting as much labor for as little enumeration as possible. While wages may be greater in the city, so also is the cost of living and subsequently the living quarters of the laborers were many times horrible hovels. The soulless emptiness produced by Industrial Capitalism was attempted to be replaced by individual with frivolous relationships, hence the spread of STD’s and the reinforcement of the individual’s isolation as the love and meaning he seeked could not be gained by empty sex. As families were born and raised in these environments political instability followed. The worker saw his children and wife put into the same soulless factory automated world, subsequently the worker imagined his woes being derived from a lack of earning power. Marxism which defined the world as a material construct and promised the proletariat financial well-being and security was the product of this world and its ideal illustration. Offering the false promise of personal happiness through financial gain.
While the economy has changed from being industrially based to technologically based the problems brought about by the industrial revolution have in fact in many ways gotten worse. There have been improvements in working conditions, with 8-hour days, and health and safety improvements done to the workplace, however the isolation that is imposed upon the populace by economic factors has been reinforced. The unpredictability of work has increased, as improvements in technology have given Capital the capability of being able to transferred to anywhere in the world within a short time span, thereby driving down wages and the disconnect between worker and management. Sexual immorality, which was once done discreetly behind closed doors has now become ingrained and celebrated in the public consciousness as normal, while those who reject it have become outcasts. Capital with its ever-increasing need for profit and market share has been able to manipulate the political system to allow for huge increases in immigration. Whereas before the city might have contained strangers, there was at least the subconciousness, recognition that these strangers were still nominally your countrymen. Now that acknowledgment is gone. It’s likely that your neighbor has a completely alien belief system and history, the spiritual connection needed to establish a nation doesn’t exist. When a nation is nothing more than borders, and a common governing authority then there is no nation. The last Western Roman Emperor was overthrown in 476 but the Roman State had been allowing the creation of separate German nations within the Empire for over 200 years. When the Eastern Romans reconquered Rome 100 years later what had been Roman was gone, and was so for a long time before 476.
While undoubtedly mental illness exists and is a big culprit when it comes to suicide, it doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Human history is a story of human diversity. Society previously being viewed as an entity resembling a human body with each of its parts (individuals and collective units) having different aptitudes and proficiencies filling different functions, yet all connected and relying on each other. Liberal Democracy broke this chain and instead of society being an interrelated whole created a construct where people no longer recognize the other as being part of a common whole. Instead the individual was looked upon as being autonomous, the center of existence. Because of the State’s inability to keep order in today’s society, in many locales across the country people live in fear of going outside. Hence, a whole generation of children has been raised on video games and computers, a good many of them home schooled. Social interactions have been declining and where they do exist are often characterized by differences in wealth, for example sports leagues are often divided by one’s ability to pay. With the wealthy separating themselves from their poorer neighbors. The adverserialism of our economic structure has migrated into youth sports. Schools have turned into subsidiaries of Corporate America, concentrated on producing workers for the 21st century economy. Ignoring the traditional role of education as the development of the individual’s intellect and love for learning. Those who have different aptitudes are finding it more and more difficult to develop them in a world obsessed with material gain. The artist, writer, singer often have no other option than to work behind a cubicle 9-5 instead of developing their innate gifts.
Brain chemistry isn’t a static phenomenon. The brain is dynamic and changes as we interact with our environment. When our social natures aren’t allowed to develop to at least a fraction of their potential, chemical imbalances can follow. We become dependent upon certain behaviors, like overeating, empty sexual relationships, and criminal undertakings. The increase in suicide rates we’ve seen since the birth of the industrial revolution is not a coincidence. Mental illness is real, but it’s not the direct cause of our suicide epidemic. It’s a symptom of a much bigger problem going to the heart of the political/economic makeup of our society.