Monday, June 9, 2008

Bankruptcy Suicides

I have just watched the clear, insightful, completely tragic documentary called Maxed Out, detailing problems with credit in America, from consumer debt to national debt. The documentary presents an accurate economic picture - it manages not to be dumbed down or reductive, though it's certainly aimed at a popular audience. With that in mind, the most tragic element of the movie is its presentation of three suicides that were almost certainly committed because of debt.

I am in favor of a right to suicide. These suicides - suicides by people who apparently very much valued their lives and ended them in response to a terrible, I would argue unfair situation - are tragedies and should never have happened. These are, to put it simply, bad suicides, in the sense that in a just world, they would not occur.

Coercive suicide prevention is not the answer. In East Germany, hiding statistics of suicides and re-terming suicides "self-murders" only served to mask the suffering taking place in that country. Force feeding of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay only serves to mask the suffering there. Similarly, coercive suicide prevention policies only serve to mask the true suffering that various policies create. The only answer is to change the policies and situations that create suffering so great that individuals feel the proper course is suicide, despite greatly valuing their lives.

On a related note, I have a position statement regarding consumer credit: While the decisions of individuals should be honored, even where they appear irrational, businesses that deliberately exploit cognitive bias of individuals to get them to enter into transactions thereby create a negative externality, and should be forced to absorb the externality. And secondly: most "sales" practices deliberately exploit cognitive bias of individuals, and therefore act against perfect information. (Criticism, links to articles and information, and things like that are, of course, encouraged.)


  1. "Suicide may also be regarded as an experiment - a question which man puts to Nature, trying to force her to an answer. The question is this: What change will death produce in a man's existence and in his insight into the nature of things?" Schopenhauer

  2. That reminds me of the psychopathic suicidal character in Denis Johnson's Already Dead - he tries to commit suicide by drowning, and when he's rescued, he's convinced that his subjective perception is all that exists in the world and he can never die. In retrospect, he sees his suicide attempt as a sort of experiment to test this precept.

    This gives the character a feeling of power. I doubt that's a very common response to waking up from a genuine suicide attempt. More common is probably a dismal resignation to the status of slavery. Though I hear some people are happy to be "rescued."

    I think the dangerous fantasy of rescue would be eliminated if effective, comfortable, legal assisted suicide were available. There might be fewer insincere suicides that way. It's hard to imagine someone going into a doctor's office and lying down on the table while they put the needle in his arm, but secretly hoping to be rescued.


Tweets by @TheViewFromHell