Suicide, Free Will & A Monster

RIP Chris Cornell. I’m seeing a lot of posts on Facebook about suicide awareness today and I’m wondering if suicide hotlines work. If your brain is in a state where you’re seriously contemplating suicide (as opposed to just feeling down with remote thoughts of suicidal ideation), are you likely, in that state, to call a hotline? Does anyone have solid data? According to this article in Scientific American, “it is essential to recognize that most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically.”

This article quotes extensively from psychologist Roy Baumeister, who according to Wikipedia is now based at the University of Queensland. Baumeister simultaneously claims that “disbelief in free will can lead people to act in ways that are harmful to themselves and society” and yet “feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy, or feeling exposed, humiliated and rejected” lead to suicide. In my experience, when you stop believing in free will, those “feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy, or feeling exposed, humiliated” disappear. Where there is no free will, there can’t be any shame or guilt or inadequacy. Your actions are determined by physics, beyond “your” control. Even if your brain chemistry is going haywire for some reason, once the underlying neural structures have changed so fundamentally don’t believe in free will, it seems unlikely to me that any of those feelings can arise (beyond momentarily popping up before being negated).

In other news – Roger Ailes died. Not suicide, perhaps surprisingly after the year he’s had. I tend to agree with Matt Taibbi that Ailes was “one of the worst Americans ever”:

He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America’s vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate.

And, of course, he played an enormous role in making Trump President. But as I keep saying (and I’ve been saying it since Bush) – Trump isn’t the problem, he’s only a symptom of the problem. I suspect that focusing on removing Trump is missing the point.

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