I left this comment on Olivia O’Leary’s article in today’s Irish Times titled ‘By the manner of his death, Donal Walsh has left a reason to live’, in which the author writes against suicide, saying that ‘existence itself is a privilege’, and citing the line from Luke that says ‘Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these’ to express what ‘those of us lucky enough to be alive’ ought to ‘live life’ beyond the ‘urge to achieve, or the disappointment that we haven’t’.
The range of choices that appear before someone don’t emerge in a vacuum. They develop over time. We shouldn’t pretend that everyone’s family, friendships, working life and experiences are even roughly the same. Some people see the life in front of them as worth living; others come to a point where they don’t.
Privilege means ‘private law’. Existence cannot be a privilege since it means that there are other people excluded by this private law. But such people do not exist. So we should think about the quality of our existence, not the fact that we exist. Hence it’s fine to speak about considering the lilies, but many people struggle so much with their everyday circumstances that they rarely find themselves in a position to think about the qualities of a lily. You can’t appreciate a lily when the bailiffs are at the door. And anyway, no two people see the same lily.
A New York Times article -How Austerity Kills- reported the other day on how in the US, the suicide rate had ‘jumped during and after the 2007-9 recession’ above and beyond what pre-existing trends would have predicted. In Spain, there is a grisly trend of people opting to kill themselves because they see no prospects to life outside the family home from which they stood to be evicted by the state, operating in the interests of banks. On Saturday, in Solihull, England, Stephanie Bottrill walked out in front of a lorry because she felt she had no way of finding the £20 needed to pay the new so-called bedroom tax on the home she had lived in for the previous 15 years.
If we are not prepared to look at the social factors involved in suicide -not least policy decisions that favour major financial interests over people’s health, welfare and flourishing- and we instead simplify the phenomenon so that it appears as a matter of individual choice, as a matter of being incapable of seeing things in the right way, we end up bolstering the dominant individualist political ideology that draws its power from blaming its victims. If we are interested in putting an end to the horrors caused by suicide, we should think about collective ways of creating a world worth living in.