Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ben Shapiro on suicide

The (poorly punctuated) title of this YouTube video is somewhat misleading: Anthony Bourdain's recent suicide might be a jumping-off point or a catalyst for the discussion at hand, but Ben Shapiro's talk is more focused on suicide in general, and specifically on suicide as an "epidemic" in the United States at the moment. Shapiro's perspective comes off as a tough-love approach that I can relate to; I've written enough on suicide for long-time readers to have an idea where I stand on the matter, so I won't repeat myself here. But do give Shapiro a listen, and feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.

Shapiro's insight that we Americans are in the midst of a crisis of meaning and purpose seems plausible to me. Shapiro notes that "suicidality" is correlated with the richness of a country (he denies the flip side—to wit, that there is a correlation between poverty and suicide), and it makes sense that materialistic people who enjoy a lack of material needs might find life meaningless. While Shapiro talks tangentially about the lessening role of religion in society, he focuses more on the idea that people need purpose in order to live meaningful lives. This is, I think, a basic psychological truth. One of the reasons why certain old people get depressed and kill themselves is that they no longer feel useful; they are no longer seen as having anything meaningful to contribute: they no longer have a purpose. Psychologist Ernest Becker, riffing off the thought of Otto Rank, contended that human beings become suicidal when they cease to be the heroes of their own internal narratives, and crucial to being a hero is living for a purpose greater than oneself.

I hope you're not feeling suicidal as you read this. I hope no one close to you is feeling suicidal. But keep in mind that one path away from suicide is the path of heroism: you, or a loved one, need to feel you have purpose. You need to feel useful, to feel as if you're of value to others. The fact is that you are of value: there are people who either depend on you or who would feel utterly bereaved if they discovered you were no longer around. Recover your sense of your own heroism, and if you feel that that sense is missing, then go do something heroic. If you can't find a purpose for yourself, then by God, make a purpose for yourself. Don't let the demons win. They have no reason to win because, after all, they're only in your head.


John Mac said...

What's interesting to me is that suicide is more prevalent in developed countries. The suicide rate in the Philippines is significantly lower than countries like the USA and Korea. That's surprising given the abject poverty and hopelessness of so many lives here.

Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, that was one of Shapiro's big points. He didn't deeply explain why he saw no correlation between poverty and suicide (he cited some stats and common sense), but he did seem to think that suicide was more of a rich-country problem. Maybe it's easier to dream big, to have hope, when you're poor. Poverty gives you something to aspire to, while having everything handed to you leaves you feeling empty and unfulfilled. It's the old "suffering builds character" trope, or something like it.

John Mac said...

I know when I was feeling blue Loraine would always chide me saying "you have no idea how beautiful your life never have to worry about your next meal. Stop complaining!"

Charles said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm still trying to process all of this, and I'm still trying to organize my thoughts, but a lot of what Shapiro had to say rang very true for me.