Monday, 9 January 2012

Suicidal thoughts are probably bad

Not because life is sacred, or because life is always worth living no matter the suffering, no; instead because (a we aren't utility-calculating robots and (b because few effective suicide methods are available that don't run the risk of you becoming brain-damaged due to 'rescue'. And while it is somewhat liberating to turn to someone and say, "I don't actually have to take your shit, I can just go kill myself whenever I want, so there, poo-poo to you sir/madam", the constant thoughts of escaping beyond fiction aren't good for you. In my experience, in fact, they hurt. A lot. But is it intellectual cowardice to act otherwise? When you are in a horrible situation, is it better to be honest with yourself? Say you are trapped in a padded prison cell (for whatever reason you think fits). Should you torture yourself more by thinking of escape (in case you might actually find a way), or should you instead pretend you aren't in that situation at all? I guess I've committed something of a fallacy there - maybe you can stop thinking about your situation. And I'm not particularly sure that it is in fact more honest to think about your death if you so crave it. So all in all, even if it seems like you are not facing up to what is currently your greatest desire, it does seem logical to cease thinking about suicide, simply because being aware that you are suffering and trapped etc. doesn't actually reduce your suffering. No, instead it actually INCREASES it. Which, at first glance, actually seems quite strange to me. I was stuck in the mindset for a while there that it was good to be suicidal, good to think about my death, because I was being true to myself. But I think if I were really being true to myself, I'd be scrounging for as much non-suffering as possible, so I'd be serving more in the long run my need for true-to-myself-ness, even if in the short term I'd be fooling myself a little.

So you, (or more to my rambling point, I) shouldn't think about suicide unless the means are available to do it, because along with the fact that suicidal thoughts are painful, they are also usually quite a bit emotionally biased - you don't see numerical data scrolling down when you think about it, for example. So sorry for re-affirming what everyone already knew anyway, this is simply something that is new to me, strangely.  


  1. I agree with this. Since we live in a society where there is no easy method of suicide, suicidal thoughts are painful. Having to exist when you don't want to is very difficult. I'm not suicidal, but I would not have wanted to be born, and sometimes feel angry about having to exist, and deal with all the awful things involved with having to live through a life. It disturbs me very much that people are not given the option to end their lives in a painless and effective way.

  2. It could also be argued that another way to reduce the suffering of the world is by trying to be as happy as possible and thereby reduce your own contribution to the pile. As someone once said to me "No one's going to give you a medal for suffering".

  3. I don't know, in some weird way I feel happiest at the times when my impossible longing for (an early, peaceful) death is strongest. At least it gives me a perverse sense of existential direction, a quasi-spiritual fixation on that treasured state of (non-)being from which I've been rudely separated.

    For me it's a balancing act between realistic pessimism (which I think is far more loving and compassionate than the rosy kumbaya optimism that's used to justify untold suffering) and a personal need to tell myself it'll all be okay in the end- that no matter what horrors fill the living world, we'll all eventually arrive home to precious, painless oblivion- for the sake of my tenuous sanity. Death-worship is what gets me out of bed in the morning :)

  4. Wow I've never really thought of it that way Karl. The problem is, it's not as easy as that - the evidence that happiness probably fluctuates around a set-point (especially that one study of lottery winners) means that the burden to be happy should probably be placed most on people who might be able to do something to raise their set-point, like the mentally ill (therapy, drugs etc.). The thing that is the most important with regards to this is, however, clear-cut monitoring of non-suffering levels. Because often a 'I'm sure it'll be better tomorrow' can be interpreted by the memory as 'That day wasn't bad', when in fact it probably was. I've read extracts of Benatar's book, and I think he said quite a bit about people suffering a lot more than they actually realise.

    Todd, suicidal thoughts for me are a little like cheap drugs - the high I initially get from thinking it will eventually be over is small in proportion to the lows I get from realising that it will take a very long time yet. It could be different for you, however (I hope I haven't subliminally suggested to your subconscious mind to act in a different way).

  5. Estnihil, I think what I was trying to get at was encouraging the possibility of finding some temporary relief in the smaller things, such as reading, music, nice scenery etc. As you say, an individual's happiness point is probably fixed with a pretty narrow orbit for manouevre, but if we work on the small things it can still help. I'm one of those ANs who's always banging on about the shitiness of existence, and by that I mean the sum total of both physical and mental suffering, so if by resorting to things like those mentioned above I can reduce my mental suffering by even a tiny fraction I've thereby reduced the total aggregate of the world's suffering. Not exactly a huge can of beans, but I just wanted to clarify.

  6. I think that suicidal thoughts are normal but the thing to realize is that "thoughts" are not "truths", they are just ideas we come up with. The problem is when we think ideas are the solution and act on them, instead of explore them.

    Suicide is an idea. It's no different then thinking about a job you don't want anymore, or a marriage, or a friendship, or a car. It's just logic, nothing more, nothing less. Logically, ending life ends the struggle with it. The thing to realize is that we think about what we don't know, so whatever we think is a guess and not the truth.

    With suicide, how do you test it? You can't. Once it's done, it's done. And the only thing that happens with suicide is that your confusion about life gets reproduced as confusion in all those left behind, possible leading them to suicidal thoughts and actions.

    The solution is to realize why we think and to see that clarity is the solution to confusion. Please visit my blogsite for's where I share about the source of the confusion.

  7. Thanks very much Shadow! I'd comment on your blog more, by the way, if I were able to stop obsessing over what to write. The same goes for anyone's blog here, really. I just can't think of anything good enough.

    Sorry if I misunderstood you Karl. I understand what you mean by the total suffering only being reduced by a small amount, and I suppose that you are not really causing a harm (well, it's debatable, but I think there's more evidence to suffest that it isn't) by letting yourself feel suffering. But I guess I'll do better understanding this whole thing when I write a post about it.

    Thanks for your comment, Ron. "The thing to realize is that we think about what we don't know, so whatever we think is a guess and not the truth" - except a guess COULD be the truth, even if the probability is 0.00001, let's say.
    The thing about suicide is that you, as a human being, can state "I value positive emotions more than negative ones", and hence can sum up life's previous emotions and can predict (to SOME extent) the future - especially when you have an incurable condition for example. If the future contains more negative emotions than positive, then it is most likely better off that you die, considering that you would rather your utility reduce to 0 than to die later (AND WE ALL EVENTUALLY DIE ANYWAY) having experienced a negative utility (-5 for a bad life, let's say). I agree that humans are not perfect utility calculators, so suicide a lot of the time can be wrong (they will eventually get happier, by probability), BUT in some cases, such as extreme chronic pain, suicide is a saviour. Someone once told me on Jim's chatroom (Gottaname I think), that it is infuriating how people think it is horrible to inflict one's death on someone on purpose, while every parent who brings a child into this world KNOWINGLY does just this, since they will eventually die and leave their children behind.

    Everyone will die. Drinking alcohol quickens the process. Smoking quickens the process. Not exercising enough quickens the process. Eating red meat quickens the process. Suicide quickens the process.

    (Of course I am not THAT pro-suicide. I have written articles to the effect that suicide is probably wrong - unless you're a sociopath - unless your suffering outweighs those who love you. But I am against the idea that suicide is always wrong.)