Former CEO of Zurich Insurance Group Martin Senn committed suicide on Friday May 27th. This follows the heels of another high profile suicide at the multi-billion dollar corporation, their past CFO Pierre Wauthier also blew his brains out just three years prior. With suicide comes the political, and in my view, ideological response to people deciding to ‘opt out’. The reality is that governments and societies seem completely incapable of dealing with suicide, let alone understanding it.
Suicide and Fascism
Shock, fear, and unease follow when someone decides to take their own life and we are seemingly ‘in disbelief’ each time it happens. But it happens, a lot. Mental illness is taboo in many cultures and it’s not hard to figure out why. The assumption for all citizens is that we are capable of controlling our thoughts and ‘warping’ the world around us into some sort of positive feedback loop. It is in Fascist philosophy that we find our perception of western attitudes toward mental illness best described,
“Fascism wants man to be active and to engage in action with all his energies; it wants him to be manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him and ready to face them. It conceives of life as a struggle in which it behooves a man to win for himself a really worthy place, first of all by fitting himself (physically, morally, intellectually) to become the implement required for winning it. As for the individual, so for the nation, and so for mankind” –Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism
Reality is a struggle, our existence is a battle and those who commit suicide are weak and therefore, surrendering to the natural world which we so fervently fight against. For capitalism to function it is essential that successful people are ‘strong’ and unsuccessful people are ‘weak’. Those with wealth are capable of warping reality, good fortune follows them wherever they go, they are industrious and in good health. But most of all capitalism promises you that by virtue of hard work you can achieve value within society and finally be satisfied with what you have. Martin Senn challenges this perception on multiple fronts.
‘Suicide is Selfish’
One comment in particular I think personifies our true difficulty in understanding suicide. A friend, attempting to internalize why a multi-millionaire CEO who has spent his entire life climbing the corporate ladder would kill himself said this,
“Once they said he killed himself in a Swiss vacation home I stopped feeling sympathetic.”
The desire within our society is to desperately find –some- selfish impulse within the suicidal framework. To put those who commit suicide as one needing attention (thus unremarkable and unable to attain it through labor), or sympathy (because they failed at personal relationships due to their negative attitudes), or to piss off society by selfishly ‘quitting’ the game, leaving their families to pick up the pieces. This thinking also plays into the collectivist notion that your life isn’t yours to live.
You exist to operate within society’s framework. You will go to college, get a 4 year degree, work a desk job, get married, have kids, have a 401k, and die at 80 released of your duty. By existing in the social world you are now expected to exist for its own sake, to cause minimal disruption to those around you. So keep your head down and clack away on that keyboard. That is your life plan set out by your family, work, and strangers on the street. Suicide is to say that not only is this plan worthless, but that every avenue and iteration within it is worthless. And for those who kill themselves with a weapon, the world you’ve created for them is such a piece of shit they won’t even inject heroin as a plan 598.z to find happiness. Your idea of a ‘good life’ is just that wrong.
To place yourself in the mind of a suicidal person is to make the necessary omission that the past is as irrelevant as the future.
The media lambasts us with the picture of the depressed as being in ‘pain.’ This is clever imagery because it implies a physical affliction when there clearly is none (except for the chemical interactions within your brain). To be in pain is to imply that you are being poked with needles or beaten with a bat, to which our non-depressed people say, move away from the needles, be happier, be positive, exercise and the pain will disappear! You will be cured.
To be depressed is not to be in pain, it is to be dangerously apathetic and hopeless. The past is as irrelevant as the future as the present. Our social world requires people to want to attain more, to find purpose and pleasure in accumulating money, family members, or something social. Depressed people do not want more, they want nothing, they are numb to motivation and besieged by their own monologue. Their own psyche mocking them from afar, reiterating their personal failures in a self perpetuating breakdown which so often leads to physical harm. To blow your brains out in a multi-million dollar Swiss vacation home is an ideological challenge; it is as if to proclaim from the mountain tops, maybe wealth and power won’t make you happier.
I think of course that the most dangerous and subversive political statement made by high profile suicides and depression cases is that it flies in the face of what we are taught. We work harder every year pretending that an extra 5, 10, or 15 grand a year will suddenly make us ‘free.’ So we derail their deaths as hedonistic, cowardly, or ‘what pain they had to endure.’ As if to say they were cancer patients and had no hope of survival. But here are individuals who have climbed the ladder, reached the echelons of society, amassed so much money that they could retire whenever they so choose. But instead of moving to a hidden Caribbean island and living the ‘dream’ in quiet seclusion, they overdose on drugs or jump off a mountain.
The answer to the suicide problem is simple enough, one must agree that those who commit suicide are not looking for your pity, your respect, or any form of your opinion. They are products of the society you work to produce. The kind of person who jumps off a building merely wants to end it, as they have convinced themselves that there is no cure and they are merely weak. As they have struggled to survive (the Fascists tell us), so they have the right to end the struggle. We call them weak but walk that dangerous line between berating them for being mentally ‘ill’ but not wanting it to go too far (we’re not monsters…).
We just want them to exist in perpetual pain because their life is not theirs to live, their life is ours. Societies arguments have failed, their schooling, relationship customs, and personal fulfillment pathways all come crashing down and yet, you cannot quit; you must exist forever to feel weak and cowardly for even thinking of that awful taboo, to take your own life. So we condem the ‘suffering’ instead to the prison of sleepless night, to fantasize about death while falling asleep, wishing, hoping that tomorrow will be the day the light shines through; but it never does. Our lives don’t change because we are sad and the world does not warp to our ambition. To be mentally ill is to be weak, they are told. They are but quiet heretics among the fervent devout.
The world needs less faux compassion and a little more introspection. To understand suicide is to understand that your political reality, your very ideological framework is not ‘correct,’ ‘moral,’ or even self-perpetuating. Every new generation in western society needs to be coerced and convinced that your road map is worth it. So every time someone unplugs, it must be seen as a statement in how much work we have left to do. We need to stop being surprised when suicides happen, because it implies we were caught off guard. We know full well the problems with our society so stop pretending they aren’t there.