Saturday 17 February 2018

Kevin Myers: 'As a society, we seem paralysed by suicide'

AN epidemic of suicide is sweeping through Ireland this winter. It is not taking the usual victims -- young males -- but the middle-aged, and of both sexes. I don't return to this topic with any pleasure; indeed, quite the reverse. But as a society we seem so paralysed by the phenomenon that we dare not even acknowledge its existence, never mind do anything about it, other than perhaps to give its victims far larger funerals than they would otherwise have had.

The first thing to remember here is that we are not dealing with rationality, either in the subject of suicide, or in general human behaviour. Anthropologists long ago concluded that a great many of the things we do are simply mimetic, or based on group dynamics. Market researchers in the 1950s discovered the existence of predictable trends within a society, and the percentiles that are likely to be drawn to them. Which is why all election victories are as much based on appealing to the different and mathematically calculable percentiles in any society as they are on policies.

Humans belong to a weak, impressionable species anyway, and we in Ireland have certain cultural characteristics which make us particularly vulnerable to suicide. For example, we have a tendency for political violence that is disproportionate to the alleged causes. There is also an appetite for martyrdom and for the most murderous form of passive-aggression, namely the hunger-strike. Overall, we have sanctified the concept of early-death well outside the usual parameters of lawful war. And we have traditions of melancholy, of brooding and of self-pity that are incarnate in our poetry, drama and music. We must take all these factors into account when we try to deal with the suicide epidemic in which we find ourselves.

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