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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le suicide… maladie contagieuse ?

by Claude Tedguy

Suicide: A Contagious Illness?

Translated Thursday 8 October 2009, by Kieran O’Meara and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Time passes, and yet some things stay the same, because indifference to misfortune and despair is an aspect of life that we are both unwilling and unable to eradicate. We don’t like to talk about suicide or death, and even less the manner and means of bringing them about. Perhaps, from a feeling of discomfort, a feeling of being disturbed by those words which touch a raw nerve. But it goes beyond words, as concealed behind the words lie real stories.

Let’s leave aside philosophical notions of suicide like Camus’s "the only serious philosophical problem". "The love of life... does not exist without life’s despair". Or the fact, according to Landsberg that, "man is the being which can kill itself, but must not do so." And let us stick to what has always been one of the irrefutable causes of suicide: a feeling of uselessness and of the inability to overcome one’s difficulties which are clinically and scientifically speaking a prelude to clinical depression: a lowering of psychophysical energy which appears in the form of weariness, a feeling of powerlessness and melancholy, leading to the final moment: "I can’t do it, I give up..."... and the drastic act itself.

It is not by chance that the so-called consumer society has multiplied the suicide rate by two hundred per cent, among the young in particular. It is not by chance that, in seeking to be efficient, one makes oneself ill... by pushing oneself to the very limits of what is possible. The Stakhanovite worker of the former Soviet Union no longer exists and perhaps never did exist. It is not by chance that a sword of Damocles hangs over workers when it is given to be understood that only the "best" will survive. In reality, the "worst" workers are nowhere to be found, nor are the "best", but an exploitation of the fear of "ending up on the shelf", which has effects which are well-known. It is by no means by chance that a drive exists to engender fear, envy, and jealousy... to raise profitability, until people start dying.

Neither is it by chance that, once it has been put into motion, the contagion of suicide starts to spread like an oil slick. Remember Jan Palach on the 18th of January 1969, and the wave of suicides that followed his death among young people across the world: Jan Palach committed suicide by self-immolation in Prague, and a student of the lycée Faidherbe killed himself in Lille... "as a protest against violence", he said. Another student wrote that he was putting an end to his own life "because of war and human stupidity". A very young high-school student committed suicide on rue Agar in the 16th arrondissement, a worker in Sochaux as well...
Le Monde of the era, in a laconic and discreet series of news bulletins, brought a number of deaths to our attention, which called on us and still call on us to reflect on what had taken place... as the deaths at France Telecom make the same demands.

We do not like to have those kinds of demands made on us, however. The political powers-that-be do not like to be reminded that a human being is not a machine - not a machine for production, nor consumption, nor for competition. The very structures of our society are implicated in every domain. And men, women, and children, whom we have pushed towards death through our indifference and complicit silence, are dying. What pathetic individuals we are, concerned with saving our own skins. What pathetic individuals we are, who fail to comprehend that it is our children, both now and in the future, whom we are sending to their deaths. Are we all murderers...?

One must not believe that suicide is merely a desperate protest. Sometimes, as it is today, a crime indirectly perpetrated by those who have decided to manipulate the human being to the extreme. The individual is, therefore, because of the dismantling of collective structures, isolated to the point where he is totally alone, and devoid of the strength to fight back. This is not at all a new phenomenon: it is easier to strike down those who have been isolated than those who are part of a group, or who are in revolt. It must be proclaimed and brought to consciousness. Because death is without any purifying effect. Death is the failure of life. It is, moreover, the hypocritical victory of those who, like others, wash their hands of it. However, the smell of blood hangs over it all.

— -

Claude Tedguy is a philosopher and psychoanalyst. He is an organizer and lecturer at the Free University of Letters, Arts and Sciences. (L’Université libre et populaire des lettres, des sciences et des arts.)

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