Reading Comprehension 036


We can be caught between knowing that we want to die, taking steps to accomplish it. Attempting suicide can be a way of shuffling the deck. No matter how much we may decry the control exercised over us once we've failed an attempt; we are the ones who got us there. It is a means of changing the life we are leading (abandoning control, which a lot of us want to do but are afraid of the repercussions). This is in part why some people commit crimes—to return to a controlled environment where they won't have to face the stress of decision–making.

Knowing that we can at any point terminate our lives can be a powerful incentive. "Okay, now I can do anything. If the heat gets to be too much, I can push 'eject, game over,' and I don't have to worry about the conditions I've created for myself." To many this is considered "weak, avoidance, cheating, sinful," etc., but that is just a human judgment intent on keeping us as their pawns, playing by their rules, condemned by their bogey gods, afraid to take the Final Power into their own hands and projecting this onto us as some sort of cosmic sin. After all, if they have to suffer in this shit–hole we're making of the world, we should be required to suffer it too, right? They'll say that we're a "sore loser" or a "spoiled–sport" (their game was ruined) if we don't remain inside their pitiful, finite game and submit to our position.

They are condemned to Hell in a life they deserve, and one's power to end one's own life is like a "secret weapon." Remember those spy movies and stories? (We may pretend we're a spy.) There's always the "cyanide pill" if we're captured or enter into a situation which may compromise our values and goals. If we condition ourselves to ingest it (something that these stories never talk about, but the spies have to endure it to break anti–suicidal conditioning)—that is, to terminate our lives—then we're better equipped to attain anything we want, or to die after feeling that our efforts were thwarted. It is arguable that this is one of the strengths of certain Asian martial codes, such as bushido, which focus so intently on the death of the participant.

Emile Durkheim, the first person to be formally recognized as a sociologist and the most scientific of the pioneers, conducted a study that stands as a research model for sociologists today.  His investigation of suicide was, in fact, the first sociologist study to use statistics. In 'Suicide' (1964, originally published in 1897) Durkheim documented his contention that some aspects of human behavior–even something as allegedly individualistic as suicide can be explained without reference to individuals.

Like all of Durkheim's work, 'Suicide' must be viewed within the context of his concern for social integration. Durkheim believed that the suicide rates within a social entity (for example, a group, organization, or society) are related to the degree to which individuals are socially involved (integrated and regulated). Durkheim described three types of suicides: egoistic, anomic, and altruistic. Egoistic suicide is promoted when individuals do not have sufficient social ties. Since single (never married) adults, for example, are not heavily involved with family life, they are more likely to commit suicide than are married adults. Altruistic suicide on the other hand, is more likely to occur when social integration is too strong. The ritual suicide of Hindu widows on their husband's funeral pyres is one example. Military personnel, trained to lay down their lives for their country, provide another illustration.

Durkheim's third type of suicide-anomic suicide–increases when the social regulation of individuals is disrupted. For example, suicide rates increase during economic depressions. People who suddenly find themselves without a job or without hope of finding one are more prone to kill themselves. Suicides may also increase during periods of prosperity. People may loosen their social ties by taking new jobs, moving to new communities, or finding new mates.

Using data from the government population reports of several countries (much of it from the French Government Statistical Office), Durkheim found strong support for his line of reasoning. Suicide rates were higher among single than married people, among military personnel than civilians, among divorced than married people, and among people involved in nationwide economic crises.

It is important to realise that Durkheim's primary interest was not in the empirical (observable) indicators he used such as suicide rates among military personnel, married people, and so forth. Rather, Durkheim used the following indicators to support several of his contentions:

(a) Social behaviour can be explained by social rather than psychological factors;
(b) Suicide is affected by the degree of integration and regulation within social entities; and
(c) Since society can be studied scientifically, sociology is worthy of recognition in the academic world. Durkheim was successful on all three counts.



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