May 272014

I’m not going to comment directly on the Isla Vista massacre. I managed to avoid it for four days, and I don’t want to get dragged in. But I will finally post something I’ve been kicking around in my head for months (years?) but I’ve been unwilling to say out loud. And maybe still shouldn’t.

Maybe some lives really aren’t worth living. It seems that humans have natural happiness set points. Life events will temporarily raise or lower your happiness, but eventually you revert to your natural set point, resulting in the Hedonic Treadmill. Which is why some people in abject poverty are, overall, happy and fulfilled; while others living in a modern economy with no material wants and every advantage in life are miserable and end up killing themselves. If Hemmingway and Cobain couldn’t find peace in their accomplishments, what chance does anyone else have?

We acknowledge that some people, suffering from terminal diseases, have more pain than joy to look forward to in the remainder of their lives. The humane among us accept that they should have a right to end their lives a bit early. What of those who are fairly young and in decent physical health, but whose underlying emotional or neurological damage means the rest of their life will always be more pain than happiness? I doubt that we can identify someone like that with any accuracy – it seems that very often those who think their misery is unending find that five or ten years down the line it really does Get Better. But there can’t not be people whose lives really will be awful forever, who really are better off dead. It seems cruel to chain them to an existence that they don’t want and can’t bear.

And every now and then, one of those people will snap and lash out, killing innocents on their way down. I cannot advocate suicide, as for most it will get better. They shouldn’t abandon their lives just as it looks gloomiest. With the notable exception of those who are on the verge of taking others with them. Anyone like that really should keep the damage localized to just themselves. Societies in the past have been pretty good at encouraging suicide under certain conditions. Maybe it shouldn’t just be about honorable deaths for captured or disgraced warriors. Maybe we should have a term for the honorable suicide of one who fears they could be a danger to others; and celebrate such selfless acts when they occur. It may be better than the alternative.

The really sad part is that I think this, as outrageously unlikely as it is, is still more likely than our society deciding to spend the effort to seriously address mental health issues.

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