Monday, March 13, 2006

Richard Cory in Japan

I read in the news the other day that there's been an increase in group suicides in Japan--mostly young people who meet online to discuss dying, apparently. This is a very sad thing. I understand that Japan has different cultural attitudes toward suicide than we do in the West (though we have our own strand of suicide-romanticization--Goethe, Plath fans, Goths, etc.), but it is sad nonetheless. Japan is a very prosperous country with a heritage to be proud of, yet nowadays the Japanese as a whole can't summon up enough hope in the future to replace themselves and some of the young people they do have can't summon up the nerve to keep living.

I'm very familiar with the phenomenon of Westerners who go on about how the East is more spiritual than the West, Easterners are more holistic and less materialistic, etc. I don't tend to buy this, because I think people are people wherever you go--i.e. human nature is the same, no matter the shape of the eyes, color of the skin, or texture of the hair. You wouldn't get Hong Kong or modern, commercial Japan if people of the East were automatically less susceptible to greed than the West, would you? Anyway, I think these suicides in Japan and its very low birth rate come in part from a spiritual problem. (It's probably a psychological problem too; humans just don't seem to do as well in prosperity as they do in adversity. Not to mention a multilayered social problem.)

When people decide to live only for themselves, it never satisfies. There is a spiritual emptiness. It's good for the economy (short-term), because the less you have in your life that matters the more distractions you need to buy, but it is not good for people. When vast numbers of people in a society decide that there is nothing bigger than themselves worth living for, nothing more important than themselves and the gratification of their own immediate whims and desires, it is very bad for that society's long-term future. Why go on living and working and producing if nothing matters? A man isn't going to die for a country he thinks is worthless and corrupt. A woman isn't going to be willing to lose her figure and her free time for children, if she thinks the next generation isn't as important as her own good time. Why go to the trouble of building families and communities when it's easier to shop and watch TV and have a string of affairs? And when you realize the continual gratification of your appetites never ends because it never really satisfies, why even go on living? If there's nothing bigger than you and all the distractions you're supposed to want because they're so fun and so luxurious don't satisfy, why not give in to weariness and end it all?

I'm not picking on Japan. This "nothing bigger than me" attitude that I think may be contributing to the group suicides is pervasive in Europe and the Anglosphere too. Unless there's a radical change, I expect to see more of this sort of thing in the West. Based on various things I've read over the past fifteen years or so, it seems we're already seeing at least a small rise in suicides.

And I think that is a very bad thing.

I have sympathy for the kind of unhappiness these people may have had in their lives and I understand clinical depression and suicidal thoughts, because I've been there, but I think I lost whatever tendency I may have had to romanticise suicide a good many years ago. (I definitely decided it wasn't an option for me.) And if I did have any residual feeling along those lines, I lost it several years ago, when I first came across these lines by Chesterton:


"Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil,
the refusal to take an interest in existence....There is not a tiny creature in
the cosmos at whom [the suicide's] death is not a sneer."


I hope I never look at henbit or a sparrow and sneer. Or my fellow human beings.

1 comment:

Writer78 said...

Powerful post. Very brave. Thank you.