Newswire » Lifestyle » Philosophical causes of suicide in Ireland

Philosophical causes of suicide in Ireland

French philosopher Albert Camus once opined that “the only real philosophical question there is, is whether or not one should commit suicide”. He argued, quite forcefully that it is the lot of man, that when he comes face to face with the stark reality of the absurdity of existence, his continued survival in spite of that reality was akin to Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. In other words if life is devoid of meaning, why continue to struggle in it? Camus goes on to explain that man continues to go on because he is determined to find meaning, even if he has to create his own. A herculean struggle but one that seems self evident considering the fact most people don’t commit suicide.

And yet, despite the efforts of man, as an individual, and as part of society to painstakingly pull meaning from the ephemera of existence, there are still many, too many, who cannot. For them, the rock has become to heavy. And the onus is upon all of us to examine why that is, not only for the sake of those who might be next, but to ensure the rock does not become so heavy that it falls upon us all.

The most recent suicide numbers in Ireland show that in 2016, 399 people took their own lives. Of that number 318 were male aged between 15-45. Even though that number is down from 451 in 2010 that is still an extraordinarily high number. I think it is fair to say that everyone cares about that number, and would like to see it cut. However, it seems to me that all the focus is on the practical issues such as the availability of psychiatric services, funding availability for mental health programs and so on. And while of course that is of great importance, it does not strike at the root cause of psychic malaise. We must look at the philosophical dissonance that has created the need in the first place.

It seems safe to say that the most prominent reason for suicide is a lack of meaning, or at the very least an inequality of meaning. That is to say the inability for the suicidal person to find a purpose in their existence, an inability to continue justifying their own suffering. Why bother pushing the rock, if all they have to look forward to is more pushing. A problem that is further pronounced when the suicidal person sees others who seem to have a purpose. Their dysfunction becomes dangerously acquainted with others seeming functionality. How come others can push the rock up that hill?

For the most part society (as a collective of individuals) find meaning in culture. Culture rests on three pillars; family, religion and tradition. Family, as traditionally understood was the unity of two adults to bring children into the world. To guide those children, protect them, and turn them into holistic individuals capable of good citizenry and with the ability to repeat the process. Religion, while of course commonly understood as a belief in a God, institution of faith etc, can be more broadly understood to mean a recognition of a particular value system that exists externally to those who believe in it, often embodied by an archetypal “perfect person” for the sake of simplicity. And tradition can be understood as the customs and mechanisms by which a given society conducts life with other members of that society.

In Ireland, for most of its history, the culture could be defined as Gaelic and Catholic. For generations this culture acted as a mechanism by which Irish people understood the world and their place in it. But then something happened. By the 1990s there was the beginning of a cultural revolt in Ireland. There was on one hand an embrace of the secular. People began to question the moral authority of the Church (and quite rightly so). Divorce was legalised, homosexuality was decriminalised, and the idea of marriage began to be re-imagined. There was now a counter point to the Gaelic and Catholic world view. People began to see the image of “old Ireland” as oppressive.

Also in the 1990s there was a socio-economic change. Ireland transitioned from a somewhat industrial country into a service economy. Gone were the days of manual labour on the docks, and in its place was the beginnings of “Ireland Inc.” Yet poverty still remained high and was compounded by the 2nd wave of heroin addiction especially in areas that had declined during the economic transition.

So we found ourselves in a brave new world so to speak. The family changed dramatically as the number of single parent households increased significantly. Men who were too young to retire, yet to old to retrain or emigrate found themselves in an emerging economy that ultimately had no real use for them. Their children, often with little education and mercilessly hooked on heroin, became the first generation in the problem known as generational unemployment.

Our value system also changed. By the time of the Celtic Tiger, no longer did we see ourselves as having a unified set of principles to guide us like we did in the past. Many people decided the value system offered by the church was inextricably linked to the organisation itself. More and more people rejected the institutions of the church such as marriage. The single motherhood rate went from 78,000 in 1996 up to 116,000 in 2011. The divorce rose by ten fold to 88,000 in the same time period.

The socio-economic disadvantage of of children in single parent homes is well documented. Those children are more likely to leave school early, get involved in drugs and crime, and be unemployed. It had a terrible effect on working class communities already struggling under the weight of drugs and economic disenfranchisement.

But even more than that, it deprived a lot of men of the meaningfulness of being a father. Children growing up in single parent homes were deprived of seeing the positive and complimentary role of both parents. What’s more, many fathers found their role being reduced to sperm donation, financial aid, and awkward encounters with their children in McDonalds at the weekend. And to be very clear, there are many men who enthusiastically shirked their responsibility, and there are many many women who do a fantastic job raising their children solo. But if one were to look at how courts favour mothers, and the value society places on motherhood, its is not hard to see why it is men that have been the losers.

But what about the value system that religion offered? We have seen how people rejected the church after the sex scandals etc. According to the 2016 census, 1 in 10 in Ireland are now atheist. That is the highest number ever. And it seems that number is going up. But what has replaced faith? If we were to ask atheist organisations, they would say that people now believe in “reason”. Which sounds about right. But the fact that suicide rates have increased along side atheism might suggest that “reason” as an end goal in itself, as opposed to being a tool to evaluate value is somewhat devoid of substance.

OK, so men in Ireland today have found themselves in a society that has changed the nature of the family, to the point were men are not really necessary for most it. They may find themselves in a certain type of employment that is less secure than their fathers had. They may find their value system being undermined and harassed by “reasonable” folk, who just want to tear religion down with no regard of the psychic trauma it may inflict. Neoliberal politicians tell them if they are struggling they are not “getting up early enough” to seize the economic opportunity. While Leftist politicians tell them that they are “privileged” and must be willing to take a back seat so “oppressed” people can have things handed to them in the name of “equality”. National traditions outside of corporatised events or the GAA are treated with suspicion and ridicule.

The cold reality seems to be that men in Ireland have become detached from the meaning that guarded against nihilism. And the suicide rate seems to show that pushing that rock is getting too hard for many. And it is a tragedy. In fact its worse, when an individual is possessed by nihilism it is a tragedy, when a society does it is a recipe for calamity.

Leave a Reply

© 1991-2014 Fountain Resource Group Ltd. · Registered Company Number: 193051C · RSS · Website designed by Solid Website Design