Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
The best thing going for the anti-suicide counselling group of Jodo sect priests of the Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture Buddhist temple is that they only respond to potential suicides who approach them, of their own volition, in print. They do not proactively interfere with people to export their ideas (“Priests take up pen to stop suicides,” Japan Times, Friday, November 22), to prevent suicide based on a presumption of overriding rightness to do so.
I question the easy and common association of suicide and attempted suicide with mental illness. I mean that I object to the assumption that suicide and attempted suicide themselves are incontestable evidence of mental illness. Taking this as an incontestable premise, suicide prevention programs are framed as public mental health necessities and mental health advocates constantly lobby for greater penetration throughout society of their counselling strategies. And, the same lobby constantly campaigns for people to spy on their fellows and report others to various authorities based on certain behavioural criteria. But I suggest, first, that suicide is so extremely personal that it can never be comprehensively understood, second, that thoughts of self-murder are fairly common and therefore part of the normal spectrum of human thinking, and, third, that proactive counselling programs are therefore both terribly presumptuous and unwarranted intrusions into personal privacy. In America the popular myth of happiness seems to drive the movement to counsel everyone who isn’t deemed to be conventionally happy and render them down to a condition of homogenized emotion, theatrical emotion and artifice. The power of American culture is exporting this ridiculousness. I suggest that conventional happiness is over rated and that there is a happiness fetish at work there (among their many other fetishes) that deserves suspicion.
I suggest that one’s body and one’s life are largely one’s own to treat at personal discretion. Unlike more conventional deaths suicide is especially miserable for survivors. Its measurable economic costs and emotional and economic impacts go beyond the individual, especially if the victim is socially connected and a family bread-winner. But that does not warrant or excuse uninvited preemptive intrusion into personal privacy or spying on our brothers and sisters. Advocates call it reasonable and overwhelmingly appropriate preventative intrusion. Although one’s emotional, social and economic relationships might be said to compromise one’s freedom - the freedom to choose death in this case - and that a compromised condition excuses uninvited intrusions by various counsellors of one stripe and another who are dedicated to endless fiddling with individuals in society, I do not agree. I respect people enough to leave them alone. Maybe others should do the same.