Not Allowed to Die
Thoughts on how civilisation claims complete control over your life… and death.
Under the boot of civilisation everything is such that it makes us want to quit life, but we’re simply not allowed to die.
During a talk with Stephen Grosz, Slavoj Žižek told an anecdote of how he dealt with suicidal thoughts. He said he managed to postpone it long enough by saying to himself “OK, I will kill myself, but not today, because tomorrow I have psychoanalysis at four.” I have heard of this tactic before, but after giving it some thought I found myself mortified at the power our daily rituals and institutions have over us.
In a very empty and apathetic era of my life, I too used such tactics to ward off suicidal thoughts. “You can’t kill yourself now, you have an exam in two days,” I mumbled to myself. For me this wasn’t even an elaborate plan to trick myself into not ending my life, I just feared the consequences of not attending the exam so much that no amount of rationalisation could rid me of it. I just had to do what needed to be done. While I’m glad that I never went through with what my exhausted mind wanted me to do, it scares me what I actually considered more important in this situation.
People usually take their lives to escape an unbearable mental anguish. Sometimes such acts are impulsive, but more often than not they are premeditated. My professor of sociology talked about her analysis of suicide notes multiple times, which familiarised me somewhat with the psychological underpinnings of such acts. The ridiculously long periods of perpetual suffering that most of those persons went through before finally doing the deed, exposed how long we are actually willing to put up with the terror of everyday life until we decide it’s enough. Suicide is by no means a good method of achieving liberation, but it does present a radical break with the status quo for the one doing it — it flips everything over.
For me at the time, some stupid high school exam ranked higher on my list of priorities than what I do with my own life. From a rational standpoint this is absolutely insane.
What should be understood is that civilisation and its institutions are not set up to prevent suicide out of the goodness of their non-existent hearts. There is nothing more terrifying to it, than its subjects taking control of their lives, even if by self-annihilation. Perhaps this is why “an increasingly technologized medical terminology has patients “terminating” rather than dying,” because in the grand scheme of things it’s just a technical error in this giant Machine.
Despite its wants, civilisation seems to make people increasingly suicidal; in 2017 approximately 10 million people in the USA experienced suicidal thoughts. An observation of suicidal tendencies in Mla Bri hunter-gatherers of Thailand claims that “suicide was virtually unknown among the Mla Bri before more permanent settlements were established.” David Choe, an American artist and musician, who spent several months with Hadzabe hunter-gatherers of Tanzania, said he offered one of the tribesmen to come to America as a supermodel (due to being very athletic) to which the man replied “Isn’t that the place where people jump off buildings to kill themselves?”
Committing suicide (or at least attempting it) is still illegal and punishable in some countries, as this used to be the norm not too long ago. At first this seems like a very unintelligent attempt at prevention, though I see it more as punishment for punishment’s sake. If you wanted to die a death that does not benefit the civilised Leviathan, you needed to be punished for such disobedience, for daring to reach a breaking point. In a short sci-fi horror short, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison, a supercomputer that took over the world brutally punishes a man who freed some other characters form its grasp by killing them — freeing them from the torment of technological slavery.
Civilisation requires you to be a perfect machine, there’s no time for weakness or for rest. As we are consumed by the control-ethos, we also get extremely controlling of everything we possess, whether it’s living or inanimate. I have on multiple occasions seen dog owners beat and kick their dogs in public for even the slightest disobedience, while those passing by paid no attention whatsoever — such is the civilised life. What those dogs probably experience daily we experience too, just in slightly different forms, the only difference being that some forms of abuse are more obvious than others. A middle aged woman kicking a tiny dog on the street is more aesthetically brutal, than the violence when woodland is bulldozed to make room for more housing, or the violence that coerces humans to waste their lives working in factories. Evidently, nobody enjoys living in such circumstances.
In the hilariously named People’s Republic of China, where The People™ definitely seem in control of things, factories have set up protective nets, so their wage slaves couldn’t kill themselves on the worksite. This speaks to another aspect of the system’s coldness, as the author of the referenced article says: “You can throw yourself off any building you like, as long as it isn’t one of these,” in other words, people can kill themselves so long as they don’t cause the factory any problems. Of course a factory can easily replace such a cog (aka the worker), while the issue of suicide is more problematic for the broader system. Not only is losing millions of important cogs detrimental to our ecophagic monster, but with so many taking their lives it could alert others to the horror of our daily routines.
Here is where mental health institutions come to Leviathan’s rescue. Of course I should make myself clear: the psychological issues of our age are very real, and I am not trying to deter people from seeking treatment for issues related to mental health, as these issues can quickly ruin the lives of afflicted persons and those around them. The way in which both psychiatry and therapy fail, is in their completely uncritical approach; their aim is to get people “back into shape,” coming from an assumption that there is nothing wrong with broader society, and that these issues are solely individual in origin. As much as mental health treatment helps people, it does not provide long-term solutions for anything. Mental health professionals merely function like car mechanics for the human-machines that broke down due to the bumpiness of the road — somebody is fixing the machines, but nobody bothers to check what the road is like. We pretend that this is what it has always been like, that the road was in ruins from the start, and that cars are to blame for breaking down.
Depression, one of the most widespread psychological ailments of our age, has recently been proven to not be just some chemical imbalance or serotonin deficiency. While the study did not examine the effectiveness of antidepressants, it has suggested that better techniques for combating depression might be a change of one’s social or material environment (I know, shocker), and practices like exorcise and mindfulness. Obviously, such practices are not easy to do in an artificial environment of civilisation that does its best to make us do the exact opposite of what is good for our well-being.
Theodore John Kaczynski put it very well, “[i]magine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy then gives them the drugs to take away their unhappiness […] In effect antidepressants are a means of modifying an individual’s internal state in such a way as to enable him to tolerate social conditions that he would otherwise find intolerable.” The system is not concerned with our well-being, it’s concerned with getting us to put up with it for as long as possible, because its “life” depends on it.
Civilisation is un-dead; it causes universal death, but also fears it while it blindly marches toward it in its quest for short-term ‘survival.’ Fredy Perlman described it in his iconic work, Against His-Story, Against Leviathan, as being a cadaver, moved around by people caught in its entrails. “Its [civilisation’s] life is but a borrowed life; it neither breathes nor breeds; it is not even a living parasite; it is an excretion and they [the faceless people inside it] are the ones who excrete it,” he wrote. Exploitation (and therefore existence) of life is crucial for the Leviathan to keep on moving, though if robotics and AI development make further significant developments, it might become obsolete; machine-slaves would (ideally at least) not break down like life does; machine-slaves would never disobey, and most importantly, such machines would need no life to keep on operating.
Of course self-sustaining machines are luckily not a reality (yet), and we are still the Atlas carrying this animated corpse. We are the Atlas getting crushed beneath Leviathan’s weight, and we need to shrug, to borrow the metaphor from Ayn Rand, an author I otherwise very much despise. This great shrugging, the exodus, would of course ideally not come in the current form of mass suicides and drug abuse — consequences of indoctrination into thinking that life outside this is even worse or impossible.
The Myth of Human Weakness is hammered in from the start, so nobody even thinks about living outside the walls, where the scary all-powerful monsters dwell; this is the reason so many see death as the only way out. Deskilling en masse does its job as well. Other tactics are then used to further acclimate them to their accursed existence, and to make it seem inescapable. Some of these tactics have been mentioned a few paragraphs back, but there are more; instilling a crippling fear of death is one of them. Naturally, fearing death to some degree is normal, but in this system it is taken to a whole other level.
Civilised religious/spiritual beliefs instil a feeling in the unfortunate believers that life is just means to an end, not the end itself. If life is made miserable by the sedentary life of toil and perpetual oppression, that’s no big deal because it’s just a prologue to something far bigger, far more important. When you believe you’re caught in a cycle of reincarnation that brings you nothing but suffering, you’ll see it as less important, not very great, you’ll distance yourself from it. Life is not as meaningful as what comes after; this devalues life on one hand, but exaggerates a fear of death on the other. Have I been good enough at doing this or that, to score enough “good boy” points to get the desired outcome after death? Such questions occupy minds of the masses. Obedience is internalised, rebellion of any kind is unlikely.
Secularist approach is not much better either, it still performs the same function. Religious traditional values control their subjects with a “silver or lead” approach, but modernity does the exact same, except that all is expected to happen here on Earth; instead of Heaven you have opulent high echelons of society to reach, instead of Hell you have the dark pit of poverty to fall into. Afterlife brownie points got replaced with real life points, though both rarely yield anyone any fruits, and millions work their life away thinking they can escape the system’s misery by falling for its tricks and building it further. Something akin to Eden could exist on this planet, if we only let it be.
For hunter-gatherers life is meaningful, lived in the moment for the moment, while death is not given as much importance. In an interview, members of the Hadzabe tribe said they don’t really know where one goes after death, they can only imagine, but they didn’t seem to care too much either; what really matters is having meat, honey, and water in the here-and-now. Uncivilised among us have no need for pretentious intellectual masturbation over what’s important in life or what its meaning is, because their reality is not one of perpetual psychological crisis in face of ontological despair.
For civilised people life is lived for something else, it must be given meaning by something else, while death is feared because it takes us before our meaning is found, our mission fulfilled. We project a story-like structure of expectations on life, but never get to experience the story, because we are too busy trying to plan it; our eyes are glued to a window on the other side of which we pretend the future lies. Transhumanists like Zoltan Istvan see death as a defect, a disease that needs to be overcome. But why live an immortal life in a world that people are trying to get out of more and more? Quantity of life will never beat quality of life, and a life of high quality is not one lived in what is essentially a torture chamber. A certain infamous bearded man, better known as Charles Manson, once remarked that “survival for [him] is out there in the desert, running around with them wolves, and them coyotes, and them bugs, and birds, and bushes, and things.” Love him or hate him, his words ring true.
In typical neo-liberal-minded fashion, all attention is on the individuals killing themselves, and fixing them, while we fail to see the brokenness and suicidality of mass society, of civilisation heading hastily for universal destruction of everything within and outside it. We should aim to escape civilisation, not by dying, but by living. Chains weigh us down, trying to get us to be still, to be zombies — we need to move. “Everything that’s alive moves. If it didn’t, it would be stagnant, dead,” MOVE members wrote in their guidelines. Humans are confined into houses, livestock is confined in farms, wilderness is confined into small isolated islands, all of us are left to rot. This separation needs to end. Wilderness ought to be one and all-encompassing. Tear down the walls so life can breathe!
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