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Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists

Anarchist Movement

As the survivor of an arduous suicide attempt I've subsequently come to contemplate this subject a bit more than most.  Throughout the years I've seen friends, family, and loved-ones take their own lives.  Each time I hear of another suicide I am reminded not only of my own attempt, but also the attempts by those I've known.  To be perfectly honest... my response is probably indicative of some PTSD.  But I'm more than a decade removed from my major depressive episode and I feel that the subject of depression and suicide ought now be addressed.

Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists

"Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes."

William Gibson

The Problem of Suicide: You Are Not Alone

As the survivor of an arduous suicide attempt I've subsequently come to contemplate this subject a bit more than most.  Throughout the years I've seen friends, family, and loved-ones take their own lives.  Each time I hear of another suicide I am reminded not only of my own attempt, but also the attempts by those I've known.  To be perfectly honest... my response is probably indicative of some PTSD.  But I'm more than a decade removed from my major depressive episode and I feel that the subject of depression and suicide ought now be addressed.

It should be pointed out that suicide is now a leading cause of death in the United States.  Amongst the young adults it ranks as the second or third leading cause of death (depending upon the specific age range examined).  In other segments of populations around the world  it is also a primary cause of death.  Economic factors seem overtly connected with suicide in many nationsCertain professions have a higher rate of suicide than others.  And, for U.S. soldiers, suicide has proven to be more deadly to them than combat.  This problem of suicide could accurately be described as a public heath crisis or an epidemic.    

While a variety of factors contribute to individual instances of suicide and the overall suicide rate, I believe that progressive radicals, anarchists, and social justice activists have somewhat unique psychological factors that can also come into play.  Although they are probably just as likely to suffer from problems like social isolation or drug dependency,  I believe that those who are informed about the myriad of crises that humanity currently faces are given an extra punctuation in terms of reasons to be dismayed.  So, in addition to any personal problems they may have, they are also aware that the world seems to be going to hell in a proverbial handbasket.  And while I personally believe that's a fairly accurate assessment of things, I don't advocate suicide as a response to this reality. 

Life Under Siege

Particularly for younger radicals, as well as for younger people in general, I think the idea that things can suddenly and dramatically change is forsaken.  Since they haven't experienced as much of life, it may not be as clear to younger people that situations can, and do, often change.  The world is not static and, as terrible as things may be overall, or as bad any particular personal situation may be, it's bound to change -- even if we're just talking about gaining a different personal perspective on things.  We are all bound for new experiences, new insights, and new ways of looking at things.  And, in your darkest hour, it should be remembered that the next hour may serendipitously be your brightest.  Life undoubtedly can be, and often is, a struggle.  However, as a radical, as a person who has a conscience and is informed, it behooves us all if you keep up the struggle.

In a seeming paradox, life in nations under siege actually see suicide rates drop (WWII Britain, for example).  And, if it might help you, perhaps you should consider that the entirety of the world today is somewhat under siege.  I won't go into detail here again about the numerous problems that humanity collectively faces -- suffice it to say that there are serious problems in this world and each of us has our own thoughts about what needs to be changed and how that can happen.  Life and truth and beauty are constantly under attack, and these are things worth fighting for -- things worth living for. 

When a progressive radical commits suicide it's equivalent to a fascist putting another notch in his rifle.  It is equivalent to the war machine rolling its tank treads over another freedom fighter.  This, I hope, is reason enough for many to avoid death at their own hands.       

Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down

As radicals, people are often subjected to mockery and derision.  Expressing concerns about the state of the world can often lead to plain ridicule.  This mockery and scorn can come from any number of sources -- friends, strangers, family, or the media.  And this derision can be, without a doubt, depressing.  But while some individuals should perhaps to be held accountable for their ignorant insensitivity, I'd suggest that this phenomena of callous ignorance is just a subtle part of the system's overall psychological warfare -- which it wages every day on every front.

The underlying nature of the system is to reduce empathy within the general population so that it can produce more mindless workers and consumers.  It's subtle, but this is what allows modern society to continue down the unsustainable path that it is on.  This is what allows bona fide psychopaths to attain the highest positions within the highest offices of the land -- be those governmental or business.  The value-free attitude of a twisted post-modernism scoffs at sincere concerns about the world and it perpetuates more business as usual.

And make no mistake... whatever the cumulative cause, psychological testing does show that empathy levels in the United States have dropped dramatically.  Young people today, in general, are actually less empathetic than they were a generation ago.  One can only imagine the social and psychological difficulties that a truly concerned bright young person must have today when dealing with a growing number of sociopathic peers!  But these decent young people need to be aware that the problem is not with them.  The problem is really not even the fault of their cold-hearted peers -- the problem is with the system that creates and rewards sociopaths.  This is what needs to be recognized and this is why good-hearted people should not give up.  Merely the continued existence of thoughtful and intelligent people is a strike against the system -- and that is why they should persist in an effort to undermine that system.

For radicals though, the problem of persecution on a psychological level goes beyond just merely the day to day interactions with any numb or cold peers.  Martin Luther King himself was famously sent a letter urging him to commit suicide.  And although I don't specifically know how common this particular sort of tactic is... from personal experience I can tell you that such things still happen.  When I was an outspoken young radical (with an overt tail) I had leaflets left on my doorstep promoting suicide "for the sake of the environment."  And while I can't say for certain that this played a direct role in my own suicide attempt after the fact... it's possible that I may have missed similar psychological attacks directed towards me.

This also relates to government infiltration and surveillance.  It is clear that infiltration of activist circles continues today (perhaps more commonly than ever).  But what subtle psychological effects does this infiltration have upon people?  Consider that you are likely to pick up on some level of insincerity amongst your peers.  If you begin to tolerate insincerity, or dismiss it, you may come to consider it a relative norm.  Or, on the other hand, you may avoid common social situations where you'll have to deal with insincere individuals.  Either way... this is likely to have an negative effect on you.  And consider that it's not just you who is being subjected to this but, also, other sincere individuals will be subjected to the same situation and may respond by altering their normally good-natured manner of associating with people. 

In the 1960's some radical organizations had some of their meetings populated primarily by undercover agents.  Now, 50 years later, I see little reason to doubt that this may still often be the case.  In fact, the problem may be much more accute.  Infiltration and surveillance works as a psychological attack upon progressive radicals.  It's psychological warfare.  Psy-ops. 

I preceded this article with a quote from Willam Gibson, the dystopian science fiction writer, and I believe his quote has particular relevance to anarchists and other social justice advocates.  If you fall into those categories, and if you are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts, consider that this may be exactly what was intended for you... by design.  And, so, then, you should rethink your position.  If this sort of thing makes you feel paranoid, well, that may be for the best if it keeps you alive.  Besides, being paranoid in this world may often be the sanest frame of mind to have.  But is it really paranoia if they want you dead?  And do you really think that the government and corporate interests never want any activists dead or that they don't work toward those very ends?              

You Are Empowered To Live And Control Your Own Life

If your life has gone to shit and doesn't seem worth living... think again.  You can actually be part of something bigger and better.  You can change your personal life (habits, diet, "friends") and you can work toward being healthier and having a healthier world overall.  Even simple changes in your life can alter your perspective and give you reason to live.  Your depression may persist... but don't let it dominate you and control your life.  I don't mean this all to sound like some hackneyed self-help cliche, but if that's what it takes to keep a few radicals alive... I don't care if that's how it sounds.  There are simple truisms that remain true even if they are repeated a million times.   

I don't want any more sincere and good-hearted people to kill themselves.  And, at the rate which we are losing them, and at the rate which they are being outnumbered, the world can't afford to lose any more.  If you are contemplating suicide... use your intellect to contemplate something else.  You are in control of your own life, your own mind, and your own activities -- you can make a positive difference in this world by staying alive.  Even if you've never met them... there are people in this world who want you to be happy and want you to live.    

 

 

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Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists | 8 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists
Authored by: Admin on Friday, December 28 2012 @ 04:20 PM CST

In my 25+ years of experience as a radical, the worst negative energy (including scorn, mockery and so on) comes from other radicals. Disagreements with non-radical friends and family can be a challenge, but it's easier to attribute that friction to simple ignorance, misunderstanding and political differences.

Our movements are also dominated by voices who tell us that we suck and never accomplish anything. This is, of course, not the case, but the lazy and irresponsible Negative Nellies get the most attention because they are persistent and vocal. Some of us need to do a better job of speaking up about what we have collectively accomplished. There are many things that can go on that list. Of course, anything put on that list will be shot down by the negative radicals, because it's easy to shoot down positive talk.

Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists
Authored by: Nihilo0 on Friday, December 28 2012 @ 06:01 PM CST

I'd agree that a lot of negativity comes from fellow radicals.  On the other hand... there are radicals and there are radicals.  I'm not very concerned so much about those who are caught up in trivial issues of sectarian factionalism as much as I am concerned with those that actually seem to have at their foundation an insincere or authoritarian approach.  So even those who poo poo various projects (like Food not bombs, Critical mass, OWS, or whatever) don't bother me if I think they have some sincere anti-authoritarian logic behind their negativity.  Those things can be discussed at other times and places if necessary or desired.  But what does bother me is when negative criticism seems to be for its own sake (or hyprocritical).  If someone's approach to organizing goals or tactics tend to be stifling or counterproductive... I think those goals and tactics should be questioned.

In a word, I think this largely comes down to choosing your friends, allies, and associates wisely.  And that process can depend upon your own individual personality and your own needs at different times.  Of course, different friends play different roles at different times.  For example... you wouldn't necessarily want to approach a stoic intellectual curmudgeon for a lightherted night on the town, but you also wouldn't necessarily want to approach a happy-go-lucky social butterfly to critique your latest essay or project.  There can certainly be overlap in this example given, but I hope I've gotten my idea across.  

It seems to me that everyone always needs to make an extra effort towards getting their life in order.  

Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists
Authored by: Bill Not Bored on Friday, December 28 2012 @ 04:49 PM CST

 

Guy Debord (1953): "But it seems to me – not all the time – that we are not ripe for suicide, and that there are multitudes of things to do, if one surmounts certain barriers AND WITHOUT RENOUNCING ANYTHING of the scorn or the refusals that we have sincerely affirmed with respect to almost everything."

Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists
Authored by: Admin on Friday, December 28 2012 @ 05:35 PM CST

You know, people feeling down about things might want to pick up some works by the Situationists. I encountered their work when I was a young radical and found it to be more inspirational than most political works I had run across. Especially Vaneigem's "Revolution of Everyday Life."

Chuck

Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists
Authored by: Bill Not Bored on Friday, December 28 2012 @ 05:59 PM CST

Obviously I agree. What I find helpful about them is their mixture of cynicism and optimism. To them, class struggle was like a game of eight-ball: you could be losing up until the very end and then win because your adversary scratched on the eight ball!

Note well that though Debord eventually committed suicide, he did so after living a very full, adventurous life, and couldn't stand the pain of disease brought on by too much drinking.

Edited on Friday, December 28 2012 @ 06:00 PM CST by Bill Not Bored
Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists
Authored by: Nihilo0 on Friday, December 28 2012 @ 06:04 PM CST

Part of this article was inspired by a recent discussion about the role of undercover agents. Particularly, the role of those agents who suggest and facilitate dangerous illegal activities to people who are otherwise not terribly inclined or actually capable of carrying out such activities. Basically, I was arguing against entrapment -- but not merely because of the lives and families that such entrapment may ruin. I was suggesting that it might be unethical and dangerous because some of those people who are propositioned in this way may not immediately act upon the suggestions given to them by an undercover agent. Rather, they may take a step back, disengage, and then act alone later instead. At this point their activity would be entirely out of the agent's control but, as I see it, still partly the agent's fault.

We know people are being given dangerous ideas from undercover agents because it's been made clear that the FBI is responsible for the majority of terrorist plots in the United States. But what about the cases that aren't prosecuted along clear-cut lines -- the instances of terrorism that manifest long after the initial suggestions have been made? What about the individuals to whom agents suggest ideas but don't seem to get any bites from?

Can't you just see some undercover federal agent at a gun show (or at some militia meeting) trying to get Timothy McVeigh to involve himself with something horrible? Can't you just imagine the atrocious things that might have been suggested? Maybe an agent gave him his first copy of the Turner Diaries. Ah... but McVeigh might've thought better of it at the time. Maybe he thought he should just back away and give it some more consideration. Who knows? Maybe that's actually what happened. And it could be a similar story with any number of other American terrorists. I'm not excusing the actions of a diabolical mass murderer like McVeigh, but I am suggesting that people like him might sometimes get their ideas directly from government agents.

Sorry if this is a little off-topic in regard to the posted article, but I wanted to point out the many ways that undercover agents can ruin lives. They're not always just waiting for someone to slip up and say something flippant. They often readily practice what I'd consider to be dangerous psy-ops. They're not really into talking people off the proverbial ledge. Rather, they're leading people to the edge, encouraging them to jump, and then trying to prosecute them before they actually make the leap. And if a few of those people whom they've propositioned actually do something horrible later on... the department will just get more funding. Because, y'know, they've got to "fight" terrorism.

Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists
Authored by: ArchStanton on Saturday, December 29 2012 @ 12:44 PM CST

When you stay tight with your local collective you have a firewall against both depression and infiltration. A person alone is an easy target. There are lots of worthy organizations all over the globe that need good people. If you're not sure where to start, see below.

http://slingshot.tao.ca/rclist.php

 

Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists
Authored by: ISHI on Wednesday, January 02 2013 @ 02:52 PM CST

 when i was in elementary school i had to cross what was called the 'suicide bridge' everyday.  its now the duke ellington bridge and they have bars up so you can't jump---but there is another one nearby.  i always had to walk far from the edge because the temptation was to jump.  we used to see a couple of times people jump off there---went down to check it out---disgusting---no way to go.  my house was close enough we once rescued someone who had jumped but changed his mind and was holding on to the bars. 'help help help'.  (inst that a beatles song).   i did get the first chance to use a camera at my school---i climbed up on the bridge to get a sunset and then dropped it over the side.  my teacher never asked me about it.

 

family, friends/lovers and everyone else are the worst, except for all the rest (eg right wing radio talk, nra...) .  i read situationists in some obcure journal called ajoda long time ago;  best thing in there, but i dont think anyone really got it, or maybe this is it.   g-o g-o (axiomsandchoices.blogspot.com).     i even got saved the other nite by the fr/enemies at a show.