On Suicide and Free Will

 

Over the weekend, news made the rounds about a lawyer in New York who burned himself alive in the early hours alone in a park in Brooklyn. The New York Post headline read: “Activist lawyer burned himself to death to protest global warming.” The Post reported,

David Buckel, 60, left behind a charred corpse and a typed suicide note that said he was burning himself to death using “fossil fuel” to reflect how mankind was likewise killing itself, police sources said.

He left the note in a manila envelope marked “To The Police,” recovered from inside a black metal pushcart he discarded at the scene.

“Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result,” Buckel wrote in his note, which he also sent to the New York Times.

“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

He added, “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death.”

To be clear: sane people don’t burn themselves to death alone in public parks, where children will be present. This wasn’t an honorable death to achieve some sort of higher purpose: it was a suicide. Buckel may have wanted his death to serve a higher purpose, but ultimately, it was death he wanted, more than achieving the higher purpose.

Buckel wasn’t a nobody; the Post reported he was “a ‘green’ activist who was a pioneering lawyer for gay and transgender rights — including in the notorious ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ rape-murder case.” His work would have had a great deal more impact than his grisly death, which will likely be forgotten in days by the general public but will be mourned forever by his close friends and family.

The enduring legacy of his death may be that the media portrays one’s death as a martyrdom instead of as a suicide if it’s framed in a certain way. That sends a dangerous message; that sometimes, for some reasons, suicide is justified and venerable; instead of a tragedy for those left behind.

The Buckel case reminded me of another phenomenon about how suicide has been framed by the media under other circumstances. The headlines usually read “Bullied to death.” Here’s one of many examples, where suicide precipitated by bullying is described in the following way: “in a confounding national crisis that many consider nothing short of murder, kids are killing themselves to avoid vicious online torment.” In this framing, suicide is unavoidable, something that has happened passively to someone, instead of a conscious and active choice made with free will.

Bullying is an emotionally scarring event for children and teenagers, and the forms of bullying in the present day are more severe than many previous generations could possibly imagine thanks to cell phones and social media. That does not mean, however, that a bullied child has no other choice than suicide, that someone else has made that decision for them. While this framing may make parents feel better, and it may draw attention to the severity of bullying, it may be ultimately counter-productive; telling children suicide is the only way out, and an eventuality.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has created a guide for journalists covering suicide, and many of their suggestions should be taken into account by those covering the Buckel and bullying suicides. A few of their suggestions:

• More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage.
• Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.
• Suicide is complex. There are almost always multiple causes,including psychiatric illnesses, that may not have been recognized or treated. However, these illnesses are treatable.
• Refer to research findings that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90% of people who have died by suicide.
• Avoid reporting that death by suicide was preceded by a single event, such as a recent job loss, divorce or bad grades. Reporting like this leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.

There are 19 comments.

  1. Member

    It is stressful to be a white collar secular leftist. Trump is the second coming of Hitler, racism is at high tide and the planet itself is already doomed. Marxism has always strived to instill discontent in its adherents, the reward being the twin satisfactions of illusory moral and intellectual superiority to dupes (i.e., optimists) and the destruction of all institutions that have failed to deliver heaven on earth.

    Suicide is always a tragic waste but to do so in the name of silly au courant manufactured grievances is deeply pathetic.

    • #1
    • April 16, 2018 at 9:03 am
    • 5 likes
  2. Inactive

    Purely anecdotal, but we had a young person in our small community commit suicide last year. It was largely attributed to bullying. There was a lot of talk about what to do about bullying, and lots of social media outcry about how our school district does nothing, etc. etc. But what a lot of folks didn’t know, that we did owing to being related to the child’s family, was that there was more to the story than just bullying. The child’s biological mother was a drug addict, and there was reason to believe there was drug use in the child’s home, for starters. There was a long history of dysfunction in the whole family, alcohol abuse, violence, fighting, etc. Some of this is hearsay, so I don’t want to categorize it as absolute fact. But there is enough there to get a picture of a less than ideal home. Now, this child was known as a “weirdo”, as I was told by young people who knew the child. And “some kids” did tease the child a lot, according to those same young people. But there was more to the story, and you can’t simply cry “bullying!” and expect any kind of outcome. 

    The older I get, the more I notice that people never want to place the responsibility on people. They want to find some “thing” that is the problem. It’s bullying, or it’s guns, or it’s violent video games, or it’s Facebook, or it’s the disintegration of the family. But really? It’s people who don’t act proper. That’s what it is. 

    • #2
    • April 16, 2018 at 9:05 am
    • 16 likes
  3. Thatcher

    Bethany Mandel: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has created a guide for journalists covering suicide, and many of their suggestions should be taken into account by those covering the Buckel and bullying suicides.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for reporters to follow this guide. If any event can be written so as to further one of the left’s causes, you can count on the MSM to ignore any guidelines.

    • #3
    • April 16, 2018 at 9:36 am
    • 7 likes
  4. Podcaster

    Bethany Mandel: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has created a guide for journalists covering suicide, and many of their suggestions should be taken into account by those covering the Buckel and bullying suicides.

    Is this really the way a free press is supposed to work? Everyone now has “guidelines” on how you’re supposed to cover newsworthy events. “Here is what you may or may not say about the following protected classes or their protected activities…” is not a good look.

    Let’s start with the truth. Every. Single. Time. Just the facts, no third party’s hidden agenda, just the old 5 Ws and an H.

    • #4
    • April 16, 2018 at 9:52 am
    • 8 likes
  5. Member

    Mr. Buckel chose to inflict significant pain on other people, far from “honorable.” Committing suicide almost always inflicts pain on others – family, friends, etc. In many ways, it is a very selfish act. Choosing to commit suicide in a gruesome public display that leaves a very messy scene that someone else has to clean up is particularly selfish and multiplies the pain imposed on others. Mr. Buckel’s choice was very dishonorable. 

    • #5
    • April 16, 2018 at 9:57 am
    • 6 likes
  6. Member

    I’ve had an adult family member commit suicide and I can tell you there is nothing heroic or noble in that act. The survivor’s scar never completely heals and, for the unfortunate one who discovers the body, the wounds are ripped open everytime they drive past the suicide site.

    True heroes are those who fight daily battles with mental or physical illnesses, or tough situational issues with the goal of just surviving the day only to begin the battle anew the next day.

    It is understandable that teenagers (who don’t have matured brains or have not had many life or real-world experiences) may consider suicide as an option to relieve the seemingly unbearable suffering they experience but it’s important that parents and family intervene with comfort and counseling. 

    I believe that suicide is cowardly and selfish. The suicidal person chooses momentary pain to alleviate his suffering and, in turn, saddles his family and children with a lifetime of suffering.

     

    • #6
    • April 16, 2018 at 10:06 am
    • 6 likes
  7. Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Mr. Buckel chose to inflict significant pain on other people, far from “honorable.” Committing suicide almost always inflicts pain on others – family, friends, etc. In many ways, it is a very selfish act. Choosing to commit suicide in a gruesome public display that leaves a very messy scene that someone else has to clean up is particularly selfish and multiplies the pain imposed on others. Mr. Buckel’s choice was very dishonorable.

    Not to mention the CO2 emissions…

    I don’t mean to make light of the tragedy of someone so mentally ill that he would self-immolate because:

    “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result,” Buckel wrote in his note, which he also sent to the New York Times.

    which is so insanely irrational and unscientific as to be, well.. insane! But, my first thought was — He’s the first prominent victim of the Cult of Global Warming. Further proof that leftism is dangerous to your (mental) health.

    • #7
    • April 16, 2018 at 10:14 am
    • 6 likes
  8. Member

    I wonder if he was sick in some other way (some type of cancer, for example) or thought he was and then decided to give his death meaning. 

    • #8
    • April 16, 2018 at 10:30 am
    • 5 likes
  9. Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    Further proof that leftism is dangerous to your (mental) health.

    Excessive wishing for real or fanciful things created by government force really is nuts. That’s what it all comes down to.

    • #9
    • April 16, 2018 at 10:34 am
    • 1 like
  10. Inactive

    Tutti (View Comment):
    The survivor’s scar never completely heals and, for the unfortunate one who discovers the body, the wounds are ripped open everytime they drive past the suicide site.

    I can’t even imagine what that must be like. I’ve often tried to get my head around what is going on inside the person. I know they are sick, and they aren’t thinking rationally. I, rationally, know that. But at the same time, I look, say, at my kids and think “How could I ever do that to them?” I know it doesn’t make any sense to try and figure it out. But I still do. Because I don’t understand it and it’s so devastating.

    Heck, I never met Robin Williams, but I was watching some of his stand up last night and I kept thinking: “If only I had know him. I would have told him how important he is to me, and how much I love his work. Maybe that would have saved him.” That only leads us down one path, though, doesn’t it: tell the people you love, every day, how much they mean to you. And show them how much they mean to you. Because you don’t know the demons that they are fighting, and you don’t know when it will be too late.

    • #10
    • April 16, 2018 at 10:42 am
    • 4 likes
  11. Member

    Spin (View Comment):
    I know they are sick, and they aren’t thinking rationally.

    The dynamics of depression are quite hard for anyone to get their head around, I think. 

    Spin (View Comment):
    Robin Williams

    I forget all of the details, but he hugely lost control over his career and his personal life due to divorce and financial issues. That has to be extra hard on you when you are in a creative field. 

    • #11
    • April 16, 2018 at 10:53 am
    • Like
  12. Member

    Having suffered through depression years ago, I have some sympathy towards Mr. Buckel himself. Mental illness causes all sorts of distorted thinking. I can even overlook his silly proclamations of “honorable purpose in death.” Yes, suicide is selfish, but depression can be so crippling, I am willing to offer him the benefit of the doubt that he was suffering well beyond the normal range. 

    What I cannot so easily forgive is the media’s reaction as Mrs. Mandel correctly notes: sane people do NOT commit suicide. Suicide is not normal, and we should not treat it as such, and certainly should not give credence that it somehow becomes honorable and dignified. 

    • #12
    • April 16, 2018 at 11:10 am
    • 7 likes
  13. Member

    Sounds like a classic case of backfiring psychiatric medication.

    • #13
    • April 16, 2018 at 12:07 pm
    • 1 like
  14. Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    Just the facts, no third party’s hidden agenda, just the old 5 Ws and an H.

    Well, the facts, WWWWWH, related to a suicide, are often not clear. 

    And unless the suicide happened in a public place, whose business is it, anyway, except the family, and the medical team?

    Sometimes shutting up about something isn’t censorship, its simply good manners, and kindness. 

    • #14
    • April 16, 2018 at 2:52 pm
    • 1 like
  15. Podcaster

    Jules PA: And unless the suicide happened in a public place, whose business is it, anyway, except the family, and the medical team?

    Well, this one was certainly very public. And I don’t know how you hide the details of a public figure’s suicide, especially someone as young as Junior Seau. Or even if you should. If suicide rates are rising for a certain group of people and there may be a connection then it’s certainly the very definition of news.

    • #15
    • April 16, 2018 at 3:18 pm
    • Like
  16. Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Jules PA: And unless the suicide happened in a public place, whose business is it, anyway, except the family, and the medical team?

    Well, this one was certainly very public. And I don’t know how you hide the details of a public figure’s suicide, especially someone as young as Junior Seau. Or even if you should. If suicide rates are rising for a certain group of people and there may be a connection then it’s certainly the very definition of news.

    Yes…I agree, burning oneself in a public park, does not give privacy options to the survivors. I guess my comment was more broad in response to “guidelines” for news related to suicides. 

    Even suicide “data” can maintain the privacy and dignity of survivors–if those in charge care to do so.

    It is traumatic enough to loose a family member, more so with suicide. In my mind there is no room for busybodies in the healing of a traumatized family. 

    Our culture doesn’t need guidelines for news, our journalists need better manners and a willingness not to use tragedy for ratings and circulation.

    • #16
    • April 16, 2018 at 7:41 pm
    • 1 like
  17. Member

    Bethany Mandel: “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result,” Buckel wrote in his note, which he also sent to the New York Times.

    ‘May die as a result’ is newspeak for saying there is absolutely no decent research that suggests that you will die. Air quality has consistently gotten better nearly everywhere as a result of capitalism and advances in technology.

    • #17
    • April 17, 2018 at 1:54 pm
    • 1 like
  18. Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Bethany Mandel: “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result,” Buckel wrote in his note, which he also sent to the New York Times.

    ‘May die as a result’ is newspeak for saying there is absolutely no decent research that suggests that you will die. Air quality has consistently gotten better nearly everywhere as a result of capitalism and advances in technology.

    Amen, brother! And the poor guy was duped into lighting himself on fire for that! What a waste.

    • #18
    • April 17, 2018 at 2:49 pm
    • Like
  19. Editor
    Bethany Mandel Post author

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Bethany Mandel: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has created a guide for journalists covering suicide, and many of their suggestions should be taken into account by those covering the Buckel and bullying suicides.

    Is this really the way a free press is supposed to work? Everyone now has “guidelines” on how you’re supposed to cover newsworthy events. “Here is what you may or may not say about the following protected classes or their protected activities…” is not a good look.

    Let’s start with the truth. Every. Single. Time. Just the facts, no third party’s hidden agenda, just the old 5 Ws and an H.

    It’s not about free press; it’s about covering events in a responsible manner that don’t glorify suicide and encourage more to do the same.

    • #19
    • April 18, 2018 at 7:10 am
    • 2 likes