Hedonism and Suicide Pt. 2: Metaphysics or Emotions?

In my previous post, I explored the notion that the rise in suicides in North America is as a result of the decline of traditional morality and the rise of hedonistic morality, specifically the belief that the most important moral concern is people’s happiness or pleasure. This is closely tied with what is called “sensualism”, which is the prioritization of emotions and desires in human life. A sensualist chooses to be a slave to his emotions and desires. We looked at how the rise of hedonistic morality and sensualism easily implies practices like abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, because philosophical hedonism and sensualism ultimately imply that an unhappy life is not a valuable life. In fact the paradigm of sensualism can be seen very clearly even in how our elites think about suicide. Suicide is not the freely chosen act of a moral agent for which they bear moral responsibility, it is rather something that happens to them. In this paradigm, the emotions and desires are sovereign, not the will. This means someone cannot be held responsible for doing something which is motivated by an intense emotion. They are regarded, in this matter, as being victims of their own emotions and slaves of their desires. This is sensualism perfectly described. Just think a bit about the New York Times headline I discussed in the previous article: “How suicide quietly became a public health crisis”. A health crisis? This is like calling homicide, or war, a health crisis. Sure, there is a health aspect to it since people die, but someone who calls those things a health crisis is clearly missing the crucial causative factor – not an impersonal disease process, but a chosen act of the will. In both suicide and homicide, there is someone with a will who violates a moral duty and deliberately ends a life. Of course, homicide and suicide are not morally equivalent, but in both cases, the crucial element in the event is an act of will by a person. This is why it is very strange to think of suicide primarily as a health issue. And it is precisely this paradigm, that of seeing these people as passive victims of their own emotions, that encourages rather than stymies suicide. If you see people with depression as helpless victims of their own emotions, driven toward suicide through no fault of their own, and make this view a cultural standard, then this is how people diagnosed with depression will see themselves. Will that make them more or less likely to commit suicide? You tell me. Sensualism and hedonism is a danse macabre.

It is misguided to think of suicide primarily as a matter of very strong emotions of sadness and hopelessness. One’s ideology around the value of human life, the role of emotion and happiness in life, and one’s perspective of morality will encourage or prevent suicide as much as the emotions and I think more than emotions. We saw that Japan has a relatively higher suicide rate, probably because of its traditional cultural beliefs about suicide ( as being an honourable thing to do in some circumstances). Also, Protestants commit suicide more frequently than Catholics. This is again not surprising because Catholics are more likely to believe that one will go to hell for the act. These examples are evidence that the way one thinks about suicide is more decisive than how one feels about suicide. Thought and will trump emotion. Moral and metaphysical beliefs play the decisive role in whether someone will commit suicide. Why do so many people including our intellectual elites, think it is the other way around? Because they are sensualists and hedonists.

On social media, people try to portray themselves as happier than they actually are. Why would they do this? They do it, because of the widespread cultural belief that happy lives are valuable lives, and unhappy lives are worthless. Why would they do it unless they believed that portraying themselves as happy increases their social status and their chance of success? This belief may be very implicit and rarely consciously acknowledged. But if someone prioritizes their emotions and desires (a state of being toward which all of us naturally tend), then that person will ipso facto be more likely to regard his life as worthless if his emotions are painful and his desires left unmet.

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