Thursday, October 9, 2008

Suicide or murdered by capitalism

I was just going through a friend's blog that I hadn't visited in a while and ran upon a rather interesting essay & rant on economic stress as a factor in suicides and murder-suicides.

The NY Times recently reported the deaths of a man tasered for exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. He fell to his instant death. Several days later, the officer who gave the order to shoot him has killed himself with a bullet to his head.

There was an overnight murder and suicide of a working couple. The man updated his website to reflect that the deaths were a direct result of his distress over economic woes and impending homelessness.

A woman killed herself the day before her home was being foreclosed. Her family hadn’t been aware of the impending proceedings.

Many deaths are well hidden, but they are none the less deaths from killers who hide behind impersonal stressors they place on the victims.

The deaths are on society for allowing people to be squeezed until they cannot survive.

A few weeks ago, a neighbor of my in-laws killed himself. He was a real estate agent. I'm guessing that given the market in SoCal, he was no longer making the commissions that had enabled him to live a suburban middle class existence, and perhaps saw no hope in that changing for the foreseeable future. We'd chatted during my last visit to the area, just weeks before his suicide. Seemed like a nice person. When I got the news, even though he was at most a casual acquaintance, I silently mourned his loss.

I thought of the spike in suicides in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, or of the drastic increase in suicide rate in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed and Yeltsin's regime imposed neoliberal "shock therapy" on the nation's economy, leading to a massive influx of displaced, unemployed workers who could not find a way to make a living. I also thought of the increase in suicides among subsistence farmers in India, who have become increasingly displaced as corporate conglomerates have driven them off their land. What these folks have in common is the rather profound stress of no longer being able to live productively, to the extent that identities tend to get tied at least partially to our vocations. Even for those of us who have steady, and likely stable, work situations, there has been a confluence of factors that have squeezed us financially. Although nominally a professional person, my salary on a good month barely pays for basics, and when energy costs spiked over the last year, even that ability was stretched to and finally beyond the breaking point. Let's just say that I'm facing the prospect of making difficult decisions between paying for food and paying utilities. Given my own cultural makeup, no matter how radical I may be, I have never been able to shake off the basic southern white mindset of the male as provider, and the inability to be able to provide on an increasingly regular basis quite frankly gets to me. I can easily empathize with those who've taken their lives in the wake of lost income, foreclosures, and the like (in research on stress, those tend to fall under the rubric of "major life events" - the more profound of the stressors), if for no other reason than I've stared into the same abyss. My saving grace is the knowledge that next year's tax refund will provide some breathing room, so if we can just ride out the winter somehow.

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