A dear friend that I have known for decades took his life last week leaving behind a wife, two children and many of us who have not been able to claim back our sanity. There are ten thousand unrelenting questions that are hitting hard on us, and they are not easily going away. It’s been an unsettling week for all of us.
When a tragedy like this happens, it doesn’t take place amidst the clamor of reason and resonance.
Instead, a decision like this is made in the retreat of a cool, calm, and collected mind. At least, that’s what Karl Menninger meditates in ‘Man against Himself’, a brilliant psychiatrist who tries to comprehend why an individual wishes to put himself in a harm’s way from which he cannot, except by suicide, escape from his life.
In other words, if for his own unconscious purpose, a man brings about an apparent justification in external reality for self-destruction, then the unconscious purposes are of more significance in understanding the suicide than the apparently simple, inevitable, external circumstance that are observable to the public. For folks like you and me, the laziest and the most reckless way to make sense of someone’s decision is to try to understand his subjective decision from an objective point of view.
What Menninger is saying humbly is this.
What happens out there are particles simply hitting each other and producing a state of affairs that, when viewed from a frog’s point of view or a bird eye-view, are nothing but occasions passing along space and time. However, when we introduce a human mind to that same state of affairs, everything changes.
Humans carry an unhealthy number of covenants, rules, positivity, and ought-to-be-ness that sometimes are anti-life. It works more against them than for them.
In essence, what kills a man under such circumstances is not what’s out there in the world but what’s within him. His provisional compass becomes the contingent arbiter, the judge, the jury, and the noose that can take away his life. At least, that’s what happened with my friend, it looks like.
I can only imagine or perhaps not, what must have gone through his mind in those last forlorn moments of despair and disquietude. I will never find out how many sins he thought he had committed when he compared his external world to Bhagavat Geeta that espouses on being a good human being. I will never find out how much short he found himself in the eyes of Hindu Gods and other deities that had, in his last moments, become toxic for him.
Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychiatrist who perhaps is the most articulate man alive on our planet- at least that’s what the New York Times quotes him to be.
Peterson makes an appeal to all, not to advise another human being on what should or should not be done, simply because you may screw up that person’s life. It doesn’t matter where such guidance comes from.
Be it from the voice from heaven or from the Apollo of Delphi or from our own Krishna’s chariots from Kurukshetra. Where they come from is irrelevant but what they render to a human mind is absolutely calamitous.
These oracular voices tend to be more harmful and are totally responsible for human suffering. They create a paradigm in men upon which he is constrained to build up his sense of right and wrong. And life, as you all know, is a roller coaster ride, simply because there’s always a chance for us to spill out of that paradigm.
Our agency, perhaps our only tool to understand the reality may not always square perfectly with Bhagavad Gita’s diatribes against the sins that men are capable of committing. And that is exactly why no one should be damned because none can control the reality of the world. There seems no room for agency in a world of neural impulses, chemical reactions, and bone and muscle movements. Even if we add sensations, perceptions, and feelings we don’t get action, or doing—there is only what happens.
Under such conditions, my friend who perhaps didn’t find his external reality 'squarely checked’ with his internal covenants saw no point in prolonging his life because he must have gotten lost on his way with no structure to guide him through. The virtues that he adhered so deeply had no place in the world he found himself in. The gods were gone.
He must have found himself in that forlorn Nietzschean world where god lived no more.
There were two ways to fix his problem from what I can tell.
First one was to fix the reality which essentially meant to reorganize the particles that was noumenally visible to him so it would evenly square with his virtues.
The second was to kill the gods so the world would become livable where he could breathe again.
Unfortunately, both options were not available to him. And the one that he did choose, only that made all the difference to him.