Robin Williams (and an honest conversation about suicide)


August 18, 2014 by Liberty

I’m going to try to avoid as much of the obligatory Robin Williams fan oogling as possible. Throughout this article, that may make me look like I’m trying to throw the dead guy’s good name in the mud but that’s definitely not my goal. He’s just a sad example of why we need to look at suicide a little differently.

Earlier this week Robin Williams was found dead. From the beginning of the investigation it looked like a pretty obvious suicide (slit wrists, asphyxiation.) It didn’t take long before the internet opened up a can of worms by popularizing a video of Robin Williams saying, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” That statement obviously now casts an eerie shadow around his suicide.

Before that comment in the interview, Robin Williams was discussing how one particular person’s suicide was a mistake. He was specifically speaking out against suicide by calling it the wrong decision. One might go as far as accusing Robin Williams of being a hypocrite.

Easier Said Than Done

No one is a fan of other people committing suicide. It’s absolutely terrifying. Robin Williams family is now going to have to suffer immensely because of his decision. They’re going to have to find a way to manage their lives after losing someone that’s probably very important to them. They’re left in a horrible position.

It’s easy to speak out against suicide. It’s easy to call it a mistake because everyone that succeeded in doing it isn’t around to defend their decision. We cannot ask the men and women that succeeded if they made the right decision or not. Most of society just assumes they’re crazy or stupid. (Or perhaps, they’re “making a mistake,” to put it a little more gently.)

This outlook doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s completely dishonest.

Suicide is not always a mistake. It would be absurd to make any statement to the contrary. When the amount of pain you’re suffering exceeds your potential for happiness in the future, the only rational decision you can make is suicide.

In Robin Williams case, his wife commented that he was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease (and depression but that’s partly defined by suicidal thoughts which ruins its meaning.) That problem was setting him up for a difficult life in the future. It would be pretty arrogant for anyone not suffering from a similar fate to say he was making a mistake.

Suicide is the non-linear solution to life. There is unlimited joy that you can have in your life. Without suicide being an option, there is unlimited pain that you can suffer from too. With suicide as a viable option, you can always know that your suffering is limited. At a certain point, you can stop the pain if it gets there.

With Robin Williams case, it’s easy to see how a disease would make suicide look like a viable option but it’s not always that clear. What about with teenagers who look like they’re suffering from teenage angst? It’s not quite as easy to say they’re making a smart decision but there is only one way we can find that out… I’ll get to that though.

Ownership Of You

Robin Williams owns his body just like you or I own ours. At any point he can do whatever he wants to kill his body. If he does not have the right to kill himself then he does not own his own body. If you owned a car, you could take a sledgehammer to the window and I couldn’t stop you. That car could be a beautiful Maserati and I could beg and plead that you don’t hurt your expensive beautiful car, you still have the choice of doing it.

With the human body it’s even more clear. I could take your car to protect it. I cannot take a body from a suicidal person. A suicidal person cannot be stopped physically in any reasonable way. Suicide can be done through a million different ways. To stop it would require you strap the person still and probably drug them.

We cannot try to take away a person’s ownership of themselves without taking responsibility for all the ownership of them.

We cannot have this same old guilt trip ridden (and condescending) conversation about suicide. We need to start talking about it rationally. The media, of course, has been failing at that miserably.

Media Silence

Despite listening to 6 or 7 radio stations mention Robin Williams death, (I have a long commute.) not one of the radio stations used the word suicide. This was after it was announced. Everyone of the radio stations discussed his death but wouldn’t go at all into the fact that he caused it himself.

One explanation I received was this, “mentioning suicide encourages suicide.” This is insane. First of all, if you think someone out there is thinking, “my hero Robin Williams killed himself so now I’m going to do it,” then I don’t know how any bit of rationality can be used to correct your level of crazy.

People don’t kill themselves just because someone else commits suicide other than possibly in the Romeo and Juliet sense. If a person does, they probably have had emotional problems for years before that worth discussing before blaming someone mentioning the suicide.

Those people with long term emotional problems are normally portrayed as stupid or crazy. I’d argue they are not just stupid or crazy. They’re rational people having rational thoughts about the world they’re living in. Even teenagers are capable of thinking rationally about their lives. No one looks at suicide lightly. Everyone that does commit it has damn good reasons for doing it. Some have other solutions available but with suicidal people getting insulted so often, who can blame them for hiding and picking suicide.

To constantly treat suicidal people like they’re wrong is just encouraging more rational people to follow through with it. Instead of saying, suicidal people are crazy. We need to be saying, if you’re suicidal, that’s okay. (Short of a few cases of actual brain damage,) your brain is doing the exact rational calculation that it’s meant to do. Just make sure you balance that equation right.

We can’t be scared of having an honest conversation about suicide. As long as we’re trying to push these people into the shadows, they’re going to stay there. Some suicides are preventable but they’re not going to be prevented by attacking the people you’re trying to help.

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One thought on “Robin Williams (and an honest conversation about suicide)

  1. Garry Reed says:

    I explored the issue of suicide in my Libertarian News Examiner article of April 23, 2012,
    “Suicide: Criminal, lamentable or heroic?” and noted that our society engages in hypocrisy when it comes to suicide.

    Dr. Jack Kevorkian went to prison for assisting in a voluntary suicide but soldiers who voluntarily throw their bodies on top of hand grenades are given medals and called heroes for their voluntary suicides.

    It’s based on the altruism angle that a majority of people seem to subscribe to: When a person kills himself for the sake of someone else it’s “good” but when he does it to relieve his own suffering it’s “bad.”

    I couldn’t cover every aspect of suicide in my short 400-word article but I concluded it this way:

    “And before thoughtless, uninformed people start ranting that libertarians are unprincipled heartless ghouls they should know that not only will no libertarian ever prevent another from trying to foil a suicide attempt but because of the love of life and liberty inherent in libertarian philosophy libertarians will work just as hard as any other caring person to convince another not to take his or her own life.”

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