News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Suicide

Thursday, May 19, 2005


I have been working on a theory since last night after teaching Kierkegaard's theory of life stages. What got me thinking was the idea that modern society is characterized by an invidious environment of envy and resentment. What does that mean? I mean it seems pretty simple--I envy somebody some stuff that they have; I want it for myself and may take measures to get it.

Modern envy is much more insidious than this wanting to kill someone for what they have, even though that is pretty mean and ugly. No... modern envy goes deeper, poisoning the very well-springs of personal and social interaction.

Look at this way: modern envy, as Westphahl notes, carries the onus of not simply wanting what someone else has but also hating them for having it; indeed hating them for simply being who they are.

Take an example, pretty common in modern America: I compare myself to Brad Pitt; idolize him for his great looks, talent, money and girlfriend. I want to be Brad Pitt. At the same time, though, I hate myself for not being Brad. And from this self-hatred, I hate him--I not only hate him for being better looking than me, etc. I hate him for being him. I wish he didn't exist. But if he didn't exist, I also would not exist. That he lives and is gives me some reason for continuing to live, perhaps. But along with all this goes a self-loathing for myself that ultimately means that I wish I didn't exist and means that I wish he didn't exist so that I had to face my own self-loathing.

Of course, all this works at the unconscious level in most people. I am not conscious of this self-loathing. But it's there and expresses itself un many ways. Maybe I overeat, maybe beat my girlfriend for not being Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie. This envy becomes resentment and can express itself in many ways. It will poison my existence and life with others. From this self-loathing, I'll look on life in a particularly resentful way.

For Kierkegaard, this type of personal self-relationship is the state of despair. In most cases, that means that I either want not to be who I am or want to be who I am in resentful definace of life.

In Camus' writings, there's a close connection made between suicide and murder. Murder is just the desire to kill myself turned towards another. Assuming taht there's some truth to the preceding, then the envy and resentment that lie beneath the surface of American life--and can't we see it in such disparate phenomena ranging from star worship to Jerry Springer to the revenge flick--then how poisonous our private lives have become.

I want to suggest that it is from these seeds that the tree of our demise will eventually rise and bear its destructive fruit.

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