Updated: Mar 15, 2021
You’re driving around with a dying man in your back seat. The car comes to an abrupt halt. The battery is dead. You flag down and solicit the help of a passerby to jump-start your vehicle citing the urgency of the dying man’s condition. What do you plan to do about your passenger when the lights come on and your engine starts?
It is crucial that we get back to work as soon as is feasible, taking into consideration the nature of the highly infectious and in many cases deadly CCP virus. Left to idle too long, the economy won’t only fail to rebound, but it may not even bounce. Jobs, businesses, pensions, and the institutions we rely upon depend both on our ability to protect life as well as to return it to some semblance of normalcy sooner rather than later. In the past week, several pundits have voiced what others in the print media have written: suicide rates are spiking across the nation. For this reason, we need to lift the lock-downs... They seem to gloss over the fact that the suicide rate was already incredibly high by American standards in December.
The status quo was unacceptable four months ago. To argue that we need to get back to work now just to return to it is also unacceptable. There are innumerable reasons not to sit on the sidelines while China takes the field. Notwithstanding media word- and time-limits, it would be better if those individuals who proffer suicide as one reason to get into the game could provide some greater context; if they actually addressed its major, underlying causes, not just this recent Wuhan-born exacerbant.
Secretary of Housing Dr. Ben Carson made a similar point on Fox’s Ingraham Angle Friday evening with regards to homelessness. He suggested that we should not settle for patchwork fixes to shore up the recovery. We should focus on lasting solutions, big changes, and or new preventative measures. In the case of homelessness, going beyond mitigation will curb one plight; in the case of suicide, actually addressing the factors that have driven the suicide rate up over the past few decades will curb another, if not many others.
Before the CCP virus made its way to American shores, an opioid epidemic was ravaging the nation. The working class—only beginning to reap the fruits of Trump’s American Revival—continued to struggle, many hobbled in the financial crisis in 2007-2008. Jobs were still being automated or exported en masse to China, India, and to Southeast Asia. Homelessness in our major cities was out of control. The recent lock-downs, the massive spike in unemployment we are seeing now, and all the other damage the pandemic specifically has wrought may correlate to an increase in suicide. It is not only possible, but likely.
The prospective suicides the talking heads and politicians speak of now must be helped later. They cannot be forgotten as soon as the cash flows, the crowds return, and the arrows turn green. To threaten secondhand suicide without helping the potential victims is to exploit tragedy and to use American despair as a political cudgel.
Suicide is indeed tragic. One would be too many, and according to an American Psychological Association report published in 2019, 14 in every 100,000 Americans takes their own life. That is a 33% increase in the suicide rate since 1999. In 2012—on the curve to where we find the rate now—America’s had jumped 24.2% over a 12-year period while China’s suicide rate dropped 59.6%, Russia’s by 44.4%, and Germany’s by 17%. In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton claimed: “The man who kills a man kills a man. The man who kills himself kills all men. As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.” There are many reasons why Americans might seek to kill all men and even more about their world they might want to wipe away—including the plague that besets us now.
We know that one major factor and driver of suicide is mental illness. Chronic pain is another. Anecdotally, it seems as though many of the suicides of late have been driven more by despair; that is running out of job prospects, security, stability, connectedness, options, self-esteem, autonomy, purpose, and ultimately hope. Fraying social bonds, creeping nihilism, and cultural decay may be in their own part contributing factors. In any event, the result is the loss of life.
The propositions I am here concerned with have frequently been presented on air and on paper as zero sum. If we don’t risk the immuno-compromised and the elderly’s safety, many more Americans’ health will be forfeit in the resultant Greatest Depression, including suicides. Although preventing future suicides is one justification among many for getting back to work, this appeal seems to be visceral and impactful enough to be effective in crystallizing public opinion. My concern is only that the appeal is sincere and that the victims are not being exploited for short-term gains.
Those making sympathetic appeals on behalf of the dying man in the back seat of the stalled car who have no intention of driving him to the hospital once the engine starts are loathsome. For those who actually care and invoke the desperation of the hopeless, I pray they have considered the fastest route to meaningful treatment. If not, and suicide is just another talking point, then it is not only the suicide who has devalued American life.