Daily Reflection 001: Emil Cioran's Words on Suicide
How Emil Cioran's pessimistic sentiment about suicide compels us forward.
It’s not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.
The mental gears rolling over in my head jammed and hitched when I first heard (and subsequently read) this line. It did not appear to make much sense to me. It seemed too cute, if that makes sense. But I began reflecting on each word, working out what Cioran could have possibly meant by such a simple phrase.
Then it struck me.
Cioran was presenting an airtight case against the prospect of suicide. That is not to say it is unjustified to think about the idea of suicide, but that because we are living, it makes no sense, in the end, to kill ourselves. This falls in line with Albert Camus’ idea of the absurd, because, well, it is literally absurd to deprive yourself of life if you cannot consciously cash in on the (potential) benefits of that deprivation. Another individual who goes into detail about this dilemma is the South African philosopher, David Benator, who addresses this idea in his book Better Never To Have Been.
What many people feel when entertaining the prospect of permanently ending their own life is that it will be an escape from whatever hardship, whether personal or external, they are experiencing. Today, this may include all that has transpired amid the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent consequences—the rise of mental health issues being just one example.
This desire to end one’s life may be authentic, and it may be justified—I cannot say. But Cioran’s position gets at something more fundamental than one’s discontent with the world. Cioran proposes that the first mistake of mankind is to have come into existence in the first place. That it would have been better had we never been born at all. (There are several compelling arguments he makes for this position, but I will hold off going into them here.) This is known as the anti-natalist position: the idea that it is morally and ethically wrong to bring another human being into the world, considering the suffering, pain, and turmoil the said child will likely experience.
The anti-natalist position, as one can imagine, does not sit well with those who subscribe to an anthropomorphic god who plays a role in the daily lives of individuals.
What many assume about philosophers (such as Emil Cioran, Peter Zapffe, David Benatar, and Thomas Ligotti) who put forth these ideas is that they are suffering from the equivalent of existential angst usually attributed to teenagers. But once one actually investigates the substance of this method of thinking, it becomes clear that the tradition of mourning existence and consciousness is a very old one—and one that we ought to give more credence to.
This method of thinking—sometimes characterized as a branch of philosophical pessimism—certainly summons a kind of malaise and despair, but does that mean we should avoid thinking about these things altogether?
I’ll leave you with a line from Thomas Ligotti’s Conspiracy Against the Human Race:
For the rest of the earth’s organisms, existence is relatively uncomplicated. Their lives are about three things: survival, reproduction, death—and nothing else. But we know too much to content ourselves with surviving, reproducing, dying—and nothing else. We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering—slowly or quickly—as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are—hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.
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