Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Other Tragedy People Talk about on Facebook

I'm not sure I understand--and I'm not declaring my lack of understanding as some critique or rejection--what makes the appreciator of art feel a deep kinship with the artist. Some part of me feels great disgust when this is, say, displayed in politics.

"Stop, you fools!" I want to, and have in better words, cry. "Can't you see he's casting a spell!" And it's times like those I hope someone has readied an attack action with a missile weapon.

Anyway, that may be a post for another time--the aesthetics of power. I long ago recognized that while I heard a very, very big difference between King's words and Hitler's, most of these were because of socialization and my own thorny thought process. I heard in the failed Austrian painter the passion before which millions fell in worship. And if the truth is more complex and that they did not do all that they did because he told them to--well, he made excellent background music for a madness that consumed millions as they turned on millions more, bloodthirsty and relentless.

So what bridges the gap between artist and appreciator, what evokes the sense of longing and loss when, say, a John Lennon is shot to death? Or when Amy Winehouse apparently dies as a result of her addiction to substances?

I'm not sure. I'm not really free of such sentimentality. And if I am more objective in beholding my ignorance of the late Ms. Winehouse, I am certainly subjective elsewhere in regards to other artists whom I have never met in person.

I am not surprised, but still saddened, to hear others judge her. Some of the kinder words I heard in person stated that such-and-such "felt absolutely no sympathy" for people who killed themselves, likening Winehouse to Kurt Cobain. I don't know if Winehouse meant to kill herself and I assume that she did not... I have made a point, after knowing many people fall to their addictions and other failures, diseases, or troubles, to assume nothing and always leave room for the best interpretation. I did not say, but perhaps should have, that my grandmother died of cancer no doubt linked to her decades of smoking. Surely that would be seen in a different light. Alcohol poisoning, use of illicit drugs, these are low deaths. Cancer kills the noble. No, I will not damn Winehouse and condemn my kin for my mistakes at the same time. I don't get to do one or the other.

What is this need in people, to stand in judgment, to withhold or grant their compassion like some great divine gift? To demand that others jump through hoops and live up to their expectations of nobility? Is there anything so loathsome? Is there anything so petty? Is there anything so distracting from one's own problems? How many cluck their tongues at the dead addict while gorging themselves on sweets and salt and cigarettes? How many find vile satisfaction at a death supposedly deserved while tipping toward one of their own?

Who cannot look at the point of their death and say that perhaps they could have done more? That's a curse we all carry. Could have done more.

That said, my heart doesn't bleed much for a woman who had so much. But I don't blame her, hate her, judge myself better than her on account of the way she died. I do wonder what one does with this in a family setting, however. So much of this is to be found in prevention, in building a life, not steering away from the diseases of essential humanity and modern life. But once expressed, what do you do? Coerce them? Let them kill themselves with their obsessive consumption?

I don't know, and I've been in this shit professionally and personally quite often. I think as a society we move toward legality of use, isolating the chemical consumption from the acts of violence that, through our legal regime, we have forced to be combined. But that is simple. The next work is hard. Do we maintain laws that permit the forceable capture and treatment of addicts by family, medical personnel, and law enforcement? That they allow some a window of sobriety is matched by their use in abusing those already put in a very hard place by law and class and "public morality." If not the state, then do we permit families to perform such detoxification? Or do we defend the rights of those who will use and use and use--until they, perhaps, die?


  1. suicide scares people!

    common response is "selfishness" accusation or minimizing the suicide-actor's plight

    uncommon response is real empathy

  2. I think you're right; suicide is damn scary, and most people go to their comforts when they're scared. And a lot of people are comforted by either social conventions or a high-handed moral pose.

    The "selfishness" line is by far the most common I hear and read and it always makes me sad--for the dead and for the idiot living.

  3. I wonder if it's just better to permit (and that's a troublesome word) self-destructive people to self-destroy.

  4. I think at least some of the time we need to recognize in others the right to end one's life.

    Where it gets messy is in cases of intoxication--intoxicated people have rights, too--as well as mental illness and addiction. Particularly in the latter case, self-caused death may be incidental even if it results from the condition.

    I think, in a world where we recognized the right of others to end their lives, we would have to develop a great skill at discussing with them, freely and openly and absent of shame, why they think death might be a solution. But at the same time, we can't fall to the assumption that they are required to convince us.

    I don't know when we can take responsibility for others in this case. Sometimes people really are in a compromised state--psychosis, bereavement, withdrawal... I can justify for myself taking some power over them in order to make sure they're safe--for a time--but I also know what doors that opens.

  5. what I don't get is another's alleged right to tell the suicide-actor how to run his/her life.

    seems some aren't happy unless in another's business... bossing another around.

    it's just another angle on obnoxious entitlement.

    understandable exception for dependent minor/child having parent/guardian trying to stop suicide, but otherwise, whence the right to control another?

  6. I don't think I have the right to tell someone how to run their lives, and I think you're right to be wary. That said, I don't believe in self-destructive people. I believe people have a right to destroy themselves, but I also think that in some states, people may warrant protection. The line between that and decided-for-others is very thin. Maybe it's non-existent.

    I don't think I have a right to stop someone who wants to kill themselves.
    I also don't think I have a right to judge whose desire is valid and whose is not.
    I can't articulate a right, not logically at least, and yet I've tended to drunks who fought against the desire to go wander out where they probably would have hurt themselves. I've organized with others to watch over people for a night, and we didn't have a lot of respect for said people's autonomy. And I've taken a family member to the hospital when she was too fucked up to make a decision and told us that she'd been suffering from chronic pain in her kidneys. She argued against transport time and again, and I have to say I didn't really give a shit about her right to decide things at that point. I don't think I had a right to act as I did, and yet I think I am happy with what I did in those instances. In all cases, I knew the extent of the control I asserted, but I don't think I was being substantially different from controlling assholes.

    That may or may not be a response to what you're talking about, Karl. Anyway, when it comes to self-harm from adults, especially in the circumstances of intoxication, I can't posit too many rules that I wouldn't, in some instance or another, dismiss in a heartbeat.

  7. Should be "fought against me in their desire to wander..." Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

  8. wasn't accusing!

    just ruminating

    in addition to self-direction where end-of-life is concerned, I worry about legal "competence" Qs and the slide toward intrusion to render dissidents as legally "incompetent" & thus susceptible to gulag-ification or worse... it's related, to me at least.

  9. I didn't read accusation but, as you say, it's definitely related. Food for thought.

    You know, putting us in these situations is just one more way that the suicidal are so fucking inconsiderate.