Saturday, December 12, 2009

Can't Stand Losing You

"Why kill yourself? Life will do that for you,” somebody was once quoted as saying. Well quite, however this message seems to have eluded a number of Jakarta's citizens in recent weeks. Three individuals, to be specific, have felt compelled to take swan dives off the upper floors of shopping malls. Senayan City, Grand Indonesia and Mangga Dua Square have all been afflicted by the desire of certain customers to successfully throw a seven over the past couple of weeks. One particularly callous so-called Plaza public relations employee was even prompted to remark to the press that one of the jumpers was, "Seeking attention," and should have opted for a, "Bridge, flyover or other tall building," to commit his final act on this planet.

Why indeed did these tormented souls choose shopping plazas as their arenas of death? Possibly, the attention argument has some truth to it although people wanting to make a cry for help don't generally go down the high diving suicide route, preferring a survivable overdose and a trip to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped instead. It's all most perplexing.

Suicide is a strange issue philosophically of course. If you are a religious person, you probably view the act as a violation of divine laws, as if those wishing to kill themselves are cocking a snook at God by saying, "You can't fire me, I quit." Even if you're not much of a believer then you probably see suicide as a tragic and terrible act to be opposed at every opportunity and indeed people should surely be encouraged to reach out for help and comfort when they reach their emotional and depressive nadirs.

It has been argued by some thinkers though that, ultimately, suicide is a civil right. It is, as an act that harms nobody else, the final rung on the ladder of self determination and self ownership. We have birth control, so why not death control? Nietzsche once wrote that, "There is a certain right by which we may deprive a man of life but none by which we may deprive him of death."

Now some of you may be feeling your hackles rising as you read this libertarian argument and indeed society in general does rather reflect your views. Potential and failed suicide cases are often effectively criminalized by being locked up on psychiatric wards and otherwise denied their rights to this final act of self determination. They are dubbed, "mentally ill," a designation, given our still very limited scientific understanding of the workings of the human brain, which is ultimately more a value judgement than a description of a real pathology. Such judgements are made by those who refuse to accept the beliefs of others because they differ from their own and who seek to deny the legitimacy of depression and therefore what its sufferers think about our world.

Now I don't want to be interpreted as encouraging suicide here, rather as encouraging people to take responsibility for their own actions. Increasingly though, the Big Brother/Brave New World fusion than comprises our modern consumer Zeitgeist sees people deprived of options and herded like medicated cattle around endless shopping malls and retail parks. Robots with bank accounts whose names have been replaced with pin numbers shuffling through a world in which all of their desires have been created for them in the name of business.

And so we return to our Jakarta jumpers. Maybe these guys felt that mall suicide was the only way to absent themselves from, and protest against, society’s Prozac popping, perma-happy, Oprah Winfrey watching facade of relentless optimism and compulsory positivity. Maybe depression is a way to dissent from the only ideology left, the one that says you can buy happiness. Perhaps it's a militant refusal to join in with all of this dentally whitened smiling.

Well, I took myself down to the mall nearest my office this week to see just how down I could get and how appealing those upper floors railings would seem. I won't tell you which mall it was lest some hawkeyed PR manager tries to sue me for not experiencing feelings of total fulfillment on plaza property. Alas, the new ATMs zone hadn’t been fully plumbed in yet and so I couldn't spend my way to a smile. The cake shop proved to be quite appealing on a primal level and the book store undoubtedly had a few good tomes in it (alongside all of the usual racks of vacuous self help ‘literature’).

Other shops though, such as the one selling cutesy plastic tat for adolescent females or the grossly overpriced furniture store ushered in the old black dog of depression and the beast was soon yipping around my ankles. In fact, aside from the enormous supermarket in the mall’s basement, it would be fair to say that little on offer could really be considered essential for survival, or even really for pleasure or entertainment. I wound up slowly past the bright shop fronts and eventually came to the escapist Mecca of the cinema on the top floor. Perhaps life is like a movie. If you've sat through half of it and it's rubbish, who would blame you for walking out early?