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MASS SUICIDE

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Mass Suicide -- A Holology Special Report written by Freydis

It is said that most suicidal people are undecided about living or dying, meaning that one state doesn't appear to have any significant advantage over the other. Suicide can seem to be the only way out of problems, the ultimate solution and what is suicide but an exit? Individual suicides preceded by such thoughts are fairly common events that affect all socio-economic groups, but mass suicides are typically thought of as rare and affecting only brainwashed dupes belonging to strange cults. In fact, mass suicides are much more common than most would expect, and when the scope and chronology are extended to encompass entire societies then the prevalence of mass suicides is nothing short of a pandemic of global proportions.

CULTURAL MASS SUICIDE

The basic requirement for a mass suicide would be three or more people killing themselves together with a common element or interest and all, or most, of the members going along with the suicide willingly at the same time. Mass suicide comes in multiple forms and it can be politically driven, by dictators for instance. It can be argued that, regardless of the motives behind World War II, the practical outcome of that horrific conflict was to nearly drive the German people to mass suicide / extinction and Russia was a close second. So, war is often another form of mass suicide, and one with millions of eager participants, thus making it the largest form expressed.

The Disease of Culture

Mass suicide can also be seen in the case of archaic cultures around the globe dying off by the thousands, just like the languages that go with them. These cultures have been suddenly exposed to radically foreign influences and the whole panoply of Americanized cultural expectations brought to them from Hollywood via TV, movies and radio. This quickly generates cultural perversions and self-destructive demands; instead of farming, fishing or handmade crafts they want movie star fame, fast food, gold-tone watches and big screen TVs. But whether it's a sudden death or a slow die off, it really only matters for the newspaper headlines because the end result is still a mass suicide.

Common elements of cultural suicide:

  1. Abrupt chronological shift in technology combined with...

  2. A tenuous but carefully balanced subsistence lifestyle.

Culture can be thought of as a pathogen and isolated peoples have low, or no, built-up immunity to the disease. Just like influenza against the North American natives, even one instance of contact is enough to infect indigenous cultures and wreak havoc because all the old myths and faith-based ideas of tradition are instantly thrown into confusion and disarray. The end result when disparate populations collide is, sadly, the same evolutionary story -- the specialists fail while the generalists succeed.

Natives

Pollution, loss of motivation, other problems are present on Indian reservations just as they are everywhere else but those people have been weakened by the disease of culture and rendered unable to deal with them. The problems rapidly accumulate and they go under. Amazonian Indians of South America have been exposed to outside alien cultures for anywhere from only a few years to centuries. Yet although some have had time to adapt they're all faced with the inescapable reality of assimilation, which means the destruction of their outmoded culture while simultaneously being squeezed by development and government-imposed reservations. This dire situation presents few options; the Guarani and southern Brazil Kaiowa tribes are known for their recent mass suicides. 'Survival International' claims that "between 1985 and 1999 there has been 319 suicides among the Guarani [Kaiowa]." The primary cause is believed to be lack of land, or perhaps more accurately the loss of it.

Loss or confusion of identity, lack of purpose and awareness of redundancy, be it economic or cultural, all significantly erode the personal desire to continue living.

At the northern end of the Americas, in Canada, many Inuit tribes are so plagued by apathy and alcoholism over loss of purpose that whole tribes check in for detox at the same time! Despite a generally helpful and financially supportive Canadian government policy (today anyway) the end result is essentially the same as in Brazil - a slow motion mass-suicide. Often these 'first nation' indigenous cultures are so profoundly different from their modern surroundings that they're forced into constant agonizing cultural friction as they can't escape the TV and the radio but are compelled to adhere to traditional ways. In Navajo culture it's considered taboo to take any interest in the lives of certain animals, such as snakes or frogs. Animals should be left alone with serious consequences to the interlopers themselves or even relatives generations later. School is difficult for Navajo, for instance they shouldn't look at picture of a frog, read about frogs, and certainly never dissect one in biology class. The entire western tradition of critical thought is anathema to the Navajos. They are not to ask why, but rather learn through quiet introspection and observance. Family is significantly different from what the Navajo see on television or experience from westernized people. Cousins are called sisters and brothers and great uncles are grandfathers to the Navajo; no one is ever an orphan. How can cultures as disparate as the Navajo and the European-American ever meet or understand each other? It's difficult to impossible, and in practice it becomes a zero sum game where one must lose.

It's true some tribes have succeeded to an extent but always by adopting elements of western culture, such as the English language and gambling casinos. But often the only true element of culture remaining is the language, and as the tribal population dwindles and outside influences take over, the language itself is doomed. And this is true everywhere, but even the tribes that manage to hold together face a language extinction. Language is so intricately associated with culture that its loss is essentially another form of cultural mass-suicide.

Japan

Japan is known for its centuries of suicide in tradition. From hara-kiri ceremonial self-disemboweling to kamikaze warriors flying their aircraft into American warships during World War II. During that same war on the island of Saipan hundreds of trapped Japanese committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the invading American forces. Today the Japanese have found another, more insidious way, to kill themselves but this method is not limited to a single person or group but rather the entire culture collectively. Japan's population is aging rapidly while birth rates are constantly about the lowest in the world, now estimated at 1.2 per couple. Keep in mind 2.2 children per two persons is needed to maintain a stable population size. This rate is one third of what it was before 1950. Government efforts to rectify this seemingly inexorable slide into extinction, such as paying new mothers cash benefits, have only met with failure. High costs financially, socially and in time and effort required for raising children consistently top the list of reasons for abstaining from reproduction. Many Japanese wives remain virgins because of a male dominated cultural that disconnects love, sex and reproduction.

Germany

Another World War Two military and cultural (war) loser, Germany faces a situation nearly as dire as Japan's. The German government is slowly coming to the same realization as their erstwhile Axis partner, but such efforts to promote families have not been successful. The German government has had better fortune promoting non-Germanic immigration to bolster the tax and labor base but at the oft ignored cost of greatly altering the national character. Note that according to the US Census Bureau, Europe as a whole has a higher death rate than birth rate.

South Pacific

Proving that there's more than one way to commit collective suicide, witness the bizarre case of the Pacific Islanders eating themselves to death. The International Obesity Taskforce claims that Pacific islanders are now the most obese group of people on the planet. Three quarters of Nauru and Samoan adults are obese, while all the diseases and damaging effects of obesity are equally prevalent. In Nauru over half of adults have diabetes. This is a consequence of adopting westernized culture and the concomitant change in lifestyle and diet. After twenty thousand years of stable subsistence lifestyles and a basic diet of fish and coconuts now they have Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's fast food. They call the weekly flight from Auckland New Zealand to the Cook Islands the 'Kentucky Fried Chicken Express' because the passengers like to haul back large tubs of the fast food! Many of these people just can't get enough of salty and fatty foods to an extent that goes beyond personal addiction into a cultural epidemic. This epidemic is due to the Pacific Islander's genetic adaptation to a specific diet now thrown into chaos due to the prevalence of western food. It now appears that fatty foods have probably caused more deaths than thirty years of French and American nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Russia

Russians are well known for the ability to consume vast quantities of alcohol, far in excess of what would be considered tolerable levels for others. The demise of the Soviet empire along with a loss of the basic level of social and economic stability provided by socialist government policies has plunged Russia into a collective state of uncertainty and economic insecurity. Greatly compounding the national crisis, during Yeltsin's rule national assets were privatized and redistributed to a dozen or so 'oligarch' barons through corrupt auctions and fraudulent backroom deals, making the rich even richer and the poor more so. The Putin government made enormous efforts to reverse these trends, and achieved remarkable success in many categories, yet social turmoil still continues for many Russians.

Drunkenness is a slow suicide. People are disillusioned and they feel they have no future. They feel abandoned by the state. They turn themselves off - and turn to drinking. - Dr. Alexey Magalif

Alcohol consumption, already deeply ingrained into Russian culture as an acceptable escape from daily troubles, has taken on new significance as a convenient means of achieving that final escape decades premature; the average Russian male's  life-span now stands at only 59 years. Extreme alcoholism is a specifically male affliction, outnumbering female drinkers by five to one. The average Russian downs a fifth of vodka every other day, and that doesn't even include other alcoholic drinks! This societal impact from the loss of productive citizens through alcoholism and related death and illness is made worse by a simultaneous decline in birth rates. The rapid decline in Russian population over the past decade is considered the greatest peace-time loss of any industrialized nation.

CULT MASS SUICIDE

Jim Jones, David Koresh and the Heaven's Gate mass suicides have all made the headlines, shocking and intriguing the public even though they represent a small portion of the entire cult population.

Religion or Cult?

Religions and cults are both based on a theology or some element of fantasy that requires suspension of reason and critical analysis on the part of the individual. All religions control the mind because they demand faith in their own belief system over that of others. A religion is a cult that has earned legitimacy through longevity; they both start out the same way. The other difference between a religion and a cult is that in a cult you can't leave without repercussions. By this definition the church of Jehovah's Witnesses, the ones that knock on your door and hand out Watchtower magazines, are a cult because they practice a severe social outcast policy against members that leave the 'church'. Keep in mind Jim Jones was a minister of the Disciples of Christ, a large mainstream Christian denomination, and David Koresh was Seventh Day Adventist through the Branch Davidians, a weapon stockpiling, apocalyptic sect.

Common elements of cult suicides:

  1. Charismatic, convinced leader who demands total faith and obedience.

  2. Faithful following believing in a future heavenly reward and often an impending, Earthly doom.

Cult members can come from widely disparate socio-economic backgrounds and include rich as well as poor who are willing to make enormous personal sacrifices for reaching a faith-based goal promised by the charismatic leader. It helps to have an impressionable and highly loyal personality at the same time. While individual suicide is usually linked to long term depression, group suicide is quite different in that the people are motivated and completely convinced of both the righteousness of their theology and attainability of the goal(s). The group psychological dynamic actually enhances cohesion amidst times of trouble and stress. Group psychology is a self defense mechanism, it's what makes fish school, birds flock, crowds riot and follow the leader against reason and sanity.

The most dangerous cults abuse the faith of their followers to such an extreme that it endangers all of their lives. The leaders of these groups take advantage of group psychology to generate an erroneous sense of us versus a very hostile them outside. Impending apocalypses are a favorite, and creating the deadly end for the followers of Heaven's Gate and David Koresh. It should be noted there is no shortage of gullible and exploitable faithful conveniently lacking in logical skepticism, for we all know a sucker is born every minute. The limiting factor on dangerous cults is the number of charismatic psychopaths out there to lead the churches.

Three famous examples

The Heavens Gate mass suicide occurred in a hilltop mansion near San Diego California in 1997. They believed an alien spaceship was hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet and killed themselves in order to reach it. The victims were self-drugged and then suffocated by other members in a series of suicides over a period of three days. 39 died, most were in their 40s and came from a wide range of backgrounds.

Vernon Howell, better known as David Koresh, claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus in sinful form, took over the Branch Davidian sect, moved into their Mount Carmel compound near Waco Texas and changed the name to Ranch Apocalypse, while tightening his mental and physical control over the followers. Koresh had the Bible memorized and used it like a blunt instrument to bludgeon both his faithful flock and convince others of his divine authority. Amid accusations of drugs, abuse and weapons violations the federal government moved to raid the church in February 1993. The fiery conclusion, killing about 80 people, is a well known story, but what's not so well known is that the surviving Brach Davidians still remain attached to their faith.

Follower of Jim Jones expresses their beliefIf David Koresh had some bizarre notions and practices the Reverend Jim Jones was completely over the top - he didn't claim to be a reincarnated Messiah, he was God! His depraved rise to power is too long to rehash here, suffice to say he founded churches all over America during the sixties while using his enthusiasm, charisma and community action to create a remarkably mainstream organization he called The Peoples Temple of The Disciples of Christ. The liberal political establishment loved him and the votes he could generate. Later during the seventies Jim Jones reached even higher levels of public influence including the NAACP, California politics and even dining with the Carter family. But as his fame grew so did his megalomania and paranoia to such a fantastic extent that by 1978 he found himself in 'Jonestown' Guyana South America ordering his remaining flock to drink cyanide poison beneath a sign reading 'Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it' killing 913 people including 270 children.

Jim Jones' followers were composed of two groups, low income blacks (largest group) and idealistic affluent whites. The remnants of Jones' church remain convinced of the righteousness of their cause.

Mass suicide at JonestownWhile most cults are a product of wayward theology, Jim Jones was more a product of wayward ideology - a direct outgrowth of the radical sixties. Nonetheless it's remarkable how completely irrational these groups and their language appears to outsiders, and conversely how reasonable it appears to the followers. Within the artificial world that cults create, logic and reason are out the door, and indeed the utter speciousness of the faith is used by the leaders to keep the followers off balance, to bring them into a state of mindless obedience devoid of the one true defense - independent, critical thought.

CONCLUSION

Other species are known to commit mass suicide. Pods of whales sometimes intentionally beach themselves, apparently in order to die, and they will attempt suicide again even after being rescued with human assistance. The arctic rodents called Lemmings are known for supposed periodic mass suicides by collectively swimming into the sea and drowning. This is probably caused by environmental pressures usually from over population, which shouldn't be too surprising since the female produces several broods every year of about five baby lemmings each time!

Much like lemmings, the underlying elements seems to be a collective awareness of unsustainability. So one possible reason could be that in order for a few to survive, most everyone else must go. Trim the numbers to a level that can survive, reflexive group psychology again. Whatever the reason, mass suicides are more common during periods of social turmoil and collective mental and physical ill-health.

Survival is very much a psychological issue to Homo sapiens because instead of reflexive behavior and instinctive impulses, like simple animals, we can reason and plan ahead. It's undoubtedly a two edged sword because as much as we can reason to stay alive we can reason to go and die. Even a cursory awareness of the universal monotony, the astounding absurd simplicity of the mechanical universe we inhabit, is enough to drive any thinker to an early grave. Why else is entertainment such a consistently profitable and popular industry? Anything to keep our minds from thinking and distracted from the inevitable. And indeed many individual suicides are directly linked to that nihilistic sentiment, that everything is so confused and unhealthy that suicide is the only means of escape, the only solution.

It's possible that the evolution of sentience has an upper limit and we are pushing it even as I write this. Smart people think a lot and the ones that think a lot start to wrestle with issues like 'should we survive at all and what for?' The worst answer is no answer and the best is a tautology based on surviving to survive. Eventually suicide becomes rational and as social and environmental crisis escalate, even desirable for its own sake. It's easier to manufacture a fantasy world of pleasure waiting after death than it is to deal with the pain and problems of a modern world of ever increasing complexity. Perhaps this could explain why we have yet to find any evidence of advanced life outside of our planet Earth - they get too smart and kill themselves.

Nihilism ensues from anomie, the old order crumbles to dust and a new one is born from the pain and suffering of the transition.

Rarely is this recognized as it happens.

So, what am I saying? There's a distinct benefit to not being too smart; it's built into the rules of the game all biological life must adhere to. The most prolific life on Earth is also the least sentient - single celled organisms that are more robotic and machinelike than anything yet built by mankind. But humans can't be behave like bacteria; we only have one way to make it through. The humans that will survive the mass suicides are the ones that have developed immunity to the suicide diseases, like culture, through critical intelligence and wisdom. We have to be nimble and open to new ideas, yet at the same time able to determine the healthy thoughts and behavior from the foolish and the unhealthy.

In the meantime suicides, both individual and collective, are only going to increase as frenetic technological changes tear apart tradition and destabilize cultures throughout the world.


NEWS & RESOURCES

Life may not be exactly pleasant, but it is at least not dull. Heave yourself into Hell today, and you may miss, tomorrow or next day, another Scopes trial, or another War to End War, or perchance a rich and buxom widow with all her first husband's clothes. There are always more Hardings hatching. I advocate hanging on as long as possible. - HL Mencken

 Content & Design Freydis
Updated: May, 2011
Created: 2002