Saturday, September 12, 2009

Teenage suicides in New Zealand

Kasper's picture

A possible reason for why teen suicide rates may be so high in New Zealand may not be that complicated after all. Since teen suicides in NZ are correlated with low-self esteems, depression and a sense of hopelessness and despair rather than the opposite, martyrdom, perhaps Lindsay’s suspicions below shed some light on the issue.

“I stated my own suspicion that the problem came down to a failure of philosophy. Youngsters were taking their own lives at precisely the time one asks life's big questions and searches for ideals to guide one's conduct. Religion, to which one traditionally repaired for answers, was discredited and had not been replaced with a viable secular alternative – leaving a values vacuum, leading to despair. What youngster would be inspired by the jaded cynicism so manifest in so many once-thoughtful adults?” (Editorial: Politically Incorrect Show).

Life’s big questions for teenagers often consist of: Who am I? Where am I? What am I to do? How am I to do it? What does it all mean?

“Many people of student age still preserve some vestige of innocence and idealism. They haven't yet totally succumbed to the cynicism of the adult world, nor have they had their thinking processes totally subverted by their education. In the past such idealism would have been channelled mainly into Christian and/or Marxist directions. Both of these doctrines and their variants have been found to be false and evil.”(Lindsay Perigo, Logic has nothing to do with reality: Yeah right)

Today however, we are experiencing a philosophical replacement in the ecology movement, sucking in young folk, providing them with ideologies of world peace, climate change and funnily enough anti-industrialisation. Teens come home from school, educate their parents and recruit their involvement. Whilst parental involvement in facilitating purposeful and goal directed behaviours in teens are a good thing, the Marxist agenda’s hidden in so many ecological movements, will once again cause them to crumble. Teens are constantly subjugated to the philosophical void that hangs in secular society. Without a coherent structure for them to tie things together, to make sense of things around them, they are doomed to despair.

Victor Frankl says that despair can be expressed in the form of a mathematical equation: D = S - M. Despair occurs when there is suffering without meaning, that is to say, when there’s no reason for ones suffering a sense of despair ensues. Although philosophically one could dispute that the despair is reasonless, as far as the teenager is concerned, the suffering is felt to be reasonless existentially. My thoughts would be that in the place of consciousness where self-esteem, a sense of identity and philosophy should reside to guide a teen through these complex questions, lies an abyss. In this state of despair comes an immense psychological pain, confusion and possibly panic. Reality is real and so are they but they have nothing to make sense of it or to guide them through it, feeling like a walking vacuum, numb to the demands of reality and feeling the psychological pain of their perpetual confusion and loneliness. The energies once used to keep up with the demands of reality, of conceptual learning and development become thwarted. They’re fighting against the world and they’re fighting against themselves.

As Rand noted, without a philosophical system which provides a way of understanding things one lacks the where with all to be able to tie everything together, to make sense of things. MTV and secular society don’t provide anything intelligible, ideal or inspirational to the young nor do they provide the guidance needed for a young person to get through these tough questions with a strong sense of identity at the end of their journey.

I leave the reader with the rest of Lindsay’s thoughts from the Editorial of the Politically correct show.

But is a viable, secular alternative to religion possible? Can life have meaning without an after-life? If there is no god to inspire ideals and prescribe values, can there be any other source? Can man discover it? Theologians and philosophers alike have answered these questions with a resounding, No! Many professional philosophers revel in proclaiming their discipline irrelevant to the conduct of everyday life. The moral status of benevolence, they say, is no different from that of malevolence, creativity from destructiveness, honesty from deception, etc., and a belief in any of these values over their opposites is merely an arbitrary preference, with no objective validity. Ethically, it's deuces wild. The current subjectivist/relativist/nihilist morass may seem unappetising, they concede, but that too is an arbitrary judgement. There are no grounds for seeking anything better – there is no "better."
The Russian/American novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand begged to differ. It is reality itself, she argued, that confronts man with the need for morality – a code of values designed to facilitate the process of living – because it confronts him with alternatives amongst which he must choose (he has no choice about choice). At the most fundamental level the choice is: life or death. If one chooses death, there is nothing more to be said; if one chooses life, the book of morality opens, and one must fill in the pages oneself, making one's choices in the presence of alternatives to the ultimate value of: life.
To the nihilist's gleeful 'coup de grace,' 'Ah! But why should one value life in the first place?' Rand replied: The question is improper. The value of life need not and cannot be justified by a value beyond life itself; without the fact of life, the concept of value would not be possible in the first place. Value presupposes life; life necessitates value.
To the existentialists' lament that without something beyond life, life itself has no meaning, she responded similarly – the very concept of meaning can have meaning only in the context of life. Ultimately, the meaning of life, if one wants to use that terminology, is ... life – one's own life, since one cannot live anyone else's – and what other or better meaning could one conceive?
A creature endowed with immortality, denied the alternative of life or death (and their barometers, pleasure and pain) would have no need of values and could discover no meaning in anything since nothing would be of any consequence to it. It is man's nature as a living, mortal entity, unprogrammed to survive, constantly facing alternatives, endowed with a conceptual/volitional consciousness, that simultaneously makes the need for morality inescapable and the fulfilment of that need possible.
For a human being, "is" is fraught with "ought"; "ought" is an irresistible aspect of "is" – the traditional dichotomy between them is false. The task of ethical philosophy is to prevent their being artificially sundered. A successful outcome – a morality derived from and consistent with the facts of reality – is, by virtue of those very characteristics, not arbitrary (disconnected from reality) but objective (consonant with reality).
Rand went on to argue that a reality-based, life-affirming morality would concern itself not merely with survival, but survival proper to the life of the sentient, conceptual being that man is. While life might be the standard of morality, happiness, she argued, was its purpose. "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live."
In Rand's novel The Fountainhead, a young man fresh out of college, looking for spiritual fuel for the journey ahead of him, is wheeling his bicycle through a forest, when he encounters the architect Howard Roark, contemplating some breath-taking new structures – his own – in a nearby clearing. "Who built this?" he asks. "I did," Roark replies. The boy thanks Roark and walks away. "Roark looked after him. He had never seen him before and he would never see him again. He did not know that he had given someone the courage to face a lifetime."
To all this country's young people, happy and unhappy alike, I would repeat what I said on 'Ralston': Read this book – and the philosophy that produced it. You have nothing to lose but your doubts; you have your dreams to win. I repeat that advice today.

1 comment:

Christian Linnell said...

As much as I disagree with Rand's general philosophy, and as much as I dislike the methods by which she reaches her conclusions, I thoroughly agree with the sentiment here.

Religions, and especially religious groups, provide so much support to young people. They fill their heads with hope and promise. In the case of religion this hope is false and the methods to that hope are quite frankly horrific. Where is the secular support group?

Frighteningly religious as Rand's followers sometimes seem to me, I can't agree that people should solely read her book. I would instead recommend Richard Dawkins' "Unweaving the Rainbow". It is my secular humanist equivalent.