The first visit to a new doctor means filling out pages and pages of forms: Name, age, address, and so forth. Then financial matters, privacy issues and, finally, a long personal history. At my age, I can’t even begin to remember all my various operations or hospital visits.
“Just do your best,” the nurse said. I’d almost finished when I came to this: “Are you happy?” I checked yes. “Do you think about death?” I did not answer. “Have you ever thought about suicide?” Good grief!
The truth was, yes, I’ve thought about death, and yes, I’ve thought about suicide, but I knew better than to admit to it in writing. I could just imagine what a can of worms that would open, and yet they’re exactly the kind of questions any self-aware individual should ask herself.
The French author and philosopher, Albert Camus, said suicide was the only truly serious philosophical question. All animals have a survival instinct. Only mankind asks why. Sigmund Freud went so far as to postulate a death instinct or death wish. It was probably his most controversial theory.
Valid or not, the idea of a death wish has been explored by many contemporary philosophers. Clinically, a desire for self-destruction is usually accompanied by feelings of depression, hopelessness and self-reproach. My concern here is not personal; I am not suicidal, but I am concerned about the survival of the human race. We as a species are in danger of extinction, and if it should come to pass, it will be by our own hand.
What’s more, subconsciously we know it. In the world’s ever-increasing need for stimulation, its endless desire for consumer goods, and its ceaseless effort to get ahead, we have forgotten the things that make life glorious. In an age of commercialism, we have lost the love of life itself, and thus we drift into depression.
A happy well-adjusted society simply doesn’t do the nasty things we do to each other.
This is not the place to discuss the many ways mankind contributes to his own demise. I’ve listed them before. So have others, but to no avail. It’s natural to deny what one cannot face, but it’s also unhealthy. Just as any medical exam needs to look at a patient’s emotional condition, we need to stop and question the emotional state of our nation, and by extension the psychic condition of our species.
Man is a spiritual animal. Religion is an outgrowth of that spiritual nature, but no particular faith has the solution to our psychic problems, so please, no lectures on what Christianity or any other religion says about salvation. Animosity between faiths is itself a danger to mankind. No matter how strong our belief, God won’t save us if we trash Creation.
I didn’t get a chance to ask the receptionist about those three questions at the end of my medical history. However, an elderly man sitting near me in the waiting room was being helped by one of the staff. Apparently he couldn’t see well enough to read the form or shook too badly to hold a pen. I overheard him give the conventional answers: Yes, I’m happy. No, I don’t think about death, and no, I don’t contemplate suicide.
He either lied, or he was in denial. No man reaches his age and level of infirmity without considering both. No thinking person can look at what is happening on the earth today and not realize our species is endangered. But just as suicide need not happen if the individual is deeply invested in living, Armageddon need not occur if humanity is truly invested in life.
What we have created, we can change. However, as long as we deny the problem — the poisons we have produced, the weapons we have accumulated, the anger and ugliness in our own lives — we are helpless.
Joan King is a Sautee resident whose columns appear biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.