Friday, June 19, 2009

Ethically Importunate Being

I remember being a freshman in high school, singing with the then-new Bad Religion album (Stranger than Fiction), and thinking, "Fuck yeah! 'Even though you try not to be, we are of the same plague,' indeed!" Well, not the 'indeed' bit, but all the rest. And then a few years later, a decade I guess, really working through--emotionally--the idea of humanity-as-plague, -as-virus. It made sense. It still makes sense, as a possibility.

And then a year or two after that, sitting at my computer while my then-lover slept in our hotel room in San Francisco, typing up a manifesto. I'd come to the conclusion--never mind how I got there; the point is that I believed wholeheartedly I was right--that the most ethical thing I could do would be to commit suicide after doing my absolute best to persuade as many others as possible to do the same. I envisioned (not that I thought I'd have such persuasive power--the point is that the most ethical thing I could see to do would be to try) all of humanity executing a self-chosen, orderly retreat from existence.

Not killing one another or tricking people or anything like that: just carefully and conscientiously cleaning up after ourselves and quietly, undramatically, collectively but singly ending our being as individuals and as species.

Like I said, it doesn't really matter how I came to the conclusion; I believed this would be best and set out to write my manifesto. (Deluded? Sure, why not? But delusion's always only a determination made after the fact, based on what's-agreed-to-have-been.)

I would say that what happened next was that I couldn't go forward. That would be the way of saying it that makes sense for us, that fits one story (i.e., species-survival, coded at the genetic level, opted for my individual survival at that moment). But that's not what happened, or what felt like happened.

I didn't change my mind, decide I had been wrong. And I also didn't feel impotent, unable to act. But I also didn't want to go through with the whole thing, even though I still thought it would be right to. Yes, it still seemed to me best to commit suicide and encourage as many others as I could to do the same. But, in the fact (in der Tat [act], as the Germans say), I didn't want to. I chose, as I experienced it then, being.

Should we exist? I don't know. I disagree entirely however that this is a moot, or an irrelevant question. On the contrary, I think it's one of the most crucial questions we can possibly ask. Not because so much hinges on the answer (though it does on the asking of it, and on the struggling with the answers we elaborate for ourselves), but because we can't not ask the question. It's in our very structure as linguistic beings (on which, more some other time).

We need, on some level, to choose our own being, to choose that which has been laid down for us as the ground for our choices about it. And we need also to consciously experience as *ours* the choice against our own being. I'd like to lay out the whole system that would ground more persuasively what I'm saying, but that will take a book, and I'm not on that one yet. So, for now, just this:

We are the evolving intersection of these two choices, for and against our being, in a million different moments. It is ours to negotiate, to feel, the ways in which they, these choices, will have been who we were.


Matt D said...

"To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death" -Mary Shelley via Victor Frankenstein. In addition to the causes, the subjunctives of examining it. The mights and shoulds.

Ira said...

Thanks, Matt--a cool place to go for that, and one I hadn't thought of :-).

Anonymous said...

Ira, very interesting. I often look at suicide as the one extraordinary moment when you have complete control of your life. I wonder if you have ever looked at the mass suicides that have occurred and still occur in Japan. There is an interesting scene in the film "hostel" in which an Asian-American girl is tortured and she decides to kill herself by jumping in front of a train. After reading your blog it made me think of the significance in that scene, because the girl, who was tortured, had lost her eye. Right before she jumped she saw a mirror image of herself before jumping and looked at her newly disfigured face. I feel as if your blog captures the essence of that moment: the taking control of your actual being/self (since it was stolen by her torturer) and ending one's life when you can't recognize precisely who that being is anymore.

Ira said...

Wow, Selah--that's a compelling image. And I'm going to have to think about how mass suicide can (mass = organic choice-making entity) and can't (mass = ~choice) fit with my image of things. Thanks!

Jason said...

Beautifully written, the last sentence I read over and over!

Ira J.A. said...

Thanks, Jason!