Suicide Deserves Stigmatization

I thought we had reached the zenith of liberal language policing.  What with the left grousing like henpecking harridans over improper pronouns, gender labels, offensive jokes, stereotypes, sexual preference, and plain old observations, one might be led to believe that every combination of vowels and consonants was already cordoned off with a generous unfurling of police tape.

But, one would be wrong to make that assumption. There’s a new patois proscription, and it’s one that the bleakest of bleak nihilists would endorse, if he or she had such positive feelings to express.

Princeton economist Alan Krueger recently committed suicide, shocking his colleagues and fellow economists. (There’s a macabre joke here about his self-slaughter having a negative impact on G.D.P., but I’ll save it.) Famous for allegedly debunking the iron law that says minimum wage hikes lead to unemployment, Krueger also did some empirical work on the detrimental effects of occupational licensing. His death, like many suicides, was unexpected.

Liberals now object to my description of Krueger’s end by his own hand. It’s not in any sentiment I suggested, explicit or implied. No, it’s grammatical. The use of the word “committed” carries an unfortunate connotation.

When Bloomberg reporter Katia Dmitrieva highlighted Krueger’s suicide over Twitter, Dylan Matthews of Vox took umbrage with her phrasing. Dmitrieva originally commented, “Economist Alan Krueger committed suicide, according to statement from Krueger family.” Like a bloodhound trained to sniff out problematic vernacular, Matthews scolded her thusly: “[T]his is a small thing but best practices (sic) is to use ‘died by suicide’ sted (sic) ‘committed,’ which connotes a crime or wrongdoing and contributes a bit to stigma.”

Matthews apparently wasn’t the only one raising an objection. As is common practice in these overly delicate days, Dmitrieva at once acknowledged her wrongdoing: “As many have noted, the correct phrasing when discussing someone killing himself or herself is ’died by suicide’ because ‘committed’ implies a criminal act.”

First off, the idea that the transitive past-tense verb “committed” is indicative of “crime or wrongdoing” is loony projection. You can commit all sorts of things: to marriage, to the military, an act of charity, an act of malice. And don’t forget the option of committing someone to the bughouse -- a trip that seems in order for soldiers of the jargon gendarmes.

Commit, which comes from the Latin committo, is not within the exclusive province of criminality. Where Matthews came up with such an outré example of cognitive bias probably came from reading his own error-prone site. He might want to commit himself to a remedial English course, preferably one void of Stephen Greenblatt’s influence.

The heart of Matthews’s argument is that we should all watch our mouths so as to lessen the stigma of suicide. I’m sorry, but why shouldn’t there be a stigma on suicide? Shouldn’t we want to lessen the act of voluntarily taking one’s life? Stigmatizing is just a byword for shaming, and while our culturati fancies itself as down on shaming -- lest we discourage someone from, say, I don’t know, committing suicide? -- shouldn’t the practice be applied to unnecessary deaths?

Suicides don’t have to happen. They are a choice. And while the concept of felo de se never made any practical sense other than to charge accomplices, it’s irresponsible to not discourage self-murder. Supporting the erasure of humanity is, strictly speaking, inhumane.

Le Suicidé by Édouard Manet

That attitude is changing, of course, with Belgium and the Netherlands legalizing the practice of doctor-approved euthanasia. Euthanasia now accounts for 4% of all Dutch deaths. There is even door-to-door suicide machines. In Canada, which legalized euthanasia in 2016, send-off parties are being thrown for the despairing and sick who’ve decided to shuffle off this mortal coil.

In the U.S., seven states have legalized physician-assisted suicide, which differs from euthanasia by having strict requirements for an official prognosis of less than six months to live. Don’t think, though, that if the left were to have its way, we wouldn’t soon resemble our northern neighbor. The liberal belief in personal autonomy is too strong to deny the de-jure right to off yourself. Euthanasia is seen as a freedom of a piece with abortion and same-sex marriage.

There is sympathetic appeal in those suffering extreme, unending pain asking for final relief. But even in those heart-wrenching cases, encouraging suicide sounds like a cruel abandonment, a giving up. Is it really love to surrender someone’s life to death?

And it’s in loved ones that the issue of suicide really reaches its moral limit. Suicide is a selfish act. That may be a hackneyed thing to say, but it’s true. Dying deprives those around you of your presence. Children, parents, spouse, friends, coworkers, neighbors–they, too, lose in the end.

“I just know that suicide is a wicked thing,” Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote in reaction to another famous suicide: that of peripatetic gastronome Anthony Bourdain. So it will always be. And the stigma remains deserved.

I thought we had reached the zenith of liberal language policing.  What with the left grousing like henpecking harridans over improper pronouns, gender labels, offensive jokes, stereotypes, sexual preference, and plain old observations, one might be led to believe that every combination of vowels and consonants was already cordoned off with a generous unfurling of police tape.

But, one would be wrong to make that assumption. There’s a new patois proscription, and it’s one that the bleakest of bleak nihilists would endorse, if he or she had such positive feelings to express.

Princeton economist Alan Krueger recently committed suicide, shocking his colleagues and fellow economists. (There’s a macabre joke here about his self-slaughter having a negative impact on G.D.P., but I’ll save it.) Famous for allegedly debunking the iron law that says minimum wage hikes lead to unemployment, Krueger also did some empirical work on the detrimental effects of occupational licensing. His death, like many suicides, was unexpected.

Liberals now object to my description of Krueger’s end by his own hand. It’s not in any sentiment I suggested, explicit or implied. No, it’s grammatical. The use of the word “committed” carries an unfortunate connotation.

When Bloomberg reporter Katia Dmitrieva highlighted Krueger’s suicide over Twitter, Dylan Matthews of Vox took umbrage with her phrasing. Dmitrieva originally commented, “Economist Alan Krueger committed suicide, according to statement from Krueger family.” Like a bloodhound trained to sniff out problematic vernacular, Matthews scolded her thusly: “[T]his is a small thing but best practices (sic) is to use ‘died by suicide’ sted (sic) ‘committed,’ which connotes a crime or wrongdoing and contributes a bit to stigma.”

Matthews apparently wasn’t the only one raising an objection. As is common practice in these overly delicate days, Dmitrieva at once acknowledged her wrongdoing: “As many have noted, the correct phrasing when discussing someone killing himself or herself is ’died by suicide’ because ‘committed’ implies a criminal act.”

First off, the idea that the transitive past-tense verb “committed” is indicative of “crime or wrongdoing” is loony projection. You can commit all sorts of things: to marriage, to the military, an act of charity, an act of malice. And don’t forget the option of committing someone to the bughouse -- a trip that seems in order for soldiers of the jargon gendarmes.

Commit, which comes from the Latin committo, is not within the exclusive province of criminality. Where Matthews came up with such an outré example of cognitive bias probably came from reading his own error-prone site. He might want to commit himself to a remedial English course, preferably one void of Stephen Greenblatt’s influence.

The heart of Matthews’s argument is that we should all watch our mouths so as to lessen the stigma of suicide. I’m sorry, but why shouldn’t there be a stigma on suicide? Shouldn’t we want to lessen the act of voluntarily taking one’s life? Stigmatizing is just a byword for shaming, and while our culturati fancies itself as down on shaming -- lest we discourage someone from, say, I don’t know, committing suicide? -- shouldn’t the practice be applied to unnecessary deaths?

Suicides don’t have to happen. They are a choice. And while the concept of felo de se never made any practical sense other than to charge accomplices, it’s irresponsible to not discourage self-murder. Supporting the erasure of humanity is, strictly speaking, inhumane.

Le Suicidé by Édouard Manet

That attitude is changing, of course, with Belgium and the Netherlands legalizing the practice of doctor-approved euthanasia. Euthanasia now accounts for 4% of all Dutch deaths. There is even door-to-door suicide machines. In Canada, which legalized euthanasia in 2016, send-off parties are being thrown for the despairing and sick who’ve decided to shuffle off this mortal coil.

In the U.S., seven states have legalized physician-assisted suicide, which differs from euthanasia by having strict requirements for an official prognosis of less than six months to live. Don’t think, though, that if the left were to have its way, we wouldn’t soon resemble our northern neighbor. The liberal belief in personal autonomy is too strong to deny the de-jure right to off yourself. Euthanasia is seen as a freedom of a piece with abortion and same-sex marriage.

There is sympathetic appeal in those suffering extreme, unending pain asking for final relief. But even in those heart-wrenching cases, encouraging suicide sounds like a cruel abandonment, a giving up. Is it really love to surrender someone’s life to death?

And it’s in loved ones that the issue of suicide really reaches its moral limit. Suicide is a selfish act. That may be a hackneyed thing to say, but it’s true. Dying deprives those around you of your presence. Children, parents, spouse, friends, coworkers, neighbors–they, too, lose in the end.

“I just know that suicide is a wicked thing,” Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote in reaction to another famous suicide: that of peripatetic gastronome Anthony Bourdain. So it will always be. And the stigma remains deserved.