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he could bear to wait no longer
July 20, 2008 10:09 PM   Subscribe

Last Year I Killed A Man, by Vaughan Thomas. Published Saturday July 19, 2008 by The Guardian.
posted by ZachsMind (117 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Er, wow. That's gloomy.
posted by Artw at 10:18 PM on July 20, 2008


.
posted by ioerror at 10:24 PM on July 20, 2008


I feel bad that this guy feels like he killed someone when he bears absolutely zero responsibility for the death.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:26 PM on July 20, 2008


Whoa.

Exacerbated by the fact that The Guardian thought it appropriate to post this in their 'Life & Health' section.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:33 PM on July 20, 2008


So powerful, and yet so succinct.
posted by thatbrunette at 10:34 PM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


.
posted by Korou at 10:37 PM on July 20, 2008


"I left work and went home in the full realisation that perhaps I am not such a rationalist after all, because I sobbed my heart out in the arms of my partner."
Since when does being a rationalist mean being devoid of human emotion.

Personally, I think something like this would fuck me up for quite awhile. Just because you know you have no "fault" in the matter, it doesn't mean you won't feel pain for being involved in it. It's a natural thing that we look at our fellow humans and pity their pain and suffering. We reflect on what it must be like to go through what they go through. Do the same feeling hide inside us? Are we just steps away from the edge? What about his loved ones; what sorrow they must feel? Maybe we think that even though there was nothing we could have done to stop it, would we see it coming in those whom *we* love?

I'd actually feel like it was irrational and inhuman to *not* feel grief experiencing something like this. I sincerely hope I never have to.
posted by vertigo25 at 10:40 PM on July 20, 2008 [11 favorites]


I wanted to hear what others would have to say about this piece without my opinion tarnishing it. I purposefully didn't ramble any commentary when I first posted it. I just stuck to the facts, cuz I couldn't think of anything more to say at the time, and didn't want to color other people's exposure to the piece. Now I'm beginning to rethink that approach.

I didn't take this article as a statement of blame, but rather as a simple statement of what happened from the point of view of the guy who fate chose as the one behind the proverbial wheel. Perhaps it took some therapy for Vaughan Thomas to come to terms with it, but the fact is he did kill the man. He didn't do it in a premeditated fashion, but if you are driving the subway car, and a guy stands in front of said car and you run into him? You killed him. Just like when you drive a car and a bug hits your windshield? You killed that bug. No one's gonna blame you for it. That'd be absurd.

That's not an admission of guilt, but it is an acceptance of the event, and one's part within it. I didn't post this cuz I thought, "wow that's gloomy." I actually found the piece kinda positive and uplifting. To me it reads like the words of a man who was suffering some guilt and sadness but has come to terms with what transpired. I'm also still in awe of the final twist at the end, which I hesitate to describe here cuz some people may read this before reading the article. I'll let someone else ruin the punchline.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:43 PM on July 20, 2008


Did he really kill the guy? Seems like F=ma killed him.
posted by telstar at 10:54 PM on July 20, 2008 [10 favorites]


Exacerbated by the fact that The Guardian thought it appropriate to post this in their 'Life & Health' section.

Probably because being at the wheel at the time fucked him up mentally for a while.

And there isn't really a more appropriate section, is there? I don't think Sport or Entertainment or Culture would be any better.
posted by WalterMitty at 10:55 PM on July 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


K Chronicles as on onlooker to a similar situation. Haunting.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:07 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Suicide by train.

From the second link:
Almost always, suicide victims peer into the locomotive cab in their final moments. They stare right into the eyes of the engineer, perhaps reaching for a last human connection.
posted by Knappster at 11:21 PM on July 20, 2008


A smart man inquired, "Do you know there's a person under your train?" I looked at the blood on the windscreen momentarily before assuring him that, yes, I was aware.

He paused for a heartbeat, looked at his watch and said, "So, how long before we get on the move again?"


I got stuck on the Northern Line once when some idiot delayed our progress with his (or her) meaningless act of departure and this was pretty much the reaction of everyone on the carriage.
posted by three blind mice at 11:25 PM on July 20, 2008


but the fact is he did kill the man.

He started the train moving but that is all. No action on the driver's part, other than not starting the train at the previous station, would have prevented the death. The jumper killed himself.

If I order a new book from amazon, and while it's being delivered the delivery truck hits someone, killing them, have I killed the person? I set the truck in motion by way of my order, and someone is killed where no action of mine, other than not ordering that book, would prevent it.

How about if I build a building that someone jumps from?
posted by markr at 11:25 PM on July 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


I have trouble with the notion of unlimited agency in situations like this. Simply put, unless negligence is involved, no train driver ever chooses to kill someone who decides to stand on the tracks.

Human beings do not, and cannot, have perfect control over the systems we unleash on the world. If you want to get all Philosophy 101 and call that viewpoint a slippery slope I guess I can see some merit in that, but this is a freakin' train, not Napoleon invading Russia. A train is a several-hundred ton thing travelling at very unnatural speeds on a predetermined course, and is governed purely by the laws of physics and by the tracks laid out in front of it. Most systems, once put into motion, have a limit built in where human attempts at control become ineffective. For trains, alright, in an abstract sense you could blame the designers of the train for creating a machine capable of killing, but you can say the same for pillow makers.

I understand the trauma involved in being a part of someone's death, and I empathize with that, but I don't see how he can honestly say to himself that he killed the man on the track. The man was on the track; a factor out of his control. And he was not negligent, he was awake, he hit the brakes, he was following safety procedures; he was controlling the train as well as any man could in that situation, so again, the actions of the train beyond that point go beyond human control. This is not, at all, his fault. He was an onlooker, a bystander, and he was doing everything in his power to stop the train from killing anyone. How could he blame himself for this? Wherever the blame lies, it's not with him.
posted by saysthis at 11:40 PM on July 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


And thus an ultimate truth is revealed: suicide is near always an extraordinarily selfish act, leaving behind many victims who don't have the benefit of death to release them from their pain, suffering and responsibility. Even moreso when you feel it necessary to involve innocent bystanders as some last screw you to the world you wish to be absolved of.

It's sad and rather chilling, to be confronted with the tale of someone who was so despairing of living another moment, and to feel, rather than understanding or empathy, an impotent rage at their utter self-absorption.
posted by Dreama at 11:42 PM on July 20, 2008 [14 favorites]


"Do you know there's a person under your train?" I looked at the blood on the windscreen momentarily before assuring him that, yes, I was aware.

He paused for a heartbeat, looked at his watch and said, "So, how long before we get on the move again?"


Christ.
posted by sveskemus at 11:56 PM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


I heard a story once that someone jumped in front of a tube train and mouthed 'Thank You' to the driver before getting hit.
posted by RufusW at 12:01 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Zachsmind, when there is nothing you can do to avoid another's death, I don't think you have killed them. The car equivalent to this would be a man dropping ten feet in front of your automobile from where he's been crouching on a low bridge when you're doing 60 miles per hour.

Yes, you're part of the resultant mess, but you're not responsible for it.
posted by maxwelton at 12:02 AM on July 21, 2008


perhaps reaching for a last human connection.
Alienation is a very common motive of suicides. Depressive suicide almost requires, by its very nature, a belief that one does not matter. Much like externally-directed violence, involving someone else in one's suicide is a way of ensuring that one is important to someone, however briefly and however unpleasant the importance.

Henrik had no right to do it, but rights are a subset of capabilities. What he did ensured that at least one person--he's already discounted the friends and family he expects ought to do so--would remember him forever.

There are motives other than depression for suicide, of course, and some of these (like shame, and this may have been to some extent the case for Henrik) do involve a belief that one matters. In which case, the eye-lock connection might be taken as an apology of sorts: "I'm sorry that this involves you. I'm really just here for the train."
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:05 AM on July 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


He paused for a heartbeat, looked at his watch and said, "So, how long before we get on the move again?"

Oh sveskemus, that's exactly what jumped out at me too. I've seen a jumper while I was waiting for the train, and I've seen people act like that. So cold. While the shocked train driver was being comforted by police, jerks had the gall to ask when the next train was coming. While police asked people to back off so that they may do their job, people hollered back "we're going to be late to our jobs because of this". No sympathy.
posted by dabitch at 12:07 AM on July 21, 2008


The point is not whether, in a logical way, he chose to kill the man. It is that psychologically, he is responsible. That's why we blame the hit-and-run driver, even when the death may be an accident as much out of control of the driver as the suicide is out of the control of the train engineer; we expect the driver to stay to take responsibility (and hopefully, be absolved) but the rejection of that responsibility is why the driver often doesn't stay.
posted by Peach at 12:07 AM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


He paused for a heartbeat, looked at his watch and said, "So, how long before we get on the move again?"

Christ.


Don't be too harsh on that guy, sveskemus. Denial is normal, wanting to get on with one's own life is normal too, and the driver, even though he was directly involved in the suicide, is still perceived as the authority figure, the person in charge of the train. Maybe the guy realized a bit later that that was really insensitive of him ... but short of tracking down the driver to apologise (and would such an apology necessarily be welcome? the driver may not even remember him, or even want to be reminded), what can he do?

Most of us will be the speaker and hearer of similarly insensitive remarks at inopportune times in our lives.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:13 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, you're part of the resultant mess, but you're not responsible for it.

Once you consider the "responsibility" of the train conductor, the manufacturer of the train, the contractor who built the tube station, the society that demands mass transit, the same society which regularly drives people quite mad with visions of self-destruction, the man's father and mother, his upbringing in their household, his education or lack thereof, the weather that day, the momentary orientation of his neurons and general state of his brain chemistry ...

... once you consider all that, you really start to wonder if it was a free and fair decision that lead him to step onto the track, or if it was a billion little barely noticeable things (all almost completely beyond his control), coming together and adding up to make suicide seem like the only way out for him.

It really makes me wonder if we have anything approaching "free will" or not.
posted by Avenger at 12:36 AM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I once talked to an MTA engineer in Manhattan who had been driving for 17 years and has had this happen to him not once but twice. I was sitting across from the engineer's cabin at the front of the train, and we had been stopped for about 5 minutes, when the door of the cabin swung open and he just looked outside, checking out the mostly empty front car, not saying anything.

I asked him what the hold up was, and he told me there was an "incident" on a car ahead of us somewhere on the line. Said he was waiting to here more, and that he hoped it wasn't what he thought it was.

Suicide?

Yeah.


He stared blankly out of the front of the train for a minute and then I asked if he knew any drivers who had ever had that happen to them. He didn't skip a beat:

Me. Twice.

Hmm.


He kept staring out the front and I realized he was looking at their...

I can still see their faces.

That was the end of the conversation. 5 or 10 minutes later we were offloading the still-stopped train.

The SF Chronicle ran a series once on the beautiful, silent killer that the Golden Gate serves as to the city. I remember some none-too-surprising statistic of how the overwhelming majority of jumpers were off of the side facing the city, rather than facing the Pacific.

What a chilling moment that last connection with humanity must be.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:39 AM on July 21, 2008 [24 favorites]


Denial is normal, wanting to get on with one's own life is normal too, and the driver, even though he was directly involved in the suicide

It's not denial. It's a refusal to participate any more in this pathetic one-act play.
posted by three blind mice at 1:46 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember some none-too-surprising statistic of how the overwhelming majority of jumpers were off of the side facing the city, rather than facing the Pacific.

Not sure how long it's been this way, but pedestrians are not allowed to walk on the side facing away from the city; that's bikes only. Cops will stop you very quickly if you start walking on the wrong side.
posted by Potsy at 1:50 AM on July 21, 2008


lol = ded
posted by sharksandwich at 1:52 AM on July 21, 2008


DaBitch: "While police asked people to back off so that they may do their job, people hollered back 'we're going to be late to our jobs because of this'. No sympathy."

Speaking as a suicide survivor, I have no sympathy for those who actually carry it out. They chickened out. They deserve none of our sympathy. You can choose to give all the sympathy you might want. They won't thank you for it, cuz they're dead.

They should have to tough it out like the rest of us.

Now, if you're bedridden and in constant pain and you've talked with your loved ones and the doctors are no longer trying to cure you they're just mollifying you, that's a completely different thing (I was with Kevorkian on that score) - and not what this article's about.

"He could bear to wait no longer." That kinda pain? I got no sympathy for that kinda self-imposed 'pain.' Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and the ones who use PUBLIC transportation to kill themselves? That's crying for attention, which is an irrational act, because they won't be around to appreciate the attention once they're dead.

At best, they're dead, and you're late to work. If they didn't think their life was worth living, why did they think their life worth potentially upsetting yours? And why should you let them do that to you?

MaxWelton: "Yes, you're part of the resultant mess, but you're not responsible for it."

Where in what I said before did I communicate otherwise? No matter how I try to convey my thoughts, people always twist them to what I didn't intend.

Yes, Vaughan Thomas killed the man, but he's not responsible for the death. There's a very good film called The Hitcher that stars Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell which deals with this theme that I think captures it quite succinctly.

Henrik Alexandersson wanted to die, but he was too much of a coward to pull the proverbial trigger, so he let Vaughan Thomas pull the trigger. All Henrik had to do was stand in the way of a very large bullet. Thomas was oblivious to Alexandersson's decision, but became the instrument of his demise.

Thomas is not remotely responsible, but being human, he's going to initially feel a sense of guilt and responsibility. This too is irrational, and a little therapy I'm sure set him right again, but it's natural in a situation like this for someone like Thomas to have to process this. It's not a common event, thankfully.

Why should Thomas have to process this? Because objectively speaking, Thomas did kill Alexandersson. That's not an opinion. That's what happened. If that's not what happened, Thomas wouldn't have to process it.

AllKindsOfTime: "...I remember some none-too-surprising statistic of how the overwhelming majority of jumpers were off of the side facing the city, rather than facing the Pacific..."

Anyway, this has been a fascinating discussion thus far. I hope it keeps going. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 1:56 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


allkindsoftime, I'm pals with a guy that drives the bus route on the Golden gate. He's quite aware of the article, and the film. He's of two minds, I think, regarding the film in particular. I am pretty sure he has something of the eternity stare you describe in your subwayman tale, even though his bus is not the instrument of passage.

Cursory googling surfaced zlich, but I recall hearing anecdotally that the incidence of train-collision death was high enough over time that a career spent driving trains would include one or two fatalities, and that train unions had worked to provide needed psych benefits. My heart and appreciation goes out to our transportation professionals. It's a hard, dangerous, repetitive job and we reward them with insufficient social and financial capital for the work.
posted by mwhybark at 3:18 AM on July 21, 2008


As a child of the enlightenment, a rationalist and an atheist, I was sure I wouldn't be unduly affected by the death of a person unknown.

This statement makes no sense to me. Children of the enlightenment = emotionless drones? Huh?
posted by wigglin at 3:22 AM on July 21, 2008


ZachsMind: Now, if you're bedridden and in constant pain and you've talked with your loved ones and the doctors are no longer trying to cure you they're just mollifying you, that's a completely different thing (I was with Kevorkian on that score) - and not what this article's about.

The problem with Kevorkian, and many others who do what he does, is that the description you gave above is not an accurate description of everybody who he killed (or helped to commit suicide, if you prefer that phrasing). That's a big part of why I'm no longer in favor of legislation permitting euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. That, and society's devaluation of disabled lives; if over 80% of physicians say they'd rather be dead than live with a spinal cord injury, how many of them are going to be willing to give in to their newly-paraplegic or quadriplegic patients' thoughts of suicide, before the end of that grieving period to the point where 92% of them will decide their lives are now worth living? You can argue that you're only in favor of euthanasia or PAS for lives "no longer worth living" - or in your words, "bedridden and in constant pain". But the people who would make that distinction, doctors, despite their training and experience, aren't capable of doing so.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 3:36 AM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think that, the majority of people who commit suicide by train, do it, as this guy did, within passenger stations or at rail/road intersections. It's no so common that someone walks out miles in the middle of nowhere, to be sure of being able to jump in front of train going a full 60+ mph.

So I always wondered, except for the cost of an additional 1 to 2 minutes per stop or rail crossing, why trains couldn't be required to come into platforms at a maximum of 5 to 7 mph? That would permit effective, front mounted "people catchers" to be fitted, making it nearly impossible for people to kill themselves by train impact, jumping from passenger platforms. (Well except, perhaps, for those rare single line stations where express trains move through at speed, and only locals stop in the station. Maybe, the platforms could be cleared except when locals are immediately due.)

Instead, in every country I've visited, passenger trains come into the station at a speed high enough to kill or severly injure persons jumping from the head of the platform, and continue heavy braking until they reach the complete boarding alignment position with the platform. I can see that trains moving through rail/road crossings are more problematic, as mile long freights are not easy or cheap to repeatedly slow down and accelerate for every road intersection. But suicides from passenger platforms? Seems like a curable problem, to me. Any one know why it isn't, beyond schedule creep?
posted by paulsc at 3:36 AM on July 21, 2008


Coincidentally, there's a movie called "Three and Out" that releases this year (Wiki, IMDB). Its a British Comedy based on the topic at hand. I digress:

Paul Callow (Mackenzie Crook) accidentally runs a man over with his underground train, after the man is pulled on to the tracks by his dog. After a week off he kills a second passenger who falls on to the tracks after having a heart attack.

Before taking time off for the second accident his colleagues tell him about a little known 'rule' at London Underground that no-one talks about: three 'under' within a month, and you lose your job - earning yourself ten years' salary in one lump sum. But being off for the next week means that Paul needs to find someone willing to kill themselves by the following Monday.

posted by allkindsoftime at 4:19 AM on July 21, 2008


My return to work was speedy and for weeks I was seemingly unaffected. But in August a policeman came to brief me before the inquest and to show me the pictures. The unknown person now had a name, a family and a tragic story.

I wonder how useful this was to him and whether he'd have been better off not having this information.
posted by pencil at 4:23 AM on July 21, 2008


While police asked people to back off so that they may do their job, people hollered back "we're going to be late to our jobs because of this". No sympathy.

I'm not sure there should be. The person is dead and they chose to be that way. There's nothing that can be down for them, you're still alive, so you might as well get on with the business of living.

But suicides from passenger platforms? Seems like a curable problem, to me.

Not really. They'd just jump on the third rail.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:30 AM on July 21, 2008


But suicides from passenger platforms? Seems like a curable problem, to me. Any one know why it isn't, beyond schedule creep?

Sometimes they share tracks. Sometimes express trains run through a station without stopping.

Requiring trains coming up to a platform to go no faster than 5-7 mph would result in ridiculously large delays.
posted by oaf at 4:53 AM on July 21, 2008


So I always wondered, except for the cost of an additional 1 to 2 minutes per stop or rail crossing, why trains couldn't be required to come into platforms at a maximum of 5 to 7 mph?

(I'm guessing you don't commute by rail.) It's a nice idea, but an extra 1-2 minutes per stop would easily cost millions of urban commuters an extra hour or more each day and, in the case of freight lines, and would raise the prices of food and other consumer items even more than these prices have already been raised by increased fuel costs. I suspect that a population already suffering from financial recession and already long and congested rail commutes will soundly reject a plan to expand everyone's daily burden for the sake of an occasional "jumper." We can't safety-proof the world from people hell-bent on suicide.
posted by applemeat at 4:57 AM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Three And Out tanked at the box office, possibly related to protests by train driver's unions that included pointing out the 'three and out' rule was bullshit

except for the cost of an additional 1 to 2 minutes per stop or rail crossing#

It would be a lot longer than that.
Some stations in Japan have barriers with automatic doors that match up to the doors of the train. Getting the train to line up that precisely is probably beyond the current British rail/underground network...

Why don't people hike out in the countryside to throw themselves in front of a train? Well the tracks are harder to get to and this thread offers so incite into opportunities for suicide
Makes you think that, like a barrier on the Golden Gate, perhaps spending the money for platform barriers might be a good idea.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:58 AM on July 21, 2008


I wonder how useful this was to him and whether he'd have been better off not having this information.

Because he'd be present at the inquest, and so hear them anyway, I imagine it'd be easier to hear the inevitable details in private rather than having to deal with all that in a full courtroom. I think the police realise it is traumatic for guys like this and try and take as much of the surprise out of the whole thing as they can.
posted by Brockles at 5:00 AM on July 21, 2008


Some stations in Japan have barriers with automatic doors that match up to the doors of the train. Getting the train to line up that precisely is probably beyond the current British rail/underground network...

Last time I travelled on the Jubilee Line Extension most if not all of the stations have exactly this system. Which seems to work very nicely. Although presumably is only really practical for new stations - adding this to existing ones would be a bit tricky.
posted by jontyjago at 5:10 AM on July 21, 2008


Some stations in Japan have barriers with automatic doors that match up to the doors of the train. Getting the train to line up that precisely is probably beyond the current British rail/underground network...

Well, they've already done it on the Jubilee line, so it's not completely beyond them...
posted by Helga-woo at 5:10 AM on July 21, 2008


In context, the train driver's name, "Vaughan," is perversely à propos.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:29 AM on July 21, 2008


Last time I travelled on the Jubilee Line Extension most if not all of the stations have exactly this system.

Ah, yeah... years since I traveled on the Jubilee Line but I remember them now
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:46 AM on July 21, 2008


A couple of years ago I was on a passenger train that a chap had decided to leap under. I heard a scream, a thump, and we came to a stop. The scream, which I will never forget, was the driver, and the thump was the sound of the train wheels severing both the legs of the body under the train. The fellow was lying between the two carriages of the train, and some of the passengers looked out of the carriage's back door window to check out the damage. I remained in my seat and continued reading Johnny Cash's autobiography. I didn't need the image of whoever was lying back there in whatever state in my mind — nor did I wish to gawp at them. To that extent it was a deal. His death, my not witnessing it.

Emergency vehicles rolled up over a period of 20 minutes or so. The conductor, ashen faced, led the police and emergency services to where the guy was lying. They stretchered him off to the ambulance, alive. I have never forgotten the look on his face I saw from my window as they took him down there. I'm not discounting my own projection, but to me that was the face of someone who was realising he'd fucked his life and he'd fucked his attempt to end it.

I didn't bother continuing on to work that day.
posted by Wolof at 5:48 AM on July 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


zachsmind: speaking as a suicide survivor

congrats on the survivor part. i guess.

I have no sympathy for those who actually carry it out

excuse me?

i'm not sure if you mean survivor as surviving your own [botched] attempt (which turns it into not a true suicide attempt, but a pathetic cry for attention) or as someone who survived a loved one's suicide. whichever, your subsequent statements are cold, unfeeling, and unnecessarily harsh. methinks you're just being contentious & looking for an argument. for instance Where in what I said before did I communicate [the driver was responsible for the suicide victim's death]? how about: ... but the fact is he did kill the man? your statement *implies* responsibility. you, in fact, go on to say, Thomas did kill Alexandersson. That's not an opinion. That's what happened. you don't say that alexandersson killed alexandersson, or that the train killed alexandersson, but that the conductor did.

since you are a suicide survivor, i'd think you'd understand that there are places in the human psyche that are so dark as to be undescribable to anyone who's not been confronted with the blackness. to so cavalierly dismiss that kind of human suffering with I got no sympathy for that kinda self-imposed 'pain' is either intentionally provocative or frighteningly asinine.

regarding the conductor, you say a little therapy I'm sure set him right again. i shudder. if your statements didn't show you to be such an ass, i'd weep for you.
posted by msconduct at 5:55 AM on July 21, 2008 [29 favorites]


Someone jumped in front a train I was on, travelling back to the South West from London, about 10 years ago. We were stuck for about two hours, and I remember the sympathy for whoever had jumped lasted about 15 minutes, at most. Same as the many comments above: peoples' thoughts started off as 'poor sod' and soon became 'selfish sod' as we discussed how many people were getting affected by one man's act. We mostly felt sorry for the driver.

I'm sure I remember reading afterwards that he was the chairman of the Fruitarian society, for what it's worth.
posted by dowcrag at 6:01 AM on July 21, 2008


Fruitarianism.
posted by applemeat at 6:06 AM on July 21, 2008


I'm of the opinion that saying that mentally ill people who commit suicide are selfish assholes is like being that guy that said that autistic kids are faking it.

On preview, what msconduct said. I wish I could favorite this comment a million times.
posted by giraffe at 6:16 AM on July 21, 2008


Because objectively speaking, Thomas did kill Alexandersson.

Among those of us who actually socialize with other humans and are sensitive to the connotations as well as the denotations of English words, we might say, at most, "Thomas was indirectly responsible for Alexandersson's death."

(We also don't write "cuz" for "because" once we're past the age of 12 or so.)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:33 AM on July 21, 2008


A couple of years ago, the Chicago Tribune's Sunday magazine had an extensive article about the conductors on the Metra (commuter) line who'd hit jumpers. I can't find it online, but the stories were heartbreaking.

One thing I find very interesting is that it seems like, a lot of the time, jumpers do their thing at rush hour. Maybe it's confirmation bias?
posted by sugarfish at 6:33 AM on July 21, 2008


Oh, found the article. Seems like it's about people getting hit accidentally, as well as those committing suicide. Very sad, either way.
posted by sugarfish at 6:38 AM on July 21, 2008


When there are delays on the Underground due to a suicide, the line status message boards they have at many of the stations list the delay due to 'person under a train.' It seems to happen pretty regularly.
posted by mzanatta at 6:39 AM on July 21, 2008


Continuing paulsc idea on preventing jumpers, what about gates/glass with doors in front of the tracks that don't open until the train stops in the right position - much like the Danish metros system? I have a friend who was pushed onto the tracks as a train came, and he saved himself by rolling under the platform (there's a large safe cavity there in Stockholm subways), but not every victim of pushing is that lucky.
posted by dabitch at 6:41 AM on July 21, 2008


Because objectively speaking, Thomas did kill Alexandersson.

No, getting hit by a train killed him. Thomas had no way to stop the train.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:43 AM on July 21, 2008


Oh, found the article.

Could you link to it? You linked to this thread instead.
posted by dobbs at 6:46 AM on July 21, 2008


Weird, not sure what happened there.

Article about Metra trains hitting people.
posted by sugarfish at 6:51 AM on July 21, 2008


what about gates/glass with doors in front of the tracks that don't open until the train stops in the right position

That works only if all of your rolling stock has identical door placement.
posted by oaf at 6:54 AM on July 21, 2008


regarding the conductor, you say a little therapy I'm sure set him right again. i shudder. if your statements didn't show you to be such an ass, i'd weep for you.

Soooo, he needs a lot of therapy? Or none?

I would say it depends on the person. Knowing myself, say I was the train conductor, I could get by with probably no therapy and be OK. That isn't to say that I would feel nothing over the experience, but I would also know that there was no way I could stop a multi ton train on a dime and save someone who clearly took their own life. And, if the individual made direct eye contact with me immediately prior to being struck by the train, I would remember that. But, at the end of the day, I would know it wasn't my fault, but I would feel bad for his family, not so much for him. The people left behind are the inheritors of grief.
posted by a3matrix at 7:00 AM on July 21, 2008


sugarfish: allready linked
posted by Pendragon at 7:00 AM on July 21, 2008


what about gates/glass with doors in front of the tracks that don't open until the train stops in the right position

At least in Sweden, I think most suicides-by-train are done near the person's home, not so much at the stations.

They added cameras along some lines in southern Sweden to prevent vandalism/sabotage some years ago, and found that the suicides dropped to zero in the monitored regions (partially because they could dispatch police or security personnel when they saw someone walking around, hesitatingly, near the tracks).

And more encouragingly, the overall figures dropped as well -- only to bounce back again after a few years. Last year was an all-time-high. Researchers working on a prevention project for "Banverket" commented that "if someone really wants to, there's not much we can do."

(I haven't seen any official statistics, but suicide-by-smashing-into-a-truck isn't that uncommon over here, either. A truck driving friend claimed that it had happened to every driver he knew, at least once, and sometimes causing rather dramatic accidents.)
posted by effbot at 7:05 AM on July 21, 2008


what about gates/glass with doors in front of the tracks that don't open until the train stops in the right position

Whilst the newer lines in London have these, one could argue that even if every Tube line had them then people would just find other places / methods (Mainline rail tracks / stations, buses, lorries etc) to commit suicide. In the article allkindsoftime mentions I remember it saying that one reason the GG Bridge had so many jumpers was its iconic value, and that that was a major argument for the installation of nets. I can't really see the same being said for Holborn (or wherever) Tube Station. In these cases, I think removing the possibility in one place could simply move the activity to another.

I would also be interested to see if the automated Tube lines such as the DLR have the same sort of levels of suicide as the manned ones. If the jumper often faces the driver, could this be a factor in choice of location?
posted by jontyjago at 7:35 AM on July 21, 2008


What jobs don't take 'A man jumped in front of my train?' as a reasonable excuse for being late, and how can I avoid ever working there?
posted by Phalene at 7:46 AM on July 21, 2008


The SF Chronicle ran a series once on the beautiful, silent killer that the Golden Gate serves as to the city. I remember some none-too-surprising statistic of how the overwhelming majority of jumpers were off of the side facing the city, rather than facing the Pacific.

What a chilling moment that last connection with humanity must be.


For what it's worth, there's a fairly banal reason for this: that's the side with the pedestrian walkway.
posted by chimaera at 7:50 AM on July 21, 2008


What jobs don't take 'A man jumped in front of my train?' as a reasonable excuse for being late, and how can I avoid ever working there?

I don't think it's that so much as people not wanting to spend an extra hour sitting in a train when there are better places we could spend our time.
posted by oaf at 8:02 AM on July 21, 2008


I'd advised the passengers to stay where they were and not to try to open the doors because we weren't fully in the platform; amazingly, they all complied. I walked back through the carriages opening the adjoining doors and shouting: "Please leave the train, and leave the station as quickly as possible!"
I didn't get this bit. Which is it, stay or leave? Or is it implied that some time has passed between these two statements?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:06 AM on July 21, 2008


It's not denial. It's a refusal to participate any more in this pathetic one-act play.

This assumes that the passenger's response would have been different had Henrik accidentally fallen in front of the train. I have my doubts.
posted by Knappster at 8:10 AM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


For those who found this story to be thought/discussion-provoking, I strongly suggest that you take 20 minutes or so to listen to the most recent episode of This American Life where there is an absolutely haunting segment by an author who accidentally struck and killed a cyclist 18 years ago, and the effect that it had on his life. Really. Must. Listen.
posted by scblackman at 8:15 AM on July 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


This assumes that the passenger's response would have been different had Henrik accidentally fallen in front of the train.

Should there have been a different response in that? Dead is dead and people can't stop for every unknown dead stranger otherwise no TV shows would get made.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:35 AM on July 21, 2008


Last Year I Killed a Man in Reno, just to watch him die.

I hear the train a comin', it's rolling 'round the bend...
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:43 AM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


He's at high risk of PTSD. Seeing another person killed is pretty traumatic, even when you have nothing to do with it. In this case, staring the guy down in the final moments before pulverization, it's gotta be pretty bad.

At least he's not a child; the incidence rate for PTSD if you see someone killed when you are a child approaches 100 percent. I still suffer from PTSD from my childhood years, which were full of violence and brutality and culminated with being in the car with my mother when she hit a telephone pole doing 60 and died. Those last couple of minutes, particularly the last 10 seconds, will haunt me forever.
posted by jamstigator at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2008


(We also don't write "cuz" for "because" once we're past the age of 12 or so.)

(Petty displays like this are my least favorite thing about Metafilter.)
posted by applemeat at 8:49 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


goodnewsfortheinsane, over the intercom he told everyone to stay, then walked back through the train opening doors inbetween the carriages and asked people to walk through the train.
posted by RufusW at 9:00 AM on July 21, 2008


Forgive me, applemeat, for not LUVING B1FF.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:09 AM on July 21, 2008


I'm sorry about your mother, jamstigator.

.
posted by Anderson_Localized at 9:16 AM on July 21, 2008


Ah, thanks RufusW.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:25 AM on July 21, 2008


From the above linked story about people killed by METRA trains in Chicago:

But most rail lines in Tokyo, out of frustration more than deterrence, fine the families of the deceased for disrupting operations. The bill is based on how long the rail stoppage lasts and how many commuters are inconvenienced.

wow
posted by marxchivist at 9:57 AM on July 21, 2008


Seconding scblackman's recommendation on the recent This American Life segment about the teen who hit and killed a classmate. I was literally walking out the door with a full to-do list, and once I started listening I dropped everything and just sat, fascinated. One of the best ever.
posted by sapere aude at 9:59 AM on July 21, 2008


As a child of the enlightenment, a rationalist and an atheist, I was sure I wouldn't be unduly affected by the death of a person unknown.

I think I kind of understand what he was trying to convey here: that as a rationalist and an atheist, there is an understood simple finality to death. There is no heaven or anything, when something dies, it simply ceases to exist and, I suppose this could be extrapolated out to mean: 'there is no reason to feel bad for something that is dead, because it isn't now, nor will it ever be in pain again.'

Though I don't agree with that. As my personal rationalism and atheism have become more apparent, if anything, I've become more empathetic to the deaths of things around me. Because there isn't anything beyond this, and that makes the here and now that much more important. Also, I don't think it's wrong to believe that a lot of the pain people feel to the involvement in a death, even as that of a spectator, is that the interaction affects us directly and part of the pain we feel is the reaction to how we've changed as a result.

You could say, that it's not just the anonymous stranger who's death you saw which makes you sad, but the fact that it's in you now and you can't get rid of it. And there is nothing wrong with feeling unhappy about that.
posted by quin at 10:11 AM on July 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


The poor guy.

I can't find a reference offhand, but there was a train crew in the US a few years ago that was heading (iirc) north from florida and struck someone who'd jumped in front of the train. they had the option to let a replacement crew take over, but they decided to continue, and they struck a *second* person further north (up around one of the mid-atlantic states) on the same trip. poor guys.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:33 AM on July 21, 2008


What bothers me about this story isn't the train driver who was powerless to prevent the suicide - but the poor guy who felt having HIV was something worth killing himself over.

And he was negative.
posted by matty at 10:51 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Not really. They'd just jump on the third rail."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:30 AM on July 21

People don't frequently commit suicide that way, now, probably because it is uncertain, compared to impact death, and hella painful, whether you succeed or fail. I doubt they'd suddenly shift to that method, if impact deaths were removed. But, what do I know?

"Requiring trains coming up to a platform to go no faster than 5-7 mph would result in ridiculously large delays."
posted by oaf at 7:53 AM on July 21

"It's a nice idea, but an extra 1-2 minutes per stop would easily cost millions of urban commuters an extra hour or more each day ..."
posted by applemeat at 7:57 AM on July 21

In Japan and Germany, when utilization on a line is high, rather than add additional trains to a line, they tend, if at all possible, to add cars to existing trains. Thus, the platforms are often built longer than all usual train lengths, by several car lengths. Building on this strategy, additive serial delays for commuters created by additional station time, might be partially offset by longer trains, and fewer long delays due to occasional service interruptions caused by suicides.

applemeat's unquoted point about the wrath of the U.S. populace regarding any additional expense for anti-suicide measures is probably true, but from the perspective of someone who has seen the immediate aftermaths of 3 significant train impact deaths (2 at road crossings, and one near a tunnel), I'll say that it saddens me that simple operational measures, if they were at all effective, wouldn't at least be tried.

I was interested in the stories of effective platform barriers upthread, but I doubt they are something readily adopted in the U.S. or U.K., not only because of capital expense, but because the Japanese are probably far more culturally acclimated to accepting such measures, than are train riders in other countries.
posted by paulsc at 11:10 AM on July 21, 2008


I think removing the possibility in one place could simply move the activity to another.

Not really. Studies have shown that many suicides are impulsive acts due to readily-available means, and many people whose attempts are blocked do not go on to kill themselves, as documented in the New York Times' recent The Urge to End It All. UK suicide rates declined by a third between between 1960 and 1971 as carbon monoxide gas lines were replaced with natural gas. See The coal gas story. United Kingdom suicide rates, 1960-71 for more details.

Washington, DC's Ellington and Taft bridges are adjacent to each other and are both about 125 feet above Rock Creek, but the Ellington bridge became known as the "suicide bridge," and an average of four people per year jumped off the Ellington bridge, compared to fewer than two per year who jumped off the Taft bridge. Suicide barriers were put up on the Ellington bridge after three people jumped off the bridge in a single 10-day period in 1985.
A study conducted five years after the Ellington barrier went up showed that while suicides at the Ellington were eliminated completely, the rate at the Taft barely changed, inching up from 1.7 to 2 deaths per year. What’s more, over the same five-year span, the total number of jumping suicides in Washington had decreased by 50 percent, or the precise percentage the Ellington once accounted for.
Impulsive suicides are more likely to be successful than premeditated ones. "Put simply, those methods that require forethought or exertion on the actor's part (taking an overdose of pills, say, or cutting your wrists), and thus most strongly suggest premeditation, happen to be the methods with the least chance of 'success.' Conversely, those methods that require the least effort or planning (shooting yourself, jumping from a precipice) happen to be the deadliest."

"According to statistics collected by the Injury Control Research Center on nearly 4,000 suicides across the United States, those who had killed themselves with firearms — by far the most lethal common method of suicide — had a markedly lower history of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, previous suicide attempts or drug or alcohol abuse than those who died by the least lethal methods...In a 1985 study of 30 people who had survived self-inflicted gunshot wounds, more than half reported having had suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours, and none of the 30 had written suicide notes."

According to Where Are They Now? A Follow-up Study of Suicide Attempters from the Golden Gate Bridge, only 6 percent of people who attempted suicide and were restrained later committed suicide.
"At the risk of stating the obvious," Seiden said, "people who attempt suicide aren't thinking clearly. They might have a Plan A, but there's no Plan B. They get fixated. They don't say, 'Well, I can't jump, so now I'm going to go shoot myself.' And that fixation extends to whatever method they've chosen. They decide they're going to jump off a particular spot on a particular bridge, or maybe they decide that when they get there, but if they discover the bridge is closed for renovations or the railing is higher than they thought, most of them don't look around for another place to do it. They just retreat."
posted by kirkaracha at 12:14 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because objectively speaking, Thomas did kill Alexandersson.

No, objectively speaking, Alexandersson killed Alexandersson.

If that's not what happened, Thomas wouldn't have to process it.

"Survivor guilt" takes processing, too, and it doesn't result from any degree of responsibility.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:26 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Though I do have sympathy for those whose mental illness drives them to take their own life, that sympathy disappears when that suicidal person chooses to involve innocent bystanders. PTSD is bad enough. But what if the train derails, or another bystander chooses to leap onto the rails to save him and gets themselves killed?

Juan Manuel Alvarez was supposedly trying to commit suicide by train and ended up killing eleven other people.

I believe that Alvarez was trying to commit suicide and changed his mind. And I have no sympathy for him. Zero. So why should I have sympathy for Alexandersson? His actions could have led to the deaths of others as well.

It seems to me, that with people like this that it's not enough that they end their own lives but they want to it to be spectacular. They want to make news doing it. Maybe it's the Warholization of suicides. I don't know. But that's what strikes me as selfish. Not ending your own life, but risking the well being of innocent bystanders in doing so.
posted by cjets at 12:28 PM on July 21, 2008


This hits me personally for a couple of reasons.

A long time (over 25 years) ago, I was the at the controls of a freight train when, coming around a curve, I saw a custom van parked square cross the tracks in my headlight. I tossed the brake valve into emergency, dumped sand and laid on the horn. We were traveling a little over 40 MPH at impact. Seared in my brain is the image of a young man looking out the driver's window at me, terrified, in the last two seconds of his (and his three friends') lives.

(I just realized that this post is the first time I have admitted out loud that I actually saw him, I think it's been subconsciously blocked for a long time.)

The experience changed my life.

I've heard every argument about how 'it wasn't your fault' and 'there was nothing you could have done differently' and they are, of course, on the surface true. Those arguments did nothing to stop me from periodically reliving the experience in my dreams over the next 20-odd years.

I love railroading and trains. I always have, and probably always will. I think it's genetic, since I come from a family of railroaders and railfans. But I have never been able to climb back into the cab of a locomotive and sit down in the seat since that night.

Life (and I) went on, I found new things to do, and gradually the constant fear and feeling of dread faded. However, I still get very angry and irrational when I hear about things like suicide by train- it's as I think might have been already mentioned, a supremely selfish and unthinking thing to do- to drag an innocent person into your own hell- and to let them live with it for the rest of their life.
posted by pjern at 12:32 PM on July 21, 2008 [56 favorites]


only 6 percent of people who attempted suicide and were restrained later committed suicide

The Swedish experiences I mentioned early agree with most of what you say (they put the repeat rate at 10%, iirc), except for the "not really" part -- moving to another place was exactly what happened a few years after they'd put up cameras at one commonly used location.

(There's some old research that indicates that there's a considerable copycat element here; if you hear or read about someone committing suicide somewhere, finding yourself near that or a similar location might be all you need. Not sure if that's been refuted since then, but I do know that when I went jogging earlier tonight on a track I've used many times before, I suddenly realized that I was running less than 10 metres from some rail tracks that I'd never noticed before, and that it would probably take me less than 5 seconds to climb over the fence. Ten seconds later, I heard a train coming.)
posted by effbot at 1:48 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


How Not to Commit Suicide
posted by theora55 at 2:21 PM on July 21, 2008


I read this post first thing this morning as I was on my way out the door to work. It's haunted me every time I've stepped on the T and it will probably do so in an eerie way for quite some time. It's really amazing to remember that every action we take effects (even in the most passive way) everyone around us. Powerful stuff.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:25 PM on July 21, 2008


MsConduct: "congrats on the survivor part. i guess... if your statements didn't show you to be such an ass, i'd weep for you."

Yes, I am a donkey's butt, thank you for noticing.

And thanks everyone for the awesome thread, CUZ it's turned out better than I coulda hoped. =) MeFi rocks!
posted by ZachsMind at 2:57 PM on July 21, 2008


On a slight derail - did any non-UK mefites reading the post get struck by (no pun intended) the anecdote about the commuter approaching the driver and saying, "there's a person under your train"?

I sort of imagined a Harry Enfield character sauntering up and saying that. I guess it came from the delicate way the announcements for delays caused by suicide jumpers are announced. They alway say that there's a "person under a train" at Gloucester Road or wherever.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 3:09 PM on July 21, 2008


A smart man inquired, "Do you know there's a person under your train?" I looked at the blood on the windscreen momentarily before assuring him that, yes, I was aware.

He paused for a heartbeat, looked at his watch and said, "So, how long before we get on the move again?"
Submitted for your consideration: The Problem.
posted by regicide is good for you at 3:34 PM on July 21, 2008


It's very tough to think of a possible interpretation of the word "kill" under which Thomas did kill the guy. It's likely that absolutely nothing he could've done differently, at any point in his life, could've altered the precise outcome of the situation. His agency is about as nugatory as it can possibly be.
posted by decoherence at 3:34 PM on July 21, 2008


Someone I'm close to says she would have killed herself as a child, because she had decided that the world would be better off without her, but she couldn't think of a way to do it that wouldn't be traumatic for whoever found her. The picture of a child in a broken family calmly making those kinds of decisions always rips me apart. Although the person in this story didn't objectively suffer from hard circumstances, when I think about it from his perspective I feel the tragedy there too ...

On a less personal note, I can throw out a few tidbits of psychiatry I've picked up that are interesting for this story. For one, suicidal folks do tend to be sensitive to the impact they have -- one of the most effective ways to prevent further attempts is to explain how devastating it would be to people around them, even to the psychiatrist.

Second, the driver in this story is probably safe from PTSD. It tends to hit people who experience repeated trauma without a chance to process (like the poster who talked about PTSD from childhood experiences above, perhaps?). The rate after a single trauma is very low, like 10%, and the treatment is to do exactly what he's doing, to feel the emotion and talk about it.

Incidentally, the current war is causing a lot more PTSD than previous ones, because we're using non-military people for the non-military work, so the combat troops have nothing to alleviate the trauma.

Finally, to echo someone else upthread, one problem with Kevorkian was that he killed some people who a better doctor would have been able to treat. I'm not as pessimistic about assisted suicide in general, but Kevorkian was not a good flagbearer.

Sorry for all the [citation needed] -- this is just some stuff I've picked up from chatting with a great psychiatrist, and I wanted to look clever ...
posted by jhc at 4:09 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


One of my (many) nephews is a police constable here in Brisbane. There was a jumper a while back, I think at Brunswick Street or Milton (one of the city fringe rail stations at least), which he got called to. A few days later we shared a cigarette and I asked him what it was like to have to deal with a thing like that.

"We needed a sheet for each half. It's annoying for everybody. Do it at home." He went on to talk about his colleagues needing to pick up teeth and I kinda tuned out.

I guess while intellectually we can sympathise with the horror a public suicide must be feeling, compounded by the horror of the witnesses and the sheer bottoming-out sensation of being an unwitting accomplice, it's like, fuck, man, I'm sorry you had it so rough but I've had a bummer of a day too and I just want to get home and slop some brandy in a glass and listen to some Mendelssohn. And you really don't give a shit until a few weeks later when you're at a party and need a story to tell.

Speaking of body sheets, on Sunday I was in Ashgrove, visiting a friend to go on a picnic at Mt Coot-tha. At one of the intersections along Waterworks Road there was a lot of commotion, a lot of slow-moving traffic, and a lot of flashing lights. As I crawled past the flashing lights resolved into five police cars, an ambulance, a Fire & Rescue station wagon, and a tow truck. From what I could ascertain - a cluster of police were taking photographs and notes around a dented-up looking motorcycle - some poor soul had been knocked from their bike, or maybe fallen, and sure enough, there they were, dead in the gutter with a sheet over them. And in all that the only thing I remember thinking was how white the sheet was.

No real point to this anecdote, it just came to mind.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:25 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


jhc - with all due respect (and your moronic comment about PTSD reveals that not very much is due)

... you don't look clever.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 4:32 PM on July 21, 2008


ZachsMind: "Because objectively speaking, Thomas did kill Alexandersson."
Durn BronzeFist: "No, objectively speaking, Alexandersson killed Alexandersson."
ZachsMind: "If that's not what happened, Thomas wouldn't have to process it."
Durn Bronzefist: " 'Survivor guilt' takes processing, too, and it doesn't result from any degree of responsibility."

If it happens to you.
You're in the seat.
The event happens.
You did everything you could do to stop it.

In order to accept
that you did everything
you could to stop it,
and that it is not your fault,
you have to accept the fact
it happened.

You have to accept the fact
It happened to you.
You have to accept the fact
You were there. In the seat.
You have to accept the fact
You killed a man.

Why is this so hard for some people to wrap their minds around?
I'm not being insensitive in stating that fact.
(I'm insensitive in a host of other ways but not in this one)
He didn't mean to. Of course he didn't mean to. No one's saying he meant to.

I'm saying last year Thomas killed Alexandersson.
Thomas HIMSELF has admitted this.
To anyone who reads the Guardian.
To his own self.
He is not a murderer,
but he killed a man that day.

The entire point of Thomas writing this article is Acceptance.

Thomas can accept that a year ago he killed a man.
Why can't you?
posted by ZachsMind at 4:56 PM on July 21, 2008


ZachsMind,

Not to turn this into a philosophical argument about the nature of causation, agency, and responsibility, but I still fail to see how Thomas "killed' Alexandersson in any remotely meaningful sense of the word. In fact, I'd argue that a bystander on the platform is a better candidate for having "killed" Alexandersson, since a bystander was in a much better position to have taken action to prevent Alexandersson's death. On the other hand, Thomas could've even called in sick that today and it wouldn't have made any difference whatsoever in the outcome.
posted by decoherence at 5:23 PM on July 21, 2008


Why can't you?

As most of the people in this thread have already pointed out to you, the English language distinguishes in definition, theory, and law between someone who "kills" intentionally or negligently and who therefore deserves to be held accountable for the results of those actions and someone who's actions accidentally or indirectly result in a death which they are neither morally or legally culpable for. Grown-ups don't really find that a hard distinction to grasp. When you get big you'll understand, too.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:08 PM on July 21, 2008


Let's say I don't leave my apartment and go somewhere in ten minutes (I am not planning to.) Let's say if I did leave my apartment and go somewhere, my neighbor, also going somewhere and just behind me, would be prevented from making a right on red since I'm in front of them waiting to go straight. Let's say since I'm not going anywhere in ten minutes, my neighbor can make the right on red, but when he does a truck smashes into him and kills him.

If this were to happen, by not leaving my apartment in ten minutes, would I have killed my neighbor?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:14 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Let's say..."

This isn't a 'what if' we're dealing with here. Thomas does not highlight for us a hypothetical situation. He was there. He saw the man's face. He slammed on the brake. He FELT IT when the blood splattered on the windshield. He probably remembers which sweat glands kicked in first and whether or not he had to consciously remind himself to breathe.

When he titles his piece, "Last Year I Killed A Man" it is not as an admission of guilt. It is an admission of acceptance, and I for one applaud it. You are diminishing his rite of acceptance by saying, "oh no really it doesn't count he shouldn't be so hard on himself" or "well technically by definition the word 'kill' is inappropriate in this context." Those are probably the very same things he was telling himself for months and didn't understand why that boy's face was still haunting him when he blinked. He'd dismiss it. He'd be in denial. He wasn't accepting it.

You weren't there.

And neither was I, but at least I can appreciate what he had to go through to get to this point of acceptance and I applaud it. If only more who face his kind of predicament could be as courageous.

I think that's why I see this piece as a positive and uplifting one, and so many others have responded in this thread as if this were a morose and macabre piece. This is not about Alexandersson's suicide. Alexandersson forfeit his life and the less we dwell on him, the better.

This is about Vaughan Thomas accepting the life he's been given.

That's a beautiful thing!
posted by ZachsMind at 6:30 PM on July 21, 2008


This isn't a 'what if' we're dealing with here. Thomas does not highlight for us a hypothetical situation.

The point of a hypothetical situation is that you can imagine it to be true and conduct discourse as if it were true. So imagine that what I wrote happened. I'll bet, in fact, that something like my hypothetical situation has probably happened to many of us, we just don't know it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:34 PM on July 21, 2008


This isn't a 'what if' we're dealing with here. Thomas does not highlight for us a hypothetical situation. He was there. He saw the man's face.

Vaughan Thomas's location (at the scene of the death) and emotion (struggling to find an interpretation that will help him cope with the death) do not privilege his interpretation of the events. Indeed, since he has an emotional stake in generating an interpretation of the events, his interpretation will almost certainly be biased and off the mark. That's okay, because truth isn't really that important. It's certainly not more important than being allowed to find a way to come to terms with an enormous life-derailing trauma--when that happens, we allow people to create fictions, such as "last year I killed a man." And we applaud them for finding a way to come; and we appreciate it, because maybe some day we will have to use that fiction ourselves; and we're glad to see that the community accepts that fiction which is not true.

However, in the philosophical discussion this has turned into, about whether Thomas 'really' "killed" the guy, all that stuff goes out the window, and what octobersurprise says...

As most of the people in this thread have already pointed out to you, the English language distinguishes in definition, theory, and law between someone who "kills" intentionally or negligently and who therefore deserves to be held accountable for the results of those actions and someone who's actions accidentally or indirectly result in a death which they are neither morally or legally culpable for.

... the uncomplicated and unbiased truth.
posted by skwt at 7:57 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


is
posted by skwt at 7:58 PM on July 21, 2008


Nthing the This American Life recommendation, which I was literally listening to right as I clicked on the link. Whoa.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:03 PM on July 21, 2008


something like my hypothetical situation has probably happened to many of us, we just don't know it.

Absolutely. Do you pay taxes? Think about where that money goes. Does that make you a killer? Certainly you are responsible, in some immeasurable amount.

FYI, I'm not trying to guilt trip you or smear you in any way, I just couldn't think of a better example.
posted by symbollocks at 8:21 PM on July 21, 2008


jhc - with all due respect (and your moronic comment about PTSD reveals that not very much is due)

... you don't look clever.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 7:32 PM on July 21



Just wondering, Nick - why was it important for you to actually type out and post that comment? If there's something about jhc's understanding of PTSD that you disagree with, enlighten us.
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:37 PM on July 21, 2008


and we're glad to see that the community accepts that fiction which is not true.

Which one? The one about him being a killer or the one about him not really having killed the guy?
posted by symbollocks at 8:55 PM on July 21, 2008


Which one? The one about him being a killer or the one about him not really having killed the guy?

I'm not sure if this is a joke or not, but if not, I don't see your distinction. By "that fiction which is not true" I meant Vaughan Thomas's interpreting the death as "I killed a man," when most of the disinterested commenters here (myself included) seem to agree that "kill" is the wrong word.
posted by skwt at 9:39 PM on July 21, 2008


My apologies to jhc - and everyone else for my moronic comment above. No excuse.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 4:34 AM on July 22, 2008


Responsibility, or guilt, by inaction or indirect action, is a topic that's been tackled by a number of philosophers. To kill really is an action that implies a direct involvement in what's happened, so it really comes down to the philosophical question of whether indirect action or inaction are sufficient conditions for use of the term.

It seems like ZachsMind is overreaching a little by claiming it's an objective claim that the conductor "killed" the man, unless we're throwing out millenia of philosophical thought.
posted by mikeh at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2008


"...unless we're throwing out millenia of philosophical thought."

Yes I am throwing out millenia of philosophical thought, because I linked to the thoughts of Vaughan Thomas.

This piece is about a man coming to terms with a horrific event. This is not about linguistics or the law. It's about Vaughan Thomas' Acceptance.

...ah. I get it. ha ha very funny.

I said "objectively" when you guys want me to say subjectively. I'm arguing in favor of Vaughan Thomas and you guys are arguing against him.

You guys are really overthinking this. Plate of beans, indeed.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:43 PM on July 22, 2008


We're not arguing for or against his version of anything. He's entitled to his opinion of his role in this, but it is not an objective truth that his actions (or inactions) directly line up with what the verb "to kill" mean in all lines of thought.

We merely said that it is debatable whether he has any measurable (moral) role. You agree with his take, or at least empathize. I empathize but think that it's misplaced, but very common, guilt. Just because we don't share the same Kant vs. Rawls vs. whatever else philosophical stance on action versus inaction doesn't mean we don't have the same thoughts about this man and his situation.

It is about his acceptance, and not about you shoving your version of moral philosophy at us because we don't think he's culpable.
posted by mikeh at 6:08 PM on July 22, 2008


It get's even better cjets.

Yesterday I spent my morning hiding in my basement while this went on next door.

As for the PTSD thing, I dunno. I came within a whisker of beating the shit out of a friend about 15 minutes ago. Ask me how things are again in a week.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:12 PM on July 22, 2008


I like microwavable rice with my plate of beans.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:44 PM on July 22, 2008


That's an interesting link thora55. My suicide line training was quite different, in terms of what to do with a potential suicide.

It was assumed that if they were calling us, they were giving us permission to intervene by calling 911 to their place. We were trained in determining whether the attempt was legit/going to be truly deadly, how to get identifying/location information, and there was always a backup counselor we could get on the line in a conference call who could keep the person talking while you went off to call 911.

I only had three calls like that in my time there. I only know how two of those turned out. I still think about that one unknown.
posted by lysdexic at 6:26 PM on July 23, 2008


Well, I feel stupid now, reading on. They say the same thing.
posted by lysdexic at 6:45 PM on July 23, 2008


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