"(What suicide note would be complete without a bibliography?)"
September 26, 2010 11:46 AM   Subscribe

On September 18th, Mitchell Heisman posted his 1904 page long suicide note online, and then shot himself in the head on Harvard square. The note, according to wikipedia, "discusses sociobiology, transhumanism, history, religion, death, nihilism and other philosophical issues at some length".
posted by DZack (145 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Actually he shot himself in front of Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, not Harvard Square.

And FWIW he was not a Harvard student and and had not affiliation with the college or university.
posted by ericb at 11:59 AM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


On the subway today, a man came up to me to start a conversation. He made small talk, a lonely man talking about the weather and other things. I tried to be pleasant and accommodating, but my head hurt from his banality. I almost didn't notice it had happened, but I suddenly threw up all over him. He was not pleased, and I couldn't stop laughing.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:00 PM on September 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


The comments on the NYPost article are just incredible.

But I guess I should have figured a comment thread on the New York Post website would be a special brand of awful. It's like the worst Reese's cup you've ever had.
posted by HostBryan at 12:01 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bizarre last writes for suicide man

Wow, a pun seems in really bad taste under the circumstances.

This is sad, and I hope no one starts making fun of the man or his writing. He was clearly not a mentally healthy person.
posted by amro at 12:01 PM on September 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've dipped in and out of this over the last few days and it's an odd and rather depressing thing. The guy sometimes gets off on an interesting line of thought, and he manages to stay fairly rational and logical for occasionally quite extended periods and then clunk, it's like a few teeth fall off the gears and he drops some shockingly irrational nonsense, or the sort of error of reasoning more typical of a bright ten-year old. The old expression for madness - "he's got a bit missing" - starts to feel painfully true.

That's a judgement based, as I say, on a fairly random reading of short segments, but I suspect life is too short for most of us to give the thing more than that. I also feel an eery sort of understanding of the desire to do this, though. Brain dump and then switch off. Yeah, I can see that.
posted by Decani at 12:02 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is sad...

Yes ... and worse yet, he shot himself in front of a tour group and while services for Yom Kippur were being held inside of Memorial Church.
posted by ericb at 12:04 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess we can at least be thankful that he didn't upload a video of hime reading it to YouTube.
posted by jonmc at 12:06 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Now, before I blow my brains out, should like to point out that the most basic issue at the very center of this work is not biology, race, or technology; it is nihilism
Okay then.
posted by fatbird at 12:06 PM on September 26, 2010


Poor guy.
posted by pracowity at 12:10 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


[Nihilism] is the bankrupt, philosophical disaster area the West dwells in. I see no "bottom", no limits to stop the freefall in value nothingness. Implicit in nihilism is the collapse of the entire human cause. The ultimate logical conclusion of Western values is the rational self-destruction of the West.
I'm really struggling to understand how one comes to this conclusion, and then writes a 1,900 page manifesto about it. The conclusion itself amounts to "why bother?"
posted by fatbird at 12:10 PM on September 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


"It's like the worst Reese's cup you've ever had."

I don't know why this phrase delighted me as much as it did.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:11 PM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Crazy self agrandising suicidal lunatic who does not take anyone with him is good self agrandising suicidal lunatic. Would have got extra marks for staying at home and not bothering anybody.

As for manifestos of this kind, they should just burn them.
posted by Artw at 12:15 PM on September 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


As for manifestos of this kind, they should just burn them.

Please tell me you're in no position of authority. You have no kids and you're not a manager of anything.
posted by uraniumwilly at 12:21 PM on September 26, 2010 [27 favorites]


And hey he wasn't a Harvard kid.

By the way the legend on campus in my day was that the massive manuscript that was a young Henry Kissinger's senior thesis made the faculty decide no future thesis could exceed 150 pages.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:25 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, delete this post. Crazy person is suicidal and writes crazy suicide note. Let's not do this.
posted by Dumsnill at 12:26 PM on September 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


Ooops, not a Harvard kid. He should have faked his own death in grandiose some way. Like. Rig a van to explode and escape from it Houdini style through a manhole where's he's got an escape path and a years worth of supplies saved up.
posted by delmoi at 12:27 PM on September 26, 2010


.
posted by hortense at 12:28 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I can't be the only person on metafilter who's lost someone close to them by suicide.

Can we get rid of this post, please?
posted by selfmedicating at 12:29 PM on September 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


Please tell me you're in no position of authority. You have no kids and you're not a manager of anything.

Pff. That me make a big deal out of the whittering of mental defectives every time they act out in public encourages more of them to do the same, and impressionable idiots to waste their time scouring their leavings for "clues". Burn it all, I say.
posted by Artw at 12:29 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


As for manifestos of this kind, they should just burn them.
...
No, delete this post. Crazy person is suicidal and writes crazy suicide note. Let's not do this.
Pff. Here is what the guy said:
If my hypothesis is correct, this work will be repressed. It should not be surprising if justice is not done to the evidence presented here. It should not be unexpected that these arguments will not be given a fair hearing. It is not unreasonable to think that this work will not be judged on its merits.
Why prove him right? Do you really think his ideas could be dangerous in anyway? Burning notes like this before publishing, or trying to censor it just makes it just feeds the hype. The guy should be laughed at.

Also, I'm pretty sure he setup the website himself before he killed himself.
posted by delmoi at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Do you really think his ideas could be dangerous in anyway?

No, I don't think his idea are dangerous in any way.
posted by Dumsnill at 12:32 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's a witch! Burn him!

Is Sunday the day when blithering idiots descend on metafilter? My god, what a bunch of doofus turd-heads.
posted by uraniumwilly at 12:33 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't be the only person on metafilter who's lost someone close to them by suicide.

Can we get rid of this post, please?


I have, more than once. I think the post should stay.
posted by empath at 12:34 PM on September 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


I can't be the only person on metafilter who's lost someone close to them by suicide.

Can we get rid of this post, please?


I hear where you're coming from, but deleting posts because they resonate with some people personally is not a good idea.
posted by amro at 12:35 PM on September 26, 2010 [27 favorites]


Why not spend all that work on a dissertation? Good lord.
posted by ralenys at 12:40 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


the whittering of mental defectives

FFS, let's not do this, at least.
posted by felix betachat at 12:40 PM on September 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


That [we] make a big deal out of the whittering of mental defectives

Please don't do this.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:42 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hear where you're coming from, but deleting posts because they resonate with some people personally is not a good idea.

Agreed. Instead, let's delete posts that amount to nothing more than pointing and laughing at someone's illness. Like this one.
posted by dersins at 12:44 PM on September 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Can we get rid of this post, please? --- I think if we were mocking the guy, then yeah, this probably isn't the place to have this discussion. Considering most people are being thoughtful about him and his situation, then I'm sorry you can't handle it. Please enjoy some of the other fine front page posts the site has to offer.
posted by crunchland at 12:44 PM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I can't be the only person on metafilter who's lost someone close to them by suicide.

Can we get rid of this post, please?
posted by selfmedicating at 8:29 PM on September 26


We shouldn't have posts about suicide because some people have people close to them who committed suicide? Should we apply the same thinking to posts about murder, war or other forms of bad stuff that can happen to people?
posted by Decani at 12:45 PM on September 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's this feeling I have that this man spent a long time trying to reconcile two paths in conflict. He clearly had something to say, long-thought out, and wanted to share it. But also was deeply suffering. I am sad for the moment when he realized that those divergent paths could be reconciled. And that in all that time he spent working towards finishing his writing, nobody could see what he was heading toward, let alone stop him.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:45 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think I heard the shot. It's not far from where I live. I'm not sure, because a gunshot, from a distance, isn't very dramatic and can be mistaken for a number of things. It's too disturbing and intimate for me to read right now; nonetheless, I intend to do so at some point. Why? Because . . . because I read such things. I do. I have an old "psychoceramica" mailing list that I'm going through right now. It shows me something.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:46 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any work that starts with claims that it is going to be repressed is one that has both a vastly inflated sense of its own importance and an overblown sense of the power of institutions. It doesn't take much power to control populations; it takes total authoritarian power to control publications (especially with the internet around).
posted by cthuljew at 12:47 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually my first through was to run this guy's (written) corpus through LIWC and see how it holds up against some of the writing analyses that have been used to study emotion and depression, among other things.
posted by belarius at 12:48 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why prove him right? Do you really think his ideas could be dangerous in anyway?

Yes, but not in the way the author was thinking. When the only way that your message gets heard is if you kill yourself, it sends the message to the rest of society that in order to get your message heard you kill yourself. This was somewhat the idea about the bullying case several months back and the uproar that only happened because the student committed suicide. Do we suppress notes like this? No. But should we aggrandize, publish, take things into the public square? Only if you would have done so if they didn't commit suicide.

I'm sorry, but for a suicidal individual, the idea that they can expend their life to get their message heard is not the message they should be hearing from society.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:48 PM on September 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Agreed. Instead, let's delete posts that amount to nothing more than pointing and laughing at someone's illness. Like this one.
posted by dersins at 8:44 PM on September 26


This thread has been "nothing more" than that? Really? I see plenty of posts here that are doing no such thing.
posted by Decani at 12:49 PM on September 26, 2010


Y'all may not agree with selfmedicating, but that doesn't mean it is necessary to take him/her to task. Let's just let it go and try to have a constructive conversation about the topic at hand. I think we can prove that there's a lot to say about this situation way above gawking and dismissive jokes/commentary.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:49 PM on September 26, 2010


poor man.
posted by Substrata at 12:50 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any work that starts with claims that it is going to be repressed is one that has both a vastly inflated sense of its own importance and an overblown sense of the power of institutions.
Maybe you're right, but he certainly nailed the knee jerk sentiment for a considerable portion of the population, as evidenced by the reaction here.
posted by uraniumwilly at 12:51 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for manifestos of this kind, they should just burn them.

I was going to make a snappy comment, but I am just sad. I don't think that we should burn this, although I doubt there is much point in reading the thing, except, perhaps, as a bit of evidence in what goes wrong with someone's thought process. His suicide was essentially a cruel stunt that traumatized people unnecessarily to, I suppose, gain attention for a document that people won't read or will mock if they do. That's a pathetic post script on what seems like a painful life.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:51 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:53 PM on September 26, 2010


"Any work that starts with claims that it is going to be repressed is one that has both a vastly inflated sense of its own importance and an overblown sense of the power of institutions."

Or a rhetorical device used to prevent its repression.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:53 PM on September 26, 2010


Crazy self agrandising suicidal lunatic who does not take anyone with him is good self agrandising suicidal lunatic.

I suppose this kind of comment helps you make yourself feel superior, but smugly judging mental illness this way does not strike me as especially insightful or useful: just mean-spirited and reactive.

As for manifestos of this kind, they should just burn them.

Pardon me for disagreeing, but I'm not sure burning manifestos of any kind is ever a good idea.
posted by existential hobo at 12:55 PM on September 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


Does one have to be religious to have, show, understand compassion?
posted by Postroad at 12:57 PM on September 26, 2010


Agreed. Instead, let's delete posts that amount to nothing more than pointing and laughing at someone's illness. Like this one.

Woah. So I figured some people would object to this being posted, but this comment couldn't be more off. In no way shape or form was I posting this as a way of pointing and laughing at this man. I posted it because I find it fascinating. If you read through some of it, it is clear that these aren't just the final ramblings of a madman (if it were, I wouldn't have posted it). Whether he was "crazy" or not, this is clearly a man who was very intelligent, well read, and has spent a lot of time thinking about the things that he is writing about. That somebody with a mind like that would be compelled to share his ideas with the world in this way-and that a man who is such a good thinker could be driven to suicide, is, I think, a very interesting, (and very sad) bit of human behavior, and I think it is one that is worth discussing.
I don't care if you disagree, but don't just assume that I'm making fun of the guy when I've given absolutely no indication of that.
posted by DZack at 12:58 PM on September 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


actually, i was listening to Takagi Masakatsu & David Sylvian - Exit / Delete while reading this post.

quelle coincidence.
posted by Substrata at 1:01 PM on September 26, 2010


Does one have to be religious to have, show, understand compassion?

No. Is this in response to someone here?
posted by amro at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2010


"Any work that starts with claims that it is going to be repressed is one that has both a vastly inflated sense of its own importance and an overblown sense of the power of institutions."

Or a rhetorical device used to prevent its repression.


No, no, no. The reason someone writes that is so they can feel prescient. So they can feel like persecuted prophet who tried to say the Truth, but it was suppressed. So they go to their graving knowing that they were right, that they saw the future, and that the Truth was so great, that it crushed them. But just as their life must have value, the thing that they birthed in giving it up has value too.

People who are seriously fighting the good fight with society sometimes do have their works suppressed, but that isn't what's happening here. He fought (and lost) the good fight with himself. It's sad, but that doesn't give this work any more value.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


The guy lived and breathed deeply. He concerned himself with "the love of wisdom" and seemed to honestly approach the content of life, or lack thereof, with a terrible struggle toward some pretty meaty philosophic analysis. His personal philosophy happened to include "death," less in an abstract way, more in a choice way. My hat is off.
posted by uraniumwilly at 1:06 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't end up writing the paper, but one of my Masters thesis topics* was a narrative analysis of identity construction in suicide letters. The year before, I had taken a sociolinguistics course focusing on narrative, and was also grieving the suicides of 2 people I knew and cared about. One thing that chilled me to the bone was the idea of a suicide being the decision to end your own narrative. That you can't reconcile the events of your past in a way that allows you to move forward. So you finish the story.

I was particularly interested in how, when people decide to end their own lives, they must somehow realize and reconcile that they are ending their life story. And at that point, whether they know it or not, they start adopting the identity of 'a person who commits suicide'. In that sense, they are free from who they've been, and they can get to work on crafting who they are just before they died and what their death and final moments look like. The suicide note is the last statement of what that thought process is. And this new, temporary identity that a suicidal person adopts is going to be crucially reflected in those indelible thoughts in writing.

There are quite a few corpora of suicide letters, as well as books. More and more, we're seeing examples of disturbed individuals using the internet medium to broadcast those final statements. All of these forms contain valuable insights not only to pathologies of suicide, but what spontaneous identity construction looks like and the process by which it occurs.

In other words, it'd be a shame to see such things burned or otherwise destroyed. We could learn a lot from these people and what they have to say.

*Ended up going in a different direction entirely and expanding on my other thesis topic instead.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:09 PM on September 26, 2010 [129 favorites]


Why assume that everyone reading this is doing it for lulz?

I mean, okay, this is very unlikely to be an important piece of philosophy. But there are more than two ways to approach a text. It's not just a black-and-white choice between I AGREE 100% and THIS IS STUPID LET'S LAUGH AT IT. Seems to me the right approach here is "Poor guy. I wish I understood what he went through."

And, you know, I've got a lot of philosophy-nerd friends, and friends who are bipolar. There's a pretty sizeable overlap between the two sets. I look at this guy's prose and think "Yeah, that could have been one of my old buddies" — or, hell, "that could have been me." Trying to understand where he was coming from isn't just an academic exercise or a bit of cheap morbid curiosity. It's important, because who knows when I'll get a phone call from a good friend who's in the same boat?
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:11 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


That me make a big deal out of the whittering of mental defectives every time they act out in public encourages more of them to do the same

What does whittering mean? Google gave me nothing.
posted by andoatnp at 1:19 PM on September 26, 2010


Oh, meant to add...what's really interesting in this particular case (as well as that of George Sodini, who killed himself August before last, taking several innocent victims with him), is that the thought process of creating the new suicidal self has been prolonged and is clearly premeditated. There is probably much evidence in his writing of awareness about what he was about to do, as well as some reflection on it. Even if not explicit, there will be traces and hints of it. At the very least, the subtext is there, and that in and of itself is noteworthy. It puts this manifesto in the context of somebody who is not writing in the hopes of experiencing the recognition or glory, or even response for what he's done, but rather possibly the self-satisfaction of denying his audience the ability to reach out to the author, who writes then walks away.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:19 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


So far I haven't come across anything in the document that indicates a "disordered" mind. Sure, he uses titles like "The Seditious Genius of the Spiritual Penis of Jesus," but it seems clear that he's being ironic and mock-grandiose (and you can find similar formulations in something like Anti-Oedipus). It may be the work of a crank, but it's way more rational than, say, Philip K. Dick's Exegesis or the later writings of Dave Sim.
posted by twirlip at 1:20 PM on September 26, 2010


It's important, because who knows when I'll get a phone call from a good friend who's in the same boat?

I assure you that should you get a call from someone in the same boat researching the blatherings of this guy will do you no good whatsoever. Go get some training as a social worker if you want to do some good in the world, though I should warn you that repeated exposure to the mentally ill is the probably the best cure to romantising their condition there is.
posted by Artw at 1:21 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I assure you that should you get a call from someone in the same boat researching the blatherings of this guy will do you no good whatsoever. Go get some training as a social worker if you want to do some good in the world, though I should warn you that repeated exposure to the mentally ill is the probably the best cure to romantising their condition there is.

I expect the struggle of Vincent Van Gogh and his stay at a mental institution led many to believe he was quite unstable. I suspect training would help those living on the edge, but "romanticizing" the situation is irrelevant, and whoever does it is really no business of mine or yours.
posted by uraniumwilly at 1:26 PM on September 26, 2010


When Christianity was the dominant ideology of the West, people contemplating An Herohood were definitively told that their souls would burn forever in the fires of hell, infinitely far from union with God, and that their decomposing body would be divorced from the Body of Christ and could never be buried within the sacred ground of the Church, thus denying them resurrection after the End of Days. They still killed themselves.

Telling potential suicides that their crappy tl; dr notes or youtube videos will not be indexed by Google or easily found on Facebook is unlikely to prevent suicide.
posted by meehawl at 1:26 PM on September 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Actually my first through was to run this guy's (written) corpus through LIWC and see how it holds up against some of the writing analyses that have been used to study emotion and depression, among other things.

Not that it makes me an expert or anything, but I've done some work with the guy who wrote LIWC. So, a few somewhat nerdy points.

First of all, those results are based on pretty broad groups of people (The depression study, if I remember right, was based on writing samples from 100 subjects) and they're swamped by individual variation. Plenty of people "write like they're depressed" but are perfectly healthy, or vice versa.

That said, the big A-1 trait of depressed subjects' writing is that as a group they use the word "I" more often. (More broadly: people use the word "I" more when they're feeling isolated from or subordinate to their audience. Depression fits in with that picture. We also know that depressed people are often hyper-focused on themselves, and that's also consistent with using "I" more.) Anyway, skimming the note, it looks like this guy doesn't do that. Apart from a few passages, he's writing impersonal, academic-style prose, with very little "I" or "me."

So what's that mean? Well, that's the thing. You can't really draw conclusions about this stuff on an individual level. Could be he wasn't depressed. (We know less about the linguistic correlates of other mental illnesses. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say he probably wasn't completely mentally healthy.) Could be he was deliberately writing in that impersonal, academic style, and editing out the first-person pronouns any time they crept in. Could be he was just an outlier, and this was his natural mode of expression, depression or no.

I'm a big believer in techniques like LIWC as ways of studying group tendencies. But if you want to know where this particular guy was coming from, counting pronouns and determiners and whatnot isn't likely to get you very far.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:30 PM on September 26, 2010 [15 favorites]


repeated exposure to the mentally ill is the probably the best cure to romantising their condition there is.

Who on this thread is romanticizing the mentally ill? Trying to understand what drives a person to suicide is not the same as romanticizing that person.
posted by existential hobo at 1:31 PM on September 26, 2010


Dude, Vincent Van Gogh has already been referenced, you can assume that any argument that there is no romantising of mental illness in this thread has already been lost.
posted by Artw at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2010


[few comments removed - please refer to old MeTa thread about lulzy lazy jokes about suicide not being so great for community discussion. MetaTalk is available for Metadiscussion.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2010



I assure you that should you get a call from someone in the same boat researching the blatherings of this guy will do you no good whatsoever. Go get some training as a social worker if you want to do some good in the world, though I should warn you that repeated exposure to the mentally ill is the probably the best cure to romantising their condition there is.


Maybe I was unclear. If anyone calls me sounding like this, the first thing I'm going to do is call 911. I hope any of my friends would do the same for me if I started talking this kind of nonsense.

But dude, seriously — you think there's no point in trying to have any empathy at all with the mentally ill? I'm not talking about romanticizing any of that shit. (Trust me, having a few close bipolar friends is a great way to lose any romantic illusions you may have had about the condition.) I'm just talking about trying to come to some understanding of what they're going through — if only because it makes me sleep better at night.

posted by nebulawindphone at 1:40 PM on September 26, 2010


The desire to burn the note and erase a suicide victim from the Internet seems like a fairly hateful response.
posted by humanfont at 1:45 PM on September 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Go get some training as a social worker if you want to do some good in the world, though I should warn you that repeated exposure to the mentally ill is the probably the best cure to romantising their condition there is."

Sir, you apparently are a web developer. Do you have also have social work training? Do you think that social workers refer to the human beings in actual cases of suicide or suicidality as 'mental defectives,' per your earlier comment? Do you actually consider there to be no phase space between the points of burning all suicide notes/explanations and 'romanticizing' mental illness? How about this for a start: treating people suffering from mental illness like human beings and not broken animals? How about considering that this person had family, and considering that maybe, just maybe, suggesting that the product of the years he spent trying to justify his pain is only fit to be burnt is tantamount to telling that family that he might as well not have existed in the first place.

Every suicide leaves, on average, six survivors who are profoundly affected by that loss, and it may never make sense or become painless to them. Those who commit suicide are in incredible pain and deserve empathy. Their contributions to the world are often profound, and even when they are not, they are never meaningless. Certainly not to their families.

People who commit suicide are human beings, and they are human beings that deserve respect and dignity.

I should know. My grandfather was one of them.
posted by mister-o at 1:48 PM on September 26, 2010 [36 favorites]


These kinds of stories always remind me of Mr. Dick from David Copperfield.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:49 PM on September 26, 2010


Sidenote but I personally feel that one possible reason for that burn/erase reaction is because we as a society don't know how to deal yet with the idea of the 'persistent transcript' that exists with this new communication medium (unlike speech, which isn't persistent, except when recorded of course. But even then, the recording is not automatically built-in as a feature of that mode). That, and yea, hatefulness. And probably other things as well. :(
posted by iamkimiam at 1:53 PM on September 26, 2010


Wow, a pun seems in really bad taste under the circumstances.

You're talking about the "newspaper" that pasted the heads of weasels over French UN delegates in the days leading up to the 2003 Iraq war.
posted by hermitosis at 1:54 PM on September 26, 2010


I should warn you that repeated exposure to the mentally ill is the probably the best cure to romantising their condition there is.

---

That applies equally well to the "sane"
posted by empath at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


The desire to burn the note and erase a suicide victim from the Internet seems like a fairly hateful response.

This seems like a pretty damn hateful interpretation of a fellow MeFite's comment.
posted by Dumsnill at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2010


Wow, a pun seems in really bad taste under the circumstances.

They pun under any and all circumstances.
posted by Jahaza at 2:03 PM on September 26, 2010


In my book, everyone who wants a say should get a say. The content of that say then has to stand or sink on its own. This guy was obviously a deep thinker ( deep thinking is not necessarily good thinking) and he had a need to express himself. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is nobody's decision but his.

I understand angst and depression and the feeling that you and the "rest of the world" don't quite mesh. It's very sad that a person can come to view that their own demise is the only acceptable solution to their situation, though.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:11 PM on September 26, 2010


"That said, the big A-1 trait of depressed subjects' writing is that as a group they use the word "I" more often. (More broadly: people use the word "I" more when they're feeling isolated from or subordinate to their audience. Depression fits in with that picture."

Um...

"We also know that depressed people are often hyper-focused on themselves, and that's also consistent with using "I" more.) Anyway, skimming the note, it looks like this guy doesn't do that. Apart from a few passages, he's writing impersonal, academic-style prose, with very little "I" or "me.""

Maybe iamkimiam nailed it best with the comment that Heisman was writing a book and simultaneously suffering, then had the "revelation" that both of the things dominating his life could be reconciled, thus giving that life meaning. In other words, the book didn't start out as a suicide note, but was made into one when he decided to die.

I only skimmed a couple of chapters, but there's a notable lack of any authorial identity at all, with no I's or me's or statements of intent. Instead he buries his meaning under the arguments of others, using their quotations and ideas like Lego blocks to build a thesis, and it's only in the last chapter that his feelings appear. The lack of belief in anything, discounting his emotions as mere physical processes (as if that makes them somehow unworthy), raging at the cosmos for having no meaning, and then reassuring himself that complete objectivity (ie: meaning) can only be achieved through self destruction. It sounds like he was trying to rationalize away a crushing burden of depression by writing the book, but couldn't do it anymore.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:28 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]




We shouldn't have posts about suicide because some people have people close to them who committed suicide?

No, we shouldn't have posts on suicide (unless there's a very interesting or important reason to discuss them) because the Werther effect causes people to have an increased risk of committing suicide suicide after reading such accounts.* This is why most responsible media outlets voluntarily abstain from reporting suicides as news, and this media outlet should do likewise for the sake of the community.

*And don't give me any hooey about us 'taking responsibility for another person's decision', suicidal people are mentally ill and deserve our care.
posted by Dreadnought at 2:40 PM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


And yes, on preview, it seems that this case was covered in the local press, as it was a very public event in that vicinity, but that doesn't mean we should follow up on a story that boils down to 'mentally ill person dies by suicide'.
posted by Dreadnought at 2:41 PM on September 26, 2010


When Christianity was the dominant ideology of the West, people contemplating An Herohood were definitively told that their souls would burn forever in the fires of hell, infinitely far from union with God, and that their decomposing body would be divorced from the Body of Christ and could never be buried within the sacred ground of the Church, thus denying them resurrection after the End of Days. They still killed themselves.

Yes, but not very often. We've apparently got evidence of just under 200 suicides in a hundred-year period in late medieval England. Even allowing for the lower population at the time and assuming that records are incomplete, that's vastly less than the 1.5% of all deaths that we see today. You'd need to see something like a hundred-fold increase in the incidence of suicide, so even if medieval records record only half, perhaps even a tenth of the actual total, you're still looking at a suicide rate which is a mere fraction of today's.

In short, suicide in the medieval and early modern period does not appear to have been anything close to being as common as it is today. Sure, people did it, but not that often.

This may be due to the fact that life expectancy was so much lower then. The demographic which is most likely to commit suicide is men above the age of 65. If most people die before they hit 40...
posted by valkyryn at 2:43 PM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


That said, the big A-1 trait of depressed subjects' writing is that as a group they use the word "I" more often. (More broadly: people use the word "I" more when they're feeling isolated from or subordinate to their audience. Depression fits in with that picture."


Analyzing people based on their use of pronouns might not be a great idea.


Said the commenter, carefully avoiding the first person pronoun.
posted by Dumsnill at 2:48 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yes, on preview, it seems that this case was covered in the local press, as it was a very public event in that vicinity, but that doesn't mean we should follow up on a story that boils down to 'mentally ill person dies by suicide'.

Huh?

The very first paragraph is a quote jam-packed with questions about existence and philosophy and approaching death:

"Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. If this is true, and they have actually been looking forward to death all their lives, it would of course be absurd to be troubled when the thing comes for which they have so long been preparing and looking forward.
—SOCRATES, PHAEDO"

Did you read any of it, at all?
posted by uraniumwilly at 2:50 PM on September 26, 2010


a story that boils down to 'mentally ill person dies by suicide'.

The length, coherence, thoughtfulness, and peculiarity of the suicide note itself makes the story somewhat out of the ordinary.
posted by existential hobo at 2:53 PM on September 26, 2010


a story that boils down to 'mentally ill person dies by suicide'.

The length, coherence, thoughtfulness, and peculiarity of the suicide note itself makes the story somewhat out of the ordinary.


Then we'll amend the boil-down: 'Long-winded mentally ill person dies by suicide.'
posted by jonmc at 2:57 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Then we'll amend the boil-down: 'Long-winded mentally ill person dies by suicide.'

The linked essay that is this guy's suicide note is more coherent than some Master Theses I've read. And we don't know if he was mentally ill, although he was clearly depressed. I'm not trying to turn this guy into something he was not, or to to condone his action, but glibly dismissing him seems driven by the fear that 'OMG he might actually not be a typical raving nut' as much anything else.
posted by existential hobo at 3:03 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


i simply do not understand this obsession with death.

death is not a state of being.

i experienced a lot of death around me these last few years, and it's been tough, but the hardest part was not the actual dying of a beloved one, the suffering was.
once someone let go, it was quite beautiful and hard to understand rationally, but not at all frightening.

Mitchell Heisman obviously suffered.
a lot.

that doesn't mean he was a wise man.
posted by Substrata at 3:06 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And we don't know if he was mentally ill, although he was clearly depressed.

Last time I checked depression was a mental illness. (I take anti-depressants, I know of what I speak).

the fear that 'OMG he might actually not be a typical raving nut' as much anything else.

In the course of my job I encounter urban street people (including the mentally ill) on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I have supertankerloads of sympathy for them, but that dosen't mean I give their ideologies (and I've heard a bunch) much actual credence.
posted by jonmc at 3:07 PM on September 26, 2010


Arguing about whether or not this is a worthwhile post is the definition of a derail. If you see no value in it, ignore it. If it bothers you, flag it. If it really bothers you, email a mod. If you feel it needs more discussion, take it to MeTa.

If this news to anybody?
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:09 PM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Mitchell Heisman obviously suffered.
a lot.

that doesn't mean he was a wise man.


Nor does it mean that he was an unwise man. As it is, I see no evidence to think he was any more or less wise than most of us, and that's one reason I'm less inclined to judge him than some others are.
posted by existential hobo at 3:10 PM on September 26, 2010


A couple of things stand out (for me) in this manifesto. First, although there is a lot of philosophy, history, and some biology, there is no literature. Specifically, I was looking for Dostoevsky since he wrote about people in a similar state of mind as Heisman. Second (and possibly related), the area of political philosophy most engaged here is that of the individual vs. the group, with the predominant philosophers those, like Strauss and Schmitt, who subordinate the individual to the group. (I'm ignoring Nietzche who, IMO, can mean anything to a given person at a given moment.) So individuality is unimportant and, thus, Heisman himself is unimportant. (I think this relates to iamkimiam's comment about creating a suicidal identity.) Finally, Heisman seems to take no pleasure in anything -- his world lacks flavour and colour. This anhedonia seems to me to indicate depression, no matter that Heisman claims it is rational. He states that he deliberately, from childhood, has chosen to see the world only in a material way, but it seems to me that he is excusing the joylessness of his existence.
I have known some very depressed people and several who have either attempted or succeeded in killing themselves. This long suicide note reminds me of the kind of busy work that some of them used to fill their days and occupying their minds before choosing death -- long lists, for instance, such as all the Olympic event results (to the top twenty or so) or all the vessels involved in the Falklands War. What we can't see in this account is the lack of affect that Heisman probably showed toward the end.
posted by CCBC at 3:12 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


that's what i said.
posted by Substrata at 3:13 PM on September 26, 2010


I give their ideologies (and I've heard a bunch) much actual credence.

I'm not asking anyone here to give the guy's "ideology" or lack thereof (he seems stricken by a genuine philosophical fear that any human value is an illusion, hence his interest in nihilism) "credence," just something besides "LOL look a the dead crazy guy."
posted by existential hobo at 3:13 PM on September 26, 2010


just something besides "LOL look a the dead crazy guy."

Fine. He (and his family) definitely have my sympathy and I hope that wherever he is, he's at peace. But you have to understand that for those of us who encounter this kind of stuff frquently, cynical humor is both a coping device and a kind of philosophy.
posted by jonmc at 3:16 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Instead, let's delete posts that amount to nothing more than pointing and laughing at someone's illness. Like this one.

This post doesn't do that. Some of these comments do.

So delete those comments, if you must. But, you know... babies and bathwater, folks.
posted by rokusan at 3:17 PM on September 26, 2010


(and yes, sometimes insanity can be funny. In the West Village, I once (no joke) encountered a guy standing on a corner pacing back and forth ranting about how the Warren Commission was inside his brain. I walked away thinking "Jeez, these days even our insanity is retro." Dosen't subtract from my sympathy for the poor guy, but I still got a chuckle out of the whole incident.)
posted by jonmc at 3:18 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


those of us who encounter this kind of stuff frquently,

The suicide note linked in the FPP does not strike me as something anyone encounters frequently. I'm not an expert on the subject of suicide notes, but I find it difficult to believe that particular note is typical of the "genre."
posted by existential hobo at 3:19 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, lots of great and wonderful people have committed suicide. Suicide does not negate their value as human beings.

I don't think we want to throw away the works of Turing, bolzmann, and Plath, etc do we?
posted by empath at 3:20 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hope this comment doesn't sound anti-intellectual because it's really not intended that way. Not at all.

Here goes:

Philosophy was the last thing this guy needed. He used philosophy as a way to avoid dealing with his emotional problems. This is a classic case of what the old-timey Freudians liked to call Intellectualization.

The guy would have been better served by drinking himself into a stupor and crying himself to sleep. Or getting a hug from someone who cared. Or even some sloppy awkward sex with a warm-hearted stranger with a nice smile and a big round ass.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:22 PM on September 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


"What Plato has understood, and what the current culture of professional philosophy has not grasped, is the relationship between thinking and skepticism. Thinking — as Pyrrhonians and poststructuralists well know — leads to skepticism: that is its only defensible result.... But it is not an acceptable result — not only can it precipitate cynicism and its attendant lassitudes, it cripples thinking itself. It deprives it of objects, and so it turns on itself, where its effect is utterly corrosive. Some — Sextus Empiricus, for example — take this corrosion to be the goal of thought: the peace of mind that is achieved when the impulse to think is destroyed. But this, it seems to me and, I speculate, seemed to Plato, is like promoting the self-digestion of the stomach because on is offended by the workings of the bowel. Thinking is the acid that the mind uses to digest the world; it is one of the most fundamental ways in which we are nourished. The aim, then, must be to learn to contain thinking, while keeping it alive. And — Plato’s insight — it turns out that life-sustaining thinking is impossible without hope. Hope is what keeps it turned towards reality." -- Jan Zwicky, Plato as Artist
posted by twirlip at 3:25 PM on September 26, 2010 [19 favorites]


Currently reading the three theban plays, had a strong feeling that the conflicts of Antigone, the complexities involved would be discussed in this writing.

The ultimate consequences can be observed through the
lens of differential interpretations of Sophocles’ Antigone. In
this Greek tragedy, two forms of morality come into conflict.
On one hand, King Creon decrees that Polynices, killed in a
fight for the throne that Creon himself ascended to, should
not be given a proper burial. On the other hand, Polynices’
sister Antigone rejects her duty to the king, and plans to
bury her brother.
For the Greeks, this was a tragedy because both claims to
duty are right: Antigone had an authentic duty to the king,
and she also had an authentic duty to her brother. The
distinctly modern view, however, would assume that
Antigone was right and Creon was wrong.

Antigone’s Greek duty to her king would be reinterpreted as her right or liberty
to act upon her own will, while Creon would be viewed
simply as a tyrant who attempted to violate her rights.
Sophocles’ Antigone is not a tragedy for moderns because two
authentic goods do not come into irreconcilable collision.
From the modern view, Antigone is a story of tyranny, not
tragedy, because Creon would be considered wrong and
Antigone right.

To grasp a radical alternative to modern morality,
consider the ancient Greek Spartans. At the age of seven, a
Spartan boy was permanently removed from his mother’s
home and thereafter raised in a collective educational system
called the Agoge. By encouraging males to break ties with
their family and strengthen ties to their warrior state, the
Spartan regime helped preempt a conflict of interests
between the family and the highest patriarchal authorities.
Among the Spartans, Creon was right and Antigone was
wrong, and the Agoge was designed to preclude the tragic
possibility represented by Antigone.
Sorry to the family of the missing and his connections, despite it being apposite yet opposite to his beliefs, sadness is in my words and their loss.
posted by infinite intimation at 3:47 PM on September 26, 2010


Analyzing people based on their use of pronouns might not be a great idea.

Amusingly, one of the links in that LL post is to a discussion of the research I'm talking about. One of the things the post is saying is (in a nutshell) "These idiot columnists think saying 'I' a lot makes you a narcissist. But it's just the opposite — it's a mark of depression, introversion and low status."
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:54 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Spending 1800 pages writing a manifesto justifying nihilistic suicide and not mentioning Albert Camus once sort of seems like spending 1800 pages justifying capitalism and forgetting to mention the arguments of Karl Marx.
posted by banal evil at 4:05 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, we shouldn't have posts on suicide (unless there's a very interesting or important reason to discuss them) because the Werther effect causes people to have an increased risk of committing suicide suicide after reading such accounts.

You have a point, but still...nearly 2,000 pages aren't an interesting or important enough reason?

On a different note, re: suicide and its preconditions, if there's anything that makes me recall those I've known who were suicidal, it's the descent from fall into winter. And this year, it's felt to me like the dark months are encroaching early; where I am, it's already grown chilly outside (right on the heels of 90-degree days). Not that this has anything at all to do with the suicide in the original post, but is it anything like that in Massachusetts right now?
posted by limeonaire at 4:13 PM on September 26, 2010


TL;

DR,

.
posted by fire&wings at 4:15 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a friend whose close friend since childhood committed suicide. But without even knowing the person who died I was always struck with how much that act was with this friend, even after decades passed it was as though it had happened recently, and she still thinks of him often. Whenever I read about a suicide now I always think about the lives of the living who are also going to be forever changed by that act. If you've never had anyone you've known or cared about die in this manner, it's something that's both difficult and/or terrible to imagine. Try it - pick someone you particularly love, then not only imagine him/her dead, but imagine that he/she purposefully took their own life without ever reaching out to you - so that there was nothing you could do but feel the loss and wonder if you could have helped. I find it awful enough to just imagine - now consider that others have to live through this.

It's odd how the little things in news articles will jump at you and make you really think about people - or at least for me - this line from the Crimson article about the man's mother:

"She spoke with Heisman just two days before his death, she said.

“I expected him to come here to help me move, which I am in the process of,” she said. “I expected him to come back in October. He really was non-committal.”"

Moving may be not a big deal to some - but it does require that between packing, carrying, turning utilities on and off - that your daily life is a bit more stressful and you don't have a place you can call home for a while. And now all that must seem like ridiculously small worries, when she suddenly hears about her son's death.
posted by batgrlHG at 4:23 PM on September 26, 2010


it's a mark of depression, introversion and low status.

Is it? You don't seem to be documenting this claim.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:27 PM on September 26, 2010


but is it anything like that in Massachusetts right now?

Yeah, it is. My SO works at Harvard and everyone got a text message the morning when this happened. Not with details (and I don't know what it said) just that there was an event, shooting, there were police, there was no longer any danger. But yeah, it was a very chilly day.
posted by jessamyn at 4:30 PM on September 26, 2010


suicide sucks, literally. the dead suck the living with them. I trust, if the suicide were capable, he/she would understand the pain their choice was likely to inflict on those who loved them, and they wouldn't go through with it. But sadly, they're not capable. Hence, the suck.

As for 1904 pages, I'm sorry but I call bullshit. I've got well over 1904 pages in my various files and trunks and no, they're only worth living for. This whole thing reminds me of a troubled old friend, with whom I long ago lost contact. He never stopped researching whatever the hell it was after (his own confusion, I suspect); he never stopped taking notes; never stopped imposing them on anyone and everyone. Genius though some of his insights were, the cumulative effect finally just got way too toxic. In the end, it was just madness, which is what this stuff reads like to me.

So, for what it's worth, I sincerely hope that Mitchell Heisman's note goes nowhere, gets forgotten, gets shoved aside so that more focus and interest goes to the writing of the living who, trust me, are all wrestling with giant monsters and demons of their own. They just haven't given up with the wrestling.
posted by philip-random at 4:44 PM on September 26, 2010


"If my hypothesis is correct, this work will be repressed. It should not be surprising if justice is not done to the evidence presented here. It should not be unexpected that these arguments will not be given a fair hearing. It is not unreasonable to think that this work will not be judged on its merits".

I efn hate the passive voice.
posted by pressF1 at 5:01 PM on September 26, 2010


so that more focus and interest goes to the writing of the living

Well the "writing of the living," is all there is, since the dead, being dead, can no longer write. But people still read dead authors. For instance, they still read Infinite Jest, all 1079 pages of it, despite the fact that DFW committed suicide. Is Heisman's note another Infinite Jest? No, no, emphatically not. By all appearances Heisman's note/manifesto just barely rises above the familiar work of a more articulate than usual crank. But it does rise above that, even if it never takes flight. I would not worry too much about Heisman's note achieving posterity, since I kind of doubt it, and since it does not matter that much any way. However, even these kinds of things need to be preserved: they are also, in all their didactic messiness, part of what it means to be human.
posted by existential hobo at 5:02 PM on September 26, 2010


[very seriously, if you have an issue with how the website is dealing with this sort of thing, you need to go to metatalk.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:10 PM on September 26, 2010


Is it? You don't seem to be documenting this claim.

Here's a Language Log post that talks about "I" as a correlate of depression and low status. The references in that post are a good place to start if you want more information. If you want the original peer-reviewed journal articles, the studies on "I" as a correlate of depression are Rude, Gortner and Pennebaker (2004) and Stirman and Pennebaker (2001).

posted by nebulawindphone at 5:21 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Seditious Genius of the Spiritual Penis of Jesus

Dude, I totally have the Of Montreal EP that's on.
posted by acb at 5:33 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, just wanted to chime in, hopefully not too late or off topic...my sister killed herself, it's had massive effects on myself and my family as well as on people who never met her and who weren't in my life at the time, like my wife.

So in that capacity, I just wanted to state that in no way do I want or expect posts or comments here about suicide to cease completely or for posters/commenters to worry about people in my shoes when posting/commenting. No post or comment will ever be worse than anything any of us have already been through, and I think that having to worry about yet another little select group of people whose feelings might be hurt would further hobble MeFi above and beyond how it's already been hobbled by all the consideration everyone has already had to lob around to all the "special snowflakes."

Honestly, we can take snark and whatever else about suicide in general as well as about whatever specific person. Does it hurt? Sometimes, maybe. Does that matter to you? Nope.

That is all.
posted by nevercalm at 6:20 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


valkyryn: "In short, suicide in the medieval and early modern period does not appear to have been anything close to being as common as it is today"

You put far more faith in the numerical magnitude accuracy of late medieval record keeping than I do. The paper you reference notes in its discussion that the legal records exist only because the Crown demanded forfeiture of the suicide's assets, and that virtually everyone in England at that time had no assets (or were themselves assets of another person) and therefore would go unrecorded. These records, therefore, suffer from a deliberate under-reporting by the communities (both for selfish, financial reasons and because suicide was anathema), and a selection bias by limiting the records only to those with sufficient assets to interest the Crown. These were affluent people, and as we know, mental illness and suicide is inversely correlated with socioeconomic status.
posted by meehawl at 6:25 PM on September 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


The parts I have read so far are provocative but interesting, with a blend of cogent argument and surreptitious teasing reminiscent of Lionel Snell. Projection of peoples' views about the nature and circumstances of his death are understandable but basically amount to little more than a reluctance to engage with his book.

As outlined early in the book, his basic thesis is this: logical empiricism suggests our existence is not only accidental, but unremarkable; if we come to the reasoned conclusion that our existence is pointless (as a consequence of our inability to demonstrate the existence of any higher purpose or state of being), then a conflict arises between our evolved impetus to continue living - increasingly, at the demonstrable expense of others - and our glorification of reason as the apex of our intellectual development. In short, western culture is rooted upon a fundamental contradiction, and our refusal to either admit to selfishness or alter our selfish behavior points to the unpleasant conclusion that our civilization is little more than a shell we have developed to obscure this moral and philosophical vacuum at the core of our progressivism.

Heisman has chosen to use his death - and apparent but entirely predictable non-existence - to focus attention on the yawning disparity between enlightened ideals and expedient implementation. The shocking and violent manner of his death was apparently chosen for its power to actualize the basic fact that when someone dies, they are really gone, in contrast to the polite euphemisms and social fictions with which we normally the deaths of others. This forces us to address the question of whether western liberal democracy is bankrupt, and to what extent it, and our lives lived within it, can have meaning unless fundamental adjustments are made.

I do not entirely agree with this; it seems to me that one can be nihilistic and still find meaning in life through normative choices - that is, working to make the world a little closer to one's conception of how it ought to be. However, it is highly questionable whether people in general can operate this way on a collective level absent some external ideology to guide them; it seems (so far) that Heisman considered our social paradox to have such deep cultural and economic roots that any change will necessarily involve catastrophic upheavals. In this sense, the book is a collection of things we do not want to hear, and dismissal of these as the product of an unhealthy mind are not much more than a kind of ontological bargaining, wherein the acceptance of this individual death is traded for a waiver of credibility which can be used to fend off any of the general arguments Heisman made.

Obviously, I think the ideas Heisman collected under the title 'Suicide Note' are important enough to merit serious discussion, and are emphatically not amenable to the kind of prophylactic reassurance which passes for analysis in the popular press. There will be an abundance of the latter, given Heisman's superficial unremarkability. Indeed, his conventionally handsome features, and air of successful conformity - he might be a young lawyer, or a market analyst, or a campaign aide - serve to alienate him further from his philosophical radicalism. It is intolerable to consider that someone we might see in the window of a fancy restaurant, or on the cover of a brochure, could be a mask concealing any sort of discomfiting notion; of course, we don't like to be bored, but in general we prefer that people in the habit of making unusual propositions be safely confined to churches, theaters, and other carefully delineated contexts.

In some cases, it is easier to appreciate the positions of radical thinkers in relation to their social framework from an outside perspective; one well-known example is Thích Quảng Đức.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:37 PM on September 26, 2010 [20 favorites]


For some reason when I saw this post, I immediately thought of Steve Martin's quote that you forget most things you learn in school, but "you remember just enough Philosophy to screw you up for the rest of your life."
posted by spock at 6:47 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heisman anticipated the debate here. From page 22:

There is a very popular opinion that choosing life is inherently superior to choosing death. This belief that life is inherently preferable to death is one of the most widespread superstitions. This bias constitutes one of the most obstinate mythologies of the human species.

This prejudice against death, however, is a kind of xenophobia. Discrimination against death is simply assumed
good and right. Absolutist faith in life is commonly a result of the unthinking conviction that existence or survival, along
with an irrational fear of death, is “good”. This unreasoned conviction in the rightness of life over death is like a god or a mass delusion. Life is the “noble lie”; the common secular- religion of the West.

posted by telstar at 7:31 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


For those of you noting/criticising his unusual writing and affect in his manifesto, on page 1859 he discloses on page 1859:

My father, like his father before him, was an engineer.
This background alone probably increases the likelihood of
Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning form of
autism. According to Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential
Difference, Asperger’s Syndrome is an example of the
extreme male brain. While female brains are better at
empathizing and communicating, male brains are better at
understanding and building systems, i.e. what I am doing
right now in my imperfect attempt to locate myself in my
own “Weltanschauung”. Modernity itself seems to have
Asperger’s Syndrome in its Newtonian basis in modern
physics and its analytical breakdown of pre-modern familial
and kinship relationships into isolated individualism.
While I hardly presume to understand all the workings of
my own mind, I do not find that even a mild form of
Asperger’s Syndrome fully captures my own case.


Heisman argues he's a keen observer of the human condition, unlike people with Asperger's...which makes this whole thing even sadder. I too can only picture the mother waiting for her son to help her move, who had no idea his "book" he was excited to be nearing the end of was a suicide note.
posted by availablelight at 7:36 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not trying to gang up on you, anigbrowl, but you do such a good job of characterizing Heisman's position that I feel compelled to respond to it.

"As outlined early in the book, his basic thesis is this: logical empiricism suggests our existence is not only accidental, but unremarkable; if we come to the reasoned conclusion that our existence is pointless (as a consequence of our inability to demonstrate the existence of any higher purpose or state of being), then a conflict arises between our evolved impetus to continue living - increasingly, at the demonstrable expense of others - and our glorification of reason as the apex of our intellectual development."

This is just weird, like calculus invented by hamsters or something. Life doesn't need to have a purpose - or rather, the purpose of life is to perpetuate itself. The point of being alive is to feel and do, to hurt and feel joy, hate and love, to make your mark on the universe in the very brief time that's available. We're not tools made by some higher power, but are instead free, sentient individuals who get to create our own meaning and find our own fulfillment any way we can. The urge to live is an a priori assumption like one of Euclid's axioms. There's no need to find deeper meaning than that.

I guess Heisman would say I'm so deluded I can't see his argument, but from this side of the fence it looks like he has no argument at all. Just a bunch of rationalizations to explain away his inner pain.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:31 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is just weird, like calculus invented by hamsters or something. Life doesn't need to have a purpose - or rather, the purpose of life is to perpetuate itself.

But it doesn't have to be. And a lot of people to find your answer particularly satisfying. Genetic imperatives don't translate well to moral imperatives, imo.

If people are free to choose, then surely they are free to choose not to exist. Death is the one thing we all face. If we are truly free beings, then it seems odd that the only moral way to face our own unavoidable death is to completely abdicate control over its time and place.
posted by empath at 9:00 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


(....don't find your... etc)
posted by empath at 9:01 PM on September 26, 2010


As for 1904 pages, I'm sorry but I call bullshit. -- Two words : Infinite Jest.
posted by crunchland at 9:02 PM on September 26, 2010


Regarding those who are asking that suicide, as a subject matter be removed from MeFi; I am reminded of two types of people:

"The self-imposed Hero" - "Don't do it because more people will commit suicide looking at it - think of them!" Forgetting of course that a simple Google of "suicide" will yield terrabytes more information than can be found here. Forgetting that watching TV or the movies will inevitable lead to similar subject matter as well. All conveniently forgotten.

"The Special People" - "Please stop all public comment on this subject because it's painful to me!" I am reminded of the people who chide movie reviews for "spoilers", people with "fragrance allergies" ("please don't use shampoos with scents around me") or people who claim to trigger on certain words ("I'm a multiple personality!") . You such people: you aren't special and if you have a special need then it is incumbent on yourself to self-censor, not me.

Rant over.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:07 PM on September 26, 2010


Heisman again, p23:

Most people are so prejudiced on this issue that they
simply refuse to even consider the possibilities of death.
Humans tend to be so irrationally prejudiced towards the
premise of life that rational treatment of death seldom sees
the light of day. Most people will likely fall back on their
most thoughtless convictions, intuitions, and instincts,
instead of attempting to actually think through their biases
(much less overcome them).

posted by telstar at 9:07 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying it was immoral for Heisman to kill himself (although those now grieving his loss probably would), just that his suicide note isn't logical. Or at least, the characterization of it I've obtained from skimming a few passages and reading the summaries here doesn't make it sound like a logical argument.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:07 PM on September 26, 2010


Oh, no problem. I agree with your position to a large extent, but I respect Heisman's too, because he poses some basic and important questions.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:36 PM on September 26, 2010


It's not logical in that suicide is an inescapable conclusion, no. But neither is choosing to live.
posted by empath at 9:43 PM on September 26, 2010


No, but choosing to live isn't about logic. Like I said before, it's an a priori assumption: living things exist so they can continue to exist. Or to use a better metaphor, the need to live is like something from Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, an assumption that's woven through the system such that it can't be proven true or false from inside. He seems to think that a lack of meaning proves that the desire to live is illogical, and that therefore all our social constructions are built upon a foundation of sand, but that's not true.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:01 PM on September 26, 2010


Godel starved himself to death, FWIW.
posted by empath at 10:14 PM on September 26, 2010


It's kind of incidental to the arguments here, but yeah, he starved because he was afraid of being poisoned if anyone but his wife cooked for him. A man of wonderous intellect who went strange at the end.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:24 PM on September 26, 2010


@Kevin: It's not so impossible as that, I think. There are plenty of deep examinations of whether or not suicide is permissible (my favorite, Hume) and whether there is any basis to conclude that life is worth living (another favorite and mentioned above, Camus). Those are no more decisive than anything else in philosophy, but they're more than pragmatic assumptions. On the other hand, someone who is mentally ill and considering suicide is almost certainly not amenable to reasoned debate on the topic.


And for the love of my own sanity, I vote that we excise the word "logic" from this discussion and replace it with either "rational" or "reasonable", which is what folks seem to mean.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:27 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two words : Infinite Jest.

Infinite Jest was not a suicide note. It was published 12 years before Wallace took his life.

As for 1904 pages, I'm sorry but I call bullshit.

To clarify: I'm not calling bullshit because the guy that wrote those pages eventually killed himself. I'm calling bullshit because he killed himself to, among other things, draw attention to those pages. And I'll continue to call bullshit should a death cult grow around this guy. Suicide is so easily romanticized. I did it myself when much younger, until I experienced one. After that, all I've been able to do is feel empathy for what the suicide must have suffered to have made such an extreme decision. But sorry, I can't get excited about the statement itself. And yes, suicide is a statement.
posted by philip-random at 12:03 AM on September 27, 2010


In the spirit of his suicide I'm going to take this opportunity to philosophize grandly - if engaging with the text of a dead man offends you, you've been warned. I agree with his argument that contemporary society (and especially North American society) has, at its core, a contradiction it is desperately denying; in that we are individualistic or more accurately selfish. This selfish individualism is so central to our way of life, we must deny the possibility of death because a selfish mortal is an absolute negation, one who takes and takes and then ceases to be. To put it another way, if my life is all about me, then any meaning in my existence is temporary and snuffed out as easily and inevitably as I will be. Our selfishness is unsustainable, and so is our civilization. I believe we can change that, and I believe that we must, and I believe that this man was not mentally ill and we must not dismiss him out of hand.

I am reminded of a friend's correspondence with a Nobel laureate who wrote an editorial for the G&M asserting that climate change was really happening but it didn't matter because there was nothing we could do about it and the Earth would go on existing anyway. He stood by his argument thusly:

However, I have thought a great deal about the primitive physical and economic factors underlying the the fossil fuel drama, and I am reasonably confident that they constrain the outcome completely.

If one was engulfed in this kind of total pessimism, genuinely believing that our civilization is so fundamentally irrational and immoral as to be capable of continuing to burn fossil fuels until the planet becomes hostile to life, you may as well blow your brains out - because that's exactly what we are collectively doing anyway. I would have no interest living in such a universe either. Heisman succumbed to this negativity, but we don't have to. (Though it may be alright if we do: much better to write one's heart out and kill oneself than live selfishly, writing nihilistic editorials helping to preserve a rotten status quo!) We can choose what our civilization looks like and we can choose what world we live in. Remember, civilization is made of people. We have met the enemy, and he is us.
posted by mek at 12:42 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"1 have heard of an emulator of Peregrinos, a post-war writer who, after having finished his first book, committed suicide to attract attention to his work. Attention was in fact attracted, but the book was judged no good"
posted by Shit Parade at 1:49 AM on September 27, 2010


And I'll continue to call bullshit should a death cult grow around this guy.

Why would that happen? After all, just about everyone in here can't exclaim fast enough just how illogical and unreasonable and irrational the guy's arguments are.

Oh wait, now that I think of it, there's an irrational, illogical, unreasonable death cult at the center of this civilization's main religion. Never mind.
posted by telstar at 2:15 AM on September 27, 2010


can we just put "warning: triggers" on the front page of mefi so we don't get a dozen calls for post deletion every time there's a post about suicide or some other emotional issue
posted by tehloki at 3:26 AM on September 27, 2010


I can't be the only person on metafilter who's lost someone close to them by suicide.

Can we get rid of this post, please?
posted by selfmedicating at 12:29 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]


No. I lost someone in my immediate family to suicide only three years ago, but I have absolutely no objection to posting articles like the one linked. Not everyone experiences triggers with this sort of thing.

Pff. That me make a big deal out of the whittering of mental defectives every time they act out in public encourages more of them to do the same, and impressionable idiots to waste their time scouring their leavings for "clues". Burn it all, I say.
posted by Artw at 12:29 PM on September 26 [2 favorites +] [!]


Please stop talking out of your ass.
posted by tantrumthecat at 6:40 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, took the time to read through the whole thread (in lieu of other "required" readings).

In other words, it'd be a shame to see such things burned or otherwise destroyed. We could learn a lot from these people and what they have to say.

posted by iamkimiam at 1:09 PM on September 26 [93 favorites +] [!]


Except (and I must say it again). 1904 pages. I simply cannot help but feel we (the collective WE) would be better off studying the work of the living (or at least, those who had intended to keep on living) than an exit statement almost double the length of LORD OF THE RINGS. Any serious depressive will tell you, the death trip's damned easy. Just go with the downward flow.

Mitchell Heisman obviously suffered.
a lot.

that doesn't mean he was a wise man.
posted by Substrata


Wisdom comes in all manner of ways; sometimes in stepping up to some great antagonism and defeating it; sometimes in surrendering to that antagonism (or certainly retreating from it). Henry Miller comes to mind and his conclusion that all suffering is unnecessary but this wisdom can only be grasped and owned by one who has first suffered.

Again, if you're entertaining the notion of taking Heisman's "note" seriously. I beg of you, don't. Certainly not to the extent of actually reading the damned thing. Read some literature instead. Read Tolstoy. Read Henry Miller's Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, which, come to think of it, probably totals about 1904 pages.
posted by philip-random at 8:06 AM on September 27, 2010


Again, if you're entertaining the notion of taking Heisman's "note" seriously. I beg of you, don't. Certainly not to the extent of actually reading the damned thing.

I skimmed it last night. He made some interesting points here and there. It wasn't completely insane. It definitely wasn't Time Cube. There were parts of it that read like Neal Stephenson, to me, for some reason.

It was, however, poorly organized and somewhat rambling and could have done with a lot of editing.
posted by empath at 8:11 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Details about Mitchell Heisman from family and friends in today's Boston Globe.
posted by ericb at 8:12 AM on September 27, 2010


philip-random: "I simply cannot help but feel we (the collective WE) would be better off studying the work of the living (or at least, those who had intended to keep on living) than an exit statement almost double the length of LORD OF THE RINGS."

Respectfully noted. How about you study what you think is relevant, I'll study what I think is relevant, and we'll share our contributions to be enjoyed and utilised by whomever is interested?
posted by iamkimiam at 8:22 AM on September 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Regarding those who are asking that suicide, as a subject matter be removed from MeFi; I am reminded of two types of people:

.....

The Special People" - "Please stop all public comment on this subject because it's painful to me!"


Or...
posted by Decani at 12:02 PM on September 27, 2010


Man , it's like the anti-1001 Arabian Nights - both use the keen intelligence of the creator to stall for time, to keep closure from bringing death. While Scheherazade makes a case for life and humanity so compelling it sets her free, Heisman's manifesto continually sounds a dirge against existence itself, calling for completion and oblivion. It speaks to the man's will to live that he held out against that kind of darkness for so long... just one more page... just one more page... it breaks my heart.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:14 PM on September 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can we get rid of this post, please?
posted by selfmedicating at 12:29 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]


Whoa, I can't believe people are still bothering to rebut me this far into the thread.

When I posted that, there were a lot more lulz, and a lot less of iamkimiam's awesomeness.

I take it back -- I've got no objection to the subject of suicide per se, if it's part of an intelligent discussion.
posted by selfmedicating at 3:03 PM on September 27, 2010


I'm uneasy with the idea that people who commit suicide are in any way, shape or form 'mentally defective'. To anyone who's suffered intensely, for a long time, that judgment should sound very crass. I'm not defending suicide (particularly not in public). I'm suggesting that noone is in a position to judge his state or motives.

The fact that this man left a prodigious text behind means that he clearly felt that someone might gain from it. And well they might. The idea of destroying his work is repulsive, vindictive, arrogant. He may have worked on it for years -before- he began to despair.
posted by Twang at 3:24 PM on September 27, 2010


TL;DR
posted by godisdad at 7:52 PM on September 27, 2010


I saw this a few days ago. I'm surprised that so many people are rejecting the idea of even skimming through the essay, or snarking about it without reading it. (At least the comments here are slightly more respectful than the ones at the Harvard Crimson.) It seems like the genre "suicide note" makes people unwilling to read it. Would you be more willing to read it if it were marketed as a philosophy textbook or a historical thesis, written by a mad genius who happened to kill himself after he was done? Many people who killed themselves also wrote very interesting things during their lives. My friends on IRC did not have such an allergic reaction to discussing the manifesto. One of them wrote this:
this is it. this is the event. this is what the internet was born to be. an internet wherein a man can write 500,000 words refuting liberal democracy on scientific grounds, tweet the URL to his 400 closest buddys, and then kills himself IRL. This Is The Dream.
Anyway, I'm not surprized Nietzsche had such an effect on a young, intellectual Jew living in his nightmare future. As far as that goes, I don't find much to disagree with in his assessment, except that as Nietzsche himself said, his analysis applied only to the Christian West and not to the rest of the world. I thus feel that he missed out on a large portion of the world's ideas about human potential. Anyway, the one line I really liked was this one:
I trace my ancestry about 13.7 billion years to the so-called
Big Bang. What I am is literally inseparable from the history
of the evolution of particles, galaxies, stars, planets,
chemistry, biology, and finally, cultural-technological
evolution
posted by shii at 8:34 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bottom line: this was an intelligent guy who was extremely depressed. Tragic. Suicide, most of the time, is not a choice. It is a "rush to death". I'm not going to argue this point, because I interact on a professional basis with many individuals who understand leading edge neuroscience research; most of them would agree with this; I trust their studied judgments. About the "rush to death": that phrase was coined in The Savage God: A Study of Suicide. Here's one reader's review of that book:
I used to read "The Savage God" whenever I was 'in the midst of a dark wood', which for me at least, seemed to occur once every three years. For some reason, the stories of other people's despair and suicide, including Alvarez's own attempted suicide always steadied me. His book is a very literate account of why suicide is such a waste of life and talent. I wouldn't call it a cheerful book, but for me at least, reading it is a very cathartic experience. Alvarez doesn't preach, he merely reports, but he has nevertheless written a very moving book. Read it especially if you are depressed. There is nothing like it on the bookshelves, except perhaps Styron's "Darkness Visible". . Here's a link to Darkness Visible.

Again, these are literary treatises about suicide. There's a lot written elsewhere, in a more scientific vein. For emphasis, suicide is almost always an unnecessary tragedy, both for the victim, and the victim's survivors.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:13 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


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