“Give it to me, baby, and I’ll suck it…”
When I took philosophy studies on a reasonably high level, I learned two things. One, there are philosophies that try to explain and make arguments for how we think about morals today; ones that try to actively influence how we approach our moral thinking; and ones that try to understand why our moral thinking takes the paths that it does, and these three types of philosophy are discussed as if they were in any way comparable. Two, philosophers in general spend a lot of time considering what we “want” to be the case morally, as if this had any bearing on actual truth value. For instance, plain utilitarianism seems to judge it correct that we give up most of our personal wealth and possessions in order to balance out the obvious injustice of the world, but since we don’t “want” this to be the case, it is not necessary to do so (Peter Singer – I literally heard him say this, out loud). It seems that we value the ability to feel that we are behaving in a moral way, regardless of whether this is true. If you have an ounce of the idealist in you, the absurdity of such thinking is obvious. And yet… If it is the case that many philosophers are in agreement that this is a factor in our moral decisions, perhaps we should listen to them. It is their field of expertise, after all. So let us assume that we do need to take into account what we the people “want” to be true morally, and look at the question of assisted suicide through the lens of the Sluggerhand story.
Chapter ten: My Secret Life
The basic, most simple argument for assisted suicide – that is, the idea that the medical profession should be allowed to help people end their existence safely and painlessly – is that it seems cruel to force our loved ones to undergo pain that we wouldn’t inflict on our cats, dogs, even hamsters. All just because our perception of death is tied up in a lot of metaphysical ideas that are most likely not reflected by the reality of death. If you believe that your death has connotations beyond this world, of course you should be free to prolong your suffering. But by the same token, if I believe my death is a fixed, physical event which will be the irrevocable end of my person and has no metaphysical properties, other people shouldn’t be allowed to decide for me that my death is such a big deal that it is worth an unspecified amount of pain. Religious freedom gives you the right to believe what you want, yes. It does not, however, give you the right to impose your magical thinking upon other people, such as myself. (As an aside, this is why religious schools should never be acceptable in free, secular societies. Since it is hard to make religious freedom extend to children, whose parents are free to indoctrinate them, education needs to be fact-based to give kids a healthy counterpoint.) So even if we accept the argument that we should take into consideration what we want to be the case, that still wouldn’t be a strong argument against assisted suicide as my opposite view should then also be actualised.
Certainly here in northern Europe, we have plenty of people making the case that because assisted suicide could potentially be economically beneficial, it should not be considered. This is perhaps an argument that should be taken more seriously than the precious feeling of Peter Singer and religious fanatics. The argument goes that if assisted suicide were implemented, it could be seen as such a social good to lessen the costs of caring for the very ill or very old, that people would be pushed into accepting suicide by their society, or even their family. But this is the case with major life desicions anyway. The possibility of outside influence is always there. There are many medical procedures that are completely final and alter life in irreversible ways. There are many desicions you can make that impact your life and the lives of those close to you in major ways. This is not generally seen as an argument against those procedures and decisions. Just because some people want to load death with metaphysical meaning, that should not preclude people like me – who view death as a finite, physical event and potentially a desired outcome – from making an informed desicion about this, per the points above. People find ways to end their existence anyway, as we know, and that is often quite a messy affair. What if we could reform death itself, turn it from something we mindlessly try to escape into an event that we anticipate and plan ahead for based on our medical situation? Rather than it happening to us, we would actualise it and take control over it ourselves. We could prepare ourselves in the company of our loved ones, make a great big celebration of it, deal with at least some of the sadness and things unsaid before it is time. Finally, even if it would sometimes be economically beneficious to allow assisted suicide, so what? I don’t think we should take our Marxism so far that we disallow desired outcomes just because they could potentially save someone somewhere some money…
My Secret Life is folk music for psychopaths. It speaks about the feeling that life may be perfectly acceptable on its own merits, perfectly functional, and it can have reached a dead end anyway. A song for those who would like to be dead.
Chapter eleven: Nowhere Else to Go
Arch puts the finishing touches to his proposed rock opera, Sluggerhand. He wants to end it in a way that is poignant, brings the work full circle. He decides on Nowhere Else to Go, a song he wrote years previous.
This piece of epic, generation-defining soft rock may be familiar to those with experience of the struggle to break out of something and move on, knowing the expectations of those watching, not knowing if there is something worth striving for. Those who were alive during the eighties, perhaps; or those who have gotten themselves educated and ask themselves, “now what”; or those who have been here in Sweden before. The song tells us that there is meaning, after all, and that change can be achieved. But it leaves open that small caveat: that there is and needs to be an exit.
This entry has been a long time coming. It was difficult to write. It has important things to say, which need to be said, but I have fallen short of expressing them eloquently. The topics will be revisited in the future, hopefully in a more adroit way.
Sluggerhand also has two bonus tracks on Spotify, The Cross (live), and Hamburg (version). These don’t have anything to do with the rest if the album, in the proud tradition of bonus tracks. The Cross even contradicts some story elements I’ve delineated above. We don’t really need to discuss them further. Listen to them if you want.