Destigmatize Suicide: An abolitionist, harm reduction approach to the right to live & die
Suicide is caused by oppressive systems & also isn't a mental disorder or an immoral, irrational choice
What if we stopped walking on eggshells & spoke honestly about the pain that comes with being alive? What if we didn’t turn every struggle into a “good story” to make it palatable? Have you ever felt excruciating pain, desolation, fear or any severe suffering that made you not want to exist? Have you ever, even if for a fleeting moment, felt simply exhausted from carrying life’s insurmountable burdens that you wished you were unborn? Because, I have. In fact, it’s a constant ether I float in. It has taken me a long time to make sense of this & unabashedly accept it as my reality. I think a lot more people would be open about feeling the same way if it wasn’t a societal taboo. What if we didn’t criminalize, pathologize or demonize someone’s choice to divest from living? What if we tried to support them without judgment while building life-affirming systems of mutual aid & community care? What does it mean to take a harm reduction approach to suicide the same as we do for people who use drugs or other sources of pain relief under oppression? What does it look like for us to fight like hell for people to have the right to live & the right to die if they so choose considering all their options?
In this capitalist society, absolutely no one has the right to life unless it is ‘earned’ & the more layers of marginalization one carries like boulders on their back, the more difficult it is to access basic survival resources. At baseline, we live in a world that doesn’t value life at all unless it is a “resource” that can be exploited or extracted for profit. Capitalism & the state objectify and commodify all life forms (the entire planet). All mainstream preventative approaches to suicide virtue signal with performative “you matter” slogans & “help lines” that do nothing to address the systems of oppression that are killing people or the planet & instead enable more violence.
This piece hopes to serve as a more complex approach to suicide compared to mainstream narratives. I apply explicitly anarchist, abolitionist principles & also build upon some foundations laid by many before me on ‘suicidism’. I hope it catalyzes reflection in people such that we can normalize talking openly about wanting to die without fear of surveillance, punishment or judgment, which will finally allow us to equitably work on keeping people alive.
1. How is suicide handled in our society today?
Suicidal people suffer extensive stigma, oppression & marginalization in ways that have been largely normalized and framed as “benevolent”. All mainstream approaches deprive suicidal people of agency and autonomy by blanket categorizing them all as “mentally incapable” of making sound decisions or choices.
— The medical model frames suicide as an “individual disorder” caused by brain defects & ‘abnormalities’. Aka “Suicidal people are insane”
Psychiatry frames suicide as an individual disease that can only be cured with drugs & forced interventions. A suicidal person is automatically turned into a "patient” (with the power dynamics of modern, western, medicine at play) where they are presumed incompetent, incapable of rational or logical thought and their wishes or feelings are framed as unwanted “symptoms” that must be treated by medical professional with or without the patient’s consent.
What is suicide prevention about? Well, in even speaking openly about this, I am risking surveillance, incarceration & forced institutionalization which are the mainstream ‘solutions’ deployed to ‘prevent’ suicides. A recent Mad in America investigation revealed that US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) centers covertly trace calls, despite claiming to be confidential which often results in violent, nonconsensual, intervention with police forcing themselves into homes and workplaces leading to people being institutionalized at psychiatric facilities without their consent, stripped of any civil rights and forcefully subject to medications and ‘treatments’ that the UN has stated “May Well Amount to Torture”. Capitalist, neoliberal, states (especially U.S., Canada, European countries, Australia, NZ etc) superficially pretend to care about suicide while being the dominant authoritarian oppressive force killing people globally which should clue you into their true motivations.
All preventative approaches to suicide are aimed at getting people back to work, forcing them to return to the same status quo that was hurting them in the first place. It has made me think about why capitalism and the state care so much about FORCING people to not kill themselves using overtly violent methods (or covert, superficial, band-aids like medication to get them to conform & assimilate again) without ever having any systems to keep people alive. Capitalism & the state don’t care about us but need workers for these systems to stay alive & function. Without workers, they have no power. To this end, oppressive systems cannot push all of us to the breaking point of death so many tactics are deployed to keep us trapped in cycles of monotony where we live weekend to weekend, vacation to vacation, normalizing our exploitation & oppression. Capitalism dangles the illusion of relief in the future, tempting us to chase it while never delivering on it.
This state led approach to suicide is part of colonial, western, capitalist, mental health systems being forced onto oppressed communities everywhere, including their export to the Global South as a neocolonial tool of domination. Read more on that here:
The biopsychosocial model: I’m sure you’ve heard that capitalist medicine has tried to rebrand itself by co-opting social justice jargon to give people the illusion that social determinants of health are being addressed. In reality, this neoliberal model still focuses on pathologizing distress, categorize people arbitrarily as “insane” or “abnormal” and fails to tangibly implement any strategies to address the structural, systemic roots of suicide.
— The social model focuses on the sociopolitical causes of suicide but still stigmatizes it by framing it as an irrational choice- “Suicide is still never an option”
Suicide rates have been increasing under late-stage capitalism as ecological destruction escalates & working class people have fewer guarantees of any stability or security. Marginalized communities have the worst health outcomes & lower life expectancies independent of cause. Oppressive systems are the most dominant form of systemic trauma that impacts people’s overall health causing mental distress and physical illnesses. Black folks in the U.S. for example have higher rates of chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes due to intergenerational oppression. Similarly, oppressive systems facilitate & cause suicide. Oppressive systems are literally designed to abuse, exploit and brutalize people so this is right up in their alley.
There is no single, homogenous, “sociopolitical model” but what they get right is focus on the systemic roots of suicide & take a collectivist approach by wanting to prevent deaths by building life-affirming community-based systems of care. I believe we have to fight to abolish capitalism by any means necessary, be unified in our political struggle to build a world where life is truly valued, preserved & sustained and apply those values in our daily life to show up in our communities today as best we can. However, these approaches still never question the base assumption shaped by social norms- that someone’s decision to die is unequivocally “bad” in all scenarios.
Leftist harm reduction approaches to drug use, for example, aim to provide people with safer access to drugs without labeling people’s choice to use them as innately “wrong”. They also simultaneously work to meet people’s basic survival needs in order to improve our quality of life in the short-term (mutual aid) & long-term (abolition of capitalism & all oppressive hierarchical systems). This revolutionary, non-judgmental, compassionate approach see’s drug use as an inevitable coping mechanism for many in an oppressive society without judgment & acknowledges its complexities. The same framework is not applied to suicide, however, where regardless of the context, choosing to die a dignified death is never an acceptable option.
Note: There is an arbitrary drug hierarchy where the state labels certain drugs as “good” & others as “bad”. Historically, this hierarchy has been leveraged to brutalize oppressed communities- e.g. the War on Drugs + laws that served sentences that were 100 times worse for the same amount of possession of crack (the ‘poor Black man’s drug’) relative to cocaine (the rich white man’s drug). Of course, the law never applies to the rich because they can act with impunity & bail themselves out of anything. Today, this hierarchy is leveraged by the state & Big Pharma to peddle psychotropics into the population as “cures” to mental distress despite the lack of scientific evidence proving their efficacy while their harmful effects are concealed. Harm reduction in this case is about informed consent. People know about the effects of meth, for example, but are led to believe that stimulants, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, etc are saviors that are regularly administered as “fixes” because they help the state get many people in distress back to work at any cost.
— Many religious & cultural norms frame suicide as an immoral “sin” & a form of weakness— “Suicide is immoral”
Oppressive systems shape our cultural, social & dominant religious norms. In a society defined by hierarchies, power is leveraged over people who are coerced into obeying certain rules or religious tenets with fear mongering. Suicide is often framed as a sin, sign of innate weakness & immorality that is punishable by an eternity in hell which speaks to how oppressors deploy religious frameworks to keep people in line by inducing fear, shame, & guilt.
All mainstream, dominant approaches to suicide have these things in common:
All approaches to suicide are reductive, resorting to binaries of good/ bad & therefore fail to fully address the oppressive forces at play
Suicide is condemned, labeled as “wrong” in all contexts & an irrational answer to alleviate any suffering (i.e. suicide should never be an option)
All mainstream approaches come down to surveillance, control and prevention to ensure those identified as “suicidal” are convinced in all situations, regardless of context, to opt out
Thus, at best, sociopolitical leftist approaches to suicide often are lacking in complexity, practicality & unintentionally uphold the oppression they are fighting against.
"Sometimes I worry that's what people around me would do if I were honest with someone […] about this lack of attachment to life and the sometimes-desire to be rid of it. After they know my default state, will I be self-conscious? Will I regret it? Will they ever forget it, or will it shadow my every move and our every conversation? Will they become too aware, watch me too closely? But then I think: Isn't there middle ground between hypervigilance and complete secrecy? […] If people talked about feeling suicidal […] as much as they talked about feeling depressed or anxious, would we finally be forced to see how common it is and start creating space for these conversations? Would it be the worst thing in the world if we started talking about not wanting to be alive, and what might help keep us here?" (Borges, 2019)
2. So what are the possible outcomes or options in our society for people who want to end their life?
Given that this is the most dominant, widespread system- research has shown that when people are open about being suicidal in any capacity including helplines, other government “suicide prevention” tools, or mainstream mental health approaches like therapy, it most often leads to them being forcefully dragged away, incarcerated, medicated & held against their will, constantly policed & “watched”, fired from jobs, expelled from educational institutions, not hired for future jobs, excluded from insurance policies and deemed “incompetent” legally which means they can be stripped of any civil right. The only option left is to fully comply until we are arbitrarily deemed not a “threat to ourselves”. The state’s approach to suicide also punishes loved ones by criminalizing them for not dissuading or helping/ aiding in any way. Families also don’t get any life insurance coverage if suicide is the cause of death.
Even turning to our loved ones can be alienating, isolating & further drive shame. Since people are socialized their whole life with reductive binaries of good/ bad, the most common response we receive when we confide in people in some mix of shock, discomfort, fear, horror and pity which can lead to us being shunned because people are unable to handle complexity or address suicide outside the “let me save you” patronizing framework. People (even well-intentioned) often immediately launch into trying to “fix” us rather than listen to understand or connect with us, i.e. get a suicidal person is urged to not be suicidal when that means suicide has right away been judged as an irrational, illogical choice. It means people cannot fathom the fact that in some situations, even with community support, people may still choose to not live for a variety of reasons including they may have suffered enough under oppressive systems. It’s demeaning to have people project their fears onto you without self-reflection & do nothing more than refer you to helplines, therapy or another futile ‘band-aid’ that you may be very aware off in addition to doing everything you can to make sense of your pain & alleviate it. Approaches to suicide do not center suicidal people but are more about superficially making this issue “go away” by taking half-assed, reductive approaches that don’t question norms (as we do for other types of oppression). There are no real safe spaces for people to openly talk about suicide.
Clearly, most suicidal people suffer in silence because of how suicide is framed as an inherently “wrong”, unethical choice. It leaves suicidal people with no option in desperate situations where all they can do is remain silent, shamed into secrecy & eventually, if they so choose, end their life alone without the support of loved ones, most likely using exceedingly painful methods.
Abolition as a political strategy is not about ending oppression thinking there will be no harm or conflict that can occur in some future utopia. Abolition involves us acknowledging the complexities of communal dynamics itself including addressing the social conditions that lead to interpersonal violence (poverty/ inequity/ intergenerational trauma) & creating transformative systems that can address harm without punishment or exile. I believe that the same framework can be applied to us building systems that affirm life in the fullest, most complex sense which includes fighting like hell for people to have guaranteed access to survival resources & community care which we need to stay alive while also honoring the agency & autonomy in select situations when one might choose to die without forcing them to live against their will.
3. When is death framed as “socially acceptable”? When capitalism thinks it is.
People are often unaware that capitalism & the state define when & what forms of death are labeled as acceptable. Most people rarely question why life and death are framed as binaries of good and bad solely because we don’t definitively know what is on the other side. However, people mourn & grieve but accept certain forms of death without intervening- like the death of someone who is old, disabled by society or terminally ill. This tells us that death is more socially acceptable for people who are deemed as unproductive, useless, unsalvageable & unworthy by capitalism. If someone doesn’t fit the “ideal worker” category, then their death is normalized. However, if they are seen as worthy of salvaging (i.e. can be forced to go back to work & conform to society again), then all measures are taken to prevent them from ending their life even if these methods are violent & coercive. Many support the state killing people that it has categorized as criminals because they are also deemed “unsalvageable” under carceral systems. Many also support the death of millions when the state labels them as “enemies” or “the other” when in reality they are victims of imperialism & wars waged by the rich. People also accept death if it is due to a sudden accident or unexpected, unexplainable event where intervention isn’t possible and the person who died is perceived to have had no choice in the matter.
In conclusion, death is deemed unacceptable when someone CHOOSES to die, particularly when their choice conflicts with dominant social norms. This is an exceedingly complex scenario. Oppressive systems kill & they have a variety of ways of unleashing violence including faster deaths or long, slow, drawn-out death (e.g. incarceration or even misery under capitalism) or deaths that are now more recognized as state-sanctioned brutality (e.g. police murders of Black & Brown folks) or inflicting so much pain on someone that they choose to end their own life. We’re constantly being coerced by multiple forces of domination. It is logical that people turn to different coping mechanisms to bear these power dynamics, including suicide. This is exactly why I believe we should fight hard to support people so they may live (and no not with helplines, police & psych wards). However, we should not be naïve about the realities of life in a society where we are in the process of dismantling oppressive norms & systems while building life-affirming safety nets. We may not live to see total systemic change in our lifetime even if we hope we do & work towards it like we will. Are we willing to truly then also honor people’s right to die without forcing them to resort to severe measures if a situation calls for that? Because after providing someone with the most community care that you can, there is no justice or love in forcing someone to be alive against their will even if it is excruciatingly painful to accept their decision. You are not living their life.
4. Suicidal people are portrayed as cautionary tragedies or good stories
Despite decades of billions spent on “suicide prevention” campaigns with slogans about “breaking the silence”, suicide rates continue to increase as suicidal people continue to be silenced. Majority of testimonial perspectives on suicide come from “experts” working on it through a colonial, capitalist lens, the loved ones, or ex-suicidal people who can be portrayed as a “good story” of “overcoming” adversity that validates the mainstream narrative. There is no complexity. This is also a byproduct of a neoliberal society defined by toxic positivity & respectability politics where anything arbitrary designated “negative” is dismissed with more attention paid to superficial optics rather than substance. People who have died by ending their own life are mostly scapegoated as pitiful, inferior tragedies and used as “cautionary tales” which always demonizes their choice as irrational, incomprehensible, illogical, weak, and just plain “wrong” reducing the problem of suicide to “bad individuals”. It also reinforces the fact that living is always the “right” choice (without making anyone too uncomfortable about your reality)- even with crushing pain & suffering that is not alleviated despite you & your community’s best efforts. Suicide is ultimately framed in dominant culture as a sign of someone too weak to “fight their battles” & never a legitimate choice one should consider in response to their suffering.
Abolishing the “good/bad” binaries of suicide
There are two binaries that are leveraged to deem suicidal people as “inferior”:
The “suicidal/ non-suicidal” person binary: Like all binaries- it is an untrue, reductive social construct. When we generally categorize someone as “suicidal”, we’re referring to a subjective definition conjured by psychiatry- “Thoughts about self-harm, with deliberate consideration or planning of possible techniques of causing one's own death”. What does it mean to be suicidal really? Is it only “official” if the state has designated someone “suicidal” via a mental health professional, a cop or someone acting as a cop? Is it “real” if you’re dehumanized, incarcerated & forcefully medicated like a “suicidal person” would be? If we didn’t subscribe to the state’s definition & accepted that questioning one’s attachment to life might be a pretty common, widespread, fluid feeling- we might see that people may fear acknowledging these feelings given current societal consequences & stigma. In reality, people likely have these feelings over various time frames, in waves, in different ways. It’s complex. But the binary creates a power dynamic where “suicidal” people are framed as bad in that they are at worst, insane or at best, in dire need of saving by “non-suicidal” people & incapable of sound judgment. The savior complex is also baked into the “let me save you” hierarchical approach to advocacy which presumes that the person doing the saving knows everything & can make decisions for others by presuming supremacy. Blurring the boundaries between suicidal and non-suicidal would also dismantle these hierarchies & power dynamics.
The arbitrary judgment passed on suicide as “bad” in all contexts & an option that must be prevented at all costs. This also means the choice to live, even through insurmountable suffering is framed as unequivocally “good” & “positive”, aka glorified as “moral”. This is not only overly simplistic, it ignores our material reality. Many suicidal people will not choose differently even if they get support (especially within the framework of a society where dominant oppressive systems might remain intact in their lifetime) & in those scenarios, even if they are as rare as people would prefer believing, people deserve to still be treated with respect, love & dignity. Taking a solely preventionist approach without nuance enforces the same authoritarian logic that we’re trying to systemically dismantle.
5. An abolitionist, harm reduction focused, collectivist approach to suicide
Survival is a collective responsibility. Sustaining life requires us to address the oppressive systems that are killing us. It’s on us all to build communities that value & truly support life. To that end, “suicide prevention” isn’t helplines, cops & prisons- its systems that guarantee food, water, shelter, healthcare, community support for everyone when they enter this world. In the short-term, this looks like mutual aid efforts & solidarity building. “Suicide prevention” is an end to capitalism, the state, all oppressive systems & hierarchies. Preventing suicide requires at baseline there to be systems that honor, value & sustain ecological diversity as we facilitate people’s reconnection to their ecosystems.
Harm reduction today: What if we abolished the “normal/ abnormal” binary even when it comes to suicide? What if we didn’t force positivity onto every issue & handled all the complexities that come with us living in a society where we yet do not have universal life-affirming systems that meet our basic needs? What if we fought hard to keep each other alive with mutual aid without forcing people to live if the support they get isn’t alleviating their pain? There are no “good/ bad” binaries except the ones humans construct & project onto nature. Suicide is neither a good or bad thing & it doesn’t have to be forced into a palatable category of right or wrong. It is far more complex & should be addressed with the same complexity as we approach other forms of oppression. How can we create spaces where suicide can be spoken about without these judgments & flawed binaries? Some people, maybe even majority of suicidal people, will choose to live if they are provided with supportive resources they may have previously lacked. However, some people will inevitably still choose to die even after you fight for them. In these situations, how can we still support them with compassion & love?
People’s health & overall wellness would of course be radically different in a society that gives them the right to live. It’s not far fetched to imagine that a compassionate, equitable society would be something I was more willing to actually live in given that every day wouldn’t be a fight to survive with no guarantee of any future stability. So this is undoubtedly our aim!
A personal take on the right to live & die
I didn’t know how to talk about my own pain for so long because there are no easily accessible narratives for suicidal people that honor the intensity & deep complexity of our experiences without belittling us. I believe we should fight for all life forms to be valued & help each other survive while also affirming someone’s right to die in the right contexts. I hope that by me sharing how I’ve made sense of my pain thru a more critical lens someone else’s pain is lightened in any capacity. Many people I work with in 1 on 1 sessions & beyond are also struggling with this desolation, silenced by dominant social norms. As James Baldwin says in his speech, “The artists struggle for integrity”:
“And what is crucial here is that if it hurt you, that is not what’s important. Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less.”
Even as I write this, I’m tone policing myself in fear of backlash, surveillance, policing, unsolicited referrals to “resources” & other violent consequences that will only exacerbate my suffering. Most people write about suicide in the past tense or find ways to tone down any “scary” language. However, I’m trying to embody my political values as best possible & that includes embarking on this difficult journey to attempt to explicitly apply anarchist, abolitionist, praxis to re-framing suicide. I’m done watering down & sterilizing my pain to be more palatable & socially acceptable. I’m done being a “good story” & I laugh at the idea of “positive vibes only”.
Questioning everything I’ve been socialized to believe about life or death while trying to abandon binaries, hierarchies & oppressive norms to make sense of my desire to be unborn has given me enough hope & meaning to keep me somewhat tethered to life. Understanding my existence as part of a complex, interconnected web of relationships in my ecosystem has helped me see that I’m not alone. Most importantly, rejecting the pathologization, condemnation & demonization of suicide has helped me accept my relationship with wanting to detach from life as a constant, neutral & very logical, rational response to the oppression (past/ present) I experience at the systemic & relational level. The collective, political struggle for liberation along with the support of my loved ones has made me feel lighter & given me purpose. However, I still float in the ether of wishing I was unborn & I’m okay with that. And maybe that complexity is an affront to the state- I hope it is.
So if I crack my chest open, peel apart each rib one by one to expose my gushing wounds + my jagged, scrappy heart that’s barely able to hold itself together & scream without caring about how I’m being perceived, then maybe just maybe, it creates the space someone else needs to share their pain too. And maybe just maybe, solidarity is what will help make life more bearable & meaningful for all of us.
I also acknowledge the privilege of I may have of occasionally being perceived as somewhat “credible” when I’m polite. I just wrote an essay breaking down the ins & outs of suicide, the factors that cause it, the approaches that fail us & the ways we can do better. I’m privileged to be able to even conceptualize my pain like this & vocalize it in a manner where people find it harder to label me as an incompetent, irrational, or immoral. This is a privilege the most marginalized, oppressed folks who are suicidal do not have which is why they are regularly deprived of any agency or autonomy & dehumanized.
As Baril states in their “sucidism manifesto”:
“While it is necessary that we tirelessly tackle the sociopolitical oppressions that can create or intensify suicidal ideations, we must also acknowledge that suicidal peoples' experience of suffering is real and respect their need to end their life after careful consideration in a very supportive process of accompaniment that also offers, along the way, a wide variety of other potential solutions… Attempting to destigmatize suicide and to recognize it as one viable option among others–albeit one that requires considerable critical reflection with the support of relatives, friends, and healthcare professionals–may help a majority of suicidal people find solutions other than suicide along their exploratory journey of life and death. 34 Simultaneously, the harm-reduction approach I suggest here may allow a small number of suicidal people who are determined to die to be accompanied while preparing their death. They would have the opportunity to explore other solutions with professionals in order to determine if suicide is still, after much consideration, their preferred option, to carefully plan their death several weeks or months in advance, to say goodbye to their loved ones and to leave this world using less lonely and violent means than those usually employed in completed suicides. This would also be less traumatic for the relatives and friends, despite the mourning that accompanies all forms of death. Either way, my approach insists on building relations with suicidal people, on caring for them and supporting them throughout their journey. In some cases, the support of others can awaken in a suicidal person the will to live.”
While I partially align with Baril’s approach, I believe it doesn’t take a fully decolonized, non-individualist, bold approach to affirming that survival is a collective responsibility & doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge how capitalism/ colonialism deprive everyone of the right to live. Maybe there wasn’t enough space to address all of it? Like I said, I believe we should fight like hell to support & sustain all forms of life in our ecosystems. I absolutely believe that having open spaces to share our pain can make many of us want to live longer as we make sense of it & garner support. I also will emphasize a million times over that we should mobilize to build a world where people have the right to live, even if it doesn’t happen in our lifetime.
I honestly believe if we didn’t force binaries of good/ bad, positive/ negative onto everything, people wouldn’t numb themselves or disassociate as much in fear of addressing “bad” emotions. As I’ve worked more on understanding my childhood & the trauma oppressive systems inflict on all of us, I’ve confronted all the complex emotions that come with realizing the fact that I never consented to being born but once I was, I was immediately told that I won’t be given any resources to live unless I do xyz. Many people run from these realizations & would rather only chase “positivity” which is an elaborate illusion. If we can’t face darkness, how will be ever know what light feels like? It’s all relative. How much joy or ecstasy are people really experiencing if they’re spending most of their lives avoiding any discomfort? If I couldn’t face & handle these feelings of wanting to die then how could I really understand what we need as a collective to stay alive? If we really delve into the full fluid shit show of all our complex emotions, we’d hold onto each other & it would likely be much easier to move thru them together instead of running from our emotions in isolation. When I say we’re a collectivist species, I don’t just mean we have to feed or clothe each other, I mean we cannot handle our pain alone & our joy is only possible because it is shared.
Having said that, I’ve researched my options about where in the world it might even be possible for me to choose to exit this realm on my terms & even doing that much has made me feel lighter. I will fight like hell for us & if one day when I think I’ve given every iota of myself that I could, lived enough, survived enough adversity (not according to anyone else’s assessments but my own), bore enough pain, felt tremendous community love & assessed everything thoroughly, if I decide that I don’t want to live anymore, I’d like to have options that honor that I deserve just as much dignity, support & care in my pursuit of death as I did in my pursuit of life. We all do.
“Most people live in almost total darkness… people, millions of people whom you will never see, who don’t know you, never will know you, people who may try to kill you in the morning, live in a darkness which — if you have that funny terrible thing which every artist can recognize and no artist can define — you are responsible to those people to lighten, and it does not matter what happens to you. You are being used in the way a crab is useful, the way sand certainly has some function. It is impersonal. This force which you didn’t ask for, and this destiny which you must accept, is also your responsibility. And if you survive it, if you don’t cheat, if you don’t lie, it is not only, you know, your glory, your achievement, it is almost our only hope — because only an artist can tell, and only artists have told since we have heard of man, what it is like for anyone who gets to this planet to survive it. What it is like to die, or to have somebody die; what it is like to be glad… The trouble is that although the artist can do it, the price that he has to pay himself and that you, the audience, must also pay, is a willingness to give up everything, to realize that although you spent twenty-seven years acquiring this house, this furniture, this position, although you spent forty years raising this child, these children, nothing, none of it belongs to you. You can only have it by letting it go. You can only take if you are prepared to give, and giving is not an investment. It is not a day at the bargain counter. It is a total risk of everything, of you and who you think you are, who you think you’d like to be, where you think you’d like to go — everything, and this forever, forever.” (James Baldwin)
Disclaimers: I don’t cover every nuance of this complex issue here & did not attempt to reduce & encapsulate a diversity of perspectives in my piece. This piece also does not aim to offer a list of solutions. It is more so meant to serve as a critical framework for us to think about the pain of existing & build together in more compassionate ways that don’t uphold oppressive norms. I also emphasize that there is no society under capitalism & the state where we have the right to live- and thus all harm reduction approaches I describe should be rooted in community. Only we keep each other safe.
Phew, ok, for the few souls that made it this far — thank you.
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