If you believed the story about Lemmings throwing themselves from cliffs, as I did, for decades, what else are you so sure of that just ain’t so?
Turns out it was a lie. Lemmings do not throw themselves from clifftops. Apparently the whole thing was invented by Walt Disney who wanted to sex up a documentary he made in 1958 called, ‘White Wilderness.” According to Canadian Wildlife and Fisheries the sets were fake, the Lemmings had to be bussed in from Manitoba where they were herded about and finally thrown, manually, into the sea. All in aid of Walt’s ‘True life adventure’ series…..
”The lemmings supposedly committing mass suicide by leaping into the ocean were actually thrown off a cliff by the Disney filmmakers.” R. Woodford.
Meantime the narrator Winston Hibbler trills,
“A kind of compulsion seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each falls into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny.”
The lie is as obsessively strange as the story.
The fantasy is more curious and interesting than the motive for deception.
Perhaps it says more about Disney and the culture he was helping to mould than he might have wished. It is the Disney generation, after all, that have a taste for marching off cliffs like never before, not the sensible and much maligned Lemming.
Beachy Head is a favourite clifftop for Britons to kill themselves. It even has a beer named after it, ‘Beachy Head’s Christmas Jumper, critisised by families of the deceased as ‘insensitive’. The clifftop is patrolled by chaplains who are about to be de-funded despite awards from the Queen. A gift shop in town sells sombre writing pads of just a few leaves and disposable pens with black ink.
No, that last bits not true, about the shop.
After several tours of combat duty what began to weigh upon me most heavily was not the horror of war, nor what I had done, or seen, or had levelled at me. It was how easy it had been to persuade me to march from the cliff top even without any great desperation to die or madly scribbled goodbyes.
Do we have a ‘death instinct’ as a species, or is there something peculiar about a culture that immolates itself on a steady basis? Recently released statistics of US service suicides show that troops are actually killing themselves at a higher rate than are killed by Isis, though the figures seem to be consistent with a shocking three-fold increase in US civilian suicides since 2000.
What is going on?
You might be tempted, along with Walt’s phoney commentator, to postulate that sudden increases in suicides were about overpopulation or some dire tragedy unfolding so desperate we’d die to avoid it, but the evidence points to the contrary. Countries with the lowest GPU and the toughest lives are also the least at risk from suicide. Psychoanalyst and Auchwitz survivor Bruno Bettleheim made the observation of physical and mental extremis that …
‘Despite the inhuman deprivation in the camps there was scarcely ever a suicide.’ B. Bettleheim.
Others are of the opinion that suicide is an act of revenge.
”It is always consoling to think of suicide. In that way one gets through many a bad night.” F. Nietzsche.
though in all fairness Fredrick, a dose of tertiary syphilis combined with the terminal mercury poisoning used to treat the 19th C pecker would wear down anyone’s will to live.
There is a fantastic movie called, ‘Drowning by Numbers,’ a macabre look at the vast grey area between murdering yourself and murdering others. It puts an astute line into the mouth of Smut, an adolescent boy in a family of killers and sycophants who finally hangs himself with a skipping rope,
”to punish all those who have caused great unhappiness by their selfish actions.” Smut
all of which would seem to bear out the anonymous saying..
‘when you commit suicide you are killing the wrong person.’
‘Retroflected’ rage is rage turned back upon oneself, but with the intent to castigate those left behind. I’ve known several people to be saved from suicide by realising how much they wanted to (justifiably) kill their nearest and dearest.
The wish to kill oneself is what Marion Woodman would call, ‘concretisation’, doing on the outside what needs to happen on the inside, doing in the flesh what needs to happen in the psyche, making a symbolic equation between matter and identity. We mistake the pointing finger for the moon and believe it is ourselves that have to die rather than our situation, our self-construct, or a belief system that no longer serves.
”Without dying to the world of the old order, there is no place for renewal, because it is illusory to hope that growth is but an additive process requiring neither sacrifice nor death. The soul favors the death experience to usher in change. Veiwed this way, the suicidal impulse is a transformative drive..” James Hillman.
There’s an old buddhist saying,..
”if you are going to kill yourself be careful not to harm your body.” anon.
The dying has to happen, by itself, from within. This is trixy for anyone with humungous control issues. In fact, you could say that suicide was a way of trying to cheat death itself by taking on the job ahead of time, when what life you have, when death itself, cannot be something to look forward to as meaningful experience. Suicide is a logical choice of any life lived purely for its own ends and for whom there is no mystery.
On page one of a Google search on the subject you will find www.findangel.org/ whose banner runs..
‘Do not try to predict the future,’
It’s an insightful warning to those in their legion whose narcissistic control issues are so enfragiled that they have to know what’s happening next all the time, even to the point of orchestrating their own demise.
‘Live as though you had centuries, then you live hopefully.’ C. G.Jung
We all intuit that there is more to this life than meets the eye, some mystery that the mind cannot fathom, some sense of self that lies outside time and space, unconstrained by the clay of mortal frailty. We have a longing to be aquainted with this realm and can be tempted to hurry the process for want of being fed in ‘this’ world, forgetting that anything existing outside time and space is, by definition, already here….
The longing to escape is the longing to find meaning irrespective of one’s circumstance and station, meaning which the ego realises it cannot provide for itself, in which it is defeated, but of which it can avail itself by turning, finally, to its own deep roots.
You are the tree not the leaf.
There is an apocryphal story of a Rabbi and his group picked out for torture before death in the Nazi camps. They finally had to dig the pit of their own mass grave. They were stripped and thrown in. Soldiers stepped forward cocking automatic Shmeisers.
‘Well’, said the captain, what have you to say now Rabbi?
The Rabbi replied, ‘ We have one another down here, I am in the bossom of my People and already in the arms of Eternal Life. What about you?’
this article is adapted from my book on self-destructiveness, ‘Going Mad to Stay Sane.’ http://andywhiteblog.com/2016/06/11/going-mad-to-stay-sane-2/