Humans are the Only Animals who Crave Oblivion Through Suicide

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In this piece for Aeon, Nicholas Humphrey explores why humans are the only animals that experience suicidality as well as the impact of suicide on evolution.

“From the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, altruistic suicide on behalf of others might possibly be genetically advantageous. But egoistic suicide, simply to stop the self from hurting, could only be severely disadvantageous. Many of those who do it are young. It’s now the second most common cause of death in teenagers. If these young people had not died by their own hand, they would likely have got over the hurt and gone on to make a success of their lives. At a stroke, they have ruined their own biological fitness and that of related individuals too. At the level of biology, egoistic suicide is clearly a mistake, a sure path to genetic extinction. But it is precisely because humans, alone among animals, rise above biology that they can make this mistake. Humans have reason to believe that by killing themselves they can escape from pain. Thus, suicide might seem a rational solution to an immediate problem. Self-killing may be undertaken as self-euthanasia.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Though it is a point, it compares apple and oranges. The current state of societies has never been known to humans before so we can’t measure it by historical markers. If we did we could draw general conclusions that we have increasingly become less family/extended family oriented, that the increase in environmental toxicity in the last 150 years is profound, the human tribe has become dependent on a few to sustain their basic needs (the wage slave -vs- the family farm), that corporate greed has replaced the need for thriving people, etc. Certainly we change the genetic long shots by losing so many people, but we have induced that by administering toxic medications to all ages of people and calling it “normal”. The outcome is the same and possibly worse. I think we need to be more concerned about taking action than placing the current situation in it’s proper historical human context. Maybe the time to do this will be after effective changes have been made to reduce the incidence. It’s hard for people to value themselves in societies where there are viewed as nothing more than a commodity.