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The way Henry Rollins approached the death of Robin Williams has surprised Lachlan R Dale – read why he thinks it is weak, fallacious and offensive.
I have no interest in raising Robin Williams’ passing once more, but Henry Rollins’ recent opinion piece in LA Weekly touched a nerve.
I recommend taking a minute to read his piece in full, but essentially Rollins argues that the choice to take your own life is never morally justifiable.
Rollins rejects that suicide can mean the tragic loss of an individual –
(because) Their life wasn’t cut short — it was purposely abandoned. It’s hard to feel bad when the person did what they wanted to.
He admits that he regards artists and celebrities with “a bit of disdain.” He cannot either get over the selfish nature of the act of suicide, nor can he stop thinking of Williams’ children, arguing that he should have continued living for them.
His lack of empathy for those lost to suicide doesn’t end there, stating:
Almost 40,000 people a year kill themselves in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my opinion, that is 40,000 people who blew it.
He closes with:
Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it.
Henry Rollins is usually quite an intelligent and articulate individual, so I am a little disappointed at his lack of reflection on the issue. Rollins reiterates the simple delusion that all humans are completely free agents blessed with bottomless willpower and personal agency.
This is obviously not reality: while we have some personal agency (maybe), we are GREATLY constrained within certain parameters, and those parameters change from person to person. An individual who ends his life in the midst of intense mental suffering is a prime example: How “free” are they to continue living in unbearable pain? How “free” is their “choice” between continuing to live in unending agony and ending their suffering?
Weaker still is Rollins’ demand that Williams should have continued living for his children. Implicit in this position is the idea that they would be “better off” if he was still alive.
This argument is weak, fallacious and offensive.
Let me erode it further with a very simple hypothetical.
We know Williams was being treated for Parkinson’s Disease, which is one of the more horrific degenerative neurological disorders. It inflicts immeasurable suffering, not only on the individual but also their friends and family.
So, consider this: What if Williams did continue living, and the combination of his severe depression and his degenerative disease DEEPLY damaged his children (and many of his friends and family)?
That is not an unlikely scenario. Diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer are incredibly cruel in the way they slowly destroy the essence of a human being. In such situations it is not an obvious moral choice to continue living.
This hypothetical exposes Rollins’ argument for what it is: shallow, misguided and driven more by emotion than logic.
I don’t want to blame him for it. I admit these are difficult realities to face – but his comments are damaging.
I would love for society to have a more intelligent discussion around the morality of suicide and euthanasia, but death seems to terrify us too much for that to be possible. Instead we hysterically cling to life and denounce those who leave us “before their time” as immoral or selfish.
The fragility of those arguments should be clear.