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The Logic/Illogic of Opting Out
Metaphysicists, in general, seem to have to believe that Life Has a Higher Purpose.
That is, the human race (if not the rest of the flora and fauna) is here for some supernatural reason, usually having to do with the worship of a god or gods and tied into some promise of eternal life.
It's all part of the process of making oneself feel important and significant within the universe. If they didn't feel that way, a lot of people simply wouldn't bother to go on living.
Life in the United States, at the beginning of the (metaphysically ordained) 21st Century is good enough for most people - except those most clinically depressed - to forestall suicide. In a lot of the rest of the world the only thing keeping people from hopping off the nearest cliff is a superstitious fear of what it might be like on the "other side."
Hamlet, contemplating a plunge off the ramparts of Ellsinore, speaks longingly of a peaceful "sleep" -- then recoils with, "perchance to dream!" and the unknown horrors of that dream keep him on the stage a while longer.
The Rational Religionist knows that life is precious because it is all we have. From conception to death; that is the span of it.
Anything else is wildest speculation (albeit made superficially respectable by millennia of wishful thinking) so we had better make the best of it.
As the product of over 3 billion years of surviving cells, evidently programmed so strongly to survive that they often do so in the face of logic and tremendous odds, probably no living thing is "naturally" given to suicide.
(Dying for a purpose is different. Apoptosis, or the programmed death of certain cells, seems always to be part of the larger process of growth and survival of the whole organism, leading it towards the age of reproduction. Individual social insects, sacrificing themselves routinely in the service of their colony, probably cannot be considered individuals at all. Humans and other mammals, rushing to defend or rescue others -- sometimes of other species -- may be considered heroic if they had time to "think about it." Otherwise it's probably just a reflex.)
The myth of the lemmings in Northern Europe is just that; a myth. Lemmings reproduce like the small rodents they are until they overrun their range. Crowding or sheer hunger puts them on the move looking for food and lebensraum. A lot of migrating small rodents are going to die in the process of negotiating difficult and unfamiliar territory. Human beings, with our penchant for jumping to conclusions, interpret this as mass suicide, when it is really exactly the opposite; a frantic - if misguided and inefficient - effort to keep on living. (Recent research indicates that most of them die of disease, anyway.)
We humans, with our "natural" proclivities complicated by our sentience, occasionally do commit suicide. Most often this can correctly be defined as an aberration; the result of some such mental illness as depression or delusion.
Looked at from a larger perspective, things are seldom quite as bad as they seem to the depressed consciousness. And there wasn't any space ship hiding in the tail of that comet. (1/98)