Sat, Jul 19, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Giving society a poke in the eye

By Wu Quen-tsai 吳昆財

Four minors tried to commit collective suicide in Ilan County recently, perhaps due to relationship problems. The exact cause is still unknown, but a few points should be mentioned about such a shocking poke in the eye to society.

According to studies by sociologist Emile Durkheim, suicides can be divided into three categories: altruistic, egoistic and anomic. There are different reasons behind each type.

Egoistic suicide originates from the aloofness of society, self-esteem and passive anxiety caused by emotional frustrations and family disputes, for example. Altruistic suicide is caused by a fervent sense of responsibility and dispassionate valor. Examples include religious martyrdom and dying for one's country. Anomic suicide is caused by anger, hatred and a rejection of life. The Sept. 11 attacks in the US, for example, gave rise to a large number of anomic suicides.

However, these three types of suicide are mostly committed by adults. They rarely involve people under 16. Unfortunately, the suicide bid in Ilan County may have broken Durkheim's suicide theory. Does it mean the curse of suicide is not limited to adults?

Suicide is a strong form of anti-social behavior, and it is also contagious. One gets a glimpse of this fact from the Ilan teen suicides. They certainly obtained the suicide methods by emulation, not through personal experience or knowledge. Since suicide can be emulated, it can be contagious. We must therefore urge influential people, especially teenage idols, never to think of suicide as a personal act. Teenagers are looking at their every move.

Simply put, a reflection on the frequent suicide cases in Taiwan can begin from a respect for life -- both one's own life and the lives of others. How to respect life and how to share the joys of life is something that can be taught, from an educational, ethical, religious and social perspectives.

Wu Quen-tsai is an assistant professor at the department of history and geography at National Chiayi University.

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