(Part One: Music)
It needn’t be a large controversy that existentialism in general is largely a bourgeois phenomenon. From Heidegger to Sartre (perhaps problemtizing some of his later works), there exists this large trend of moralism which, despite the supposed emphasis on surmounting societal chains, shuns the ultimate in self-determination: suicide. This post, however, is not about the classical philosophers themselves, rather, how the theory which they have peddled has finally made its way into a full-fledged “under-ideology” (or, said another way, a ideological current which defines a part of society but in a subdued manner which the followers themselves are not aware of). As such, this post is focused on contemporary Western culture and how the capitalist mode of production fuses with reactionary moralism to negate actual-revolutionary-existentialism.
Existentialist titans Sartre and Camus both were vehemently against suicide. Each considered it as anathema to actual living, a retreat by which the true life was forfeited in exchange for permanent satisfaction. Outside of the religious inspired anti-existentialism of Mill, Kant, and Chesterton, this brand of bourgeois existentialism, that a person can overcome their hardships, is the most prevalent in contemporary society. Accordingly this is why you see phrases such as “suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.” Thinking such as this stresses the moral position of a specific situation: e.g., a person may be going through a hard spell due to a crises, but is suicide really the only way out? If this action was universalized, if suicide was the commonly accepted escape method for people the world over, then what would become of the world? The answer is something else than desirable; suffice to say people as people would cease to be autonomous and would exist merely as a means to an end. Of course, to any bourgeois, or pre-bourgeois thinker, this is unacceptable as the twin pillars of capitalism and religion demand something more of humanity, that humans exist either to worship or produce surplus-value; anything to the contrary negates this all-might mandate and accordingly is dismissed. The trappings and theory merely serve to camouflage, poorly, the real intent: that the higher classes, the capitalist and clergy, depend on the worker to make their life palatable.
For these reasons Hume and Locke argue that it is natural that men should desire life; presupposing material and emotional and mental anguish, it is but the natural state which propels people to enjoy life to its fullest. Obviously from a Marxist position this stance has severe limitations. Aside from being filled with moralist augmentations have no basis in reality (God and natural providence being the strongest features of the position), these positions are counterrevolutionary: they exchange concrete social-materialism in exchange for destructive idealism; the pursuit to ensure a means of mass-survival, in a situation which warrants no such conduct, guarantees that individuals who wish to end their suffering are targeted as part of a witch hunt.
During the modern millennium this witch-hunt takes the shape of media. Media which modulates mass perception and the attitude of the person who encounters the (suicidal) individuals who push against the conformist sway. I will best illustrate this point by demonstrating how such ideology manifests in the popular culture. Seeing as how such media has been shaped by the ideology-previously-described, I will illustrate how the reactionary palimpsest has engaged the bourgeois superstructure to create a self-absorbed construct capable of voiding even a revolutionary’s consciousness.
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Pay attention to the lyrics: “Send it in a letter, make yourself feel better.” This line is the epitome of selfishness. Provided, the entire song is reminiscent of a greedy “I” centered mentality; nearly the whole edifice of the song is spent mourning over the passing of a beloved paramour; so while we may sympathize with the speaker over their loss and subsequent loneliness, we must oppose their ultra-individualism, their absurd whining over how they feel when their partner, the one who committed suicide, was obviously feeling such profound thoughts of depressing that they elected to take their own lives and become at peace. The ignoring of the “other’s” personage, however, is a hallmark of the bourgeois existentialist position as this stance is centered purely in the Objectivist sphere of “fuck everyone else” (even if a faction of Objectvists deplore the concept of suicide as counterproductive to capital accumulation). The goal here is to circumvent the other, which ironically, negates the other, and establish them as something external to you (“I”‘s) happiness. This hereby brings the entire project back to the Individualist centered praxis.
“There’s a devil in the church and this is going to hurt” & “A self-inflicted murder… you say it’s all a crisis… that is’s all a blur.”
What do these lyrics evoke? (1) Religious delusion (2) Theist morality, and (3) disregarding of the Other’s existential situation. All parts considered it is but a continuation of the previous section’s morality albeit in a new genre: hard rock, signifying that alternative rock does not stranglehold counterproductive metaphysics; that anti-existential self-determination is an enemy of multiply genres. The second quotation has profound impact on the lyrical meaning: here, though the genre is hard-rock, a kind of Christian morality has infected the song which leads the writers to proclaim that suicide is tantamount to murder, that penultimate sin. Additionally we see in this song promotes a negation of the Other in the form, which is common in anti-suicide songs, of the suicidal person being unreasonable, being mentally distraught, unable to make rational decisions, and simply being melodramatic; this sort of commentary adds to the reactionary social-commentary by reinforcing bourgeois notions of superiority, of one class of persons capable of articulating more than another and so able to shoulder the responsibility, not unlike that of “the White Man’s Burden”, of bettering their lesser man. And so the interpenetration is prominent on a level which transcends mere musical preference when combined with the god delusion.
“I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend. You could cut ties with all the lies you’ve been living in; and if you do not want to see me again I would understand” & “The angry boy a bit too insane icing over a secret pain, you know you don’t belong.”
Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper” is a anti-suicide track that while more sympathetic to the suicidal person, still treats them like a wounded child (as the constant references to youth indicate). References to a troubled childhood display a attitude towards suicide which is something more than merely a overly dramatic person making an irrational decision; it shows a understanding of interpersonal relations which goes beyond mere allusions. Even so, however, the content of the track still remains firmly in the bourgeois camp- “Jumper” retains the stereotypical “mentally ill underling needing to be saved by a superior mentor” of the preceding track while advancing a social dynamic that attempts reconciliation after the suicide attempt has been dealt with (aka- the lyrics pertaining to “not wishing to see me again”), a fusion of holier-than-thou sentiment validated by a seeming understanding of how a existentially determined person reasons.
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Regarding musical musing on how bourgeois existentialism manifests in music, we have reached the end of our lecture. While only a small sliver of what it is possible to critique has been explored I hope to have at least opened some tiny avenues of interpretation and reasoning as far as the unjustified, reactionary reasoning for many of these opinions rest upon. There will be other entries in this mini-series of posts, entries which deal with other societal segments. Until then please feel free to comment and submit your own theoretical pieces regarding suicide and contribute to a important field countering a growing field of revisionist thought.