Nicholas Poussin, Pyramus and Thisbe
The New York Times yesterday reported on an alarming rise in the suicide rate in the USA. Suicide now accounts for more deaths per year than car crashes for the first time. The sharpest increase was among men in their 50s. Usually adolescents and the elderly have the highest suicide rates, but now people in middle age are fast becoming the group most prone to suicide. Since suicides are usually under-reported, the actual rate may be much higher.
No one seems to know exactly why this is. I would imagine that the continuing high unemployment rate, declining wages, increasing work loads, huge debt burdens, the isolation so many people feel, a brutal commercial culture, the relentlessly cold and impersonal quality of modern life, all of those things contribute to the despair some people feel.
Perhaps the actuarial ways of measuring and thinking about life that dominate our age are doing us no favors. Maybe cost/benefit is not the most truthful or meaningful way of discerning well-being after all.
In Shakespeare's King Lear, all is lost and Edgar and Gloucester must flee:
EDGAR: Away old man! Give me thy hand! Away!
King Lear hath lost, he and his daughter ta'en. Give me thy hand. Come on.
GLOUCESTER: No further sir. A man may rot even here.
EDGAR: What, in ill thoughts again?
Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither.
Ripeness is all. Come on.
GLOUCESTER: And that's true too.