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Can We Fight NSA Surveillance By Honoring Suicide?

When I first came upon the Day We Fight Back web site, I wondered why hadn’t heard about the idea before. A national day of activism to oppose Big Brother sounds like just the sort of thing people would want to talk about, right?

The Day We Fight Back is February 11 – this coming Tuesday. That’s really soon.

When I looked again at the site this morning, and read the press release announcing The Day We Fight Back, I found one reason the protest event is having trouble gaining steam. The day of activism, it turns out, is being held by a coalition of activist groups… in order to honor one their former leaders who killed himself.

The idea of honoring a person who committed suicide, rather than continuing a life of activism, casts a strange tone over the entire event. How are we supposed to promote the event? How can I write an article urging people to show up and get involved in an event that honors somebody who decided not to be involved any more?

Death is as far from activism as a person can get. One of the organizers of The Day We Fight Back writes that “If ____ were alive he’d be on the front lines, fighting back against these practices that undermine our ability to engage with each other as genuinely free human beings.” Of course, the activist in question is not alive, because he chose not to be, which means he chose not to be on the front lines, and chose to stop fighting back.

I don’t know the details of the suicide of this activist. For all I know, he might have killed himself after receiving a diagnosis of brain cancer, or something like that. I could understand a suicide under such circumstances.

The Day We Fight Back isn’t sharing those details, though, and so we’re just left to wonder, and to feel mighty uncomfortable about the ambiguity. How can we celebrate the life of someone who chose suicide, when we don’t even know why that person chose death over life?

I don’t mean to cause offense to friends of the suicidal activist, but the people who created The Day We Fight Back haven’t just called attention to their friend who killed himself, they’re calling for us all to pay attention to their friend’s suicide… and celebrate it.


nsa suicide

7 thoughts on “Can We Fight NSA Surveillance By Honoring Suicide?”

  1. Bill says:

    OMG, Peregrin. I am very rarely truly repelled by an IT article, but this one nearly had me looking for a bucket to puke in. Discussing in such a creepy fashion someone’s suicide is just putrid. We don’t get to question someone’s right to live, so we don’t get to question their right to die. You talk about how he “chose” suicide. You don’t know that. Life-threatening depression is a disease, not a choice. Suicide in the face of chronic incurable pain may be a rational choice. We don’t know the details here, so your insensitivity here is shocking.

    I would be happy to see you read up on depression and suicide, and then maybe apologize. Reading this article reminded me of antediluvian arguments that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice.

    1. J Clifford says:

      Bill, if you’re offended at Peregrin’s article, why aren’t you offended at the way The Day We Fight Back is exploiting a person’s suicide in order to gain publicity?

      That’s what the article is about, isn’t it?

      But then, you know, once a person commits suicide, they lose control over the use of their name, don’t they?

      1. Bill says:

        J, I am indeed offended by the way The Day We Fight Back is working. But that’s a transient offense over a news item. I have a life-long offense over society’s nearly universal notion that committing suicide is unarguably ‘bad’ and the people who commit it are, too. I see a real (and deeply offensive) parallel between that and ‘pro-life’ belief. For me, both come down to “keep your personal beliefs off my body.” In many jurisdictions, attempting to commit suicide is actually against the law, and in pretty much every jurisdiction it will get you involuntarily committed, so in this sense at least the anti-suicide wing of pro-lifism is much more abusive and intolerant than is the anti-abortion wing of pro-life. So that’s why I complained about the one, but not the other; I see the two offenses as being of different scales.

        1. J Clifford says:

          Something that bothers me about the culture of suicide is the way that suicide is celebrated, glamorized, like with that terrible “starry, starry night” song from the 1970s about Vincent Van Gogh. He was a great artist, but his death was just messed up.

          I agree that suicide should be legal. However, I am deeply disturbed by the lack of reflection among the suicide celebrators about the devastation that suicide creates for those who are left behind. They are the true suicide victims, and their suffering goes on an on, because most of them don’t check out. Many of them can’t – because they’re left with sole responsibility over matters, such as children, that they once shared with those who ended their lives. I don’t see enough being done to support them.

          1. Bill says:

            I hear you (although I’ve never met either a “suicide celebrator” or an abortion celebrator…sure, you can find a few loud whackos on the web, but that’s always the case). Humans have, I think, a hard-wired revulsion toward suicide, probably because of the mess it leaves behind (as well as its distinctly unfavorable Darwinian implications). Then again, some might say that humans have a hard-wired revulsion toward abortion, for the same reasons. So, the objection that “my revulsion is hard-wired and biologically based!” isn’t, of course, much of an argument. I hate to sound like a moral relativist…but I guess I am one: like everything else, suicide can be good, bad, or indifferent, depending upon the situation. I think it is at least worth critically examining our attitude toward it…and never, ever, ever disparaging the memory of one who chooses that route for reasons the rest of us can never fully understand.

          2. J Clifford says:

            Here’s where you and I differ, Bill. I don’t think that we can critically examine out attitudes toward suicide while holding it sacrosanct. But, I think I understand where you’re coming from.

            Hard-wiring isn’t a good excuse for any social policy.

  2. henry gibson says:

    “…But then, you know, once a person commits suicide, they lose control over the use of their name, don’t they?…”

    They do, of course, but that does not necessarily mean that their surviving parties do. In Georgia, for instance, courts have ruled that a libel or slander action against one’s name can be continued by the survivors. So, some control over their name can remain by folks who supposedly have an interest in preserving the memory of a person’s reputation intact.

    Side note: I disagree with the article in the statement where “…Death is as far from activism as a person can get….” A person who decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and martyr themselves for a cause often manage to bring much more publicity to the subject than they were able to do during their human lifespan. There are many examples of this, as I ‘m sure you have observed.

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