part three of a series of posts exploring the phenomena of murder-suicide in the shadow of Andreas Lubitz.
part one; part two. Content warnings follow for discussion of suicide, murder, sexual abuse and male violence.
the sadness of men
Andreas Lubitz crashed an aircraft into a mountainside. Everything in the case is picked apart, the search team sweeping through the psychic debris scattered across an inexplicable landscape. Everything is tirelessly rehearsed. What diagnosis did he have? Could he have been a psychopath? Might he have been an evil monstrosity? Psychiatric contaminants all over him, of course he was a madman! After all, too kill oneself is to refuse the logic of life, to no longer march to the optimistic rhythms of affirmation, currently bolstered and intensified by a capitalist ethos of compulsory positive affect, is obvious to be insane.
The newspapers know and they have chewed it all over, looked it all square in the factual eyes, and set down the record from the black box voice to the psychiatric files and work histories to the ex-girlfriends and their half-baked stories. Look how it all plugs in too; already the proliferation of discursive connections being forged into new enunciative openings- should pilots have less privacy? Lubitz the harbinger of danger. Once you worried about aircrashes, hijackings, jihadi suicide missions, and now it is the pilots who are insane, mad men who long for the brooding dangers of the art of cloud sculpting. And airlines, scared of their new found suicidal maniacs at 30,000 feet, their smooth voiced sky-captains who once signified the Eros of leaving terrestrial imprisonment but who now seem like unhinged monsters in tarnished epaulettes, these airlines are urging those captains to marry. We know Lubitz crash that plane after he broke up with his girlfriend.
Being alone is a bad thing. Suicidologists have said it for a long time. We know it. Lubitz was unmarried and being an unmarried man of a certain age means you’re much more likely to do this kind of thing. This smashing into the side of a mountain at thousands of kilometers per hour kind of thing. This take a screaming mass of people with you kind of thing. Being married, it makes you less lonely. Here is the traditional response to depression and to the act of suicide, the immunological response, the histamine response: the couple-form and the family will save society.
Even Franco Berardi in his own analysis of suicide wants to tell us that suicide is a mental illness, or that it is at least the result of a mental illness, and of course it can be but must we follow the tired path of psychiatrist’s as we deploy the psychiatric language? To speak in the language of psychopathology, of lunatic desires, is not to speak as if one were looking for cures. We used to want to turn our illnesses into weapons and to push forward into great waves of elective insanities, or at least to depathologise our sicknesses as we politicised them. Today leading left pessimists can simply say that suicide is a sickness and so denounce it, rendering it a diagnostic indicator of the horror of this life whilst refusing to admit it might indicate something about life as such, or to speak of suicide as even possibly being a noble death, a voluntarism we might believe in.
In Bifo’s book we have a parade of killers who chose to end their own lives. We get all the recent big names. We get those fascinating psychopaths he correctly speaks of as indicative of our “dysempathic” culture and, on the other side of these men, because they are all men, he places the vanishing mother. This is the mother of attachment theory. It is the mother who teaches the child language and the affective sense rather than only the “operational” pragmatics of words. It is the mother who the child becomes able to carry empathy through and thus become properly part of the human race. It’s a weird 1950s psychoanalytic version of the mother who, in her displacement by digital and visual media technologies, recalls or indeed fully resurrects the ludicrous idea of the schizophrenogrenic mother tauted by analysts like Fromm-Reichman.
It’s not so much that Bifo is wrong it is just that he makes a dangerous backwards step, especially given the disaster of the refrigerator mother hypothesis who is here, what?, the automated “mother”? It isn’t that Bifo is wrong exactly as there is evidence to back up his claim even if he prefers to leave it unexplored. It is more that his characterisation of murder-suicide falls under the ambit of a gendered schema in which all killers and suicides are men, all women are mothers, and all primary care givers are women. In this Bifo is entirely in line with the contemporary suicidological finds that the majority of suicides are carried out by men, and that the majority of these rare instances of murder-suicides-there no more elegant name?- are carried out by men, even if he also corresponds with contemporary essentialising epistemologies of care and empathy.
Circle back. Pause. Go back to the start. Hold this circling pattern before coming in for runaway conclusions. Andreas Lubitz crashed a plane into a mountain. We seem to know everything, to have said everything, except to say anything about these facts. Brute, senseless and mute, we make facts and data stand up and walk around dressed up as arguments so we can settle our nerves. So let’s unsettle ourselves to settle ourselves down once again. I want to pick up the thread of this gendering of suicide in what follows.
society has killed men. Suicidology is the subcategory of thanatology that deals specifically with the sociological study of suicide. I was never meant to live in this era anyway. After training as a psychiatric nurse I thought about pursuing something along those lines, an academic career in the study of death, maybe even suicidality specifically. Follow your dreams and think for yourselves. But suicidology, like all sociology, is too cold for me, too remote, too distant from the misery of everyday life and the cruel miracle of the human capacity to endure it. keep alpha male shit alive. The study of society, the study of what keeps us alive, isn’t enough for me. My own way of coping is to get down in it with the despairing. To have solidarity with the dead, the dying, and the Void. may my strength be with you. I wanted to turn myself into the object, to fall into their world, to never look away from the suffering that tears and shakes the unseen edges of our comfortable worlds. society has killed men. And in it is men, by and large, who go that final step towards dying by their own hand and taking other with them. This is the lesson of suicidology, and of the lines from War Machine’s suicide note that are interspersed through this passage.
War Machine, the name the very apotheosis of a kind of pathetic masculinity, attempted to kill himself after being arrested for a vicious sexual assault on his partner. If War Machine’s Men’s Rights Activism rhetoric is in any way true, if society has killed men, it is also true that men, by and large, have tended to be the ones killing their social neighbours. And as the suicidologists repeat they tend to do so by much more violent and spectacular methods than their female counterparts, even though it is women who try to die much more often. Male violence. Masculine violence. Men killing themselves and bringing everyone else with them because how intolerable it is to die alone. how horrible to truly achieve some strange autonomy. Bifo’s book on such men is entitled Heroes, and we can see what kind of heroism it is.Andreas Lubitz crashed an airplane into a mountain.
That men die by their own hands more violently than women is as uncontroversial a statement as we’re likely to get from suicidologists or the WHO. It seem so well established and so readily explained by a “crisis in masculinity” that the Campaign Against Living Miserably has been set up to respond to the male suicide problem. Some feminists, many of them cis-men themselves, and philosophical pessimists might say the problem is that not enough men are choosing to relinquish their hold over the earth and society. Let’s not dwell on that at the moment. Let’s move on and ask, as we’re bound to ask, why it is that men choose such violent methods?
One answer might be that the crisis of masculinity has produced a male body riven by contortions and paroxysmal agonies. Men, faced with their increasing social and reproductive irrelevance, and their technological displacement by trans-men, have imploded into a suicidogenic spiral of despair, self-loathing and hatred that enacts a very psychoanalytic kind of suicide: the suicide that is the murder of the hated other that one contains within one’s own interiority. I don’t want to dismiss the idea of a suicide driven by self-hate but I think in this context we would be hard pushed to sell it.
Does masculinity really have an interiority? Is it really in crisis at all? I would suggest that it is more than coincidence that the so-called crisis in masculinity has arrived at the same time that capitalism has run out of shit to sell women and requires a new market, and at the same time when the very technological advances that have enslaved women to biological reproduction might allow us to rethink the entire species survival game. It’s been decades since Sartre declared man a useless passion. It’s nothing new. And besides, if all cis-men are being gendered, sexed and sexuated according to a logic of self-hate we aren’t seeing a diminishing of patriarchal social relations.
It all stinks of a little too much historical metaphysics, a little neat and tidy periodisation, a linear unfolding that historians of the future, if there is such a future and if this civilisation is deemed worth remembering, will talk about as The Age of Man giving way to the Transhumanist Postgendered World. I admit I could be wrong. There are those for whom body modification of the slightest form is terrifying. The virulence of technoscientific devaluation of even these simplest and most basic of values must pose an existential threat to those men, and those structures that prefer male power, who haven’t realised they were always pointless from the perspective of the cosmos. But like I said…this is all a bit speculative, verging on the weirder fringes of thinking where suicide joins up with technologically assisted extinction. I’ll keep my palliative pessimism out of it for now.
Men, cis-men, it is argued, are intrinsically more violent. The “Male Warrior” evolutionary psychological account of why men are so violent by focussing in on the way the fact that the brain has evolved not as a singular or modular unity but as a multiplicity of accidental and experimental pragmatic kluges that have been and remain effective at solving certain environmental problems. In the Male Warrior story the specific problems we have in sight are those of intra-group and inter-group living in periods of evolutionary history marked by competition, high risk social exchange, and periods of relative scarcity. According to the Social Brain Hypothesis
the need to form ever larger coalitions [to secure mates, food, territory and other resources] spurred the increase in human social network size and led to a concomitant brain size in order to hold these networks together and deal effectively with an intensified competition for resources…our social brain is therefore essentially a tribal brain [here].
Flowing from this is the idea that the human organism sets itself up with these group alliances in order to form coalitions against death that necessarily acts with at least suspicion, if not out right hostility, towards people who fall outwith the group. This is to repeat, to naturalize even, the fundamental decision that is central to so much political theory in recent decades between the friend and the enemy. These are shadings and “layers” to this picture of intergroup interactions that add some more depth and make space for the way in which intergroup negotiations, assimilations or organising for mutual aid can take place as much as racism, xenophobia and other constitutive-exclusionary mechanisms take place. There will however be occasions where these coalitions come up against rival coalitions, or irrational sets such as “people who live on that side of the river”, and conflict will arise between them. Sometimes this means tribal warfare as in images conjured up by Society Against the State, and other times it will means the victimisation of the madman, the cognitively impaired, the physically impaired, or whatever other tic or idiosyncracy has been deemed a contaminant or threat to group cohesion and survival. From this evolutionary perspective this might be a distal etiological theory of capitalism’s racialized imperialist drives, or of the easy and unconcerned acceptance of by a cross-class national alliance in accepting the contemporary biopolitical state’s tales of immigrant colonialism of the fatherland.
All this requires bodies capable of acting for the benefit of the group. Aggressors require bodies capable of attack, defender require bodies capable of mounting defence. Arguing from the evidence of historical and contemporary modes of aggressive and defensive violence- mostly carried out by men within patriarchal structures that systematically privilege men- the Male Warrior Hypothesis weds the idea of the social brain to the need to form coalitions that can plan, organize, carry out and dynamically adapt to the demands of specific instances or sustained campaigns of “intergroup conflicts”. It suggests that as men carry out most of the violence in our society it stands to reason to speculate that men have been evolutionarily selected as the bodies with the cognitive mechanisms for this work of strategic and bloody hate. The theorists go on to discuss convergent evidence from cousin species to humans, the idea that human females tend to invest much more in their offspring than males such that aggressive behaviour is too high cost, and to studies that demonstrate that men are more likely to demonstrate racist attitudes and behaviours than women. You can read the rest for yourself in the link above. You could also re-frame all of this in a much more thanatosophical way by placing it within the epistemological axioms of the incredibly well evidenced terror management theory without losing anything of much value.
So what? What does this have to do with men and suicide, or men and murder-suicide? Well the USA’s Centre for Disease Control reports a staggering 91% of murder-suicides are carried out by men and that of these 88% are conducted with a gun. Of course this is to do with availability of the weapon as much as anything else- if I can’t get my hands on a gun I can’t shoot myself or other people. Andreas Lubitz was a pilot. Andreas Lubitz killed himself and 150 other people by crashing a plane into a mountain. In the UK to male murder-suicide pattern for 1991-2005 was reported at 100%.
This theoretical model, the model of the Male Warrior his rage turned against himself and the others around him, is appealing because of its simplicity and its ease of explanation. It is an elegant theory: men carry out more violent suicides and suicide-murders because men are inherently more violent than women. When something goes wrong in a man’s life, when he has no wife, as that Turkish airline fears and as our suicide statistics show, if he has no sense of “belonging” (I despise the word but it is popular in the suicidologist’s lexicon), then he takes his own life………for some reason. It is only a partial explanation. But at this stage we have to be satisfied with that. We can’t walk into the mind of Andreas Lubitz. We can’t ask him “why?”, and even if we could would we be able, intoxicated with sociology, with philosophy, numbed by the opiates of our chosen theoretico-ideological habit, would we be willing or able to understand him?
In the next part of this series of posts exploring Andreas Lubitz actions and the wider assemblages it both constitutes and is constituted by I will explore the question of male violence and the gendering/sexing of suicide. I also want to return to the specificity of the pilot-plane-mountain relationship. So far we seem to be at the point of saying men have evolved to be violent. Really it all boils down to that: men are violent. They have been biologically engineered, or at least evolutionarily cobbled together, for violence and bloodshed, for the tactical thinking of inter-tribal savagery, destruction, brutality, murder and war.
This is a hard picture for me to deny. Although I’m not a violent man, have always been afraid of harming others, this might be because I am lucky enough to be a weak man in a position of relatively benign co-operative coexistence with my tribal peers. Of course in other more obscure ways I enact all manner of strategic games, and carry out all kinds of in-group and out-group identifications, I can’t help but find others with whom to huddle against corporeal vulnerability and so forth. Yet there is also a sense that this outline of a theory of male violence is inadequate. In the next post I will try to explore and depart from this purely biological picture, if not from the reality revealed by the statistics. Men, for whatever reason, simply are more violent.
As a kind of post-script I want to say why I was prompted into writing this post. I was compelled by two facebook posts. The immediate prompt was from nick snircek who posted up another of Bifo’s post-Heroes interviews that deals with Andreas Lubitz all too quickly, neatly folding him into Bifo’s pre-constituted theorisations. The first and more immediate was a question posed by a particularly badass feminist friend of mine. In the light of the discovery of the remains of Karen Buckley, and the fact that this coincided with the rape of another woman in the same club in which Buckley spent her last night of dancing, my friend simply asked: “when will men end their violence against us”? It is hard not to be pessimistic in the face of the endless and ancient violence of men.