Altruistic suicide is the category of suicide that Durkheim recognized as happening in civilizations with strong cohesiveness and in certain forms of social organizations where social integration is of paramount significance.
Self-inflicted death occurs when the integrating forces of society are so strong that they overwhelm the personal will to survive. Typically connected to the idea of honor, this kind of suicide entails an excessive sense of group connection. Thus, troops engaged in fruitless rearguard battles are killing themselves out of suicide.
Altruistic suicides are characterized by societal acceptance and are advantageous to the social order. They exist in social groupings when the individual is not given much significance.
Four Characteristics of Altruistic suicide
The four main characteristics of altruistic suicide are a background of abnormally excessive social integration; is often characterized by public support; helps society financially or culturally, and frequently characterized by positive emotionality.
The suicide that occurs in a situation with excessive social integration is the first characteristic of altruistic suicide. The person loses a feeling of uniqueness since they are so firmly bound to a community’s customs and cultural values. Individual requirements are not very important. In these communities, altruistic suicide happens for several reasons. However, the organization always approves of the suicides. The person kills themself because they love something else more than they love themselves.
Second, the general public favors altruistic suicide, particularly in its purer forms. The public often supports and even encourages suicides in primitive civilizations, unlike most suicides in urban and industrial societies. When there is a food shortage, it is not uncommon for older people to commit suicide. In various circumstances or subcultures in contemporary civilizations, the general population may also favor suicide.
Third, altruistic suicide is advantageous to society. This does not necessarily imply that an altruistic suicide helps the community financially. This phrase has often indicated that an altruistic suicide must or inevitably lead to some monetary gain for society. While this could be the case for certain people, such as the Inuit, altruistic suicides do not always help the community financially during food scarcity. As we will see, acute altruistic suicides by religious fanatics are the purest kind of altruistic suicide. In these cases, the person takes excellent pleasure in dying by suicide because they believe it to be an instant path to nirvana. In this perfect kind of altruistic suicide, those left behind don’t seem to gain anything substantial. However, these suicides could benefit society’s cultural system if they promote a cultural ideal.
Fourth, in contrast to the sad psychological state that is thought to be characteristic in egoistic suicides, altruistic suicides often seem to be pursued with a sense of excitement. Christians who endured agonizing deaths with fervent joy are used as instances of those who desired death with “all their force.” While egoistic suicides are seen to be distinguished by ignorance, altruistic suicides are said to be marked by tenacity.
Subtypes of suicide in primitive societies
The three categories that Durkheim analyzes are obligatory, optional, and acute altruistic suicides in prehistoric civilizations.
Suicide is seen as a responsibility in obligatory altruistic suicide. Here, under certain circumstances, it is assumed by group cultural norms that the person would commit suicide. Refusing to commit suicide typically has negative connotations and is met with consequences. Men approaching old age and who are ill make up the first group of obligatory suicides. For instance, the ancient Goths thought it was shameful to pass away naturally. The second type of compulsory suicide involves widows who kill themselves after their spouses pass away. A good example is the Sati religion practiced in India. Suicides committed by followers and servants of a dead chief or leader make up the third type of forced suicide. For instance, among the Ashantis, the officials of the King must perish upon his passing.
The act of optional altruistic suicide was not seen as obligatory. However, the general people were in favor of suicide in certain circumstances. It was present, according to Durkheim, in places like North America. Allegedly, even the slightest disappointment, such as difficulties in love, would lead Dakotas and Crees to commit suicide.
One kind of suicide ingrained in metaphysical and theological culture systems is acute altruistic suicide. When someone commits acute altruistic suicide, they often do so to reach nirvana or to enter a peaceful afterlife. The organization applauds the renunciation of life as a virtue in and of itself. Hindu suicides are among the historical instances of acutely altruistic suicides provided by Durkheim. According to legend, it was common practice in Hinduism to publicly seek death in the waters of revered rivers like the Ganges.
Military suicide in the contemporary era
It is a sizable institution focused on each person’s responsibility to sacrifice their life for their nation. According to some, military culture or the “military spirit” fosters a strong feeling of social cohesion that encourages altruistic suicide. A sense of impersonality is the first characteristic of military culture.
Since they could be required to make the ultimate sacrifice to save their nation, the soldiers are taught to place minimal value on themselves. They are trained to follow instructions blindly. This attitude of mindless submission starkly contrasts the individualistic character of contemporary civic society. The legitimacy of individuals in political, economic, and other institutions is often contested in popular culture.
Soldiers must adhere to stringent rules that often include wearing the same uniforms, going through physical training together, waking at the same time each morning, sleeping at the same hours, eating together, and living in communal housing. The essential nature of soldiers is to be external to themselves, which is a fundamental aspect of the condition of altruism.