Monday, February 22, 2010
Witness to Suicide in San Francisco
Onlookers laugh as a man jumps to his death — and what this says about human nature
By Mat Thomas – www.animalrighter.org
I happened to be biking down Market Street in “my city by the Bay” one recent Tuesday afternoon when I saw a massive crowd gathered near the Powell Street cable car turnaround. They were frantically yelling, a combination of anxious cries and excited cheers, as though watching the climax of an intense sports match. I figured there must be a fistfight, but I was wrong…because the shouting then rose to a sudden cacophony punctuated by a dense fleshy thump.
I had never heard a sound like that in my life, and wondered what it could possibly be, so I crossed the street amidst a throng of people and the sound of screaming sirens to find out. On the sidewalk was a shirtless man, dead, laying face-down in a bloody puddle with a handful of cops standing over him. People were pointing up at the window ledge on the third-floor apartment he’d just jumped from, and holding cameras above their heads snapping pictures of the corpse.
This nightmarish scenario was disturbing enough, but far worse was overhearing numerous young people actually laughing at this man’s violent death, and saying things like “That was so cool!” One twenty-something woman passing within my earshot even loudly bragged to her friend on a cell phone that “I was yelling ‘Jump! Jump!’ And then he jumped!”
Call me naïve or out of touch, but I was actually shocked that anyone would find anything funny about a fellow human being taking his own life — and then broadcast their monstrous insouciance to everyone around them. Such demoralizing experiences force us to consider whether there is something fundamentally sick about today’s world, and what the true nature of humanity might be. Indeed, one need only look at our species’ vast victimization of animals to see that cruelty is seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of our everyday lives.
Is it fair to extrapolate from an isolated incident a thread that ties callous mockery of a suicide to the entire institution of industrialized animal exploitation? From an animal rights perspective, the answer is definitely yes, because the root of both evils is an utter lack of empathy for others. The main difference is merely one of social acceptability: while the overwhelming majority of people would agree that publicly urging a suicidal man to kill himself is an abomination, most of these very same individuals see absolutely nothing wrong with eating meat — a practice that forces torture and death on billions of animals a year.
I wonder whether those callous suicide cajolers and jokers have since felt any remorse for their actions — perhaps waking panic-stricken in the dark of night shuddering with secret shame. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that, of the hundreds of people who also watched this man die, most did not laugh, but rather cried openly in the arms of loved ones, or sought emotional solace from strangers, or stood silently awestruck alone contemplating the inconceivable. So perhaps not all hope for this world is lost.