Home / Robert Farley / Will Moore RIP

Will Moore RIP


I didn’t really know Will Moore, but this is making its way around the political science blogosphere:

Assuming I did not botch the task, by the time this posts I will have been dead via suicide for several hours. Nope, that’s not a setup to a joke.

Why would someone who is healthy, employed, has every outside appearance of success, and so on, take their own life? In my case the answer is simple enough: I was done, but my body wasn’t. But that answer isn’t satisfying, so, for those who are aggrieved, upset, saddened, etc., let me do my best to try to explain.

Much to digest. Deepest condolences to his friends and his family.

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  • liberal

    Sigh. Lots of insight in that last communication.

  • Karen24

    His poor wife. They raised a family together, and then he leaves, and then he does this. I wish he could have gotten help, and I hope his family has the support they need.

    • Origami Isopod

      I do feel sorry for his wife and children.

      That said, I feel sorriest for him himself. I say this as someone who has lost several dear friends to suicide and has been suicidal at times too. It is one of the most deeply painful places in life to be in.

      • Karen24

        I’ve lost two friends in the last couple years this way. You have my deepest sympathy, both for your friends and yourself.

        • Origami Isopod

          Thanks. My sympathy to you as well.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      A marriage can be a source of stress that aggravates depression even if it’s neither partner’s “fault.” It’s quite possible that he “got help” in counseling, and that he viewed divorce as last-ditch self-help and self-care, and we have no way of knowing he was wrong about that.

      • Karen24

        It’s likely that he left because he thought he was causing his wife pain, too. I know of someone who left his family because he was convinced they would be happier without him around. Luckily he got help, mainly through the aggressive intervention of his adult children, but it’s certainly something that happens.

        • Bruce B.

          Yes. One of the most truly pernicious things about a lot of kinds of depression and other mental illness is that they give you this sense of crystalline clarity and far superior insight, while in fact you’re just going around and around in a tiny little hamster wheel stuffed with whatever shit your life has dished your way. It’s hard to get the perspective to recognize “this is actually a chemistry-driven lie, not any sort of real logical and/or emotional judgment” without going overboard and dismissing the thoughts and feelings you ought to still give heed to.

          Really hard.

  • DaftPunk

    He doesn’t sound depressed. His arguments are logical.

    As an INTJ who spent their first three decades feeling like an outcast I identify with a lot of his points. Much of my skills at social interaction I learned by mimicry of those to whom it comes naturally. I can fake being good at it in the right crowd. I learned to enjoy what I enjoy, and if others want to join me great, and if not fuck ’em. At class reunions I get complements for being ahead of my time.

    Still, external compliments really don’t register, because “THOSE PEOPLE aren’t worthy of being bestowed with my gifts” (internal monologue, I’m reasonably humble.) Whether it is to one person, or a population, I do have something to give to humanity, and if my contribution is worth more than what I take, I have a duty to humanity to give it. Life’s a struggle for everyone.

    It’s not clear to me what he was missing. Maybe he was more depressed than his writing reflects.

    • JustRuss

      I can relate to a lot of what he says, although I don’t find faking it in social situations to be too painful, usually. But yeah, I find our society’s emphasis on status-seeking uber alles to be exhausting and depressing, and ultimately cruel and dehumanizing. Having just divorced and facing singledom for the first time in a couple decades, I worry about traveling down a similar path. But I have found a few things I genuinely care about, I think I’ll be OK.

      Condolences to those who knew and loved him.

    • John F

      He doesn’t sound depressed. His arguments are logical.

      I read that VERY differently, my take was that he absolutely was suffering from depression- but perhaps his “borderline autism” was making it impossible for him to see that- he was attempting to approach it from a rational/logical perspective- he had no reason to be depressed, therefore he was not- but it doesn’t work that way.

      I wish he had sought psychiatric help.

      • Right. Depression doesn’t work that way. It’s not a reflection of outside circumstances. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain.

        To be clear, I’ve been depressed in the past for… probably a decade almost uninterrupted, honestly, only broken up in the middle by a good relationship that alleviated my depression while it lasted. I was actually the happiest I’d ever been during that relationship, but the time surrounding it was miserable (and, in retrospect, the fact that I hadn’t learned how to be happy for my own sake was probably part of the reason the relationship ultimately failed). Some of it was a response to external circumstances, but far, far more of it was in my head. I allowed myself to underestimate my value to the world and to myself by an absurd margin because I saw myself in terms of my status in society. That wasn’t at all logical, but I’d convinced myself it was, even though I was also a committed socialist and anarchist for most of that time.

        I haven’t read Moore’s suicide note yet (I will probably comment further when I have), but depression is widely misunderstood in society. Being depressed isn’t a reaction to your circumstances. If you’re well off in society, you can still be depressed, and that’s not an ethical failing. It’s literally a chemical imbalance in the brain. No one has control over that.

        • Lurking Canadian

          Thank you for what you have posted in this thread. It is, in my experience, not possible for people who don’t experience depression to know what it is like. It’s not being sad because of a thing that happened, but that’s the lens most people want to see it through.

          As for the present case…my heart goes out to those left behind. The tragedy is theirs.

          • Philip

            It’s not being sad because of a thing that happened, but that’s the lens most people want to see it through.

            +1. It’s like having a pair of goggles on that warp how you see everything that happens to fit your worst narratives about yourself and your life.

            • Pat

              What’s funny is that years later, I find it really hard to understand depression. For me, having gotten through it and being free from it for years… I can’t see it anymore.

              I understand clinically what it is and I provide help for those around me who have it, but depression is alien to me now.

        • Srsly Dad Y

          It’s literally a chemical imbalance in the brain

          This may not be the forum to air differences–and I admire much of what you’ve written here–but mental health practitioners like James C. Coyne (@CoyneOfTheRealm) would ask you to please stop saying that. Lots of things in life are both “in the brain” and affected by the external world. The “chemical imbalance” theory, mostly rejected as unhelpful by researchers now, tends to locate the sources of depression solely in the sufferer, who needs to “get right,” rather than in stressful external circumstances that might also be changeable, and possibly more easily.

          • I don’t buy it, sorry. If the “affected by circumstances” hypothesis were correct, I’d have felt great about getting my degree. That was, in Biden’s immortal words, a big fucking deal, particularly after what I’d gone through to get it. I didn’t feel anything.

            That said, I experimented with several different medications and none helped for years, so I’m not sure if medication alone is a sufficient explanation either.

            The problem was that I’d ‘reasoned’ myself into such a state that I could see no possible way out. I felt like my ASD diagnosis meant I would never live a functional life, and I don’t believe any possible evidence anyone could have presented me at the time could have gotten me out of it. I actually did have several other good things besides my degree happen to me during that time that, had I been in a rational state, would have given me more confidence in my abilities. None of them changed my view of myself; I only reacted to the negative things.

            I’m honestly not entirely sure what got me out, because I switched medications at around the same time things started to improve for me again in my personal/professional lives. It may have been the combination of the two. It may have been that I got way more meaningful human interaction in the past few years. But if circumstances affected depression by themselves, I’d have gotten out of mine way sooner. And frankly, if the meaningful interactions solved it, I’m not really sure how much of a solution that is, because it was in large part my depression that had convinced me I was incapable of having meaningful human interactions.

            • PunditusMaximus

              We live in a both/and world.

              • Origami Isopod


                • N__B

                  +/-1, no?

            • Srsly Dad Y

              if circumstances affected depression by themselves

              No one argues that. I recommend Coyne’s Mind the Brain blog if you’re interested. The flip side of your argument can lead to victim blaming, i.e., friends, loved ones, and society thinking there is nothing they can do about depression until the depressed person finds the right chemical fix.

              • Fair enough, but I definitely don’t have time to read an entire blog right now. If you have one or a few specific posts you recommend I’ll look at them later today.

                Depression clearly is at least partly caused by chemicals, though; there certainly have been cases where chemical treatment seems to have eliminated every sign of people’s depression. (It also seems that drugs like psychedelics and MDMA may be incomparably effective at alleviating illnesses like depression and PTSD for many people, but because of our ass-backwards drug war, we don’t know enough about them.)

                • Srsly Dad Y

                  Aspirin cures headaches; are headaches caused by an aspirin imbalance in the brain? Medications do work for some people, but the mechanism is unknown and doesn’t support backward induction to the root cause of depression.

                • The underlying assumption, I would assume, isn’t that lack of aspirin is the literal cause of the headache, but that the aspirin interacts chemically in a way that cures the headache. Similarly, it’s not as if anyone thinks depressed people lack enough Wellbutrin or Prozac in their brains; those aren’t naturally produced by the brain either. It’s a matter of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, as I’m led to understand; those medications are supposed to interact in a manner that fixes said imbalance.

                  I suppose there’s a possible alternative explanation, but as I said, I don’t have time to scour an entire blog to evaluate the credibility of its arguments, so unless you have some specific links you’d care to show me, I suspect this argument isn’t going to convince either of us.

                • Pat

                  Network interactions in the basal ganglia? The amygdala gone wild? I can imagine that the difficulties in getting up and doing positive things has a basis in the substantia nigra.

              • Srsly Dad Y

                I searched his blog for a while, but it seems he mainly expresses this view on Twitter.

            • Stag Party Palin

              That said, I experimented with several different medications and none helped for years, so I’m not sure if medication alone is a sufficient explanation either.

              Third possibility – getting the right medications. My ex sister-in-law was on the medication merry-go-round for two years before they found success with her depression. I’m firmly in the camp that severe depression is chemical.

              • Srsly Dad Y

                Fourth possibility — experimenting with medications for years until the depression resolves spontaneously (which does happen without medication), and you give the credit to the med you happen to be on.

                • Bruce B.

                  Fails a Bayesian priors test, for me. Based on experience and a fair amount of research, the leading alternative to medication along with other help is not spontaneous recovery but finding ways to live with ongoing misery, followed by premature death, whether by suicide or some other illness or injury where depression foiled treatments that might otherwise have worked.

            • Bill Murray

              in your presenting of your depression, you said that during your relationship was your depression alleviated. Isn’t this a prime example of an external circumstance effect on your depression?

              • Eh, I suppose so. It’s… a pretty specific external circumstance though. Having your brain flooded with oxytocin/other relevant chemicals isn’t exactly a circumstance anyone can get to happen on cue.

          • rm

            It’s a complicated topic, and I’ve always taken the “chemical imbalance” phrase regarding all mental illnesses as an oversimplification designed to counter old-fashioned prejudices about these not being “real” illnesses (because the mind/soul is separate from the body, as Socrates taught us). Against people who treat it like a character defect or a behavior, the “chemical” line can emphasize that it’s not the sufferer’s fault.

            But of course, things that go wrong with the brain can be more than chemical, and our “minds” include our environments and social worlds as well as our bodies and brains. It’s complex as hell.

            I am interested in the discussion of trauma in relation to depression, below (starting at David Allan Poe’s comment), because I’ve been depressed often, and am now diagnosed with complex PTSD, the kind that comes from a long-term permanent state of trauma/crisis early in life rather than from one or more distinct incidents. Medicine is starting to look at this as it affects the body and brain development in addition to the cognitive, conscious mind. Having the fight/flight/freeze reflex activated on a more or less constant basis in early life does more than create problematic associations or thoughts, it affects the size of different parts of the brain, the ways that the autonomic nervous system controls the body’s functions like heartbeat, digestion, metabolism, etc., and the “default” patterns the brain uses to respond to the world on the unconscious, emotional level. It’s intriguing to think of depression as a sense of hopelessness derived from having been immobilized and unable to respond with fight or flight in traumatic moments. And, of course, your point that it can be about the circumstances of life fits this well, because external problems come to seem insoluble or imprisoning if your brain and body are primed to shut down when trapped.

            • Srsly Dad Y

              Re: Your first paragraph. I entirely agree that the “chemical imbalance” theory got started with the best of intentions. But just think about whether it’s possible to gaslight a depressed person, to make them think they’re just imagining problems in a relationship/business/ society, that “it’s just the depression talking.” Of course it’s possible. And many experts think the “chemical” rubric facilitates that too much. You can work on depression from both sides — reduce external stressors and address internal reactions. Thinking of depression as “literally a chemical imbalance” tends to slight the former. All pain is “literally a chemical imbalance,” so what, really.

              • Origami Isopod

                I found the “chemical imbalance” argument highly comforting when I was first diagnosed years ago. A lot of the people who opposed it at that time seemed to be of the opinion that being able to take a pill was the easy way out. Which … um, yes, and what’s wrong with that? Why should I have to suffer more in order to stop suffering? Calvinist much, despite the New Age trappings?

                That said, I agree with you that it is not an either/or problem, and that a sole focus on brain chemistry can be used to let society off the hook. Also, it’s of a piece with our society’s belief that the only things that matter can be boiled down to atoms or bytes.

                • Pete

                  For me it was very much both/and — medication being very helpful for basic maintenance and survival as I undertook lots of talk therapy and efforts to improve the life situation/stresses.

                  I also wasn’t aware that depression is sometimes a co-morbidity(?) accompanying other conditions. When we finally figured out there was an underlying condition undiagnosed and untreated for 40+ years, proper treatment for that condition made all the difference.

                • rm

                  Well, I say you took the easy way out of that broken leg by having the bone set and wearing a cast. You should have walked around on it until it got better.

              • DrS

                I’m glad I refreshed, cause this one above and the one above it capture a lot of what I was trying to type on my damn phone

          • kateislate

            ETA: Not going to delete, but this is all tl;dr as those above said it better! ‘Real’ is the fight we are all fighting, it seems.

            I used ‘chemical imbalance’ as a bit of a mantra for a while, as a defence against family members who thought I just needed to buck up.

            I think it is probably a both/and situation, with wide variations. But it is important not to potentially ignore other aspects of what you are dealing with.

            I believed and asserted that my depression was caused by a chemical imbalance, that I had learned to manage with the help of therapy, meds, etc., and that all of these things were completely separate from my deep, life-long self-loathing. My self-loathing was a logical and appropriate response to the fact that I was a terrible person and obviously had been since I was a small child. Had nothing to do with the depression, which was sadness due to chemicals. The depression also had nothing to do with the self-loathing and was certainly not the cause of that (as stated above, just a rational response to being an awful human).

            I was mid 20s before a therapist said those two things aloud to me and looked at me like, can you hear what you are saying? I was desperate to affirm that what was happening to me was real, and it led me to make some odd choices about how I interpreted what I was living.

            I think a trap we fall into in trying to push society to recognize that our depression is *real* is equating real with an identifiable organic cause. My depression is real, it is an illness I live with, as much as my hateful mind would like to say that I’m just lazy and toxic. But that doesn’t mean it we’re going to figure out one day that a particular chemical imbalance has caused it, or that it was inflammation, or some malformation of my neurons. We may! But *real* may be the outcome of a set of experiences, or early and constant reinforcement of extremely negative thought processes, or something else we haven’t worked out yet.

            It may also be worth thinking about depression as something we live, rather than just something we feel. The patterns of my life, the way I react to external stressors, can etch my depression more deeply into every part of me, which then constrains what I’m exposed to and what options are open to me [although personally I’m incredibly lucky in that my depression has closed very few doors permanently]. The depression isn’t exogenous, but the circumstances I’m reacting to may be. As PM said, both/and.

            [My hope is that this doesn’t read as a rejection of the chemical imbalance interpretation – I’m not qualified to judge that argument. Just wanted to raise that chemical/not isn’t the only way to parse the inside/outside question.]

      • Hob

        Yes, thank you. This kind of rationalization is very, very common, and certainly not just for people with ASD.

        It’s also common in my experience to show a brighter affect and more verbal fluency (“He doesn’t sound depressed”) in moments when you’re taking on a new short-term project – even if that project consists of planning for suicide and/or writing about it – simply because you’re finally doing something, which, even if you can only keep it up for a short time, is somewhat less painful than just staring at the wall some more.

        Also I feel I should say, though CassandraLeo’s comment is a good one, depression certainly can be a reaction to circumstances; but that doesn’t mean it’s a logical or useful reaction, and once it’s happening, there’s not much you can do about the circumstances till you’ve addressed it. It’s like muscle cramps: they can arise spontaneously due to medical problems, or they can happen because of over-exercise, or you can have a predisposition to them which is then triggered by exercise. But at the moment that you’re having that charley horse, all you can really do is massage and apply heat and hope it’ll pass.

        • Yeah, I should have clarified that depression certainly can start out as a reaction to circumstances, but usually it stops being a reaction to them given enough time. I probably did have a good reason to be depressed the first time I fell into depression because I was completely unprepared for college and had no explanation for why I was struggling so much, and maybe even my second bout of depression made sense as a reaction to the breakup. But the second one definitely stopped being a reaction to circumstances by the end. I should’ve felt good about myself when I got my degree but I was completely incapable of seeing what a great thing I’d accomplished, because I was just so… numb. And it kept going. I repeatedly blamed myself for a lot of things that weren’t my fault and stayed in a number of toxic environments for far longer than I should have, both of which just made me feel worse. And I couldn’t see a way out, because I was so trapped in my own circular ‘reasoning’.

          • David Allan Poe

            One of the more interesting hypotheses I’ve seen is that depression is basically a malfunctioning of the fight-or-flight response – especially since the first occurrence is frequently linked to some actual event. For whatever biochemical reason the “switch” gets stuck until the desire to shrink away from the outside world has little or nothing to do with what is going on in the depressed person’s life.

            It’s also important to note that, especially as people get older and have more experience with the ways their depression appears towards others, they can get really good at hiding the signs.

            • That would definitely make sense as an explanation, especially since it appears to be basically the same mechanism that causes PTSD, as I understand it (brain gets overloaded at moment of trauma, basically resets itself and burns in memories in its aftermath extra hard; high levels of stress cause the brain to loop back to last similar state). The brain is weird.

            • BigHank53

              Plenty of depressed children learn to hide it as well, and quickly. And of course they lack the experience to even know that’s not normal.

              • David Allan Poe

                Absolutely – that was kind of inartful phrasing and a bit too based in personal experience- I was more demonstrative, at least with certain people, when I was an adolescent, and not as good at keeping it under wraps.

                But yeah, you start practicing keeping it hidden pretty soon after it starts manifesting itself.

          • JustRuss

            Very well put.

            And I couldn’t see a way out, because I was so trapped in my own circular ‘reasoning’.

            I’ve been in that hole, getting out of it took years, and felt soooo good.

            • Yeah. I wonder, if I hadn’t recently recovered from a long depression (last couple of years), whether I’d be feeling worse over the state of the world overall. I mean, it obviously sucks, but I’m a lot less pessimistic than I’d have expected to be six months ago, given the circumstances.

              Also, thanks, & thanks as well to everyone else who expressed similar sentiments.

              • PunditusMaximus

                Depression is a spectre that haunts my family. I don’t know you, so I didn’t want to say much, but I just wanted to express my gratitude for what you said here and how deeply it rang true with my life experience.

          • kateislate

            The ‘reasoning’ part really resonates with me. ‘Everything I’m feeling follows so logically from facts (i.e. I am bad and deserve bad things), therefore, nothing should be done and everything should stagnate and/or get worse.’ Everything is deserved. And I can often articulate how sensible it seems – until I’m out the other side, when I can see the whole cycle and recognize all of the places that it really made no sense.

      • DaftPunk

        I guess I should have written “As someone who shares many of his psycho-social attributes and struggled with at times suicidal depression (and was aware of my depression,) he doesn’t sound I like I would have were I in his situation.”

        As an old college room-mate once said; “We’re all in it alone.” You can never really know what’s going on between someone else’s ears.

  • elm

    Will was a former colleague of mine, my mentor when I first started as an assistant professor, and a good friend. My career would not have been as successful as it was if not for him and I know many former students, colleagues, and other random political scientists who would say the same. He played a crucial role in the development of the field of IR helping to bring domestic political violence into the sub field and made major contributions to the study of refugees, human rights, torture, terrorism and more. He will be missed as both a person as a scholar.

    I haven’t fully processed what’s happened yet. And I still hope it’s not true, though I know it is.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      you have my sympathy. Quite obvious from reading just one blog post Moore had an exceptional outlook on things

    • Karen24

      It hurts to lose friends, especially this way, and we don’t have good ways of mourning people who aren’t family members. I feel for you.

    • Origami Isopod

      I am so sorry, Elm.

    • Warren Terra

      I’m sorry for your loss.

    • You have my condolences. I can’t imagine how painful this must be for those who knew him.

    • My condolances.

  • The most enlightening thing about Will’s last post is that I completely understand where he was coming from. As a fellow INTJ, I could have written that post myself.

    The human mind is an amazing thing; not least of which is the capacity to rationalize anything and everything. Some choose to commit suicide out of sorrow and pain. Some, like Will, choose suicide out of what they perceive to be reason. To Will, committing suicide was a reasonable choice, indeed, the reasonable choice. But you can be completely reasonable and still be completely wrong, which is why you need to talk to someone if you feel like “checking out,” no matter what you have reasoned with yourself for doing so.

    My heart goes out to his friends and family. What a loss.

    • John F

      I completely understand where he was coming from.

      So do I, some of his descriptions about himself- I could have written about myself, but what got me was how CLINICAL he was about his own thoughts and feelings- I can do that to, but not to the extent he seemingly does.

      My random half-assed guess is that he was suffering from profound depression, but had been going through the motions for so long he was no longer capable of seeing that he was depressed- eventually he saw more and more things as simply futile- seeing things as futile is one of the hallmarks of depression.

      He was obviously intelligent, and introspective, but we all have our blindspots.

      • The thing about depression is that, when you’re depressed, you think your depressed thinking looks like rational thinking. That’s one of the most insidious aspects of the illness, and it’s one of the most misunderstood. And yes, the longer you’ve been it, the more it starts to seem normal. It’s like the adage about the frog in slowly simmering water. You don’t notice it because it happens so gradually.

        • Exactly. People don’t understand that depression is not just being really sad. Depression may express as sadness, but it is much deeper than that.

          • That’s a good way of putting it. If you’ve been depressed for long enough, it doesn’t even really feel like pain anymore, but I think that’s mostly a response to having felt pain for such a long time that you’ve simply stopped noticing it.

            • Hob

              That’s very well put.

              Also about “rational thinking”… I think there can be a combination of insight and non-insight that can be even more pernicious than total non-insight. That is, during a month when one’s mood is at -99999 [on a scale I just made up right now], one may think “I know I’m totally fucked up right now, and these thoughts are distorted and shouldn’t be taken literally”… and then things brighten slightly for one week so the mood is just -50000, and you’re like “Oh hey, I’m kind of able to think clearly again. Now I can see exactly why everything is terrible.”

              Or maybe that’s just another aspect of the pain-that-isn’t-quite-pain thing: even if you can’t pin down what that horrible feeling is, you know you don’t want it, so even the slightest lessening of it feels like a gift and a reason to start trusting your brain again– as one might decide to trust the nice person who just gave you a cup of water in the torture chamber.

              • That’s definitely a good way of putting it. One of the most insidious aspects of the illness is that it essentially makes your own perception not just untrustworthy but potentially harmful to yourself.

                • DrS

                  I mean, look. It was my decisions that got me here, and I’m miserable. How can I trust any decision I make again?

              • David Allan Poe

                It was explained to me the first time I went on SSRIs that the reason for the black box warning about possible increases in suicide within the first couple of months you take them, especially in adolescents, is that your general mood and energy level can spike before the underlying depression and suicidal ideation begins to recede, and that some people use that newfound energy to kill themselves.

        • rm

          Everything you’ve said, and also, with many mental illnesses a lack of insight into the illness is a symptom of the illness. It can be beyond your own control, which is why help is so necessary (just like you can’t think your way out of an injury to some other part of your body).

          (We also forget that the brain is part of the body, and in some ways the body is part of the brain, and that we have to treat them together.)

          • That’s a really good point. And our society has a number of horrible stigmas towards mental illnesses that make it vastly less likely that people will get the help they need. Most notably, the assumption that mental illness = violence. Plus the mentally ill are unemployed at horrible rates. And, probably worst of all, people compare the mentally ill to Republicans by calling Republicans ‘crazy’! No one who isn’t a Republican deserves that.

            (I’m being slightly facetious about that last one, but it does kind of annoy me all the same.)

            But yeah, far too few people don’t realise the mind and body aren’t part of the same system. William Blake was talking about how the body/soul distinction was dumb centuries ago, and it seems like people still haven’t figured it out.

            • …er, far too many people don’t realise the mind and body are part of the same system. I suppose my meaning was probably obvious anyway, but just wanted to be 100% clear about that.

        • pusillnonymous

          When I was recovering from depression, one of the biggest breakthroughs I had was realizing I literally couldn’t trust anything I thought about myself. For years I’d built up this framework of self-loathing I thought was completely rational and well-reasoned. Therapy helped me see it was because the scale I was using was severely warped. For a while, I had a rule that the only people I could listen to about myself were my therapists, because they were the only ones I could trust as being objective.

          • That account definitely rings true with my experiences as well. I didn’t make a rule like that, but maybe if I’d done so, I wouldn’t have fallen as deeply into depression as I did.

          • kateislate

            So, I wrote more wordily and less clearly about exactly this experience, and hadn’t ever run in to anyone else who seemed to have lived it. Thanks for sharing.

          • Pete

            When I was recovering from depression, one of the biggest breakthroughs I had was realizing I literally couldn’t trust anything I thought about myself. For years I’d built up this framework of self-loathing I thought was completely rational and well-reasoned….For a while, I had a rule that the only people I could listen to about myself were my therapists, because they were the only ones I could trust as being objective.

            That sounds like a damn good realization and rule; I think I’ll try it myself.

    • sibusisodan

      I’d tentatively press this a little further: I recall entering into a kind of calculus during a lengthy bout of depression: I can endure so much of this, for such and such a time. Beyond that, it would be reasonable to act so as to ensure it is prolonged no further.

      I am still not willing to say that I was definitely wrong to reason that way.

      Depression – whether one is aware of it or not – is imprisoning. Ghastly, in that one is simultaneously aware of how painful it is (even if the pain is experienced as anhedonia), how entirely pointless that pain is, and how powerless one is to control it.

      • David Allan Poe

        My feeling has always been that once the fear of life begins to outweigh the fear of death, it becomes just a matter of time.

  • Origami Isopod

    I didn’t “fit” in society. That isn’t a problem of society. Setting aside moments of petulance, I viewed it as a plain fact. There it was. What to do about it? Ask society to adapt to me? Hah!

    Yes, actually, it was and is a problem of society. We need to push society to be kinder to people who do not fit in, so long as they don’t harm others. It will never happen completely, but the same is true of any other social-justice goal.

    As someone on the spectrum, I don’t agree with the common belief among disability rights activists that autism is simply an alternative form of brain wiring that poses no inherent problems. That said, people in general could absolutely be better educated about how the disorder presents (notwithstanding that presentation varies greatly from person to person) and to make more accommodations and allowances for those with ASDs.

    Generally speaking, the U.S. is a particularly terrible place to be introverted. Everyone is supposed to be “positive,” smiling, an “entrepreneur,” grateful to the deity, 24/7. Introspection is frowned upon, as is a desire for solitude, and quiet makes people deeply uncomfortable. (“Let’s get some tunes up in here!” – not for the sake of the music itself but to have some noise going.)

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      it’s one of the many weird paradoxes of America- maybe everywhere, I dont know- this sort of tension where you’re supposed to be an individual- except if what makes you you doesn’t fit neatly into one of a remarkably limited set of boxes

      • Origami Isopod

        No, other societies have traditionally had more tolerance for eccentricity while, paradoxically, having more room for collective action.

    • djw

      That line hit me the same way. There are versions, and slices, of “society” that are relatively misfit-friendly; others much less so. Shifting as much as we can away from the latter and toward the former isn’t an easy or obvious task, but it’s an urgent one, and one that it’s OK for misfits to make demands about sometimes.

    • I’ve been working on an extremely lengthy piece of writing (which has wound up way longer than I expected or even intended it to when I started out) that touches on exactly many of the themes you’ve just raised. I didn’t, however, think about how society’s treatment of people can often interact with depression in harmful ways, even though I myself have suffered from depression for many years. Moore’s suicide has just made me painfully aware of that.

      I have exams to worry about for the next week or so, but I suspect I’m going to have to write more about this when they’re done.

      There definitely are aspects of ASDs that are disabling, but they’re a lot less than many people think. A lot of the “disability” aspects are simply results of the fact that people don’t know how to communicate with us, and assume that it’s our problem rather than theirs. In reality, it’s a problem of ignorance: they have never been taught how to communicate with people with different brain types, or how people with different brain types communicate. And a lot of this is because the way we’re taught about ethics is fundamentally self-centred.

      I’ve gone over this a few times before: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is intrinsically self-centred. It makes what you want the basis of your entire system of ethics, and therefore the basis of how you perceive the world. The person who came up with it probably had good intentions, but it’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding of humanity. We are not, at all, all the same. People have different wants and even needs. Simply assuming that others want the same things you do and treating them on the basis of that assumption means that, in reality, you’re inevitably doing things to others that hurt them deeply.

      And the problem is that people whose preferences and needs are normalised in society are rarely ever given cause to think that everyone doesn’t share them, or to think of how that might affect others, or even to question what they’re doing. If people keep giving them them message that what they do is normal and healthy, they’ll believe that anyone who doesn’t do what they do has something ‘wrong’ with them.

      And, as I said, there are definitely aspects of ASDs that qualify as symptoms of a disorder. A lot of us have to be taught how to perform simple household tasks that come naturally to others, or to use a calendar, or any of a number of other tasks that are natural to neurotypicals. And that is clearly a disorder. But then people extend that to the fact that our body language is different, or that we communicate in different ways, and… no. That’s not a disorder. That’s society not understanding or even caring how we communicate.

      The correct formulation, of course, is “Do unto others as they would like to be done unto,” with the obvious corollary, “If you don’t know, ask.” This makes what others want the foundation of your ethics, and in fact, understanding what others want is the very basis of empathy.

      But the way we’re taught to think about ethics is fundamentally opposed to coming to this understanding. It is, indeed, assuming that if someone follows the same rule, treating you the way they wish to be treated, and what they want doesn’t match what you want, then they’ve done you a grave affront. When, of course, the actual problem here is that both of you are simply starting from a flawed assumption.

      I don’t know how to fix this. It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, obviously, because I don’t communicate in the same way others do. I’ve at least gotten very good at verbal communication from spending a long time on the Internet, but since a lot of neurotypicals’ communication is non-verbal, that doesn’t always help me in face-to-face settings. I probably come off seeming cold and emotionless to people who don’t know me well, because I’m not very physically expressive to people I don’t trust yet. But, of course, I can become very animated and open to people I know well.

      (There’s also the assumption that people with ASDs “can’t read body language” when it’s entirely possible that the actual problem is that we read others’ body language as though theirs would mirror ours, when, of course, most of the time, it won’t. I have no idea if this is correct, though.)

      Anyway, yes, the excerpts here make it sound like Moore was struggling to exist in a society that is hostile to people with depression and especially hostile to people with ASDs. ASDs are an identity issue. Almost no one actually recognises this. They are actually one of the most painful identities to come to grips with, because so much of what comes to others naturally in society isn’t natural for us, and it starts to seem like there’s something wrong with us and that we’ll never get better, like there’s no way out. When I first received my diagnosis, my response was denial, but when I finally realised I had a disorder, I assumed I’d just never lead a functional life. It took me years to get out of that.

      Some people never get out of it. Some of the parents in support groups I’m in have kids that are now where I was a decade and a half ago or so. I wasn’t leaving my room. Apparently I didn’t even shower for awhile and slept in a bunch of weird places. I don’t remember any of this; I do remember that it was almost impossible to get me out of my room. I was obviously depressed, and I was at my lowest point with the disorder. I didn’t think I’d ever get better.

      I’m now happier than I’ve been at any point since the relationship I spoke about above. I honestly never before thought I could be this happy without being in a happy relationship (I’m still single), or possess this much confidence in my ability to do whatever I wanted. And I’m doing well personally and professionally. But the problem is, I don’t know how to communicate to other people with ASDs that it’s possible to get to this point. And that’s a serious problem.

      I met one of the kids from those support groups. He’s nice. He actually has a fair bit in common with me; we’re both quite into computers and security in particular. But he’s scared even to leave the house. I think when I met him was the first time he’d left the house in months. And it was clearly good for him; he seemed to open up a bit.

      But then we’d invited him to one of the support groups’ meetings, and… nothing. He seems to have clammed back up. I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do about it. I remember how long it took me to open up to anyone. It was excruciating. I was miserable for the better part of fifteen years.

      And that, ultimately, is a direct consequence of how hostile our society is to people like us. It blames us for things that are entirely not our fault, and doesn’t give us any resources for overcoming the problems we have. It doesn’t give us any sign that things can ever get better. It makes us feel like failures, and it gives us no hope that we can ever succeed.

      I want to address this, because, I mean… Moore actually seems like he accomplished a lot with his life, and apparently he’d still been made to feel his life was so worthless that he should end it. And I can’t help wondering if he would have felt differently if society wasn’t so hostile to us.

      This is a literally life-threatening concern for all of us, and right now one in sixty-eight children born in the U.S. have ASDs. I don’t know what is to be done about it, but it is a crisis of possibly historic proportions and hardly anyone is even talking about it. There are a few things I can think of that would alleviate it somewhat (better media representation, getting the stupid Golden Rule out of people’s heads as the ideal of ethics, better government support, better HR departments) but they’ll only do so much. The overall problem is one of society and culture and that is much harder to fix.

      (…this wound up way longer than I thought it would too.)

      • So, yeah. I could’ve written virtually all of his note myself. But, at the same time, my initial gut feeling was correct: Society did this to him.

        He blames himself for not fitting in. That wasn’t his fault. And he’d been made to feel, throughout his entire life, that it was.

        If he hadn’t been given that message so frequently, there is a very, very good chance that he would still be alive today. And the thing is: he’s clearly an incredibly gifted writer. He may not be particularly skilled at marketing his work himself, but if he found a skilled agent he could probably have done anything he wanted creatively and reached whatever sized audience he wanted.

        This is a horrible tragedy, and I don’t think people who don’t have ASDs and haven’t experienced depression can understand just how deep it is.

      • Origami Isopod

        I’ve gone over this a few times before: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is intrinsically self-centred. … The person who came up with it probably had good intentions, but it’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding of humanity.

        The person who came up with it did so at least a few thousand years ago, and their society was almost certainly far less diverse and far more unequal than our own. Like any advice from a very different place and time, it needs to be assessed in its own context and either adapted to our needs or discarded, rather than applied wholesale to modern life.

        there are definitely aspects of ASDs that qualify as symptoms of a disorder. A lot of us have to be taught how to perform simple household tasks that come naturally to others, or to use a calendar,

        I’d say that hypersensitivity to stimuli (certain ones, or in general) and to schedule disruption also qualify. Not all environments can be made more peaceful and routine.

        or any of a number of other tasks that are natural to neurotypicals.

        One thing that I am uncomfortable with, in a fair amount of writing on autism, is the idea that “neurotypicals” are a monolith whose members face no cognitive issues at all. I guess it depends partly on whether you expand “neurotypicals” beyond “people without ASDs” to include “people without any psychiatric or developmental disorders.” But even the latter group is going to vary in abilities and tolerances, and some of them will be unable to do “neurotypical” things that some people with ASDs will. (E.g., I’ve known or known of a few people with ASDs who were able to do public speaking, even though it was uncomfortable, but I know a lot of NT people who simply aren’t.)

        The overall problem is one of society and culture and that is much harder to fix.

        Unfortunately I think this is correct. I don’t see it getting better in the short run, either.

        • Yeah, the Golden Rule was probably a huge advance in ethics when it was formulated, but you’d think in the millennia since more people would’ve been able to identify its flaws.

          I certainly don’t mean ‘neurotypical’ to imply that those without ASDs don’t suffer their own cognitive issues. I suffer ADHD as well, which is certainly also a cognitive issue. But there are some cognitive issues that appear to be unique to ASDs that society is uniquely bad at dealing with, and they blame those issues on us rather than simply looking at them as differences of perception. (It doesn’t help how many people don’t realise human perception is intrinsically subjective, either, but that’s a rant for another day perhaps.)

          • catclub

            but you’d think in the millennia since more people would’ve been able to identify its flaws.

            True, if it had been heavily applied and studied during those millenia.

            • Touché.

              • bkbk

                Actually, recognizing the limitations of loving others as one loves oneself — which in many cases would result in loving others not very much at all — in his last commandment, Jesus replaced the “do unto others” formulation with: “Love others as I have loved you.”

                AKA the “Great Commission”

      • DaftPunk

        Very insightful. If you don’t mind I’m going to quote a few paragraphs in a link to this page.

      • Hob

        “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is intrinsically self-centred. It makes what you want the basis of your entire system of ethics

        I think that is a shallow reading of it. It’s still a common reading and one that’s easy to fall into, so it’s fair to critique that, but I think it’s unwarranted to say that that’s definitely how it was intended and/or the only way it could be interpreted for thousands of years.

        A better reading, IMO, would be something like: “Treat others the way you’d want to be treated if you were in their shoes.”

        Of course that depends on some degree of imagination, and a willingness to try to understand “their shoes” in a way that one’s own personal experience may not not be a totally adequate guide for. In which case it reduces to more or less the same thing you said: sometimes the best way will be to just ask. But that’s not incompatible with the more general rule, it’s just a specific instance of it: if you were them, and someone couldn’t figure out how to help you, you’d want them to ask you.

        I don’t think I’m overthinking this, I think it’s part of even the most basic scenarios that the original audience would’ve been dealing with. I mean, if I see someone who’s asking for food for their baby, knowing that I should give them food doesn’t depend on me myself having a baby; it requires an imaginative effort and an understanding that people do have at least some basic things in common, even if there are also other things they don’t.

        Also, as long as you’re using reductio ad absurdum to point out ways that “I assume everyone is like me” is not always an adequate approach… it’s just as easy to think of scenarios where “just ask what they want and do exactly that” won’t work either. Clear communication is not always physically, logistically, or culturally possible. But it wouldn’t follow to claim that your proposed rule is therefore “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of humanity,” either.

        • If you read it metaphorically, I suppose it’s possible to come to an interpretation that isn’t intrinsically selfish. The problem is that what it literally says doesn’t actually read that way, and most people don’t possess a deep enough understanding of human psychology to understand the problems with the literal reading. Most people never really think about it that deeply.

          And yes, obviously there are cases where just asking isn’t possible, but either way, the rephrasing directly states what is merely implicit in the original (and that’s if you read it charitably), and it is certainly a huge step in the right direction. The problem is that the original rule does not acknowledge that others might not wish to be treated in the same way you do, and most people never actually progress to that stage of understanding, because they haven’t been given cause to think about it.

          • Hob

            What you are proposing still requires an effort of will and imagination. Someone who isn’t going to bother with the one isn’t going to bother with the other. So it is still not, purely by itself and using only a purely literal reading, an adequate guide for people who “don’t possess a deep enough understanding of human psychology” unless you have some way to convince such people to blindly follow a rule that they literally can’t see any reason for.

            Again, even deciding to give food to someone when you yourself are not hungry at that moment requires that same first imaginative leap that you’re saying most people are incapable of, and “intrinsically selfish” is IMO a really weird and not-useful way to describe that act.

            • Sorry, that comes across as complete nonsense to me. The Golden Rule, paraphrased, means “treat others how you want to be treated.” The rephrased version means “treat others how they want to be treated.” The first version’s emphasis is on one’s own wants. The second version’s emphasis is on others’ wants. The shift in emphasis is important.

              And your example doesn’t really make sense. If you were hungry, you’d want to be fed. That’s fairly easy to understand. What isn’t as easy to understand is that others have wants and needs different from yours that aren’t based on simple bodily functions or states in society. The fact that some people want fame, and others want anonymity; the fact that some people like parties, and others hate them; the fact that some people like rigid schedules, and others want flexibility in their work: most people don’t even think about preferential differences like that.

              Being able to understand that others get hungry isn’t particularly difficult. Being able to understand that others have wants and needs you’ll never have is an entirely separate plane of ethical understanding. It’s a step beyond the one you’ve pointed out, and even if you progress to understanding the first one, there’s no guarantee that you’ll grasp the second one as a result.

              I certainly agree that a single slogan alone isn’t likely to change society altogether. However, many people have internalised the Golden Rule to such a point that they haven’t even been able to identify its crucial flaw. Seeing the alternative may at least trigger enough reflection that they can see why the rephrased version reflects a higher standard of ethical understanding than the original. And if they don’t understand it offhand, it can still be explained in greater detail.

              • Origami Isopod

                With respect, I agree with Hob that you are putting too much weight on the Golden Rule and viewing it more literally than other people might.

                • Maybe I am. However, my experience has been that language often has a powerful influence over people’s thought. We basically interpret the world through stories we tell ourselves about existence. Maybe others’ experiences are different, but I almost always think of the world in terms of language. The language I use has a powerful effect over how I perceive things; a large part of the reason I’ve recovered from depression is that I simply don’t have negative thoughts about myself anymore. I used to have those all the time.

                  One approach people recommended to solving depression was to try to catch oneself when thinking negative thoughts, and then immediately find a narrative that self-contradicted it. And actually, that approach did make me feel somewhat better for a month or two. The problem was that, after awhile, I couldn’t keep it up. It was too much effort. I think if I’d been trying that at the same time as I’d also had better friends or better work experiences, I might’ve been able to keep it up. But I was definitely telling myself different stories about myself for the time it worked, and it definitely made me feel better.

                  So maybe, because of that, I’m overestimating how powerful language can be for others. But it’s always been extremely powerful for me. A difference in a single word can change the meaning of a sentence entirely, and depending upon how much we internalise the value of that sentence, that can change our entire outlook on the world. “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is a very different sentiment from “From each according to their ability, to each according to their will,” and yet I’ve changed only one word. If a society is based around one rather than the other, that changes the nature of the society and the thought patterns of those living within it to an almost unrecognisable extent.

                  And ultimately, a lot of people’s assumptions about the world do often sum up into fairly simple sentiments: “The rich tend to be predatory,” “The rich deserve their wealth,” “Science tends to produce accurate results,” “Scientists are frauds,” and so on. Those assumptions can be crucially important in governing someone’s behaviour. Changing the emphasis of a sentence can completely reframe how people interpret it.

                  But, I mean, I do realise the strong form of Sapir-Whorf is basically considered discredited now, and as a person who’s been writing extensively for as long as I have I may be somewhat overrating the power of stories. But I’m not sure I am. As I pointed out the other day, thirteen years ago, American society was so homophobic that “moral values” was used as a dog whistle for opposition to marriage equality and it was a major factor in Bush 43’s election (I’m not using “re-election” because 2000 was obviously not legit). This year, the Oscar for Best Picture winner centres around gay themes. There were a number of contributing factors to the shift in culture, but improved media representation seems to have been a major contributing factor. The stories being told about gay people weren’t nearly as vicious any longer, so people started to realise that gay people are, well, people.

                  The stories we tell ourselves are important. If shifting the emphasis of a widely told story can cause people to think about the world in a new fashion that increases their empathy, I think it’s worth doing.

                  And really, it’s not merely the Golden Rule I’m concerned with; it’s more what the Golden Rule represents. Many people base their understanding of others on what they themselves want. That’s the cause of lots of problems in society. The Golden Rule itself may or may not be the root cause, but perhaps pointing out the flaws in its phrasing will incur reflection from others. It’s an example of the problem, in other words, like the Oscars protests last year were using the Oscars as an example of the lack of minority representation in media overall rather than simply a complaint about a specific ceremony.

                • Maybe this will work better if I provide a specific example. American society, arbitrarily, decided that averting one’s eyes was rude. As I’ve said several times before, I find eye contact with strangers incredibly uncomfortable, so I have a hard time making it. This isn’t rudeness. It’s discomfort.

                  But society, somewhere along the line, decided to code aversion of one’s eyes as rude. And a lot of people who interpret it that way never think about the fact that some people may simply find eye contact with strangers to be uncomfortable. This is, effectively, because they have not been trained to think about the fact that others may have different communicative preferences or needs.

                  The Golden Rule probably isn’t the sole direct cause of that, and most people probably aren’t even thinking about how it relates to the coding of eye contact as the expected norm. But the fact remains that people in general don’t consider the many ways people’s preferences and needs may differ, and this is the root cause of a number of serious problems in society.

                  The contrast in emphasis, “Treat others how they wish to be treated” rather than “Treat others how you wish to be treated,” underscores the idea that others want different things. This sentence alone probably won’t be enough to train others out of their self-centred perceptions of the world. But the difference in emphasis can be used to underscore two different ways of thinking. Causing people to consider why the rephrasing, literally interpreted, reflects a higher level of ethical understanding and empathy than the original version may cause them to consider how their preferences and needs may be normalised in society, and how others’ aren’t, particularly if accompanied by examples of how some people have different needs or preferences than others.

                  Anyhow, that said, I’ll probably be heading off for awhile within a few minutes; classwork beckons. Will be back later tonight, probably.

              • Bill Murray

                when I was taught the Golden Rule, it was always treat others how you would want to be treated if you were in their situation. Which is not the same always as how they want to be treated, but often does lead to empathy, kindness and better treatment than not thinking at all. In the end you don’t know what the other person wants (sometimes, even when they tell you) and the Golden Rule makes it far less likely one will act like a jerk

                • That’s better than the usual phrasing, but it’s still imperfect even with that addition. Assuming others would react to a given situation the same way you would is the sort of thing gets you people who blame rape victims because the victims didn’t act after the fact like the people blaming them would have done. The fact that some people react to circumstances differently than others would have done is not a realisation some people come to without explicitly being prodded to do so.

      • JohnT

        This was a really interesting and thought-provoking bit of writing

    • kvs

      This reminds me of a Daniel Quinn parable. There’s a village where the youth have started committing suicide. So of course the villagers make it illegal to commit suicide the way the youth were. The youth find a new way to commit suicide. And the villagers outlaw that. And so on. And so on without the villagers ever wondering whether maybe instead of outlawing suicide, they should find out what it is about the village that’s causing its youth to want to kill themselves, then fix it.

      • Origami Isopod

        The problem with that fictional society, and with ours, is that people’s well being is less valued than their obedience to a norm. Fixing the norm is inconvenient for the powerful.

        • kvs

          The problem with that fictional society and ours is that obedience to a norm is considered essential to being well.

          • PunditusMaximus

            The problem with that fictional society and ours is that the children’s unhappiness was not even kind of acknowledged until they started killing themselves.

            • all of these are problems.

              What? Someone had to be the smartass and point it out.

    • PunditusMaximus

      It gets worse. Moore was obviously a child who was more than capable of growing into a functioning, contributing adult. Why was there no place for him during his childhood? It’s not like we invented the idea of quiet academics 20 years ago.

    • Bruce B.

      Absolutely. A friend of mine does a lot of disability access work, and introduced me to the concept of how much “this is a problem because society won’t make accommodations” isn’t the same thing as “this is a problem in itself”. Lacking properly working and strong legs and therefore needing a wheelchair is a problem in various ways in itself, but problems like shortage of accessible doors and goods stocked out of reach are only a problem because of the assumptions people make in designing buildings and shelving.

      It’s absolutely proper to ask society to adapt! People do it all the time! I grew up when getting to go as a child to museums and art galleries was a big deal because they had minimum ages and various restrictions on access for young ‘uns. I remember when dress codes, formal and informal, were much, much more common than they are now for restaurants, movie theaters, and the like. People push on these things for reasons good and bad, and certainly someone who’s got physiological and psychological needs is at least as entitled to push as someone who just wants to be a rude slob.

  • JohnT

    As someone who did not know Will Moore but who has a young son with many of the same traits, I found this note to be both tragic and disturbing. It’s hard to know from his note if anyone could have done something to alleviate the burdens of what was clearly a challenging life.

    May he be remembered for what he was proud of.

    • kvs

      Maybe psychiatric or psychological counseling would’ve helped. Certainly there are lots of ways to cope with being different that might not necessarily be intuitive. Or at a minimum require coaching and practice.

      And while Will’s right that understanding or adaptation shouldn’t be expected of society as a whole, it’s not an unreasonable request to make of people who have more incentive to care to do so. But to someone with his perspective, it’d probably seem like an imposition or burden to make that request.

  • rhino

    What a stunningly beautiful piece of writing.

    And what a perfect demonstration of a truth that should be obvious: There is nothing insane, nothing irrational, nothing stupid or incomprehensible about suicide. Sometimes, a person can simply be done with life before they happen to die. Why is this so hard to accept? Is it fear that our own lives can so completely fail us? Do we refuse to acknowledge that others might be justified in their suicide out of fear because there but for the grace of god, go us?

    One can surely say that most people who elect to end their own lives do so out of desperation, and that at least some of those people will always be tragically premature in their assumption that life would remain intolerable. But not always, and we do a grave evil when we selfishly demand of others that they continue in misery. Especially when our reasons are so often concerned with our happiness, rather than their unhappiness.

    I think we lost something, when this man chose to kill himself. But his life was not about us, it belonged to him to dispose of, and I admire the way he chose to do so.

    • Rob in CT

      Do we refuse to acknowledge that others might be justified in their suicide out of fear because there but for the grace of god, go us?

      there but for the grace of god, go our loved ones. For me, at least, there is fear of losing someone, not losing myself.

    • Dilan Esper

      And what a perfect demonstration of a truth that should be obvious: There is nothing insane, nothing irrational, nothing stupid or incomprehensible about suicide. Sometimes, a person can simply be done with life before they happen to die. Why is this so hard to accept?


      My oldest brother committed suicide. He had serious problems. And I do feel terrible that he didn’t get all the help he needed for those problems, although to be honest he was also at times extremely resistant to that help when it was available to him.

      But on the other hand, it’s a big mistake to treat suicide as if it is 100 percent a mental illness / disorder and nobody would rationally do such a thing. Control of your own life seems to me to be at the center of any conception of rights. People ought to be able to kill themselves if they want to, and friends and family members absolutely do not get a veto over this, no matter how much they may be hurt. It’s not their life. Honestly, I have no idea what my brother lived through and how miserable he was, and it seems completely wrong for me to preemptively declare that it was mental illness, rather than a rational decision that life is no longer worth living, that caused him to do it.

      They recently approved a suicide barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge. And I suppose if I were on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors I would have voted for it. But when people talk about this issue, they always talk about all the lives being “saved” as if it’s an absolute good. It’s only good to save that life if the person wants to keep on living. It’s not good to force a person to live a life they don’t want to live.

      • Rob in CT

        Interesting, in that I also had a brother (half brother, technically) who committed suicide.

        Thing is… he had two kids. So yes, it was his life, his choice, etc., but the fact is he deserted them. He left them with his totally dysfunctional wife (who drank herself to death within a couple of years). Quasi-miraculously, they ended up ok, after being taken in by other family members. They’re both functional adults who seem happy, thank goodness…

        • kg

          I get Dilan’s point above but kids really make it hard to swallow. My mom killed herself when I was 10 and it sure felt like being deserted.

          • Rob in CT

            Wow, sorry to hear that.

            My brother’s death didn’t hit me directly, because I barely knew him. But I watched the rest of the family and they were collectively punched in the gut.

          • Origami Isopod

            Christ, I’m sorry.

            This is one of two reasons I can’t get behind the concept of suicide as 100% an issue of autonomy with no complicating factors. (The other being that depression seriously fucks with one’s ability to think clearly.)

            • kg

              The interesting thing is that with 30+ years to think about it I really have come to (almost) where Dilan is wrt agency. It’s definitely easier to think that way when kids aren’t involved.

              Another thing that others have mentioned is automatically condemning people who commit suicide as selfish cowards, etc. It’s really easy to do that (I spent a lot of years in that camp) but is such an oversimplification of a not-simple thing.

              I’ve never sought any counseling about it and don’t really talk about it much but I have to admit it’s felt kind of good to just put it out there today on this thread.

          • As the others said, my condolences.

        • Pete


      • trollhattan

        Enough anecdotes of fall survivors who, between the jump and hitting the water realized they’d made a mistake, a really big mistake, to warrant doing something to prevent more jumpers.

        A brother in law committed suicide jumping from a downtown building and I’ll always wonder what his final thoughts were in those scant seconds. Nobody knew he was hurting and ironically, his family role had always been the caretaker. A final sad note is that he had a doctorate in counseling and now is no longer available to help others.

        Mr. Moore’s post is deeply troubling and my heart goes out to those left behind to grieve, and ponder his decision.

        • Dilan Esper

          As I said, I would, in the end, vote to build the suicide barrier. I understand that people have second thoughts after the jump.

          But I also think there’s such a thing as over-prevention of suicide. It should be recognized that people sometimes have rational reasons not to want to continue living, and should have the autonomy to act on it.

          Appropos of this, Aaron Hernandez killed himself in prison last night/this morning. And I’ve definitely always found it off-putting the great lengths prisons go to in trying to stop prisoners from doing this.

          • rm

            Oh, come on. Prison is an environment designed to drive people to suicidal feelings, even if they are not inclined to them or have no compelling reason for them. Meanwhile, prison authorities, if they are responsible or ethical, have the lives of people under their care. You are taking this ridiculously far.

            • Origami Isopod

              There is no subject, no matter how sensitive and ethically fraught, that Dilan can’t come in and take a big steaming logical dump on.

            • Dilan Esper

              That isn’t why we prohibit suicide in prison. We do it so we can torture prisoners by keeping them alive.

          • trollhattan

            Isn’t that why we now have assisted suicide for the terminally ill? If the underlying difference is that with help, many of those considering suicide have a potential path out of their abyss then a society who values them and a future, we should reflexively try to stop them. (And then get them treatment, as though we were Sweden or something.)

            The NRA works against this daily, of course. Suicide rates in nations with fewer guns are lower than the US.

    • The way he writes makes it sound like he wasn’t suffering, because when you’re depressed, you’ve convinced yourself that your thoughts are rational, and that you’re not suffering. In some ways, being depressed doesn’t really feel the same as sadness. It’s just… emptiness. Nothing. It’s a void. It feels like the absence of emotion.

      But is definitely is pain, and it’s a sort those who haven’t been depressed and gotten out of it can’t hope to understand. It’s only with the hindsight you get once you’ve recovered that you can possibly understand how deeply pained you were when you were depressed.

      It’s a product of having felt such unbearable pain for so long that it’s completely altered your perception of the world, and made you think your thoughts are logical. They’re not at all logical. They’re the product of having been under unbearable pain for so long you’ve stopped noticing it.

      Moore’s note doesn’t sound at all pained, but as someone who’s been where he was (I got to the point of planning my suicide, but not attempting to carry it out), I can assure you that he was in incomprehensible pain that no one who hasn’t suffered depression themselves can possibly hope to understand.

      I do think euthanasia should be allowed for terminal illnesses and the like, but when someone ends their life as a result of depression, that’s a tragedy of the worst kind.

      • Lurking Canadian

        When I started wearing glasses as a kid, I was astonished at how high-res the world was. I had been living in a Monet landscape for so long that that’s what I thought the world looked like.

        I had a similar experience when I started taking Prozac. I am one of the lucky ones for whom it basically works as advertised. And after it started working, I had a stretch where I could *remember* my prior emotional state, but I could really believe it. “You mean THIS is how people are supposed to feel? All the time? Regular people seriously never draft their suicide notes? Seriously?”

        • Hogan

          When I started wearing glasses as a kid, I was astonished at how high-res the world was. I had been living in a Monet landscape for so long that that’s what I thought the world looked like.

          Richard Pryor said he got glasses after being nearsighted for many years and not realizing it. When he went outside, it looked like everything was trying to cut him.

          • N__B

            I got glasses for being nearsighted when I was 8. I was astonished to find out that there were leaves on the tops of trees. I had assumed that there were leaves on the bottom and fuzz on top.

        • Hob

          I am one of the lucky ones for whom it basically works as advertised. And after it started working, I had a stretch where I could *remember* my prior emotional state, but I could really believe it.

          I’ve had that experience just once – having tried lots of different medications, one of them happened to work, and work fast enough that I could (for a while) vividly perceive the difference because the previous state was still fresh in memory. It’s never happened again; sadly, as is sometimes the case, that one medication just didn’t work at all the next time round and everything else has been only very ambiguously effective. But the memory of that experience – at a further remove, like not exactly the feeling itself, but how I perceived myself perceiving it – has remained enough to still be useful as kind of a guidepost.

        • Pete

          On the way home from the eye doctor at age 8 — looking out the car window, I still remember being shocked that it was possible to see individual leaves from the street; “I didn’t know trees looked like that!”

          Another decent comparison may be when one has becomes accustomed to chronic physical pain (like back pain) — you no longer realize how much it had hurt you until it’s finally gone.

      • rm

        I definitely thought of anhedonia while reading his note.

    • I think we lost something, when this man chose to kill himself. But his life was not about us, it belonged to him to dispose of, and I admire the way he chose to do so.

      Except that his life was most certainly about us: all of the people that his life touched in profound ways, and who they in turn will touch in profound ways, and those who will not have the opportunity to experience that now that he is gone, and the loss to us all because of that.

      Suicide is at once the most personal and the most selfish act that a person can commit.

      • Dilan Esper

        I don’t think you get to call it selfish.

        Seriously, would you call an abortion “selfish” because it denies her friends and relatives a child that they will come to love?

        Would you call the decision of a teenager to move east to go to a selective college “selfish” because it denies companionship to his parents?

        Would you call the decision of two parents to get a divorce “selfish” because it might have effects on their children?

        Heck, why not call the friends and relatives “selfish” because they want to force their friend/relative to live a horrible painful life just so the person can be around for them?

        I’m sorry, I have zero interest in suicide, but nonetheless, my life is not the property of my friends or relatives or loved ones. They aren’t the ones living it. I am.

      • Origami Isopod

        I am not going to go as far as Rhino or Dilan and say suicide is nothing more than a personal choice. Depression lies to us, and fighting against it is more important to me than enshrining the right to kill oneself in all situations as “autonomy.”

        That said, calling people who kill themselves “selfish” is something that needs to go away. Except in very limited circumstances that are not applicable to this discussion, people who do so are not thinking correctly. They are ill. They deserve sympathy, not excoriation.

        • rm

          I agree, but for people left behind, moments of anger at the person for what they did can be a healthy part of dealing with it. That anger is also okay, and should not be excoriated.

          • Origami Isopod

            Yes, true. But for a third party to categorically pronounce all suicides selfish is not helpful.

            • It is absolutely a selfish act. I (figuratively) am deciding to punch out because of my own personal reasons, regardless of how it will affect anyone else. That is textbook selfish. Whether we can agree that it is justified or not, or can be accomplished with a sound mind or not, is something else. But the act itself it intensely personal and intensely selfish.

              • Hob

                You assume too much. It’s both possible and common for people in that state to convince themselves that “how it will affect anyone else” is in fact positive: “sure they may be upset at first, but it’ll be better in the long run, I would’ve just gone on causing them pain,” etc. You, as a third party, may know better, but you have no business making the pronouncement that that person in that condition perceives the same things you perceive and is just deciding to disregard them.

              • Origami Isopod

                All you are doing is contributing to the stigma that accompanies mental health issues and suicide.

              • BigHank53

                Did you know that if you jam someone suffering from clinical depression into an FMRI you can see the pain centers of their brain lighting up? They’re hurting. And if they’ve done the meds merry-go-round and had no luck…what would you suggest? Spending another twenty years in pain? Tough luck, kiddo, other people might have their fee-fees hurt?

                Suicide remains popular because it fucking works. The pain stops.

                I’m not endorsing the solution. But I can understand it.

    • Bruce B.

      I believe that we can be and often are mistaken in our relatively short-term evaluation of our self-interests, in terms of our own long-term values and priorities as well as those of anyone else.

      I had a stroke in December and a related incident in January (admitted to the hospital with blood pressure 220/110, blood sugar 470). If I were to tell you now that I propose to give up all attention to dietary constraints and eat a pizza a day plus a whole lot of other things known to drive up blood pressure, and that I’m sure this won’t matter, you can tell me I’m wrong and be 100% right no matter how sure of it I might be at the moment.

      Likewise, if I were to tell you that I’ve become sure that this time, unlike the other times I felt just about as sure of it, there is in fact zero point in continuing to live any longer, the odds are good that I’m wrong about it. Nothing about my condition right now is dooming the way that, say, well-developed Parkinson’s or dementia is – I do not face the choices that Terry Pratchett did and Terry Jones does right now. Nor am I in any of the other situations that I think do make an end-of-life choice sensible and responsible. I just feel like shit in a lot of ways and miserable about feeling like shit and miserable about being so miserable and so on.

      Jan Narveson articulates the idea in one of his books that it’s not at all uncommon or weird to question another’s judgment precisely because of our respect for their agency, intelligence, wisdom, etc. It’s true in obvious cases like not giving cigarettes to someone who’s trying hard to quit but just really craving one right now, and it’s true in weighty matters like suicide too. Understanding how they’ve come to this point needn’t mean agreeing that they actually are deciding well.

  • MND

    It’s very sad to read his last posts. Especially now with the internet, it’s not impossible to find people who largely share his view of the world. I’m really struck by his post from December about Hallmark and corporate sentimentality. I don’t think he’s as unusual as he seems to think in being offended at the phoniness of it all, and I wish he could have seen the humour in it instead of being so intensely angry. It’s not easy being an uncompromising person.

    • Origami Isopod

      I wish he could have seen the humour in it instead of being so intensely angry. It’s not easy being an uncompromising person.

      Thanks for blaming the victim. Much appreciated.

      • MND

        That’s really not what I meant. I relate to his struggles and wish that instead of feeling despair there’d been a way for him to have connected with other people and found another way of looking at things. I don’t mean “uncompromising” as an insult either and maybe he preferred to be that way. I don’t see a need to think in terms of blame.

      • bkbk

        The final message does seem to be full of perfectionism. At every paragraph I found myself wondering at his conclusion that the absence of a perfect resolution for each of the frustrations and limitations he encountered meant that the situation was untenable.. Perhaps perfectionism is part of depression for many people, or is an outlook that predisposes or leads to depression.

        • I have a long history of perfectionism. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were related to my bouts of depression. Learning to live with things being “good enough” isn’t an easy lesson for some people.

          • David Allan Poe

            In my case I believe they are somehow linked. Perfectionism is a good excuse to stay in bed with the covers over your head, because the notion that if you don’t do it perfectly it isn’t worth doing dooms you to failure from the outset, since no one’s ever done anything perfectly. So then you get to beat yourself up for being a lazy fucker.

            One of the more insidious mental traps depression lays is that it can make hating yourself and the rest of the world very pleasurable – of course everyone has flaws, so you can easily convince yourself that noticing those flaws to the exclusion of everything else means that you “understand how it really is” and “have really high standards.”

        • Bruce B.

          A lot of my friends with long-term impairments have perfectionism problems, and on some fronts so do I. Part of it’s a response to the failure of what felt like sensible steps that didn’t help, particularly ones that worked and maybe produced great outcomes…until they burned down, fell over, and sank into the swamp. That’s a great way to get your brain busily thinking that the obvious response is better and better efforts until finally everything is so perfect that nothing can fail ever again.

          Pro tip: the brain is wrong about that.

        • Origami Isopod

          It could have been depression. It could have been autism, which sometimes manifests in rigid thinking. It could have been both. I therefore think it’s rather insensitive to say “If only he could’ve been less angry, less rigid.” It’s ignoring both the limitations he was operating under and the fact that feeling perpetually alienated from others is a good recipe for anger.

          • MND

            I’m sorry for angering you and, again, did not mean to suggest that he deserved blame for his reaction. Wishing that he’d been able to find a way to live more happily doesn’t mean that it’s his fault that he didn’t.

      • Pete

        I didn’t read MND’s post as blaming Moore. It seemed to me to have a wistful tone.

    • JustRuss

      Hallmark and their ilk have made a fortune by conditioning us to believe we’re supposed to acknowledge our loved ones on a rigid schedule (and pick the perfect gift, no pressure Mr. AsAResultOfMyDepressionIFeelICantDoAnythingRight!) I personally feel life’s too short to get worked up about them, but I won’t blame anyone who does.

      • MND

        I agree 100% and totally identify with his feelings. For people who feel that way our options are basically:
        1) Find like-minded people to share our lives
        2) Compromise on our beliefs
        3) Live a very alienated life

        It’s especially alienating if you similarly reject other day-to-day social niceties like small talk and white lies as unworthy phoniness. I used to feel more like what he expresses in those blog posts but have shifted to some combination of options 1 and 2, and its much happier if less principled.

  • cleek

    Fuck You, Brain.


    that song was written to help samaritans.org , which is a UK org devoted to suicide prevention. the message, though, is applicable everywhere.

  • nocomment

    Have note read the entire note but was wondering whether the cuts to Arizona higher education may have been a precipitator for his decision to end his life now.
    There is a whole lot wrapped up in this entire Trump/Republican rule nightmare we’re all living through.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I can believe it. As a society, we haven’t even talked publicly about how many suicides might be caused by the financial horseshit breakout of 2007. (Well, not at the popular level, I suspect it has been done by some academics by now.) Similarly, the veteran suicide issue gets swept into the bin of TBI/IED blasts and combat, when so many veterans didn’t have that experience, but did have mortgages, modern mortgage horseshit, credit card problems, marital problems caused by deployments, and all sorts of other economic stresses.

      I’ll now be quietly in the corner demanding bread and roses and circuses, too, and less fear, toil, anger, misery, and war.

      • nocomment

        Uh huh.

    • Origami Isopod

      There was a woman who committed suicide right after the election was called for Drumpf. She had had a blogpost scheduled to go up posthumously, explaining that without the ACA she would die, and asking people to take care of her pets for her.

      I’ve also heard reports that a number of trans people, including teenagers, killed themselves the same night.

  • petesh

    I offer two insights from personal experience and observation, and one guess:
    (1) A very common factor within depression is the sense that nothing will ever change, even if you “know” on some level that this is not the case.
    (2) The first time I almost committed suicide, almost 50 years ago, I was standing at a cliff edge in the dark when a car pulled up not far away (a couple looking to make out, I think). The headlights were enough to jerk me out of a sense of inevitability and I got back in my own car and drove away. I’ve been tempted a couple of times since then but always remembered to call someone, anyone. It passes (for me).
    (3) It is not impossible that I might do it one day, but I think the only circumstance would be a diagnosis of a painful, terminal illness. And I am not sure I wouldn’t ride that out anyway.

    • I have had two grandparents die of lung cancer, an uncle die of colon cancer and a grandfather die of alzheimers. I’m not going out like that. If and when my health takes a permanent turn for the worse, I will say my goodbyes and commit suicide in the least painful way I can find. I find arguments that my plan to avoid a year or so of intense pain to be selfish, unconvincing.

      • I think there’s a bit of a difference between committing suicide due to a painful terminal illness and committing suicide due to one’s emotional state, which is capable of improving.

        That said, people who are depressed may not even be capable of recognising that their actions will cause others harm because their thinking has been so warped, so I agree with the others who have commented that calling it a selfish act is not helping. The act is, in many cases, well-intentioned, but based out of a warped perception of others’ emotional states and one’s own value.

        • Bruce B.

          Agreed here too. There’s a time for talking about one’s own anger at the departed, but not right away, and in thoughtful, managed circumstances, including acknowledging the anger as damage that must also be healed, not the final cosmic truth.

  • Frank Wilhoit

    There is an important point to be made in connection with the numerous comments about INTJs and their sense of isolation. That point is this:

    …uh, wow. Myers and Briggs were women. <Carson>I did not know that.</Carson> I was about to say something very colorful and (albeit figuratively) violent about what should be done with them and their memory and their gravesites and all their works. I’m glad I touched Wikipedia first, else what I was going to write would have been, on one level, extremely inappropriate. But the bitterness is still there, long-held and deeply considered. If your employer makes people take the MBTI, walk out. If you lose your job thereby, you have done yourself an immeasurable favor. It is not that the MBTI does not tell you things about yourself: it does, but they are trivial things, presented with an apparatus of specious profundity, purporting to be explanatory and predictive whereas in fact they are neither.

    Scott Adams (long before his recent baffling evolutions) did a good takedown of the MBTI. The punch line, delivered by Dogbert: “You’ll notice that most of you fall into this quadrant right…down…here.”

    • Bruce B.


    • Origami Isopod

      Agreed. It’s no more valid than astrology.

  • Tyro

    Normally I can at least empathize a bit with the suffering that drives people to suicide. I have had trouble with depression. I went through a period of chronic physical pain, as well, which gave me insight into why a colleague, with his whole brilliant career ahead of him, took his own life to relieve that physical suffering.

    But I didn’t feel sadness reading Moore’s post as much as I felt anger at him. His issues of being introverted and borderline autistic are not exactly rare. Socially maladjusted professors aren’t mysterious beings, either. Many of them (us!) learn to deal and make a good life for ourselves, and I felt like ultimately he was trying to explain why my life is itself not worth living.

    But then that was a big thrust of his post– his whole life he goes around “pissing people off”. Even in death he does so.

    I’d like to think that he had a lot of serious mental pain and suffering induced by depression that he refused to acknowledge. That said, I can see now why he had so many social challenges.

  • apogean

    Many of the responses to this post have focused on how depression, from the inside, is often difficult to identify; and that Will must have been acting out of the false logic of depression and despondency rather than making a clear choice. I’m not going to say that that’s wrong; I don’t know the man at all. But I read his note, and I have to say, his reasoning is clear and to some extent compelling. What I read was:

    1. From childhood I have dispositionally loathed meaningless status games; they bring me endless suffering
    2. In order to be happy in life I needed to produce things (writing, scholarship, whatever)
    3. In order to produce things I needed to engage in meaningless status games
    4. Therefore, the things I needed to do to be happy in life also brought me endless torment
    5. Life is not worth living on those terms

    I can understand this. I can’t see myself making the same choice, because I fear death too much. But I can understand it.

    There’s a common sentiment that suicide can never be a rational choice. I have very mixed feelings about it, because it seems to come from (on the one hand) the grief of surviving friends and family, who are understandably distraught that their loved one is gone and inclined to anger and blame, and (on the other hand) a sort of residual Protestant morality that life is a blessing and the idea that life contains more suffering than joy must be the product of a diseased mind. It also seems to undermine the autonomy and capacity of people who are suicidal. And the response to that usually goes something like “well of course we have concerns about their autonomy – they’re suicidal!” which is obviously self-justifying.

    I don’t have an alternative, I’m not trying to offer up a polemic. But these things concern me. I find myself wanting to defend this man and his choice, and say that suicide can be a rational response to the prospect of unending suffering. Certainly in the case of someone like Terry Pratchett, who faced a degenerative brain disease and the gradual loss of his personality and his memory, a very gradual and painful death, I would strongly defend his choice against people who are inclined to call it selfish, irrational, or foolish. But is a life of interminable depression and pain any less real? Is the suffering Will tells us very clearly that he could not escape any less significant?

    • keta

      Great post. Thanks for this.

    • apogean

      I should note that I have had recurring major depression for my entire adult life. This is a very important and personal topic for me. I want to discuss it with people, but I’m not playing the devil’s advocate or trying to be controversial. I’m putting this out there in good faith.

      • Chieroscuro

        Off the cuff, I want to walk through that list as you present it.

        #1 is a straight-forward preference against a form of behaviour.

        #2 is fairly inarguable on the basis that it gets rather difficult to dictate to people what will make them happy, or for people to deliberately change what makes them happy.

        #3 is where I think the kicker is. It posits an irreconcilable situation.

        The rebuttal is here, that there may have been a solution which would have accomodated the productivity necessary for his happiness while minimizing his exposure to situations that he found painful or intolerable. If so, and I don’t presume that it’s a guarantee, then #4 is obviated or migitated enough that #5 is no longer the only rational response.

        This is where the stigma around mental health & wellness does its greatest damage. If the solutions being considered at point #3 are only the ones that I myself come up with, I may miss an answer that someone professionally trained to assess & treat exactly these sorts of situations would be able to provide or suggest to me. While refusal to see a doctor in the face of obvious physical trauma has been getting less and less societal support, we still to a far too great a degree expect people to be their own shrinks.

        • Right. That list could sound logical to a person who’s depressed, but the odds that he’d actually exhausted all options available to him are slim. For starters, a lot of the cultural problems he had are unique to America; for example, the northern U.K. doesn’t consider eye contact rude. Moving somewhere else might’ve offered a possibility of a culture that fit better for his personality style. And it’s also possible that he simply hadn’t found the right environment for creativity yet; maybe there are outlets for creativity here that wouldn’t have been so stressful for him that he simply hadn’t found yet. It can seem like you’ve exhausted all your options if you’re depressed, but that’s your depression talking. It’s not logical. It sounds logical, because that’s what depression does to you, but “there are no options” is almost never correct, unless you’re in something like Aaron Hernandez’ situation I guess.

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