“Look What You Made Them Do!” – Suicide-Threats-By-Proxy As Political Weapons

From Damien Counsell:

BBC News: “NHS England to stop prescribing puberty blockers”

A popular gambit in what currently passes for trans activism is to claim that denying certain activists’ demands cause the deaths of trans people. The stakes are often raised to “the deaths of ‘trans children’”. Sometimes, these threatened deaths are implied to be at the hands of others; but, often, the claim is that denying troubled youngsters—actually denying the activists—said law-change or resource or service will drive them—the youngsters—to suicide.

What This Post Isn’t About

Kids who are different from their peers get bullied. Bullying is an evil in itself. Bullying can drive kids to suicide. Regulating children’s behaviour towards their peers in the places where adults can regulate it, applying fair and consistent discipline, and removing dangerous children from spaces occupied by vulnerable children almost certainly save lives.

Damian Counsell is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

We’ve learned about a clear-cut example this year: That the most recent of several school expulsions of one of the murderers of Brianna Ghey had been for poisoning a fellow pupil and that she was not only then moved to Ghey’s school without that school being informed of that fact, but placed in a class full of vulnerable children, were catastrophic failures of safeguarding—without which Ghey would almost certainly be alive today. This substack is not about this real phenomenon.

What This Post Is About

Here’s activist KC Jolyon Maugham [436000 followers]1 on Twitter, quoting himself comparing the end of puberty blockers being prescribed by the NHS to children to a ban on abortion:

“Solidarity with trans children whose mental health suffers, solidarity with the families of children who take their own lives, solidarity with those who cannot ‘go private’, solidarity with trans adults whose lives are scarred by an absence of medical care, solidarity with all those harmed by putting politics before healthcare.”

Maugham has 436000 followers

As with so much of the lawyer’s output, you have to concentrate to catch all the layers of question-begging. Are all children who believe at some point during their development that they are “trapped in the wrong body” “trans children”? How many of the kids Maugham believes are “trans children” are struggling with their sexual identity (as so many do) or simply attracted to the same sex? How many are only labelled trans by adults? Where is his evidence that the particular form of intervention he prefers is effective enough—and better than the alternatives—to count as “medical” care? Where is his evidence that suicide, a fundamentally irrational act, is, in such troubled individuals, a result of withholding of the treatments he advocates, rather than of more general and profound mental health problems?

[Whenever in this article I cite a tweet as evidence of the prevalence of a particular pernicious claim, I’ll also say how many people follow the person who tweeted it. I not only want to show that I’m not tilting at straw men, but also that the views I’m challenging are widely shared. But I only use Twitter for convenience. UK MPs have leant on the suicide-threat-by-proxy in Parliament. The most prominent “transgender youth” charity, Mermaids, uses it.]

Here’s activist TV personality India Willoughby (verbatim) on the same platform [78000 followers]:

“The exact same puberty blockers – identical dosage – Will STILL be prescribed to cis kids. This ban is discrimination, and I hope parents sue the arse off the NHS at the European Court of Human Rights. This decision is going to cause stress at best – and kill at worst.”

Willoughby has 78000 followers

[Being as pointlessly scrupulous as usual, I concede that Willoughby is at least coy about how exactly “trans kids” will be “killed at worst” by this evidence-driven policy.]

The more “scientific” variant of this kind of blackmail claims that Studies Have Shown that making some demanded resource or service or access available to trans individuals reduces the numbers of suicides among that demographic. You don’t have to read me debunk this; you can read the words of someone who’s spent years researching into how best to prevent suicide, Louis Appleby2, the Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group [34800 followers]:

“We need to see an end to that line about choosing a living daughter or dead son.

“It is not based on evidence.

“May add to distress in young people & mislead worried parents.

“Deeply insensitive to 200 families/yr to whom the suicide of a teenager is more than a slogan.”

“Children with gender distress may face bullying, isolation & family conflict, reasons to be alert to suicide risk.”

“Empathic support is vital but evidence that puberty blockers reduce risk is weak & unreliable.

“Invoking suicide in this debate is mistaken & potentially harmful.”

Even if you accept the claim of cause-and-effect that supposedly underpins it—he doesn’t, NHS England doesn’t, I don’t—it’s…

…A Shameful Tactic…

It exploits tragedies in order that people not immediately involved in them can achieve their political goals. It is especially exploitative if the deceased and/or those closest to them didn’t share the goals of those co-opting them in life.

It pretends that an irrational act can be used to make a rational argument. It’s hard—impossible!—to think of anything a fit and free human could do that would demonstrate more clearly that they’re suffering a mental illness than that human ending their own life. By definition, it’s impossible to draw any rational conclusion from their suicide either about the rightness of their inner motivations or about the wider world.

It puts words in the mouths of people in no position to deny them. Even if the thoughts or feelings of an individual aren’t directly co-opted, again by definition, because they are no longer here to think or feel, even as they did at that moment. We know from so many survivors of suicide attempts that, an instant later, most thought and felt vastly differently from the way they did at the moment they wished to end it all.

If it became a consistently successful tactic, it would link suicide to “positive” outcomes and create a moral hazard. Suicide is a catastrophic waste of, mostly young, lives. Even beyond the immediate victims, it wreaks destruction. Because it is a known social contagion, it can literally destroy other lives—when, for example, young people are inspired to imitate their dead idols, it can destroy unrelated lives thousands of miles away. But, even if you haven’t felt or seen the impact of the suicide of someone close to you, it isn’t hard to imagine how it can rip the heart out of a family and scar everyone left behind for decades.

It’s also…

…A Revealing Tell

It says a lot about this tactic that it’s popular on Twitter, a forum where the first path taken into any debate is the low road, and where even supposedly “moderate” commentators get so drunk on the instant affirmation of their groupthinking peers that they discard the decency that they like to believe their enemies lack.

When suicide is exploited for some partisan goal, I don’t believe most bystanders fall for the gambit, but I do believe that it tells those bystanders a great deal about the moral judgement—and, sometimes, the moral character—of the people who use it to try to win them over. Which brings me to Owen Jones [1.1 million followers] on Twitter:

“Aaron Bushnell died because he had too much humanity for a world run by people who don’t have any”

US Air force airman Aaron Bushnell died because he ignited the petrol he had poured over himself as he stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC.

Of the death of Albanian asylum seeker Leonard Farruku, Sam Freedman [143000 followers] wrote on Twitter:

“Performative cruelty has real and tragic consequences.”

Even before police or—heaven forbid!—court confirmation that the death of an asylum seeker on the Bibby Stockholm accommodation ship was a suicide, Freedman has stepped onto his corpse to use it as a soapbox.

(Note that Freedman’s post is reposted here by former Times leader writer Oliver Kamm [35K followers]. Kamm has form in prematurely exploiting violent death in the hope of scoring petty political points.)

Now that the coroner has pronounced, we know that the cause of Farruku’s death wasn’t people Freedman doesn’t like continuing to have politics Freedman doesn’t like, but Leonard Farraku’s hanging himself by the neck.

Much of Freedman’s opinionating has the same problem as Maugham’s: It’s so dense with unsupported pseudo-liberal cliché that you lose count of the levels of question-begging. Even if we put aside the inherent moral rottenness of the tactic, those using a suicide to project some imagined spite onto the act of providing free food and accommodation to people who, like Farraku, have arrived in this country by illegal means fall into a logical trap—in the same way that those who try to frame the issue of immigration as one of material profit-and-loss do. If you talk up immigrant doctors and nurses and entrepreneurs and cite increased tax income, you sink to the level of opponents who talk up crime committed by migrants and taxes dodged by undocumented workers: “I see your Nigerian doctors and raise you my Albanian drug dealers.”

If you want to claim every suicide of a migrant is an inevitable consequence of government illiberalism, don’t be surprised if your opponents feel more comfortable down there with you in the gutter and claim every assault and murder and rape of a native by a migrant is an inevitable consequence of government liberalism. And don’t call it racism when neutrals accept your implicit invitation to do this kind of grubby arithmetic themselves and come up with negative answers.

What would they do if they really cared?

To people interested in Farruku beyond his demise offering them a convenient shroud to wave, I recommend the parts of this article about the man’s tragic life that aren’t also trying to co-opt his death for the Guardian’s crusade against The Torys.

One revelation in it in particular struck me, as it was also true of a friend of mine, Adam, who killed himself at a miserably young age: Farruku’s mother died when he was a child and that death, unsurprisingly, affected him deeply and for the worse.

The rest of Adam’s family were astonishingly kind to me at the time of his death, and even came to visit me to offer consolation—when the pain of my loss can only have been infinitesimal next to theirs. His sister Tara went on to take that kindness far further, moving to Australia and becoming a firefighter, a Mental Health First-Aider, and an anti-suicide campaigner and researcher. She even wrote a book about her brother and about wider questions of (especially male) suicide. Reading it is a good place to start.

And, of course, a direct and practical thing that anyone who wants to prevent more suicides can do is volunteer for the Samaritans.

In this context, one aspect of Adam’s death has particular poignancy: He wanted to do something to change the world for the better, and had persuaded himself that he could achieve more by studying politics than by, as he then was, studying chemistry. Anyone who knows me can imagine my skepticism; but, having by that time changed my own subject of undergraduate study myself, I did what I could to help him with that. Like Farruku’s, his case was in administrative limbo at the time he died.

Years later, I became friends with a man who, like Adam, had also lost his mother to cancer at a young age and had studied at the same university. In the hope of saving others, my other friend dedicated his life to biochemistry and cancer research, and has worked successfully in drug discovery since. I wish Adam (whose father was himself a physiologist) had been able to follow a similar path.

[Reading this back, I see the ironies compound: Trans activists make political demands for drugs that have profound physiological effects on children with profound emotional problems, and they try to justify their political demands for scientific “solutions” by appeals to bad science about the terrible physical consequences of emotional disorders. But the World is always a worse place when stupid politics is allowed to drive the use of clever chemistry.]

Root Causes

Especially because I was taught to think by doing science, and science is where bad ideas go to burn, whenever I encounter a common broken argument like The Argument From Suicide-Threat-By-Proxy, I ask the meta question: Why, against reality and reason, does it persist?

For once, most of the answer is simple: We live in an ideological era when perceived victimhood confers status and authority and when victims are political currency.

This week, the Labour Party, whose own ongoing problems with racism had only recently been exposed again, was handed a political gift: Baldly racist and sexist remarks made five years ago by the Conservative Party’s biggest donor about Labour MP Diane Abbott were picked up (and enthusiastically run with) by the media.

As a result, Labour politicians and supporters have been able to pretend there’s a moral equivalence between a political party having accepted money from someone and a political party choosing to recommend someone to voters as their representative in Parliament. Before the week was out, some Labour MPs had taken up that spark of good fortune, seen in it another spurious moral equivalence, and used it to try to set fire to their party’s collective trousers.

That is, this would have seemed to be a wise time not to remind voters that Abbott had herself been removed from the Parliamentary Labour Party for a racist letter she wrote to The Observer. (And this wasn’t the first time she had been caught in public racism.)

Instead, former Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and current Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner, among others, called for the Labour whip to be restored to Abbott, her magical status of recent-victimhood having cleansed her of her sins, proving that much of the performative outrage expressed by her comrades this week on her behalf was instrumental, as is much performative concern about suicide.

I’m sure that McDonnell and Rayner are sympathetic to Abbott’s position, but I am also sure they know that having Abbott back on their team in the Commons would restore some of the influence they had when Corbyn was leader. They know that victimhood confers status and victims are currency.

True Blame And Party Games

The proximate cause of all violent deaths is violence. Social media didn’t kill Brianna Ghey; the violence of a violent girl and a violent boy did. When a man chooses suicide, he, more often than a woman, chooses violence. The proximate cause of most deaths of desperate human beings literally dying to get to the UK is people-traffickers taking migrants’ savings to bring them here illegally and then gambling with migrants’ lives. You almost have to admire the audacity of people who see the government responsible for housing illegal migrants as “cruel”, but only condemn the gangsters who traffic them when doing so presents an opportunity to attack that government.

When Sarah Everard was murdered by a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police, her death was so politicised that a (photogenic) woman dragged away by police from a vigil for Everard “became the face of the Sarah Everard vigil”. Bystanders could see the heavy-handedness of the police response for what it was; they could also see what was wrong with Everard being erased from her own death:

I do recommend you follow @sigourneybeaver on Twitter: She’s very funny and she’s just returned to the site after taking a break from it for her mental health

When activists and opinionists hijack violent, tragic, premature deaths, especially self-inflicted deaths, for their own political ends, the only people persuaded of the activists’ agenda are the people already on their side, people who also care more about that agenda than they do about the actual victims.

When they skim over the stories of those victims, when they skim over the pain of their bereaved friends and family, when they skim over the immediate circumstances of their deaths, to shout over at the world about their own obsessions, the only people really listening are their own tribespeople, to whom they are always signalling anyway.

Suicide-threats-by-proxy are counterproductive for the activists wielding them, but they are useful to the rest of us, because they help us to recognise their wielders for what they are—and to see their cause for the kind of people it attracts.

These monsters will do anything to create a victim, then stand on their broken body as a soap box to advance a political agenda.

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