Down and Out
The unemployment rate in the United States has reached a 16-year high of 7.2%. Economists say that we are still far from the recovery period and until then, expect things to get worse. Effects are certainly being felt on a global scale. The recent suicide of German billionaire, Adolf Merckle raises the timeless question: what are the causes of suicide?
What is particularly interesting is that even with significant losses Merckle was still worth about £6 billion. Merckle left only a note for his family with the words “I’m Sorry”. It has been noted that the most important role in life for Merckle was to pass on the business to his children, as was done for several generations before him; even surviving two world wars and the Great Depression.
While it is difficult to explain Merckle’s suicide in terms of Durkheim’s categories, it is interesting to think about Durkheim’s notion of anomie given the current recession. The term anomie to Durkheim refers to a condition where social and moral norms are confusing, unclear, or not present. This lack of norms often leads to deviant behaviour. In times of uncertainty, goals become seemingly infinite in scope rather than being limited by social order. In the absence of clear goals, weakened social ties and uncertainty, there is little hope that any goals are attainable.
Instead of trying to pinpoint the causes of suicide, it is more useful to situate and understand these events in relation to broader social contexts. It is important to acknowledge that suicide is a complex social phenomenon. Even the most seemingly obvious explanations such financial loss, are often not the most logical.
Cecil L. Willis on Durkheim’s Concept of Anomie: Some Observations