Altruistic Suicide and YouTube

 Esse est percipi (To be is to be perceived) — George Berkeley

 

Only through the incessant play with market-driven capitalism and the selling of one’s own body can it produce a game of mass altruistic suicide, more specifically, actively undergoing the rapid deterioration of one’s body/mind to the point of death for an audience yet to be subsumed under this ritual.

The truly sad consequence to this is that we have a group of YouTubers — subjects/producers/products of YT — that are intimately entangled within the paradox of re-affirming or re-perpetuating their mental illness as a way to aid, palliate, or even cure it. In other words, they are each split-subjects between auto-exploitation and auto-salvation.

There is a noticeable and growing correlation between mental health issues and the mental health-oriented videos made for the public distribution of talking about, coming out with, bringing light to, the issues of mental health. At first moment it is courageous and admirable that we have people whose good hearts are into the un-tabooing of mental health, but at a second glance are unknowingly perpetuating unhelpful insights into the role and function to how social media itself plays into the activation and consuming of mental health itself. This is why they are split-subjects. Because at one and the same time, they are both enlightening the world to the troubles of mental health, even also perhaps as a self-remedy, and further degrading themselves to the bondage of being an object of/for social media.

It is as if the only recourse for safety a child has when abused by his mother is his mother. Youtube, and social media, is an authority that both abuse us and tend to our harms.

The ‘creation’ or ’cause’ of mental health by tech is complicated and twofold: social media stands as mediators or arbiters of mental health confession — each video its own booth and each viewer its own priest. And there can be no doubt prior to any engagement with social media there exists — for alternatively negative and similarly related politico-economic reasons — mental illness. Except, through the active engagement of being subject/object of YT, such prior mental health issues take a symptomatic and morphological change in such a way as what was once fretted about is now taken up to be the primary concern or object of social media itself. Any such illness has defectively transferred to fit the molding of technology itself such that mental health is now intimately tied with the consumption and engagement of YT — which allows us to then say such tech are the re-offenders (rather than the original cause) to the illness. It could be said there no longer exists mental health as such prior to social media because of tech’s full subsumption into its way of functioning and maintaining its existence.

Which points us into the direction of saying the issue of mental health is not an effect of a tool gone bad, but a programmatic feature to the tech itself that depends and capitalizes on it as such to maintain its existence — with the only thing it can respond to is by providing palliatives with which we all too readily gobble up.

By this point,it seems far too obvious but is nonetheless a fundamental issue to how not only we go about the rest of our lives but to the nature of tech-as-abuser itself. To repeat, there is an acute and important distinction to be made: It is not that technology is a neutral tool at our dispersal which can be used whether for doing good or harm, but that the infliction of harm is inherent to, and a function of, tech itself. And as such, we should be thinking less in terms of how we can better use it but more how tech ought to be modeled and distributed.

We see in recently made videos by Shane Dawson taking up the form of documentaries documenting the lives of YouTubers who have by this point taken a tumble in their popularity — they are no longer being perceived and as such no longer existing. Through discussion, Shanes’ objective is to rejuvenate and give life to both channel and person. A recent example shows us coming back into contact with Eugenia Cooney, A YT’er who by this point was on hiatus for, and a star made (in)famous by, anorexia nervosa. Again, at one and the same time, Shane comes to the rescue for both channel and body. And yet, as I’ve previously explained, this can only be seen as cruelly ironic. It’s not known whether YouTube/Social Media played a significant part in Cooney’s slow deterioration but can nonetheless be seen as the inhibitors or neutralizer to seeking help. By this point, Shane is saving her and leading her to a new death.

Can anything be more lonely than being watched by millions of faceless, anonymous people not knowing whether they exist or not?

Shane performs a similar exorcism on YT’ers. Allowing us to see their ‘true’ lives untouched by the screen of the internet, their torment, and their concern for their channel which all are in need of recovering. But is it logically possible to maintain the healthy equilibrium between the two?

One must perform in order to be, but more importantly, one must be noticed, watched, viewed, perceived. Their reality is their own self-created images. Yet it is unfair to lay blame when freedom is defined by two barbaric choices, both based on survival: to work or not to work, to be perceived or not to be perceived, to be or not to be. That is the enduring question for all humanity. 

Question: How should we think about, or legislate against, technology playing an active role in the deterioration of people’s lives?