Most suicide is tedious. Some lost teenager, adrift without parental guidance or a civilization that can nurture intelligent and realistic thinking, self-destructs, usually at the encouragement of some glibly giggling budding sociopath who thinks how much more powerful it will make them to have destroyed another.
Ritual suicide comes from another vein entirely. This occurs when someone feels they have failed their responsibility to upholding the principles of the tribe. It is more than merely failing the tribe; it requires having failed to live up to an ideal.
America finds itself stunned by the collapse of a walking bridge at Florida International University, killing five people. This fear originates less in the event itself than in the perceived takeover of America by incompetence.
Over the past six decades, American politicians and the voters who approve of them have steadily removed the rule of duty from American work. When work becomes a career, and people want security in that career, they create endless entities to insulate themselves from the consequences of failure.
Unions, affirmative action, regulations, and endless recommendations by professional organizations join the march to obscure incompetence. People love rules because when their bridge collapses, they can say, “But I followed the rules!” while handily equating the letter of the law with the intent of the law.
We know at some level that we are less capable than we were in the 1900s, 1950s, and 1980s. This makes us nervous because it is a sign of civilization collapse, which is not a sudden Hollywood-style process but a gradual descent into Brazil or Mexico, where buildings fall down all the time and people cry out “Â¡Ay, Caramba!” and then resume normal life. In a collapsed nation, incompetence and corruption are the norm.
Americans like to think that we are above that, forgetting that unless we maintain the conditions that created our competence, we will through the processes of entropy and degeneration become incompetent. Yet we had to fiddle with the formula by creating insulation against consequences and importing labor from failed countries.
Now we see a symbol of that failure when an ordinary and not really challenging engineering project fails in a very public way. Our hidden fears come to light. What we have suspected for some time seems to be upon us. It is, even if this event is not directly related to that.
In the old days, when we were a WASP nation, the West had a sense of ritual suicide even if it was not literal suicide. Our principles were like the intent of our laws: not just to avoid being on the wrong side of the law, but to avoid screwing up in such a way that we dishonor ourselves.
A WASP who screwed up this badly would be honor-bound to quit his job and retreat in shame to some place where no one knew him and he could take on a menial job and never screw up again. It was cruel, perhaps less cruel than Japanese ritual suicide, but it was effective.
In fear at that, our new ethnic and racial diversity demanded that we paper ourselves with rules and protections so that incompetents would not be forced to self-destruct in exchange for betraying our principles and possibly killing others. Now we see where reversing that culture of duty gets us.
Perhaps when an event like this happens we should find out who originated the failure, bring them onto a public stage, and either have them gut themselves or worse, explain themselves to others. Their failure will provide an example of what we do not tolerate, and motivate others to check those equations again before hitting “go.”