RE: Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics ( Lon g Draft)

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Fri Apr 20 2001 - 14:31:22 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics ( Lon g Draft)
    Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 14:31:22 +0100
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    In response to your extended comments, Kenneth,

    I saw a TV series a while ago about cannibalism in the animal world. One
    example was of a mouse who ate its offspring, after a cat uncovered the
    mouse's burrow (is that the right word?).

    Anyway, it seems reasonable to suggest that recognition of insurmountable
    threats to offsprings' survival may be a root evolutionary cause of suicide
    as a capacity of humans (sacrifice and kin selection and all that). As
    such, I don't see anything wrong with your suggestion that people regarding
    their personal circumstances as insurmountable triggers this kind of
    response for both suicide, and infanticide.

    The later point about the media as a trigger, or as Robin mentioned, as a
    kind of tipping point, I still think is problematic. Not necessarily in the
    sense that it's incorrect, but more in the sense- of well what do we do
    about it if this is true? Surely, one response would be to ban media
    representations of suicides, on the basis that they may trigger suicide
    attempts (and much the same has been argued about pornography and sex crime,
    of course). Now, personally speaking, as a libertarian I have real problems
    with this because it inherently limits freedom of speech, and won't impact
    on rates of these kind of behaviours ( in the same way that death penalties
    do nothing to crime statistics- well apart from adding state-sanctioned
    murder to those lists...).

    I still think that it's a highly problematic argument to make in the first
    place, since isolating media influence on such extreme behaviours is very
    difficult, given that mass audiences are exposed to the same contents, and
    yet cases of copycatting are usually very isolated, and the context of that
    copying usually includes other very strong causal factors that it may be
    more logical to focus on (e.g. for suicide, this might be evidence of
    depression). Essentially then, I don't think we're going to get any answers
    about causes for social, collective behaviours from looking at media
    effects- not in a simplistic contagion framework anyway. that's not to say
    memetics isn't a way into this though, because I think it might be, and
    that's partly the appeal of it to me.


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