In Sri Lanka, producers of the illicit liquor kasippu sometimes suspend a bottle of pesticide above the vat during the fermentation process. It is believed the kasippu will absorb the potency of the pesticide and add to its strength, increasing drinkers’ intoxication and pleasure. But there is also a danger the pesticide will fall in, and if so the batch will be poisoned and mass injuries and even deaths ensue. Why do kasippu drinkers take this risk?
My work in conjunction with colleagues at Sussex on philanthropy featured recently on the Asian Philanthropy Forum's website. The articles can be found using the links below. Thanks to Anh Toh and the rest of the team at APF!
The Impact of Local Charity on Development: A Sri Lankan Case Study
Sri Lanka: A Deeper Dive into Philanthropic Research with Tom Widger
Philanthropy in Sri Lanka: An On-the-Ground Perspective
After a decade of decline, Sri Lanka’s suicide rate – once among the highest in the world – is reported to be on the rise once again. It’s too early to tell whether this is a temporary blip or the beginnings of something more serious. But what is known is that the fall in the suicide rate was the result of "means restriction" – chiefly banning the most toxic pesticides – not falling levels of suicide attempts overall. Although Sri Lanka has gained a reputation for progressive agrochemical regulation as a result, the evidence suggests that the number of suicide attempts has actually increased, with suicidal behaviour remaining a leading cause of serious injury and death in the country.
Indigenous charity and philanthropy has the potential to transform development in Sri Lanka. A few years after the economy was raised to middle-income status by the IMF, there seems to be huge potential to encourage the growth of new development actors and opportunities. Yet there is also mounting uncertainty in the local development sector about which way things are going to go. Whether indigenous charity and philanthropy can be harnessed and leveraged for development, or whether what is meant by development will change to accommodate indigenous giving preferences – and what either of these mean for poverty alleviation – remains to be seen.
To return, then, to the question with which I began this post, 'What kinds of cognitive and emotional capacities are required to develop in children before they fully appreciate the social and moral implications and consequences of suicide?,' one must surely be that by one's own separation from others the sociality between persons – which for most of the time we take for granted – is called into question. Accompanying this realisation must also be the realisation that death is the ultimate, by which I mean truly irreversible, form of separation. Because we know that death anxieties develop from separation anxieties, the development of cognitive and emotional capacities around suicide as a kind of separation probably takes place in at least two phases. First, children learn that they can enact their own separation from others, and that this is undesirable for others. Second, children learn that they can enact their own death, and that as a sub-set of separation this is also (but also much more) undesirable for others.
Durkheim's sociological study of suicide as a 'social fact' was premised, in part, on the idea that only human beings were known to commit suicide. But ethologists tell us that the ability to commit self-injury or to deliberately self-destruct has been found across separate species including other primates and land mammals, dolphins, insects, and even some bacteria. While the evidence is far from definitive and the use of terms like 'deliberate self-injury' or 'suicide' across vastly different species is hugely problematic (just as it is across different human cultures and epochs), the possibility that we might not be the only animal to display suicide-like behaviours raises fascinating questions about how and why the ability to commit suicide evolved at all, and how and why modern humans learn to use suicide as a response to particular kinds of problems in their lives.
This blog archives the public interface of my research, reporting impact and engagement activities and linking to articles I've posted on external blogs.