Wednesday, 22 July 2009


“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” – Albert Camus

Last Friday night a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Geelong (a city 75 km southwest of Melbourne with a population of 161,000) committed suicide. She is the fourth student connected to a Geelong high school who has taken her own life in the last six months. This is frightening not only because of the age of the girl and the associated suicides at the same school, but also because the suicides appear to be connected to the internet and “cyber-bullying”. The unfortunate girl, Chanelle Rae killed herself hours after receiving a pernicious message on the internet.

The girl’s mother said her daughter was having “trouble” with some friends from school. After spending some time on the internet on Friday evening, Chanelle Rae went to her mother and said she had received a message that made her “want to die”. Mother and daughter spoke about it, the mother spending an hour with her and then after the mother thought the issue was resolved, left the daughter alone. When the girl’s father came home about an hour after the discussion of his daughter with his wife, he found the girl dead in her room.

I cannot imagine the plight of these parents, cannot comprehend the magnitude of the anguish they must be feeling in the wake of this disaster. To be speaking to your daughter one minute, to believe that you have discussed with her problems and resolved them (or at least lightened the perceived burden she was carrying) and then to find her later dead in her room must be one of the most horrific of experiences. The way in which the girl was reduced to the psychological state that drove to self-harm is also an alarming and chilling reminder of the pervasiveness of the internet and how it is affecting our everyday life.

Chanelle Rae’s mother is on the record as saying: “I can guarantee you if she didn’t go on the internet on Friday she’d still be alive today…” I find this statement as indication of a particularly abominable and deleterious use of a technology that is meant to make our life easier and more pleasant. How true of most inventions, one may say: We split the atom and unlocked the marvels of the atomic age and limitless energy, only to quickly harness that power into the destructive atom bomb. We discovered the wonderful therapeutic effects of narcotics, only to turn them into the drug menace that kills so many people around the world. We set satellites upon the heavens to enable the information revolution and help in our communication, but also perverted their use to enable them to function as spy machines and as a means to enable star-wars warfare. We use the internet as a tool, as entertainment, as a boon to communication and knowledge acquisition, only to also find in it the perfect medium for terrorism, bullying, pornography and every form of deception tat human mind can devise.

Are we so flawed, we humans? Do we suffer from a species-wide form of dissociative identity disorder that condemns us to perpetual expressions of our split personalities? Are we so dualistic in our collective psychology that we must forever fight within us a battle of good versus evil and find that the balance is so finely poised that we can tip so easily either way?

How easy it seems to be to give in to this gnawing, poisoning demand of evil upon our weak mind. When one reads the newspapers, watches television, listens to the radio, it seems that as a species we are becoming ever more likely to choose evil over good. Some of the news that I hear every day disappoint me more and more, and revulsion, horror, disgust, abhorrence and outrage overcome me. We seem to be more and more like the proverbial lemmings, stampeding towards the precipice that will seal our collective doom. It’s depressing stuff. Enough perhaps to drive some of us to suicide…

And yet, as humans we have redeeming qualities. We still create, we love, we can perform remarkable acts of self-sacrifice, heroism, altruism. We overcome adversity, we master our suffering and conquer disaster, transform tragedy into hope, defeat despair and transmute it into joy. The truly special human being is not the one to whom evil is unknown, not the one who lives like a hermit removed from the temptations of the world. The true hero is the one who battles the degeneration and vileness that lies within each one of us and has the strength to overpower them in order to do good, to be good, to resist following the easy path of depravity. To be able to choose to do battle in order to stay on course and follow the rocky, winding and steep path of integrity, dignity and virtue. Funny how we tend to hear those last three words less and less nowadays…

Cyber-bullying |ˈsībər-ˈboŏlē’i NG| noun
The use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.
ORIGIN: From Greek kubernētēs ‘steersman,’ from kubernan ‘to steer’ and probably from Middle Dutch boele ‘lover’. The original usage was as a term of endearment applied to either sex; later becoming a familiar form of address to a male friend. The current sense dates from the late 17th century.

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  1. the mother is dazed and grief stricken, so of course her statement is incorrect and illogical.
    we all always blame the thing we dont understand.

    Nobody would be cruel enough to suggest:
    if the parents had not left the girl alone at home ...
    if the information that the classmates were going to reveal online had not been made available to them ...
    IF the school had taken a hard line after any one of the previous suicides at that school ... etc.

    The part of this news that really gave me the irrits was the statement that everybody at the school was getting counselling.
    You could bet the ranch that everybody at that bogan school knows who threatened to do what, and some of them need a good thrashing.

  2. "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." (The Simple Art Of Murder,
    Raymond Chandler, 1944)

  3. The situation I think is much more complex, although the psychological state of the girl would have made her more vulnerable to the cyber-bullying. The really sad thing is the family may never know the full story.

    I agree with Ann about the b/s of the counseling. These psychologists and counselors that come of the woodwork in the aftermath of a tragedy are like carrion birds. Whatever happened to friends and family supporting each other when times are tough? In the past people dealt with much more tragedy and had less "psychological trauma".

  4. What a terrible thing! I think the police must visit the school not counselors! Something is sooooo wrong there!
    Poor girl!

  5. We had a criminal case here in the United States where the mother of one girl put up a false identity on Facebook of a young boy and lured her daughter's competitor into an internet relationship which she then used to convince the girl of her unsuitability to live. She committed suicide. The mother pretending to be a "suitor" got off Scot free.

    The early teen years are a period when we are forming opinions of our identity related to inclusion in a peer group (belonging to the herd as it were). Kids are most susceptible to the influence of gangs or teams or cliques. Many US schools have taken team sports out of the "middle schools" and gang membership has risen to replace the need for kids of this age to "belong."

    Belonging can lead to suicide epidemics in schools.