Every day I find new reasons to love sociology, and new places to apply it.

(There’s language in here that some might find objectionable, but at this point, I figure everyone’s mature enough to handle seeing a few naughty words. More on that here.)

It started with this post:

A Facebook conversation regarding the suicides of gay individuals

My response, with names redacted to preserve privacy:

The cover of Suicide: A Study in Sociology, by Emile DurkheimSociologists have long known that something as seemingly individualist as suicide has much to do with social forces. Durkheim found that, for instance, suicide rates are higher in men, higher in Protestants, higher in non-married individuals, and higher during peacetimes. Why? Because having community connections decreases rate of suicide: the more connected you feel with those around you, the less likely you are to take your own life.

Men, generally, have fewer/weaker social connections than women, thanks to a social pressure for male individualism. Protestant religions stress individual reason over more tradition-based faiths like Catholicism or Judaism. During peacetimes, countries aren’t united against a common enemy, so there is less of a social cohesion.

My point, K, is that suicide is not just the act of a “fucked up” individual. People become suicidal because they feel isolated and cut off from the world. Bullying, harassment, calling the despair they’re feeling “fucked up”– all of this contributes to making an individual suicidal. While it’s so tempting to dismiss others’ problems as individual and having nothing to do with anyone else, the research indicates that’s not the case at all.

I really appreciate the broader perspective sociology gives me. A couple years ago, I probably would have sided with K, at least with regards to the “individual choice” argument. The sociological imagination, though, makes it clear that no action is truly isolated, and that the world isn’t divided as cleanly into “the weak” and “the strong” as people like K want to believe.