ritual suicide

The practice of ritual suicide, common in many cultures, may be a way to kill beta males with no need to sanction any person doing so involutarily, i.e. without giving additional power to an alpha male. Sometimes however females or children are involved, e.g. in the Berlin bunker where Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels killed their families and themselves at the end of World War II. As is normal in a ritual suicide situation, they are facing an extremely uncomfortable life, and possibly a death penalty, if they do not kill themselves. They had themselves previously required this same action of Erwin Rommel after the German Generals' Plot.

There are thought to be some advantages to social order in encouraging ritual suicide over involuntary death penalty. Presumably, if one is amenable to bullying by the society into committing a ritual suicide, then, one has been controlled by the society, and not by anyone in it in particular. The suicide reinforces the social order whereas an involuntary killing would have challenged it further.

In Japan, ritual suicide was common after a failure to seize power, or a dishonourable failure in combat that involved cowardice, or simply for being part of a failed faction that could not be permitted to live for fear that it would again attempt to seize power. In extreme cases, the cruel order was given to kill one's own family in order to prove loyalty and break ties to others in that family. Sometimes such orders were followed, but, were followed by ritual suicide by those who had carried them out, as a form of protest.

In the remarkable story of the Forty-Two Ronin from Japanese history, forty-two samurai refused to submit to the rule of their legally rightful lord who had murdered their original lord (or "daimyo") to take his lands. Ronin means unindentured samurai. They eventually killed their legally but not morally rightful lord, and, rather than become bandits or set themselves up as rulers, all committed seppuku or ritual suicide. The vulgar term hara-kiri means belly-slitting and refers to the actual act which consists of cutting one's own belly open - a very painful act - and then cutting upwards across the chest to the heart - as one's best friend stands ready to cut off the head in case this cannot be completed.

The use of kamikaze pilots to fly bombs to certain death during World War II was a controversial way to apply the ethic of ritual suicide in the modern era. Certainly it was thought by purists to taint the concept of ritual suicide by confusing it with the quite different motives for a suicide attack.

Likewise the suicide bomber who usually sees him or her self as a martyr to a religious cause, is not usually seen as honestly carrying out a religious or social mission, or at least, not one untainted by politics.