Thoughts on Immolation

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Immolation, as a deliberate mode of death throughout history, seems to have been responsible for the highest amount of death in groups that are, historically, the least culpable, versus groups that are the most culpable. I feel like this is an irony largely lost on groups responsible for setting people on fire.


On the topic of Indian husbands who immolate their wives, men who burn women are–themselves–probably more worthy of immolation than their female counterparts, as revealed by their choices and actions. I don’t think this is just my opinion. The consequences of immolation versus the emotional gravity of, say–loss of face from infidelity, loss of money from her family’s refusal to pay a dowry, or inconvenience from the inability to be granted an effective divorce–are just not comparable to each other. Simply put, if you are able to burn somebody alive, then your community might be better off without you.

On the subject of accused witches, these women (and some men) were not likely actual witches, and even if they thought they were witches, were likely no greater a threat to the community they belonged to than their accusers. Also, the same moral mechanics used to judge Indian wife burners are applicable here: if you are willing to set a woman on fire, my guess is you’re probably more of a liability to your community than the woman you intend to burn, and that your community probably would have been safer and better off had you, in fact, set yourself on fire.

Martyrs (voluntary)

People who set themselves on fire as a statement are displaying either (or combinations of) one of two things:

a) insanity, in which case, their diminished faculty informed their choice to set themselves on fire, which diminishes culpability, or

b) supreme selflessness, in which case, they are undeserving, due to a self-evident ‘largeness’ of character, rendering the action an effective (if ironic) protest.

It bears mentioning that the difference between the two exposes a somewhat Joseph Heller-esque Catch-22.

Martyrs (involuntary)

Not much is different here. Again, if you are willing to set a woman on fire (or man, as it were, or has been, at various points in the past), my guess is you’re probably more of a liability to your community than the woman you intend to burn.


It seems that immolation, as a mode of death, even in the case of suicide, is a mode of death chiefly used on ‘good guys’, by ‘bad guys’.

Incidentally, my ideal superhero has Martin Luther King’s FBI file for a personality and the ability to run faster than any bullet–a talent he invokes frequently, and much to the consternation of his intended assassins, who have no choice but to face-palm again and again as he pumps his fists like Muhammad Ali, after their most recent would-be God-killer dies after a scant 2,500 feet.

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