The New York Times has treated one man’s deranged act of self-immolation as some sort of noble sacrifice worthy of reverence.
Earlier this year, radical environmentalist David Buckel demonstrated his love for planet Earth by lighting himself on fire in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in order to set an example in the fight against climate change. In a suicide note, the 60-year-old gay rights activist said his use of fossil fuels to immolate himself was to make a point about what humans are already doing to themselves.
“Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result,” Buckel wrote in his note. “My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves. Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death.”
In an obvious ploy to somehow articulate his derangement as something poetic, Buckel likened his death by inferno to that of Buddhist monks who would self-immolate to protest China’s occupation of Tibet. “This is not new, as many have chosen to give a life based on the view that no other action can most meaningfully address the harm they see,” he wrote. “Here is a hope that giving a life might bring some attention to the need for expanded actions, and help others give a voice to our home, and Earth is heard.”
For its annual “The Lives They Lived” obituary, The New York Times treated Buckel’s destructive act of intense misanthropy with such reverence that it’s practically impossible to tell if they wished others followed in his footsteps:
In Buddhism, which Buckel studied with his characteristic deliberateness, self-immolation can be a kind of communication. “To burn oneself by fire,” the activist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in a 1965 letter to Martin Luther King, “is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance.” In his own letter, Buckel wrote about Tibetan monks who set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule because “no other action can most meaningfully address the harm they see.”
The obituary then describes the life Buckel lived as being “saintlike” and whose final moments could be interpreted as “an incandescent act of speech.”
For years, Buckel sought to negate the harm he caused with a continual turning of windrows [a composting technique] and recycling of water, until these measures came to seem inadequate.
One challenge with climate change is that the problem is so large it cannot be grasped. What can be grasped: A healthy man with a satisfying career and a loving family — a man who lived an almost saintlike life of helping others — died in a painful way in a public park in Brooklyn, abruptly reducing a unique living system to ash. Buckel appears to have seen his final moments as an incandescent act of speech.
As noted by LifeNews, The New York Time’s reverential treatment of Buckel’s suicide stands in sharp contrast to the media guidelines from the World Health Organization about reporting on suicide victims. “Glorifying suicide victims as martyrs and objects of public adulation may suggest to susceptible persons that their society honors suicidal behavior,” says WHO. “Instead, the emphasis should be on mourning the person’s death.”