Experiments with Truth: Analysis

On the ethics of the Tibetan self-immolations

There is a profound sense of desperation and frustration on the Tibetan plateau. This is known to all who are familiar with the tragic situation in contemporary Tibet. The Tibetans who engage in the drastic act of taking their own lives are obviously trying to draw the world’s attention to their plight. But several recent commentators have argued — rightly, it seems to me — that these Tibetans are not so much reacting to their plight out of a sense of despair as they are proactively trying to bring about change. The Tibetans who have chosen this path have given no single, unanimous reason or motive for their actions. But most of the individuals who have left behind written statements or “testaments” (khachem) tell us that they have given up their lives to unite the Tibetan people, for the return of the Dalai Lama, and for the preservation of Tibetan culture, which they see as steadily eroding.

Remarkably, few if any evince in their written statement a sense of what a Time reporter has called Tibetans’ “new, nihilistic desperation.”

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