"Life is a sky-dive: out of a cunt, into the grave." (Faina Ranevskaya)
We say death doesn't matter, because a good life is worth living even if it ends one day.
We also like to pretend we're not afraid of death. Or that it actually is a good thing, that finality gives us meaning and the ability to cherish life more than we would have otherwise. And most of the time, we operate as though we're immortal.
"Of all the world's wonders, which is the most wonderful? That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die." (Yudhishtara answers Dharma, from "The Mahabharata)
Every time you ask people a question why is life worth passing on, they can't seem to be able to explain it. Of course, the subconcious reasons are understandable, but they try to come up with some seemingly rational ones, like for instance:
- Experiencing life's joys is so precious, that having some sufferring in life is ok.
By which they basically mean experiencing ANY amount of suffering is ok, because we are aware of all sorts of tragedies taking place, and neither of them seems to qualify for that amount of suffering which would have been intolerable. No personal tragedy, no mass hunger, no genocide, no Holocaust or Holodomor is enough to say 'thats it'. Every time you're just advised to accept it as a part of life and keep the ball rolling, NO MATTER THE COST.
This argument implies that its bad to not have the opportunity to experience life's pleasures. But isn't that what happens to living people all the time? Aren't we living our lives being constantly deprived of some pleasures? At least those who do not exist can not suffer from their deprivation, but we can. So this argument in fact defeats itself. If its bad to be deprived of pleasures, its bad to be alive, because everyone will have to expeience deprivation of some sort many times during their lifetime.
During Holodomor, which I just mentioned, between 6 to 9 million people died of hunger in one year. Whole families, including children, of course.
Was it all right that those kids were brought here to experience the gruesome, slow, agonizing death? Who will compensate them their suffering? Why should we keep thinking it's all right to keep exposing innocent people to the horrors that take place on this planet?
Evolution has equipped us with superb psychological defense mechanisms. We don't take all those tragedies too close to heart. 'Yeah, sad, but...oh well, what you gotta do, that's in the past now, lets move on, whats for dinner?' This is called mental health, btw. We're good at distancing ourselves from traumatic information. This is understandable, but what's the result? We keep on living a lie and applauding our condition.
"If you get rid of the four-layered neurotic shield, the armor that covers the characterological lie about life, how can you talk about “enjoying” this Pyrrhic victory? The person gives up something restricting and illusory, it is true, but only to come face to face with something even more awful: genuine despair. Full humanness means full fear and trembling, at least some of the waking day. When you get a person to emerge into life, away from his dependencies, his automatic safety in the cloak of someone else's power, what joy can you promise him with the burden of his aloneness?
When you get a person to look at the sun as it bakes down on the daily carnage taking place on earth, the ridiculous accidents, the utter fragility of life, the powerlessness of those he thought most powerful—what comfort can you give him from a psychotherapeutic point of view? ....Sartre has called man a "useless passion" because he is so hopelessly bungled, so deluded about his true condition. He wants to be a god with only the equipment of an animal, and so he thrives on fantasies. As Ortega so well put it in the epigraph we have used for this chapter, man uses his ideas for the defense of his existence, to frighten away reality. This is a serious game, the defense of one's existence—how take it away from people and leave them joyous?" (Ernest Becker "The Denial of Death")
Do you know many people who will admit they're afraid of death? I don't. Most say they couldn't care, or that there are more important things to worry about. Death? Huh! Big deal! Whether our team will win the tournement - now thats worrisome!
"If we were not afraid of death, I do not believe that the idea of immortality would ever have arisen." (Bertrand Russell)
They say god exists because man was always searching for it, since the beginning of times. That it proves that deep in our hearts we know there must be something out there, a higher being! Well, man has also been believing in magic and dreaming of superpowers. Doesn't mean we have them. This is just something we would have liked: a god, a creator would have helped us make sense of life with all its miseries (part of a divine plan, and will end in rewards in the other world) and death (theres no death, you just move to a next world). Magic is also appealing: wouldn't it be nice if I could make someone love me, prevail over my enemies and save my friends from harm? And if I could pray for rain and get it.
"We simply put it out of mind by immersing ourselves in what Becker calls "immortality projects," or by using other techniques to deny our creature-deaths, like the idea of a supreme "ultimate rescuer" and the idea of "specialness," that somehow you yourself are immune to natural biological law. This often translates into some kind of belief in the supernatural, a para-reality in us that is going to transcend reality as it is." (Irvin Yalom (The Salon Interview))
Some of us - those that have realized the previous argument does not hold water - say life can't be reduced to pleasure and pain. 'Theres more to life', - they like to say- 'what about the gift of consciousness, its a gift and a miracle in itself to be conscious'.
What's wrong with being unconscious anyway? Deep sleep, for example, where one doesn't even see dreams? Certainly not a bad state, is it?
Why prefer consciousness over a non-bad state? When the conscious state opens the doors for the suffering. Consciousness is only great when it is not-too-bad. When you're not in a crippling pain, when you're able to do anything with your life, to fill your consciousness with some positive content. The contents of conciousness is what we value. Positive content. So we're back to pleasure and pain anyway.
I saw this clip on youtube about euthanasia. The man is lying in bed all the freaking time. Not in pain, but totally incapable of doing anything. Being tube fed etc. All he can do is move his eyes and look at the letters on the monitor - thats how he can communicate. Concious. But wanting to turn that consciousness off because its of no value by itself.
So many reasons people try to come up with to justify playing with their childrens' lives. When in fact, every such reason can be traced back to the underlying 'because I want'. Even wanting to be the greatest parent, to give love, to 'make someone happy', to 'share the gift of life'. It is still a parent wanting, and thinking of satisfying their want through the creation of a new human being. Children are our immortality projects, they are the source of unconditional love that we crave, the chance to feel ourselves as authority figures, a way to get accepted into the society that is mostly comprised of parents, a way to invent a meaning for the otherwise empty life: have a kid - and you've got something to do for the next couple of decades, and finally - children are our future servants, they will look after us when we're sick and dying, when no one else will be interested in us anymore. Given all of these personal gains that we get from procreation, no wonder we try to defend our right to continue with every argument we can. By claiming life is worth experiencing no matter the risk of suffering.
But lets imagine a situation where we wouldn't be an interested party (like a parent who is interested in having kids). Lets imagine a sci-fi situation where there is a human being lying somewhere in eternal sleep. Not in pain, just deep sleep, virtually, in non-existence. It's an adult physically, and if he is woken up to life, he will have a consciousness of a grown up, perhaps a middle-aged man. Somehow - sci-fi, remember? ;) - this person will immediately become an adult with his own personality and have all the necessary knowledge to function in this world. So he will not need parents. He'll probably go to work and start doing what people his age normally do. He'll be provided with some shelter, money and some simple job. But so far this person does not exist. And will never exist, unless you press a button and decide that he should. If you do, he will not even know it was you (so he will not be able to either thank or reproach, love or hate you), and you will likely never see each other at all (he'll be sent to live on the other part of the Earth).
But of course, no one will be able to guarantee him good health, or a good life in general. Noone knows whether this so far peacefully 'sleeping' person will experience happiness before he dies, maybe he will, but equally probable is that he will end up sick, poor and lonely and die on the street wondering why he was born at all.
Would you feel entitled to initiate somebody into existence so that they can have a chance of experiencing happiness, knowing you are also risking to harm them if they end up suffering horribly? Would you say you had the right to take a gamble with somebody else's welfare?
I know I wouldn't. Because this 'sleeping' person does not need anything. Not even happiness, much less, merely a chance of ever becoming happy. And certainly it makes no sense to create someone for suffering. I'd think that the most important thing is not to harm others, and that this duty trumps the obligation to provide benefits for them. Finally, considering that this person will have to return to the current state anyway, why interrupting it?
But this is a rational approach, which is easier to take when we don't have a dog in the fight. Unfortunately, we do not apply it when deciding about our own children, because we're biased, there is so much we want from them, that rationality escapes us to give way to our desires.
"Once I ventured the guess that men worked in response to a vague inner urge for self-expression... A hypothesis with rather more plausibility in it now suggests itself. It is that men work simply in order to escape the depressing agony of contemplating life
– that their work, like their play, is a mumbo-jumbo that serves them by permitting them to escape from reality...
Man cannot sit still, contemplating his destiny in this world, without going frantic. So he invents ways to take his mind off the horror. He works. He plays. He accumulates the preposterous nothing called property. He strives for the coy eye-wink called fame. He founds a family and spreads his curse over others. All the while the thing that moves him is simply the yearning to lose himself, to forget himself, to escape the tragic-comedy that is himself.
Life, fundamentally, is not worth living. So he confects artificialities to make it so. So he erects a gaudy structure to conceal the fact that it is not so." (H.L. Mencken)
The point of talking about this depressing reality of our existence? Only to conclude: don't pass this madness on. Find heroism in not doing onto others what has been done to you. Throw the dice away. Don't roll them on behalf of anyone else.
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Good! Its hard to not be able to share smth important with anyone. But easier when you at least see others talking about that, that somebody else probably knows how it feels like.
I heard recently that the reason why the trauma from being molested in childhood is so deep is because usually thats something people don't talk about with anyone. So its important to be able to share hurtful information with someone.
I should really write smth on how I cope with this knowledge, because people will probably think I'm out buying a rope. ))) And I'm not, I prefer high buildings
Kidding!! But seriously, I need to write smth about adapting to the reality we're in without distorting it (too much, for too long) )))
Thanks, qoheleth. Always encouraging when like-minded people leave positive feedback.
Hi David, thanks for leaving a comment.
I always knew something was off about this reality, life, society..
I wouldn't say it quite like that about myself, I'd say I started noticing and wondering why things had to be the way they were in childhood, but tried to justify them for quite a long time.
Sure i have my personal reasons like freedom, independance...
Same here. Before I learnt about AN i was a childfree, too, with both selfish reasons and a moral concerns for non-procreation. This was still not so long ago.
Its a realization that is hard to share with others (taboo?)
You bet it is.