Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Anti-Death and Pro-Living: Two Fallacies

OK, so my last post was all about how much I don't want to die. How I'm anti-death.

You won't be surprised to learn that I'm not just anti-death, I'm pro-living. That is, I'm desperate for life to continue, even when I don't like it so much.

There are two big mistakes people make when they think about life and death and other people.

The first one is to think that people who dread death are naturally risk-averse. This thought is not only false, but is really, deeply, the opposite of true. Here's why. To be risk-averse, you have to really be thinking about the fact that something could be a risk. Which means you have to think about the fact that you are not only fragile, but breakable. You could die. But if you dread death, you really really don't want to think about that fact.

And if you don't think about that fact, pretty soon there you are riding motorcycles, smoking, taking drugs, and — you can fill in the blanks.

The second big mistake is to think that people who are anti-death are that way because they are really happy. This is also totally false. Because if you're not happy, your dread of death doesn't change or go away. Not at all. It's when you're most unhappy that it seems cruelest to top off an unhappy time with no time at all.

Indeed, I would say it's happy people who tend to be most at peace with death.

On the subject of the monotony of everyday life and the dread of death, we may again consult the master, Don Delillo, in his canonical text on the subject, White Noise. Jack has been asking his wife, Babette, whether she is taking a mysterious drug.
"Either I'm taking something and I don't remember or I'm not taking something and I don't remember. My life is either/or. Either I chew regular gum or I chew sugarless gum. Either I chew gum or I smoke. Either I smoke or gain weight. Either I gain weight or a run up the stadium steps."

"Sounds like a boring life.'

"I hope it lasts forever."
I couldn't agree more.


aps said...

I still do not understand why you would hope life would last forever. What do you imagine death is? Curiosity is enough to make me happy that one day I will die. I do not think that we should claim life is better than death when we do not even know what lies beyond death. It seems like a fear of the unknown to me.

Patricia said...

Well there you go: I don't think anything lies beyond death. I imagine death is non-existence. If I thought existence went on after death I'd feel better. That's why it's not fear for me so much as despair; it's not like I think I'll be suffering after death. I just don't think I will be.

I'll tell you, if I were setting up the universe, I'd like something like the Dax character on Star Trek... um, was it Deep Space Nine? There was a core, or whatever, and she took on and melded with different bodies and so had various identities but also continuity with the past and memory.

To me that seems perfect: one life after another, slightly different person, but also the same in a way. When that becomes available you can sign me up!

chris said...

If I thought there was something after death, then I'd be curious about it. But I don't. So I'm not curious. Instead, I'm terrified. I'm terrified that at some point in the future I won't live anymore.

Since you brought up Star Trek. I think Q is an interesting case. Even though the lives of Q's seem boring: they know everything, can do anything, and live forever. I'd still choose that over death.

Patricia said...

Oh yeah, I forgot about Q. I'd still choose that over death, too, though I remember being confused about how Q could be both "above it all" and "mischievous" at the same time. But I guess if you're Q all kinds of things make sense that seem contradictory.