|Creepy picture by Jean Fouquet via Wikimedia Commons|
People sometimes act like that's a bad thing. Like, sometimes you encounter people who are all mad about "materialism" or "kids today" and who say things like "all that shopping, it's just people trying desperately to avoid facing their own mortality, it's pathetic" or "all that social networking, it's just people desperately trying to avoid facing their own mortality, it's pathetic."
In my view these people have really got hold of the wrong end of the stick. Because the question isn't whether we do things to avoid thinking about mortality. Of course we do. What the hell is pathetic about that? If you're really thinking clearly about it, how is there any rational response to the fact of mortality other than life-destroying sadness? The only proper response is avoidance and repression.
So the question isn't whether that's what we're doing. The question is how suited our behaviors are to the task at hand. That's what we really need to know.
Since we're here in 2014, let's put it this way: what we need are metrics.
I propose two.
First, of course, you want to know how effective the relevant behavior is: just how distracted are you from death while you're doing the thing? This will vary from person to person, of course, but there may be some generalities.
Second, you want to know how harmless the relevant behavior is: is your death denial someone else's second-hand smoke? If it is, you got a problem.
Despite some obvious problems, shopping measures up better than you think. For people who like to shop, shopping is extremely effective at all kinds of mood improvement. I hate it when people act like the problem with spending money on clothes, shoes, and gear is that it doesn't make you feel better. Duh, of course it makes you feel better. There might be other reasons not to do it, but only the Harmony Myth of Human Nature would trick you into thinking that just because something is problematic it can't also be really great.
On the harmlessness metric, I'm giving shopping a C+ -- not great, but needs improvement. Finer points of the analysis would get into the effects of capitalism on economic growth, the effects of spending rather than giving, and the effect of piles of useless crap on the environment. Before you get ready to fail shopping on the harmlessness metric, consider how it stacks up against violent masculinist sports -- another classic death denial activity.
IMO, the metric analysis of denial of death puts a number of the classic denial activities in a more positive light.
1. Pointless social networking.
Say what you want about pointless social networking. As a distraction from death -- well, it's pretty goddamn distracting. As people are always saying, it distracts us from everything. So high score there. And if you do it right, it's pretty harmless.
Main downsides: uses electricity, entails risks of making yourself annoying or offensive to larger groups of people.
Sex is the classic denial of death activity, one of the main things that, when you're in the middle of it, is so absorbing it casts out everything else. Highly effective.
In terms of harmlessness, sex gets a bad rap. IMHO the problem isn't sex, but sexism and other stupidities: in the ridiculous world of men "scoring" and women "giving it away," -- yeah, of course, problems. Don't forget -- as we've said before on this blog, if you want sex, work for feminism.
3. General time wasting.
People like to waste time, and there's always a lot of hand-wringing about it, like oh noes, some people are wasting time when they could be Achieving Something. But when you look at the destructive aspects of some kinds of death denial, the peace and quiet of general time wasting starts looking pretty good.
I often think of the Pascal quote: "All of humanity's problems stem from [our] inability to sit quietly in a room alone."
Next time you're thinking of engaging in a little death denial, don't be too hard on yourself. If you not screwing up the world and being horrible to other people, you're probably ahead of the curve.