Saturday, 5 February 2011
Death and responding
I mentioned there's no natural way of dying. The thing is that, while our methods for relating to other people or making love or cultivating a family have several features which are inbuilt, there's nothing inbuilt on how to die. Nature kills animals off by violence, but that simply means that the animal couldn't choose his mode of death. We're 'programmed' to be happy or unhappy when certain things happen, but death is simply not in the programs, not in the scripts, not in the blueprints. We simply have no referent to determine what's the best way to die. That's why the Viking option and the modern option can be weighed against each other, but it's impossible to evaluate them other than by experience. And since no-one comes back from the experience of dying, we've got no report to go by. In the end, both these philosophies of dying prove, once again, to be no more than philosophies of living.
And yes, I'm aware of Freud's death drive, but I don't think this solves our problem at all. In theory it means that death is 'in our script.' But for one thing, the drive expresses itself as a desire to return to the womb, which is not at all the same thing as dying in the real world (meaning that whatever event we can encounter which makes us die, will never correspond to our internal 'script'). And for another, the problem remains that building a life-philosophy on the basis of such a script doesn't necessarily make the quality of said life better. If it were as easy as that, the Vikings would never have gone against their self-preservation instincts to develop their doctrines. Or the Samurais. Or the Spartans. Or the Mongols. Or the buccanneers. Or the Crusaders. Or...
The problem is that even though it's impossible to have a view on death, it's also impossible NOT to have a view on death. The fact of our mortality is so immense and inescapable that we simply cannot choose not to respond to it. The way that we construct our response to death is often the compass by which we orient ourselves in life. This is true regardless of whether you think there's nothing after these years of breath, or whether you think we all go to some magical cloudy place where everybody is 'maximally' happy forever.
And so I must fall into a moral dilemma regarding death even as I'm aware that such a dilemma is inherently flawed in its terms. Once you assume that dying when you're old isn't necessarily the best way to go, what position must you take? What is left for you to take? We shall come back to this question in considerable death. Whoops. In considerable depth.
"Everybody dies of old age unless forced otherwise. Therefore, dying of age is the best way to die." That's a stupid syllogism. Dying of old age is just another case of being forced to die.
"The only logical response to death is hedonism. Since we're all going to die and nothing is going to be left or matter after that, I should just concentrate on eating and fucking as much as I can, while I still have the possibility." This too is MASSIVELY STUPID. Augmenting the pleasure doesn't resolve the problem that pleasure passes. From an economical point of view the above statement is correct, but the questions of the human spirit cannot be reduced to 'an economical point of view.' We don't reason (about death, and in general) so grossly.
More to the point, constructing a philosophy based on maximising pleasure on account of death is self-defeating. It fosters a hunger which cannot be sated, and so cannot lead to happiness or peace, which in turn corrodes the pleasure. Yeah, it's important to have a life-philosophy which allows for rather than represses pleasure, but I think it's clear that we should not confuse that with one which priorities only pleasure at the expense of all the rest. So let's drop hedonism here. As a response to death, it is delusional.
To be continued soon(ish) in Part III!!