Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lapham Visits Death

For 40 years during the Cold War, the American government,
 both Democrat and Republican, deployed the shadow of death (i.e., the constant threat of nuclear annihilation) 
to limit the freedoms and quiet the voices
 of the American people.
 The surveillance apparatus now waging the perpetual
 war on terror is geared to control a herd of trembling obedience.

So writes American intellectual (and Caroline Mulroney father-in-law) Lewis Lapham in an ode to Death.

It is not unnatural once one passes the threshold of 60 to pay a bit more attention to the subject.  It's not as though one has much choice.  The gathering pace of departures of friends, relatives and loved ones sees to that.   Whereas in youth the death of a 'significant' might come intermittently at worst and often the result of mishap, age brings a regularity to the proceedings.

As Lapham writes, a fear of death is sometimes instilled in us by those who would manipulate us for their own ends.  It's a highly effective mechanism to get us to surrender liberties and freedoms, to become subservient and complacent.   This is not done maliciously but because there is great value in every freedom yielded, every voice cowed.

I have lost plenty of significants lately but in their passing I have learned much.   One thing I have learned is that death does need not be feared.  Fear cannot postpone death for an hour or even a minute.   It can cause enormous harm or suffering but no good whatsoever.  The process of death may indeed be fearsome for we don't all die suddenly or painlessly yet it is a process that can also be controlled, tamed and indeed is in enlightened jurisdictions such as Oregon.   

One thing I have been grateful to learn is how readily people can accept not just the certainty of their death but also its imminence as they near life's end.   Lapham continues:

My grandfather didn’t shop the markets in immortality. Neither did my father. Although markedly different in character and temperament (his turn of mind was contemplative, his sense of humor skeptical), he shared my grandfather’s scorn for the wish to live forever. What for? To do what? To suffer the trauma of modern medicine and endure the mortifications of the flesh in order to eat another season of oysters, go south for one more winter in the sun?

In his late seventies he wrote a will stating that his life was not to be artificially prolonged. The hospital machinery he regarded as sophisticated instruments of torture, up to the standard of the Spanish Inquisition. He would have agreed with film director Luis Buñuel that “respect for human life becomes absurd when it leads to unlimited suffering, not only for the one who’s dying but for those he leaves behind.” He also understood, as had Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1811, that “there is a fullness of time when men should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance.”

There is a lot of talk these days of advancements in medical science that could enable us to easily live to age 100.   What madness.  In a world of more than 7-billion people heading quickly to 9-billion, perhaps 12 - what justification can there be for extending mankind's burden on our ecosystem by another 30 years?   And what quality of life would we enjoy in a resource-scarce world beset by a civilization unwilling to die?   What of these warlocks or high priests of the Temple of Longevity?   What price will life have attached to it?  Who will pay that price?


Anonymous said...

"...and Ben Mulroney father-in-law...."

I think Lewis Lapham's son married Caroline Mulroney. Not sure if that would make him Ben Mulroney's father-in-law....

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks, Anon. I stand corrected (and corrected the mistake).