Some people say that death is what gives life significance, but then people often parrot nonsense they haven’t given any real thought to.
150,000 people die on Earth every day, on average, and people rarely give it much or any thought. That doesn’t sound much like significance or meaning to me, in terms of either life or death. Even just the magnitude of the statement, that 150,000 people die every day, is just lost on people.
Every few days or so, the same number of people die as had died in the entire American Civil War.
Every single year, about the same number of people die as had died in the whole of World War II.
If that sounds too big to grasp (which, of course, it is), just imagine, if you can, a group of just over a hundred people, about the number of people in four full classrooms. Imagine that group of people crowding into a room with you and then dying right in front of you, from a whole range of causes and within the span of just a single minute. Then, a whole new group of over a hundred comes in, of all ages and backgrounds, and then they, too, all die right in front of you, many in pain and terror, many of them dying horrifically, over the span of the next single minute…. and then over another hundred come in again and start dying over the next minute, and again, and again, over and over, minute after minute…. 1,440 times in a row. Then, you will have the number of people who die over a span of just a single day – the same as 50 World Trade Center attacks. Every day.
The magnitude of it, along with the absolute helplessness of doing anything about it and the knowledge of the absolute certainty that you will be part of one of those groups to die, is just staggering. No small wonder that culture has largely stupefied people to the idea, and has scared and deluded them into all manner of denial over it. This has been such a severe form of trauma to the public’s consciousness that the majority of people actually cling cultishly to the absurd idea that this process is actually a good thing. It’s amazing and shameful to consider how detached someone would have to be from the sheer horror of this thing in order to suggest that it is in any way “good”. Even now, in typing this, I can just hear the voices of protest out there with their excuses and rationalizations about why all this misery and suffering “needs” to happen. We’re all lined up in the concentration camps, and the people in line around you are talking about how it’s a “good” thing and how we “need” to be put into the ovens.
It seems like most of humanity’s problems stem from acquiring absurd beliefs, and then clinging to them with a deaf ear to anything of the contrary. I think that’s really one of the greatest and most disastrous problems the human race needs to overcome.
On the life and death thing…
Putting everything else aside, I think people don’t give life enough value partly because they know they’ll die no matter what they do.
We’re basically all rental cars, and no matter how well we take care of ourselves, we’re going to be taken back in the end, while at the same time no matter how reckless we are with ourselves, we’ll never have to pay for it after the fact. In that situation it’s kind of hard to avoid some form of the attitude “Well f*** it, we’re just going to die anyway”. The effect of this way of thinking is not to give life value. In fact, this does the exact opposite. In principle we like to think this should make us treasure our every moment, given how few and fleeting these moments are, but unless we’re really concentrating and making a point to focus on that idea, that’s not what we really do. For example, we don’t put a lot of value in perishable goods, in rotting houses, or in failing businesses. We do tend to value and invest ourselves in things that have longevity, strength, stability and durability.
Here’s the reality of the situation…
We’re not going to consider death significant until it’s a rare occurrence.
Imagine going for a hundred years without anyone you know dying. How much bigger of a deal is it all of a sudden when somebody does die? Think about how any event involving younger people dying today is always talked about as being a bigger deal than when older people die, how people seem to always bring up how much life the younger ones had left to live. It’s the amount of life left unlived that ends up getting the focus. The fact of someone dying at age sixty isn’t seen as being as bad as someone dying at age fifteen. Now imagine if people were living for over seven hundred years, and then someone dies at only age sixty. How much bigger of a deal has that suddenly become? At the same time, imagine a seven-hundred-year-old dying. How much life, history, and experience has just been lost to the world? Doesn’t that suddenly seem more significant?
In reality, a short expiration date doesn’t make anything more valuable; it just makes it more disposable. The inevitable and very near-future extension of our lifespans is not going to make life less valuable, and death is absolutely not what gives our lives meaning. This is a delusion that most of us are trapped in, and we really need to grow up and do a better job of getting over it.
Gyreck is an artist, philosopher, poet, roboticist, humanist, and rational materialist. You can view some of his art here.
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