Why Death Is Important


This is something I’ve thought about for some time, and one of my favorite bloggers has written some good stuff on the subject. I was recently confronted with the reality of my pro-death position in a very visceral manner.

I spent some time at a friend’s house – two friends actually. They are both somewhat older, in their 50s, and have been friends of mine for some 5 or 6 years.

Were were discussing politics, global warming (the reality of which I am no longer convinced, btw), and the like. And, with both of them, there was this feeling of great sadness. “The world is changing,” they said – big changes, and not good ones. They reflected that my young friend and I would not live in a world with the quality of life that they had enjoyed throughout their lives.

And it struck me how wrong they were.

Probably these two did have a surprisingly high standard of living in the 60s, and probably some of those things – the seemingly unlimited space, for instance, are gone forever. But people live longer, medical technology is better, and Iraq is no worse than Vietnam.

More importantly, that higher standard of living came at a cost. Both my friends are white. They never had to fight for basic rights – they were privileged. They are both straight – they never had to worry about being beaten to death because of their bedroom preferences.

The underlying nostalgia centers around the simple-ness of that time compared with ours. Moral choices were simpler, families were simpler, and even foreign affairs were simpler. There are two things wrong with this perception – first, things were not as simple as they seemed. My friends were young. They have grown in wisdom as well as years, and have a deeper understanding of the world around them than their young selves. Second, things genuinely were simpler – because they were more unjust. When you don’t have to consider the rights of the black person, of the gay, of the atheist, your path is more clear, and more clean.

The problem is, these people will never adapt. They are wise, intelligent and caring but there is an undercurrent of passive racism and sexual discrimination in their words. It is not that they are full of hate – they are not accustomed to considering the needs of so many diverse groups.

And this brings me back to my point. If we are ever going to have true gender equality, if we are ever going to have equality for different races, cultures, or sexual identifications, the old must die.

I don’t want them to. I really don’t. I can’t express how much these two have done for me and cared for me, but they represent the best of their generation. As people, we are never able to accept morality that is too distant from what was ingrained in us as children, and so the only way for morality to continue its positive movement is for population turnover to continue.

If humans never died, we would still be fighting to end slavery in the US. Those people would never give up their way of life.

So, when the time comes, remember this. Remember that, no matter how foreign their morality, the youth have a right to move past you, and always will. The system works smoothly, but this is something to keep in mind as human lifespans continue to increase – can we maintain our coherency, or will giant generation gaps tear our society apart?

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3 Responses to “Why Death Is Important”

  1. gryfft Says:

    I believe the world will be a better place when all the baby boomers are dead. However, I do not believe that death, as you put it, is necessarily the only way out of their rigid, increasingly out-of-place minds.

    Which is to say, if technology should be developed which could truly allow the human body and the human mind to be eternally “young,” many of the problems that old people have would be erased– namely, the death of brain cells to establish increasingly reinforced neural pathways.

    The human mind of the future must not be one which conforms to a single way of doing things but rather one fine-tuned to deal with change and an increasing number of dimensions. The human mind may eventually be supplemented in ways that allow us to not only be smarter, but more tolerant and change-acclimated as well.

    I’m not saying we should put implants in old people so they’ll agree with Obama; I’m saying that an inability to deal with change is a widespread problem amongst the elderly. What I’m saying, and what I’m hoping, is that we will eventually fulfill the old adage that you should continue learning your whole life. The truth is, most people stop learning in their teens, and some earlier still. If we can develop methods to keep our brains, and our minds, truly plastic (and to increase their storage capacity perhaps, as well) then I think we can develop ways to keep the wisdom of the aged without the bigotry, disappointment, and inability to deal with modern reality.

  2. Sebatinsky Says:

    Are you so certain that rigidness is due to physical aging and not psychological construction? It seems to me that even children form habits very easily, and all I’m really talking about, when you get down to it, is habit forming.

    That is, you and I already are victims of that rigidity – except I’m not sure that we’re victims at all. I think it may be a useful trait that would be sorely missed if eliminated.

  3. gryfft Says:

    You’re talking philosophy and I’m talking neuroscience, as in neuroplasticity. The useful trait you’re talking about is crystallized skill sets. I think it could coexist with the more plastic intelligence of youth, with the proper wetware. It just hasn’t been developed yet.

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