A chapter on death

Well sub-chapter.  From Common Sense.

Death Is a Part of Life

As my subconscious filtered the idea that weaknesses in our systems
occurred when we ignored nature’s example, I realised that we found
it difficult to deal with death, although it was clearly a part of
life.

Death was important because fearing it is difficult to rationalise.
We don’t want to talk about it. It is even difficult to say the
word. “So and so passed away”, not “died”. We hang
on to our stuff till the end, even beyond, instead of letting our
children take it, or letting it go where it would be appreciated. As
we get old, we fear the loss of the career we enjoyed building so
much that we ignore the opportunity to learn new skills, see new
places, or spend time with friends.

The reality of death seemed to be important to understanding the
meaning of life. It seemed incompatible that we have such
sensitivity to death and treat it as such a tragedy, but we kill all
the time. We kill for food and we kill for power. The realisation
that to eat meat you are killing all the time made me stop eating
meat. A meat-eater promotes the killing of young, sentient animals.
That had to stop immediately. State sponsored murder is even more
incomprehensible. Even if you don’t make the connection between the
muscle on your plate and the cow in the field, everyone must see the
connection between war and the death and dismemberment of people. We
had to deal with death more intelligently.

Ignoring death is a weakness of the birth to death, A to B, linear
mindset. We don’t easily think of “change” as an alternative to
“growth” or “ossification”. It obscures the opportunity to
see oneself as part of the greater whole, of your family, community,
species, environment, universe. Maybe if we faced death, it would be
easier to see ourselves in the grand scheme of things, appreciate
what we have and face the reality of a natural dynamics of life.

suicideispainlessSuicide Is Painless*,
the theme song from M*A*S*H (the movie and TV series) influenced my
ability to consider death in a sanguine way. It still bounces around
in my head whenever life seems futile or selfish. The tune was
melancholy and its lyrics were not that clear, but they struck a
chord, raising questions of life and death. The show itself,
M*A*S*H, being set in a poorly resourced hospital on the front line
of a war**,
juxtaposed the fight for life against the demand for death.

When you try, but get pushed back, try again and try harder but get
quashed again, it’s easy to wonder if maybe you aren’t surplus to
humanity and redundant. It’s easy to think you might as well not be
there when you feel of no use. Suicide can seem to be the right
option. That is facing death.

Or maybe as a radical change agent, who does not want to terrorise
and kill others, but does want to draw attention to an issue, suicide
is used as a peaceful statement encouraging change. That is
something like the rationale a martyr might adopt, perhaps a Thai
student self immolating to highlight corruption, or a Tibetan monk
who self-immolates to protest occupation and torture. Both fight for
peace and justice without killing others. It was clear that the
rationale for suicide needed to be given a fair hearing, especially
in a world where war is advocated.

Peter Singer’s Rethinking Life and Death helped me address the
issues surrounding death. His book is a lucid discussion of the
medical definition of human death and a persuasive rationale for
treating domesticated animals with more humanity. His style and
philosophy are honest and resonated strongly. Although Singer was
new to me, he had been promoting sense and morality about death for
decades. His initial publication, Animal Liberation, had
succinctly and clearly rationalised animal-free diets back in the
1970s.

Although it was easy for me to put humans on a similar moral footing
to the rest of nature, the rationale for doing so is very difficult
for many people to think about, let alone accept. That is evidenced
by laws against suicide, euthanasia and abortion, which have little
foundation in science or ethics but rest on emotions fuelled by
prejudice, often religious*.
The reasons for rethinking life and death are based on medical
science, private choice and personal consequences, while current
practices are generally motivated by a “big brother” mentality –
“we know what is good for you so we’ll decide”. Command and
control, again.

It is easier for someone in their early or middle years to say that
we should not be so sombre about death. It seems that the older you
get the more you want to hang on to life. That is understandable.
You love life, but even as age makes bones more brittle, waist more
blubbery, breathing more wheezy, and the effort to get fit and
healthy harder, you know your time has passed. It is already time to
go. There are others waiting to take a place at the table of life.
The burden of humanity on earth is not helped by longevity, unless
the population is stable. Currently it is not, it is still growing
out of control. There are too many people. Age has its benefits.
Wisdom and patience are important ones. But there is a time to stop
taking the pills and having your nappy changed and to gracefully just
say goodbye. We’ll see how I do on that one, even if I do know a cup
of pills can make suicide painless, maybe even fun.

What is certain is that living forever is not going to be
comfortable. Even if your body could be rejuvenated, your mind can
not. Your brain is physiological but your mind is virtual. It is
moulded by experience so is a random process that can not be copied
by a machine, however brilliant. Medically, the ability of
experiences and ideas to stimulate the mind diminishes as life
becomes familiar.

If it is death you fear, then that is fear for yourself. Fear of
death is psychological. It is an idea which can be influenced, so it
can be reduced. It is the dominance of ego that makes a person hold
on to life, as it makes one hold on to stuff.

If you are looking for “enlightenment” you will have heard that
letting go is part of that. It is not so easy to do. If you are
successful it is almost impossible because you probably had to put
yourself forward in order to get where you are. It reminds you of
that saying “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a
needle than for a rich man to enter paradise”. You can not take
stuff with you. You can not control the future. You have to let go
and life is better when you do. You regain a childish enjoyment of
life, because fear of death has been faced.

Gerry, a friend who helped with our retreat and proposed investment
fund, died at the tender age of 64. A few weeks before he keeled
over, while chatting at dinner someone asked him

“What do you want on your grave stone? And do want to be buried or
cremated?”

He replied with stout Dutch pragmatism,

“What do I care? I’ll be dead!”

He got it. He was in touch with reality. He felt nature.

If people could see that our legacy is not about us, but about the
people left behind, maybe we wouldn’t be so worried about death.
Maybe we could all let go. Then we would respect the circle of life.
We would design products and processes that respect the circle of
life: cradle-to-cradle. That would help us move beyond the
industrial perspective of linear thinking and appreciate the wider
interconnectedness of our world. And that would help us tune in to
the metaphysical world, too.


*Lyrics written by Mike Altman aged 14!

**TheKoran War, which ironically many people thought unjustified and
illegal.

*In Ireland at the end of 2012 a mother died because a hospital denied
her an abortion on Catholic/legal grounds though the foetus was not
viable.

Goodbye Sir Terry. Grief and legacy.
Global systems in transition - accountants seeing the light.

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