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An Essay on Mortality

8 min read

This is a story about premature death...


I was having a panic attack recently. My pulse was racing, with my heart feeling like it was going to burst out of my chest. I was short of breath; I felt like I couldn't breathe; like I couldn't get enough oxygen. I was sure that I was going to die. Then, I realised that I didn't mind if I died. In fact, I decided that I'd be quite glad to be dead. As soon as I thought that, the panic attack abruptly ended.

It occurred to me that my attitude towards death - and mortality - is not at all typical, and as such warrants some discussion.

It's the nature of my profession, to deal with things using strict formal logic. As a result of spending a 23 year full-time career immersed in a world which will truck nothing vague, ambiguous or downright logically flawed, I have ended up being somewhat unable to think in the wooly way, which most ordinary people do. Most people have no attention to detail. Most people are unable to think logically.

The problem with thinking logically, is that it means that life's absurdity is laid bare, and various psychological horrors are visited upon the poor person - me in this case - who make their way through a world which does not utilise reason and logic.

Firstly, to be afraid of death, there must be a reason for wanting to be alive. What is that reason?

"I want to see my kids grow up"

But, why do your kids want to be alive? What was it that you were offering your children, when you decided to have them? What life was it that you thought they might want?

We still have to answer the same question: why does anybody want to be alive?

If your answer is something related to kids, grandkids, great-grandkids or suchlike, then you, I'm afraid, are no different from a slug, a wasp, an amoeba, or any other imbecilic creature, which is driven by its genes to do nothing more than make more copies of its genes. You are, I'm afraid, not a very bright spark. You can stop reading now.

"I like my life; I like being alive"

Okay, this is good stuff, but what is 'liking'? What does it mean to like your life? What does it mean to like being alive? Probably, you mean that you enjoy pleasure, in some form or other. Perhaps you enjoy food, perhaps you enjoy sex, perhaps you enjoy drink or drugs, perhaps you have a hobby. Whatever it is, you are basically a sensation-seeker, and/or pleasure-seeker. This is a little more logical than the slug-wasp-amoeba type morons we mentioned before, but it can still be easily exposed as nothing more than idiocy.

Our brains are evolved to give us small hits of dopamine to reinforce behaviours which increase our chances of individual survival, or increase our species' chance of survival. It's obvious that eating would be enjoyable, because if we didn't eat we'd starve to death. It's obvious that sex would be enjoyable, because if we didn't have sex our species would die out. Again, when we analyse the behaviour, we find that it's nothing more than genes pulling the levers, trying to get us to make more copies of the genes.

"Everything is meaningless"

Yep. Bingo. Everything IS meaningless. Every single bit of evidence of your existence will be obliterated, to the point that it will be as if you never existed. All of your stupid pictures you posted on Instagram, which you think are so great, will be gone, along with any evidence of the human race, the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way. In the inevitable heat death of the universe, the spreadsheets which your boss asked you to email, are so cosmically unimportant, that it's laughable that you even bothered to send them.

In the context of the ridiculousness anthropocentricity, I struggle to understand what the difference is between a 'premature' death, and a death which supposedly happens at the 'right' time. Of course, I empathise with those who have lost loved ones, too 'early', but logically, death is inevitable. It seems like we are creating a problem, where none need exist.

I do have strong views about the sanctity of human life, insofar as one human killing another, directly or indirectly. I am incensed with rage at lazy baby boomers and other greedy capitalists, hoarding scarce housing, during a housing crisis; forcing people into miserable minimum wage zero-hours contract McJobs, which cause suffering and suicide at epidemic proportions. Of course, you might ask why I would care, when such concerns are of cosmic insignificance; in the long run, we're all dead. The answer is easy: life is so absurd, so I treat it like a game. I can see that the game is horrendously rigged, but at least I can see that it doesn't matter if I die - I can't 'lose' per se - so I can play to 'win' in ways that nobody else does. While others try to spawn as many progeny as possible, or accumulate as many shiny round pieces of metal, or paper with numbers on, or both... I'm free to do whatever the hell I want, within the confines of a mortal body, trapped by nature's weakest fundamental force, on a rock floating in a vacuum, orbiting a nuclear fusion reaction.

I don't revel in the absurdity of life. I am miserable and I suffer. I have no answer for how to be happy. In fact, I think that happiness cannot co-exist with knowledge, beyond a certain point. Perhaps if I had one piece of advice, it would be to avoid theoretical physics and cosmology, because they seem quite incompatible with happiness - ignorance is bliss.

I have friends with life-limiting illnesses, and to them, my essay must seem very rude and inconsiderate; arrogant. I have friends who have loved ones who died 'prematurely' or who are dying (of something other than... well... what I don't know. Newsflash: we're all dying). I know that death is a real taboo, presumably because our genes are hard-wired for survival. It's been a big evolutionary advantage, to select against anybody who doesn't fear death, or who's prepared to talk about death as a preferable alternative to life.

When we view life as suffering, struggling and misery - which it is - then we must ask ourselves again: is it better to be dead? Of course, we originally asked why we wanted to be alive, but when we ask ourselves the much more straightforward question, why do we want to be dead, then the answers come much more readily. Here are a few reasons to be dead: you don't have to get up in the morning, you don't have to go to work, you don't have to do anything you don't enjoy, you don't have to make any effort, you don't have to feel any pain, you don't have to suffer, you don't have to struggle, you won't be tired any more, all your troubles will be over, you won't worry about anything, you won't be stressed anymore, you won't be anxious, you won't be depressed, you won't worry about being fat, you won't worry about being ugly, you won't be lonely, you won't be frustrated... you get the idea. There are infinitely many reasons why being dead is better than being alive. You like sleeping, don't you? Being dead is like, the best kind of sleeping, because you never get woken up by your alarm clock; you can rest forever.

I'm really not sure what's scary about death at all. I'm really not sure why more people don't choose death, when life is so shitty.

It seems so churlish to reject life, when there are lots of slug-wasp-amoeba people out there who are desperate to mindlessly do the bidding of their genes. We're so culturally indoctrinated to repeat the mantra that we love our life, and that life is precious, that we often forget that we don't love life - that life is utter shit - and that life is worthless. If you don't think life is worthless, you should take a trip to the developing world, to remind yourself of the human suffering that's inflicted in your name.

I've written about twice as much as I hoped to, but I suppose this is a subject dear to my heart, insofar as I feel suicidal most of the time.

Perhaps one day, depression will lift and I'll look back on this essay with different eyes. Perhaps one day, in the not-too-distant-future, I will kill myself. I think the latter is far more likely than the former, according to a great deal of bitter experience.