A Cause Of Death

May 27, 2011

A friend of mine died this week. Unexpected and unexplained. Shocking, gut-punching, distressing reminder of how quickly it can all come to an end.

Advancing in years as I am, my life has been remarkably bereft of this sort of thing. There have been pets passing, grandparents, contemporaries of parents, parents of contemporaries. All part of the natural order; no less sad but understandable, comprehensible. This is how life works.

Much greater minds than mine have wrestled, largely unsuccessfully, with this nasty inevitability of our existence. Perhaps it is something that, ultimately, cannot be explained. The very definition of ineffable. All we can learn how to do is to cope, to deal with the grief and sadness, and get on with living our lives as purposefully and joyfully as possible.

Sitting through the memorial service, coming to terms with this death in my own mind while watching, well aware, of the greater impact of it on the family members, the one thing I was certain of is that every loss of life diminishes all of us, the human family. Rage as we might against it, we must ultimately accept it. But we should not do so casually. Yes, as I heard someone once say, “The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on”. Still, we must remain vigilant against turning hard-hearted and nihilistic. Just because the same fate awaits us all does not mean we cannot guard against death occurring unnecessarily or carelessly.

Which is where the politics of it enters.

This should not be taken as a screed against those who do not share my political views. I am not about to suggest that those with right wing or conservative opinions don’t feel the pain of loss or grieve as much as I do. If that’s what you take away from what follows then I haven’t done a very good job of explaining myself.

It’s just that… it’s just that we live in brutish times. We drop bombs on people recklessly under the guise of national security. Get them before they get us. We send young men and woman to die for vague, sometimes jingoistic reasons that serve no discernible purpose. We cheer extra-judicial executions. They had it coming, we tell ourselves.

We accept growing poverty and inequality with callous indifference, knowing full well that such a state invariably leads to greater risk of suffering, ill-health and early death. That’s just here in our country, in our own city and neighbourhoods. Our acceptance of this state of affairs in far away, foreign lands is even more cavalier.

The thing is, with every bomb dropped, shot fired, target exterminated with extreme prejudice, that’s someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter dead. Every person who dies homeless on the street or digs themselves into an early grave working 18 hours a day in an attempt to make ends meet, that’s someone’s loss. A death to be mourned and grieved.

Where’s the politics in this, you ask? How is this a left-right issue?

Well, using the utilitarian metric of John Stuart Mill’s ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’, the left, I believe, endeavours to mitigate circumstances that lead to gross inequality. Progressivism, I believe, endeavours to use war and force only as a last resort. It is a grim admission of failure.

Ours is a collective vision that believes the vicissitudes and vagaries of life are best contended with together rather than alone. No, it doesn’t stave off the inevitability of death or create some utopia where we all get along and are never suffer grief and loss. It just strives for a measure of equality where every life’s important, meaningful, full of possibilities and not subject to needless want or harshness.

That we’ve failed miserably is beyond question. And I’m not patting myself on the back, saying, well, nice try, your intentions were good. In the face of this failure, the question that needs asking is Why? not Why bother?

Which is the prevailing wisdom behind modern, right wing, Ayn Rand conservatism. Poverty, inequality, war and conflict (and the massive scale of suffering and dying that comes with all that) are just treated as a given, a simple fact of life. Don’t talk to me about widows and orphans, there’s only so much money in the universe. They’ve beatified greed and concocted economic theories extolling obscene amassing of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, giving it pithy names and turns of phrases. Trickle Down Theory. Rising Tides Raise All Boats.

While it all may’ve looked good on paper, in real life over the course of the last 30 years it has been nothing short of a disgrace. We’ve inflicted untold pain and suffering, stolen dreams and crushed spirits in the name of sound fiscal management and grotesque, unwarranted hierarchical distribution of wealth and happiness. We’ve accept misery as a way of life because that’s just the way things are.

The old saw goes something like the only inevitable things in life are death and taxes. Some amongst us have spent their lifetime trying to reduce the inevitability of taxes. It’s at the heart of their politics. Their success in seeing that through has ensured that, for many, death to be not only inevitable but quicker and more pointless than it has to, inflicting more grieving and mourning than there should be.

submitted by Cityslikr