Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century

Life Without Death

Friday, November 9, 2007

Every biological creature, every living thing that has ever existed eventually dies. It’s a fact of existence for all living entities of any size and shape. Whether it’s a single celled bacterium, an elephant, a sequoia tree or a human being, death is its common and unavoidable destiny. How is it that human beings have become so attached to the belief that “people shouldn’t die?”

When we imagine life without death, we imagine that we would just keep on doing what we’re doing indefinitely. However, when we look at ourselves from an evolutionary perspective it is actually death that drives life. Without the threat of death we would not be what we are. All of our experiences and activities have evolved from the need to gather energy. Life is the drive to sustain our energy and fend off death. Without the existence of death none of these activities would be necessary.

If we did not die we would not need to reproduce. All the experiences we consider most precious and meaningful would not exist. There would be no need for attraction and sex and all the drama we create with those experiences. There would be no generations of children, parents and grandparents. Family relationships and rituals would never have evolved. There would be no weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs or family feuds. Passing our life to the next generation has created our most meaningful relationships and activities. Without death, there would be no need for any of them.

All of our needs originate from the avoidance of death. Without death there would be no need to sleep, to wake up or even to breathe. Without the need for food and security there would be no reason to work, no reason to move at all, really. We would have no need to build, to create or to develop technologies. Without a need for relationships or creativity, communication would not be necessary. There would be no languages, no songs, no stories and no religions.

If we did not die what kind of existence would we have? Would it be fair to say that we would not live? Would we perhaps have an existence more like that of a rock? In a paradoxical way it is actually death that drives life. It is our avoidance of death that fuels our creativity and our cultures and gives meaning to life.

It is ironic that our fear and hatred of death often translates into a fear and hatred of life. The war machine is sent out when people are afraid of death. Death is hidden away in our society. Death might make us notice how unhappy and empty our lives feel. Some people who have faced chronic illness have said that it was the best thing that ever happened to them, because it motivated them to appreciate and love life. Death is the boundary that makes life real and precious.

Dedicated to,and inspired by, my dear canine friend, Tara, who is hobbling about exuberantly, with terminal bone cancer.