Friday, August 20, 2010

Alas Poor Yorick Stuff

If one could describe the preconscious thought process of average human beings, satiation of appetite and the desire for attention might be in a Hegelian dialectic with the fear of death, except for those who enjoy a surfeit of what is known as suicidal ideation. For Suicidal Ideationalists, who are sometimes also followers of German Idealism (with its search for overarching metaphysical assertions, which lead to a level of frustration resulting in suicidal thoughts), and who probably comprise a good part of the Hemlock Society’s mailing list, suicide constitutes a form of hope. Plainly there are people who regard suicide as a good thing, to the extent that it is an escape from the burden of existence. The poets Sylvia Plath, John Berryman and Anne Sexton all committed suicide. Clinical depression may have driven their decisions, but who is to say that extreme mental pain must be endured, any more than the physical pain that Dr. Kevorkian attempted to eliminate through assisted suicide. In The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus asserts that, considering the nature of the purposeless world in which we live, suicide is the only philosophical question that is important. One thing is certain: those who commit suicide have a level of control that those of us who open medical reports with trembling hands don’t get a chance to experience. For the average person who is not a member of the Hemlock Society, Death and Life are enemies (in the famous sequence from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Max Von Sydow plays chess with Death). The Faustian bargain wherein the soul is swapped for knowledge ultimately involves a search for the kind of immortality that Ray Kurzweil champions in The Age of Spiritual Machines, in which dying organs are replaced by microprocessors. But from another point of view, death may not be regarded as an enemy. Death is as much a part of the evolution of man as life, and without the death of cells (apoptosis), new cells would not be born. Death is the final life passage and the ultimate change. We are afraid of death because we are set in our ways and don’t want to let go. However, is it possible to accept death and even embrace it? Is that what it means to die with dignity? 

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