Friday, May 19, 2017

Life or Afterlife?

photograph: Ladislav Faigl
You write your will and attempt the best you can to do right by your friends and family, but at the same time it’s hard to swallow the notion that nothing is going to matter, at least to you, once you’re gone. As Larissa MacFarquhar describes in Strangers Drowning, there are cases of altruistic individuals who will make extreme sacrifices for others. But for most people there's this lingering uncertainty about whether anything really makes any difference once they're no longer on the earth. Cogito ero sum is the famous Cartesian axiom, but sum ergo cogito also applies. Humans are social animals and while they're living they care about those around them, for the most part because it’s to their own benefit, but is it possible to truly care about anyone considering one’s someday non-existent state? To use an artistic metaphor, the social world is the palette of perception. Trying to conceive of the world once you're gone and no longer conscious, once you're no longer involved in a quid pro quo with reality becomes far more challenging. The act of say estate planning is a practical way of dealing with the future. However it's fundamentally about the here and now. A person who does not show any interest in the welfare of his family by planning for them after he or she is no longer on earth, becomes a pariah, at least in polite society. Making arrangements and dealing with one’s own demise is essentially a concession to the living. Once you're dead, will it really matter if you're cremated or buried and where? Will it matter who performs the eulogy?

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