Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Setting a Deadline

To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence--Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea

Dying is easy. It's living that's hard.--Gregory House, MD

We posed a question to a non-absurd acquaintance the other day. What is, we asked, you were given the option of living a short but prosperous life, and a longer but destitute one. Which would you choose?

He chose the short life, and we suspect this is not unusual, which raises an interesting question--if people do assign subjective qualities of life based on material well-being (and most do), then why not set a deadline for one's own life and live large until then? (Or at least "larger" than one could live without retirement savings, etc.) In fact, we suggested this to our friend, and he was flummoxed as to why it would not be preferable to do so.

As absurdists, of course, we do not believe any states of existence to be preferable to others (although we admit it doesn't always feel this way), but this exercise is useful in pointing out one of the main flaws in "normal" (i.e. non-absurdist) thinking--namely, that it not only matters how (and how long) we live, but how we die. Consider--if you do not believe in an afterlife, then why not simply set a deadline and live life to the fullest? Think of the problems you could solve in one fell swoop! No more retirement planning! No worries about chronic illness! Who cares what the world will look like in 50 years! Indeed, with this one simple step you could banish most of your anxiety-inducing uncertainty...for good.

The House quote above comes from an episode where Wilson (an oncologist) has mistakenly given a fatal diagnosis to a patient. However, when given the "good news," the patient reacts with dismay--he has already sold his house, said goodbye to loved ones, and made final arrangements. In short, the certainty of death has granted him the luxury of living without worry, secure in the knowledge he will die soon and thus doesn't need to concern himself with long-term issues.


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