Memento Mori: A Philosophical Musing on Death


Death is often postulated as one of the eventualities over which we have no control. “Remember, you will die”, we have been told this many times and in many ways over our collective history. And while it is true we cannot choose not to die, we can certainly, if we are lucky, choose when, where and how we die. Suicide is the last, and most powerful, moral choice possible for an individual. This choice leaves you with some control over the circumstances of your existence. Life, on the other hand, leaves man without any form of suasion against existence. You are born, or you are not, but you have no choice over the circumstances of your creation. You are or you are not, and only by being do we know that we could not have been. We were never given a choice over whether we wished to endure the hardships and the pain of existence, or partake in its pleasures and puzzles. We are slaves to the whim of our creators, our parents, at least insofar as the circumstances of our own being. Life is the the one thing over which we have no control, no culpability, no responsibility. We are victims of life or we are benefactors of it, but we have no choice in having to be faced with the choice.

Long have our moral philosophies and ethical systems made the assumption, forgivable given the inevitability of our existence a postiori, that life is an ultimate good and something which must be preserved at all costs. We see this in the various religions prohibitions against suicide, the fanatical Christian devotion to the cult of the fetus (the unborn, a strange and altogether horrifying concept that brings to mind reanimated corpses or vampirism), and the obsession with a “natural” death, frowning upon medical euthanasia or other pain ending alternatives. Even our secular moral philosophers have weighed in on the side of existence, Camus and his Myth of Sisyphus being the most prominent example that comes to mind. The “other great Algerian” posited a defiant and heroic insistence on life in the face of the apparent absurdity of reality, but he neglects to explore the inherent problem of existential inevitability, the chaos of the individual life that can only be understood after the fact of coming into being. There is no choice in coming to life, but Camus chooses to if not ignore then disregard this fact in favor of an embrace of the  problems inherent to the “power that is”, a life ex post facto. This is an understandable response given the puzzle we are given when it comes to the unaccountable spontaneity of existence. Any philosophical attempt to deal with the realities of life and of its inevitable result, death, must knowingly or unknowingly confront at one point or another a problem. Unaccountable spontaneity, the coming into being without the being predisposed to coming, is something of  a Gordian knot that exists in two dimensions; confront and justify a response to the puzzle of death and you have only untied the part of the knot that you have access too. There is always another part of the knot that came before capacity to confront or even to comprehend. It has been said that life is a sparrow flying in from the cold into a warm reoom before exiting through the opposite window, but that presupposes a realm outside the warm room. We have no “cold place” to come in from; we either are or we are not. Once we realize we are in existence, or at least experience that existence, we have already become, the knot has already been tied, and the chance to puzzle out the solution or too avoid it altogether by choosing oblivion is made for us. We are creatures made at the whim of another, not some Abrahamic deity or deistic life force, but by the biological reproductive imperative itself. We are what our parents fuck, to put it bluntly, we have no part to paly in our own creation besides accepting it as a fait accompli.

A theocratic argument would seem to help solve this paradox, a first cause, a motivating force that decrees our existence and deals in the murky metaphysics of the immortal soul, but this argument, the god postulation, of course falls apart in the face of 3000 years of materialistic and scientific thought and experience. We do not need to go into the fact that even a god would be faced with the paradox of its own existence. Any problem experienced by man can be multiplied in magnitude and made intractable when applied to the divine. If willed into existence, then by what, if willing itself, then how? God is therefore just a more elaborate and monumental version of the same problem: why being? Why no accountability for ones’ own existence?


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