J. Durden and the Random Hand of Fate

Our story begins on a fresh Thursday morning. LCpl Durden is feeling on top of the world – having taken the previous week off, work had been refreshing and fun again. There was a new project to conquer – the ATACTS – and new Marines to train on that project. CLEP tests were proceeding apace, college under Dr. Melley was interesting and there was even a cute girl in class, we’ll call her Julie, that our young LCpl fancied, if ever so slighty.

Yes, things were looking alright.

The Duty

Well, enough of the pedantic third person tone. Thursday marked the mental beginning of my weekend, as all I needed to do that day was stand duty at the barracks for twenty four hours. Immediately following that, I was going to another camp to CLEP out of American Government, and then I would have duty recovery for the rest of Friday, effectively beginning my weekend. Things were not to be as easy as I initially foresaw.

This became apparent almost from the word go. During the formal change over process with the company Gunnery Sergeant, I was specifically instructed to not fuck up my duty – I was holding the billet of Duty Non-commissioned Officer for two decks, and my area of responsibility included those decks as well as the exterior of the barracks. As the direct representative of the Company Commander, I was to ensure order and cleanliness in the barracks during my post. This sounds somewhat more important than most Marines regard it as being – you can certainly have too big of a head while on duty, but at the same part, it is an important job, and often an unpopular one.

DNCOs (duty noncommissioned officers) have assistants, called ADNCOs. Mine was LCpl Charlie, who was a bit slow and a bit whiny. There was rumor early in my post that the company commander and company 1st Sergeant were planning on walking through the barracks to inspect the Marines’ rooms, so we had to ensure that the barracks maintained a high level of cleanliness. We kept this up until afternoon chow, when it became apparent that no such inspection was going to take place (for whatever reason – the CO and 1stSgt are often quite busy).

After noon chow, the Battalion Executive Officer came on deck to talk to a Marine in our lounge for over an hour. The Marine was not from our company and the visit was odd. When the visit was over, the Battalion XO chatted us up a bit and left. Shortly following this, we heard a rumor that some of the Marines back at the company were being disciplined because they failed the room inspection in the morning (if you just read that sentence twice, you should have – there was no room inspection!). We sort this issue out and essentially establish that the Sergeant accusing the Marines was lying.

After evening chow, field day commenced, and shortly following that, the Battalion Duty Officer as well as the Company Commander came on deck to pass the word that the uniform of the day on Friday would be the utility uniform, rather than the more elaborate service “C” uniform the Marines were expecting to wear. Marines begin drinking and horseplaying a bit at this hour while cleaning up, and we have to make sure that the common areas of the barracks (like the decks and the lounges) are cleaned properly.

After failing to reach Marines who live outside the barracks on the telephone to pass them the word about the change in uniform, I decide to physically walk over to the towers to locate an NCO that lives outside the barracks to let him know about the word. When I get there, he informs me that I already knew. I ask him why he didn’t answer his phone, and he simply replies that most married Marines put their phone to the side after duty hours. Awesome.

I return to the barracks only to have Marines behaving foolishly. I can tolerate drunken stupidity and what not on a Friday or Saturday night, but this is a regular weeknight and it gets on my nerves. I warn the Marines to tone it down. One (my roommate, in fact) fails to do so and I end up having to escort him to his room so he can calm down and think about what the fuck he was doing. (Yes, he quite literally got put on time out).

As the night drags on, I allow my ADNCO to hit the rack. Several different people try to talk to me on the duty desk and explain their life stories to me. I don’t give half a fuck, partly because they’re drunk and partly because I’m irritated. While making one of my regular tours of the areas under my jurisdiction, I discover the smoke pit outside the barracks has been completely trashed by a party that I had no idea about. I wind up deciding the best thing to do is to clean up the mess myself, as I had no idea who held the party and waking Marines up at such a late hour made little sense.

Near midnight it is brought to my attention that a Marine’s roommate is not in her room, and, furthermore, not signed out in the log book. I am worried that I will have to officially report this if the Marine does not turn up and get sucked into a huge drama fest involving several Marines before learning that the Marine is alive and well. People continue to try to involve me in the drama and I remain constant in asserting that I don’t care so long as the Marine is not in danger and is accounted for.

After this, a female Marine tries to talk my ear off about all her problems until two in the morning. She talks about her medical bullshit and blah blah blah. I don’t care. I wake my ADNCO, who is late, and return to my room for about three hours of rest. I wake up before my alarm and end up being early coming back to post.

About twenty minutes before I am to change over, a Corporal from the 4th deck requests that I gather up three Marines (of my same rank) to police call (read: pick up trash) around the barracks. This is a horrible idea because most Marines are trying to get to work and furthermore hate the idea of police calling nearly as much as they hate the idea of being ordered to do something detestable by a Marine of similar rank. I end up having to threaten to log people and report them to the 1stSgt just to get them to do a simple police call – this could have been avoided by having an NCO from our company handle the task.

The changeover goes suprisingly well, and the 1stSgt has nothing to complain about regarding my log book entries or the actions I took on post. After changeover I head up to the other Camp for my CLEP test, which I fail (just barely), ruining my perfect streak of passing CLEPs without reviewing. I am butthurt. Following this, I go back to my barracks room for duty recovery (and to catch some sleep).
Friday

So, I don’t get much sleep because of my idiot roommates ruining it (to make a long story short). I proceed to spend a few hours fuming around in my room, listening to angry music, before finally deciding to depart on my own to get some food (around 1800 or so). Upon my return, I run into some friends I don’t see a whole lot (as they work in another section) and they invite me to go to the strip club with them.
I don’t normally go to strip clubs. In fact, I’ve only been to a strip club once before this visit. They don’t do much for me – they tend to bring into focus exactly why it is I might be enticed to visit a strip club in the first place. The prices do not seem fair and the brazen lack of sincerity from the strippers also does not sit well with me. The music is usually too loud, the place smells poorly, and so on and so forth.
But I like the friends that invited me, and I don’t get much of a chance to hang out with them, and I could tell that declining would disappoint them, so I decide to attend and have drinks and see what’s what. The three people I’m going with are already somewhat drunk before we depart, and I’m stone sober. They’re being slightly obnoxious to other people, but I let it slide off of me. As we grab a local taxi, other Marines from my section notice me and inquire as to where our group is going. When they find out I’m going to a strip club, they all flip shit and decide to go too.
We arrive at the strip club and naturally everyone wants to sit front row center. This makes me feel awkward. Perhaps the biggest reason why is that I feel like it is something of a professional discourtesy – if you follow my logic that strippers are professionals, anyway. If you sit right up on the stage, that is sending the stripper the message that you are entertained by her and are perhaps thinking of tipping her to get a table dance – something I wasn’t interested in doing, for the most part. (I was waiting to see if perhaps there was a stripper that I’d be interested in getting a dance from, but no such stripper appeared, and I believe my lack of interest belied a deeper problem than just the lack of a properly appealing stripper.) I get more enjoyment out of giving one of my buddies a ten dollar bill – so he can enjoy himself – than I do out of giving the same ten dollar bill to a stripper.
Let me pause the narrative for a second to discuss one of my party, also. LCpl Papa, we shall call him, has recently been going through a divorce. He went from living in the towers (condos, basically) to living in the barracks and has been going through all of the personal agony and loneliness that constitutes a break up – especially one as momentous as a marriage. His wife had been unfaithful to him and I can tell, even under all the male and Marine stoic layers that distort our conversation, that he is deeply hurt by all of this. I feel sympathy for him and want to see him have a good time – coming here was his idea, after all, and so I encourage him and even give him a little cash to enjoy himself. He claims to enjoy the female attention.
The Marines from my section arrive shortly after I get there, and join the growing group of Marines from my company that are at the club (all who are, again, amazed that I am here and that I am drinking). They try to set me up with private dances, which I try to decline. When it becomes obvious that the set ups won’t end unless I take a dance, I decide to go ahead with one. It was with the girl I might’ve otherwise picked, so, what was there to lose?
We (the stripper and I) head back to the private area. All of the booths, apparently, are being utilized. We stand around somewhat awkwardly before she attempts some conversation – I learn her first name, she learns mine. Her English is somewhat hard to understand and her voice is quiet, which, combined with the effect of the loud music, makes conversation rather hard. She is, however, quite attractive. I suppose my manners are hard wired into me or something, but I just now realized that most of the time I was trying to keep my eyes off of her, even though having my eyes on her was supposed to be the entire point of her being a stripper. Something about a striking woman, like herself, makes me respect her, I suppose.
We head into the private area and I receive a dance. It does not seem to last very long for the $40 that my buddy paid to purchase me it. The rule is that you’re not allowed to touch the dancer as she performs, but partway through she places my hand on her thigh. This five minute dance (or so) constitutes the most physically intimate I have been with a woman in over four years, but it was diluted by the fact that I was paying for it and that she was trying to get more money out of me by virtue of her performance – hinting in my ear that she wanted to “do more” if only I’d give her $150, making not so subtle gestures and indicators as to what that “more” might be. I decline. I am not yet prepared to lose my virginity under such circumstances.
I exit the area and continue drinking, carrying on in various small chat with the Marines that I know. There is a new female Marine from our section that is here with some other Marines from my section as well – this puzzles me. As 2300 nears (which is the pre-agreed upon time to depart, so as not to be late checking back in to the barracks), I notice someone familiar out of the corner of my eye.
Holy cow, was that – yes, it was! It’s Julie. What the hell is she doing in the strip club? I think of some way to approach her – “Hey Julie, it’s J. from class.” However, I’m not sure if I want to introduce myself under such conditions. I debate with myself internally for a while and even try walking by her to see if she recognizes me, which I do not think that she does. Eventually, I see the men that I knew in the back of my mind she must’ve come with, but still wind up disappointed somehow. I feel as though I should have approached her.
We leave and head back to base to continue drinking at the on base club. Not much is said. I escort LCpl Papa back to his room after we have a little chat about how he’s still struggling with his situation. I talk more with the new female Marine who had heard, somehow, that I was imminently getting married (hah!). She then learns that I am a virgin and immediately makes assumptions about my presence at the strip club and judgments about why I should have to “pay” for “such things,” irregardless of the fact that I wasn’t there to pay for anything except my drinks and for my buddies to enjoy themselves.
Reflection
It’s now two in the morning on Saturday. The night has left me somewhat worn out and confused.
Julie represents what it is that I want – an actual legitimate relationship – and I find it strange and ironic that I would randomly see her in a strip club, which represents everything that I am not after – objectified intimacy for money. What does this portend? I do not know.
The intimacy, even if illegitimate and paid for, was nice. But it did what I always feared it would – remind me of just how lonely I am and how little intimacy I have. I now feel incredibly lonely and am going through literal heartache. It would be great to have someone to hold and share tender moments with. Alas.
I felt inspired to write about these events but I haven’t really come to any conclusion regarding them. I am mostly just frustrated. I shall now sleep.

Life

It can be awfully damn hilarious in the way it reinforces lessons I’d already learned or conclusions I’d already reached.

Explain this


How the hell does my blog draw so many visitors? Obviously, some of those visitors are merely data miners from search engines and what not. But there is a startling proportion of return visitors who spend a great deal of time (indicating that they are not merely search engine bots) on the site, often over the span of several days, weeks, or months. And these are people who I have no idea who they are, from parts of the country or world where I’ve never been and where I’m fairly certain I know no one.

Some people I can guess at and figure who they are, but those mystery visitors are, well, a mystery. I wonder.

Memoir Chapter: Innocuous

This is the first time I’ve thrown up a memoir chapter here. It’s a relatively short one. Enjoy. (Perhaps a little context is in order: my brother has attempted suicide in the past and has deep-rooted emotional issues. The fears expressed in this chapter are not completely unfounded, and the suicide attempt is discussed in more depth in another, earlier chapter.)

Innocuous
I call my brother on the phone, and he’s drunk.
He’s talking about a great movie he saw. 40 Year Old Virgin. Funniest movie ever. And have I seen Anchorman yet?
What? I haven’t? That’s unacceptable.
Eventually I tell him about Deidre and Ross.
I figured that he had known already. You see, Ross is my father and his step father. Deidre is his girlfriend. Deidre has some kids, apparently, and she used to live with Ross. In fact, there was a period where Justin was living on his own in California while my dad lived with Deidre. It was kind of fucked up.
What was more messed up was the fact that my dad had been giving money to Deidre for her kids, while not paying his child support. He had money to give to some stranger’s kids but not enough left over for his own progeny. This didn’t really bother me much – I’d grown up to expect nothing from him, each empty promise being easier to take than the last – but it enraged my brother.
This money he didn’t send, it was just like the car we never fixed together. It was just like the camping trip we never went on, the vacations we never took, the presents we never got, the allowance that never materialized, the road trips that didn’t happen, the time we never spent together. He never taught me how to fish. He never taught me how to swim. My brother had to teach me how to shave, how to ride my bike. Ross pretty much never did anything for me.
Justin starts yelling at Deidre in person while we’re still on the phone. Every now and again he speaks to me in a really sweet voice – then bites back at her in a completely different tone. Somebody’s a bitch, somebody’s an asshole, somebody’s not as good as his brother, somebody doesn’t know shit about “my” brother…and so on.
Then he says he’s got to go.
Days pass by. Lisa still asks if I’ve heard from my brother in a while. No, mom, no I haven’t. Why don’t you try calling him?
I have, she says.
I go to school. I don’t pay much attention in class. Nobody notices what seems obvious to me – I’m not in a good mood. Nobody notices or nobody cares – whatever. I don’t do any homework. I don’t turn anything in. My grades slip – nobody cares.
I can literally go for days without speaking to another human being, if I want to. Nobody says hello to me. People I know pass me by in the halls – people I’ve stayed up until two in the morning for, editing their essays. These people, they don’t like me. They just use me. I have all the answers for them – I can edit their essays because they have no fucking idea how to write coherently. Why the fuck do I help them?
I just want to talk to my brother anyway. Sara isn’t returning my calls. Who else can I talk to?
More days pass.
I call my brother on the phone, and he doesn’t pick up.
Again.
I’m starting to wonder – has he killed himself? Has he finally done it this time?
I’m starting to wonder – is it my fault?
I come to school wearing my hat with my hood up. I’m pretty sure it breaks some kind of school dress code – still don’t hear a peep from anyone. I wear my headphones as much as possible and zone out to the world. I listen to the same instrumental acoustic guitar song over, and over, and over, and over. It’s so beautiful – so relaxing. All I want to do is listen to the song forever.
I feel so helplessly alone in this place, teeming with others – drowning by myself in a sea of people. I stay home for a week, or longer, however long I can convince my mom to let me. When I come back, no one notices I had been gone. Nobody had been waiting for my return.
Nobody cares.
And my brother still won’t pick up his God-damned phone.
My brother is the only person in the world that I love. Is he really gone?
Everyday I wait for the call – your brother has killed himself. Or maybe the call will never come. He only keeps in touch with four people – me, my mom, his best friend Justin, and his girlfriend. Maybe I’ll never know what happened.
So many people in the world, and yet, I am so completely and helplessly alone. What has become of me? The people I was close to? Everything has come full circle and I’m right back where I started – I have only myself to rely upon, and my brother is the only person in the whole world I can trust.
Yet, I can’t trust him enough to tell him my true plans. I don’t trust him enough to really speak my mind.
Think of a Venn Diagram, but it only has one circle. The circle is labeled “everyone in the world.” Outside of this circle is written “John,” and that’s exactly how I feel.
Justin, answer your god damn phone.
Why did it come to this?

Walls

Redemption has an uncanny way of making songs that seem to fit perfectly with my life:

15 hours I’ve been staring at these walls
Waiting for the call that never comes
I thought I had it figured out
Giving you the benefit of doubt

Every day you build the wall
And I’m trying to break through
Brick by brick I’ll tear it down
Until I’ve reached the other side and you
You made us prisoners and I’m trying to set us free
But the final stones between us
Could be the very ones placed there by me

15 months I’ve been staring at the wall
Waiting for the day that never comes
I placed in my faith in someone else
What did you promise to yourself? (it’s turned to dust)

Every day you build the wall
And I’m trying to break through
Brick by brick I’ll tear it down
Until I’ve reached the other side and you
You made us prisoners and I’m trying to set us free
But the final stones between us
Could be the very ones placed there by me

Did you build it just to see
Who cared enough to try to tear it down?

15 years – I’ve been trapped behind this wall
Waiting for the change that never comes
Still I try to open up the door
But it’s been oh so long, I can’t recall the other side anymore

Every day you build the wall
And I’m trying to break through
Brick by brick I’ll tear it down
Until I’ve reached the other side and you
You made us prisoners and i’m trying to set us free
But the final stones between us
Could be the very ones placed there by me

I’ll be waiting
I will wait for you
I’ll be waiting
I’ll still be waiting

The Problem with Publicity

Often times, I think I should take this blog down and do something more private – a journal, perhaps (or hell, just make another blog with a password on it – journals can be lost or destroyed, and a private blog seems a little more permanent). I often feel like because I’ve thrown this URL out there and sometimes people poke their head in, I have to be wary of what I say. Elsewhere, I tire of being misjudged and having to backpedal and explain myself, and sometimes people will just be out to prove their own misconceptions and not listen to the full side of your story anyway. So here, I feel like I’m a bit censored, even if I give lip service to how I’m very honest.

Every now and again, I get that one thoughtful comment from somebody that lets me know that they read my thoughts and it connected with them somehow – perhaps even in a meaningful way. This reminds me why I have these pages up in the first place: I really would enjoy feedback and discourse about the things I’ve written. I try to start up a conversation, but alas – it seems I must make do with just the one comment. Still, though, the comment is good, and I appreciate it (regardless of whether or not the comment agrees or disagrees with what I have to say – so long as it is apparent that my writing caused the author of the comment to do some thinking).
However, it’s no fun merely writing to a blank wall. It’s draining to put so much effort into thinking, reflecting, synthesizing, organizing, and writing and to not have the payoff I’d been hoping for. (This may just be related to faulty desire, however.) The task of writing can often be painful – especially the type of writing that seems to get the most feedback (my introspective works). To do such work and to be unable to discuss it with anyone is troubling – precisely when it was written to be discussed.
Privatizing (double entendre word score!) would eliminate the expectation that I could discuss what I have written, and thus make the lack of discourse easier to cope with. Perhaps I should start writing more for my “own sake” rather than as an attempt to converse. I’ve always been torn by this dilemma – I don’t enjoy writing for my own sake, but writing in order to strike up a conversation has never worked out for me either.
Alas. Don’t be surprised if this all becomes smoke one day soon.

Immortality and its Implications

UMUC – ASIA
PHIL 342 – Moral Problems in Medicine
Foster Education Center, Room 13
Okinawa, Japan
FALL SESSION I, 2009
Saturdays, 12:00-18:00
Instructor: Christopher Melley
Student Name: J. Durden
Title: Immortality and its Implications
1. Introduction

The concept of mortality is one that dominates human thinking. Many worry about how to have a “good life,” for instance, before passing from the mortal coil. Because death is inevitable and – to a certain degree – unpredictable, most long range thinking seems to rectify itself with the inevitability of death. Much has been written of death. Don Marquis (1989) describes death as the ultimate loss: “The loss of one’s life is one of the greatest losses one can suffer. The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future.” Temkin (2008) writes: “Death is surely one of the greatest evils that men face.” Robert Freitas (2003), an expert in the field of nanotechnology and nanomedicine, conceptualizes death as a terrific loss for all of humanity:

34 billion people have ever walked the Earth, and 28 billion of us have already died. The equivalent total information waste is more than 28 billion books, enough to fill almost 2000 Libraries of Congress. The equivalent total economic waste about $60 thousand trillion dollars, enough to rebuild our current tangible civilization 600 times over.

He, along with other experts in relevant life-extension fields, believe that immortality may be within our grasp.
2. Background, Relevant Facts and Definition of Terms
Immortality of the type promised through the research conducted for this paper seems to be rather comprehensive – it claims to both stop (and even undo) the effects of aging, and purports to offer solutions in the case of organ failure or premature death. Mortality, as defined by most online dictionaries, means “the state or condition of being subject to death.”
There are essentially two immortality strategies on the technological horizon. The first of these involves completely eradicating aging at the cellular level. The secret lies in telomere, “repeating code at the end of each DNA strand, which are made shorter each time a cell divides, thereby placing a limit on the number of times a cell can replicate” (Kurzweil 2002). Essentially, once the telomere runs out, the cell is programmed for death (Kurzweil 2002). Ray Kurzweil (2002), an important figure in nanotechnology and attendant of the Alcor Convention on Extreme Life Extension, reports Michael West’s findings:
The immortal germ line cells avoid this destruction through the use of a single enzyme called telomerase, which rebuilds the telomere chain after each cell division. This single enzyme makes the germ line cells immortal, and indeed these cells have survived from the beginning of life on Earth billions of years ago.
Ironically, the secret to immortality has existed since the dawn of life on Earth. To best utilize this knowledge, Kurzweil (2002) reports that West suggests “…future gene therapies that would return cells to their youthful, telomerase-extended state.” Additionally:
West expressed confidence that new techniques would provide the ability to transfer the telomerase into the nuclei, and to overcome the cancer issue. Telomerase gene therapy holds the promise of indefinitely rejuvenating human somatic (non-germ line) cells i.e., all human cells.
While gene therapy utilizing telomerase may seem to hold the answer to indefinitely prolonging the life of our cells, the thought of such techniques taking mankind all the way to immortality loses its feasibility when you consider that telomerase gene therapy offers no solution to foreign threats (for example, pathogens) to keep us healthy. However, this is not the only weapon in science’s arsenal in the battle to achieve immortality.
The second strategy involves an eclectic synthesis of several technologies. Chief among these are nanomedicine, improvements in the field of artificial organs, and cybernetics. While a much longer paper could outline these technologies in depth (and explore the most recent developments in these fields), this one will attempt only to provide a brief sketch. Essentially, Freitas (2002), one of nanomedicines foremost experts, argues that molecular technologies combined with traditional (and ever improving) knowledge of medicine will be able to reverse the effects of aging on the body. He claims that the use of nanomachines (literally, machines built on the nano-scale – sometimes referred to as nanobots) will be able to keep our bodies alive for thousands of years. Should any part of our body become damaged beyond the point of repair through nanomedicine, Kurzweil (2002) lays out a vision of the future where improvements in the process of artificial body part replacement will not only be solvent, but affordable for everyone. Kurzweil (2003) further argues that nanobots could be utilized to interface directly with a human brain, increasing cognition and possibly even allowing for the specific neural networks of a particular brain to be stored as “data” and later interposed into another organic brain (to combat biological brain failure that would result in the death of one’s personality).
3. Practical Problem and Ethical Questions
It is apparent, then, that immortality may be within our grasp. Therefore, it becomes necessary to consider the ethical implications of immortality – what sort of impact would immortality have on life? As silly as such a question may sound at first, it may be instructive to ask: are there any negative impacts to immortality? Most people have a natural tendency to want to live forever (as even Temkin admits in his article), but does that mean that we should live forever? Immortality is an answer to death, so it becomes important to consider whether or not death is a bad thing. These questions have more than one answer and it is worth tackling them from multiple perspectives.
4. Ethical Argument and Counter-argument
Death need not necessarily be conceptualized as a bad thing – and such thinking is ancient. Epictetus (135), for example, argued as much nearly 2000 years ago:

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible.

This argument seems to postulate that nothing is ‘disturbing’ in nature – the only reason men are disturbed is because they have conceptualized things as being disturbing. More recent philosophers have chimed in on a similar theme. Preston and Dixon (2007) quote Epicurus in their examination of the issue, who wrote the following in 1927:

Get used to believing that death is nothing to us. For all good and bad consists in sense-experience, and death is the privation of sense-experience. Hence, a correct knowledge of the fact that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life a matter for contentment, not by adding a limitless time [to life] but by removing the longing for immortality. For there is nothing fearful in life for one who has grasped that there is nothing fearful in the absence of life. Thus he is a fool who says that he fears death not because it will be painful when present but because it is painful when it is still to come. For that which while present causes no distress causes unnecessary pain when merely anticipated. So death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist. Therefore, it is relevant neither to the living nor to the dead, since it does not affect the former, and the latter do not exist.

The argument here, in other terms, is that death should not concern us, because it does not affect us while living and it cannot affect us after it occurs as we do not exist. (To Epicurus, the agony of death arises from its anticipation – this is similar to the way Epictetus argues that death is terrible only in man’s conception of death as being terrible.) According to Preston & Dixon’s (2007) analysis, the logic underlying Epicurus’ argument was hedonistic – he viewed pain as the only intrinsic (as the authors say – “bad in itself”) bad, and since death did not directly cause pain for its victim nor for anyone living, it follows that death is not bad. Furthermore, Preston & Dixon extend the argument:

Assuming that all of the premises are true, it would appear that being dead really is nothing extrinsically bad for the dead. When we weep for them, we are really weeping for ourselves. When we lament their passing, we are really acknowledging that we, not they, have been somehow diminished. In other words, being dead is nothing subjectively to the one dead; yet, objectively it influences those around the deceased in varying ways. Nevertheless, one must wonder why humanity has struggled, psychologically, philosophically, and religiously, with death for the subject….

It seems, then, that death is not be bad for those it afflicts directly, but it still seems ill for those left behind. Epictetus (135), however, has an answer. Stoicism is concerned with what an individual can control, and death is certainly outside of one’s control. Regarding the loss of one’s loved ones, he writes:

If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own.

He urges a perspective that recognizes the impact of external and uncontrollable influences without being entirely fatalistic, and without giving up:

Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned…. “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel…. Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.

Such arguments and ways of thinking contrast sharply with conventional notions that death is bad (or that life is sacred, as seen in sanctity of life arguments or pro-life ethics).
Thinkers like Epicurus and Epictetus seem not to say that death is good; merely that it is not necessarily bad. Perhaps because they were never confronted with the tangible possibility of immortality, they never had a need to examine the issue further. Temkin (2008), however, presents the views of more recent thinkers who have had to confront immortality. Temkin seems to agree with Leon Kass that death is a good motivator:

…Many of our greatest creations resulted from the recognition of our own mortality. Kass believes that many people who fear death — understood, here, as the end of their earthly existence, and perhaps utter annihilation — have been spurred by that fear to great accomplishments. The idea, roughly, is that, consciously or not, many have hoped to achieve a kind of immortality, in the form of lasting recognition here on Earth, through great achievements. Moreover, many of these achievements are amongst humankind’s most lasting, inspiring, and ennobling feats. Thus, Kass suggests that some of the components that make our lives and our civilization most valuable would never have existed but for our mortality. Additionally, Kass suggests, our very recognition and appreciation of beauty, and life itself, may to some extent be conditioned by, and hence depend on, our awareness of our finitude.

Accepting such logic, it is not unreasonable to assume that human productivity might sink. Without the fear of death to motivate people, what reason would there be to achieve anything? Later, Temkin considers whether or not all people will have enough money to benefit from immortality, which brings to mind considerations of justice (specifically distributive justice) and contrast with Kurzweil’s contentions that technologies will be cheap and affordable. Still other authors, like Horrobin (2006) have explored other practical considerations like overpopulation, “the nature and value of intergenerational interchange,” and even the issue of boredom. The literature on the subject is immense and to conduct a full analysis could well result in a work the length of a book and is beyond the scope of this paper – which seeks only to flesh out some of the basics.
5. Personal Position and Justification
I am in favor of immortality and believe it can be justified using many of the ethical theories mentioned above. Immortality could end up as the single greatest and most important human achievement in history. The following arguments appear here rather than above as they represent my personal thinking based on my understanding of the underpinning ethical/moral theories and arguments/counter-arguments, rather than a rigorously researched examination of these positions.
Stoicism maintains, as Epictetus wrote, that things (such as immortality, or death) are not bad in and of themselves – the only thing that makes them appear bad to us are the notions we have regarding those specific things. If, therefore, one were apprehensive about immortality because one feared becoming bored in an eternal life, one would be inclined to feel that immortality was bad or immoral. Stoicism, in my understanding, would resolutely argue that this is not the case – and therefore, under a framework of stoicism, immortality would be justifiable.
It is hard to know exactly what Kant would think about immortality. Based on my limited understanding of Kant, I would argue that he too would find nothing inherently wrong about immortality – so long as one maintained a good will in its application. He would not be in favor of a rich elite, for example, utilizing immortality with the intention of becoming an entrenched class of rulers; but I do not think he would find fault in immortality with for every person, so long as people maintained their good wills. The length of one’s life never seemed to concern Kant much, and I am uncertain how he felt about death – but such concepts don’t seem to be Kant’s main thrust anyway. He was more concerned about how we should live our lives, regardless of the length.
I believe immortality is easily justifiable under a utilitarian ethic. The technologies outlined in this paper would greatly reduce the amount of suffering and pain in the world caused by illness, age, and death. Furthermore, should nanotechnology come to fruition in the way its proponents envision, we might also reduce our depedence on animals for things like product testing (especially in the field of pharmaceuticals). This would also greatly reduce suffering. Again, the only case where immortality would seem to cause trouble to utilitarian thinkers is if it were used by an elite few in order to gain an advantage over the disenfranchised many.
This brings us to the area of pragmatics and practical considerations. There seems to be a tension among practical thinkers who are in favor and practical thinkers who are not in favor of immortality. This, I believe, belies the fact that a certain sort of context-sensitive ethic is necessary to truly evaluate whether or not immortality could be justfiable. However, I think it is informative to look at other examples of practical thinking – I don’t believe pragmatic philosophers would resolutely argue that killing innocents is always wrong. There are certain examples where it makes pragmatic sense – in self defense, in the line of duty as an officer of the law or soldier of the military, and so on. Pragmatic thinking seems to dovetail with stoicism, then, in that actions/things are not inherently bad, but only become bad through poor use. Therefore, there is no reason to roundly reject immortality for pragmatic considerations alone – only immoral use of immortality. (This means things like distributive justice and overpopulation would need to be handled, but discussing such things in depth is outside the scope of this paper. I am merely trying to give an overview of whether or not immortality is a sound idea in theory, not how to practically employ it.)
Natural law theorists might argue – as they often do with new technologies – that we are tinkering with nature and should therefore abstain from immortality. However, as is the problem with most natural law arguments, there is no clear way to define what is natural and what isn’t. Definitions of the word vary wildly, from “of or pertaining to the universe” to “growing spontaneously, without being planted or tended by human hand, as vegetation.” The first definition could be interpreted quite easily to justify immortality – obviously, if the universe didn’t intend for it to happen, it wouldn’t be possible. The second definition does not allow for a justification of immortality, however – and these wildly different defintions belie the difficulty in trying to argue from a natural law point of view. Who rightly defines what is natural and what is not? If something can happen, does that not make it natural? Human beings exist in nature, so how can we act unnaturally? Natural law doesn’t present a strong enough objection to immortality to convince me.
Still others might argue that we should not tinker with immortality, as this would interfere with God’s plans for us. This position seems to commit the same error in reasoning that natural law arguments do, as how can we truly know what God’s plan is for us? For all we know, it could be God’s plan for us to achieve immortality through technologies like nanomedicine – perhaps this is how we will come to know heaven and the eternal life? The word of God, after all, is open to wide interpretation. This scenario reminds me of a joke I once heard that basically goes like this: A man is on his roof in the middle of a flood. First, another person in a raft comes by and asks the man if he would like to get in and be saved, and the man says “No, thank you, I have been praying for God to save me.” Later, a second person with a kayak comes by and offers another rescue, but still the man refuses, believing God will save him. A helicopter comes by and offers the man a ladder, but still the man refuses, believing firmly that God will save him. The man eventually drowns, and when he gets to heaven, he frustratedly asks God why God did not save him. God replies “What do you think I sent the rowboat, kayak, and helicopter for?” This paper makes no claims about whether or not God exists, but if he did (for the sake of argument), it seems supremely arrogant to assume we could understand what his plan is or is not. If we reject immortality on the basis that it is not in God’s plan for us, we could easily wind up like the man in the joke.
Immortality is obviously justifiable using the sanctity of life ethic, which places the value of life as above all other values. Another quote might be instructive here, this time from Doerflinger (1989):

Life, a human being’s very earthly existence, is the most fundamental right because it is the necessary condition for all other worldly goods including freedom; freedom in turn makes it possible to pursue (without guaranteeing that one will attain) happiness.

Even the quality of life stands to improve and justify immortality – with an infinite amount of time to improve one’s life, there is no more worry whether or not life will become unbearable. (Assumedly, nanomedicine and the other technologies outlined could also be used to cure disabilities, though this is not the focus of the paper.) Death is the ultimate opponent to thinkers who value sanctity of life, and so I imagine they would unanimously be in favor of immortality.
This brings me to the final point I would like to make regarding this issue. Given that the technologies discussed would seem to be able to compensate for any possible illness or injury one could imagine, the biggest potential harm immortality could cause would seem to be boredom and apathy, which may even lead to despair. Therefore, I think it is important that if we became immortal, we allow for the ability for humans to choose when and how their life will end through suicide. After all, some people don’t want to live forever, and a routinely “wrong” thing to do in any ethical or moral system of thinking is to force something on someone else (murder is forced death, rape is forced sex, assault is forced injury, and so on). Autonomy and personal choice, then, must also be respected. Death and suicide would be justifiable in the sense that they really do not cause pain to the person choosing them (as argued by Epicurus), and any sadness felt by those left behind would reflect incorrect thinking (as argued by Epictetus). This being said, immortality is an exciting prospect that would revolutionize much about life; perhaps least of which would be philosophical thought.
Works Cited
Marquis, D. (1989). Why abortion is immoral. The Journal of Philosophy.
Temkin, L.S. (2008). Is living longer living better?. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 25(3), 193- 210.
Freitas, R.A. (2003). Death is an outrage. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0536.html
Kurzweil, R. (2002). The Alcor conference on extreme life extension. Retrieved October 10, 2009, from http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0531.html
Kurzweil, R. (2002). We are becoming cyborgs. Retrieved October 10, 2009, from http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0449.html
Kurzweil, R. (2003). The future of life. Retrieved October 10, 2009, from http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0554.html
Epictetus. (135). The Enchiridion. Retrieved October 10, 2009 from http://classics.mit.edu/Epictetus/epicench.html
Preston, T.M., & Dixon, Scott. (2007). Who wants to live forever? Immortality, authenticity, and living forever in the present. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 61(2), 99- 117.
Horrobin, S. (2006). Immortality, human nature, the value of life and the value of life extension. Bioethics, 20(6), 279-292.
Doerflinger, R. (1989). Assisted suicide: Pro-choice or anti-life. Hastings Center Report.

Immortality and the Meaning of Life

UMUC – ASIA
PHIL 140 – CONTEMPORARY MORAL ISSUES
CAMP KINSER
FALL SESSION I, 2009
Monday and Wednesday, 1645-1930
Instructor: Christopher Melley
Student Name: J. Durden
Title: Immortality and the Meaning of Life
1. Introduction
Since the beginning of human history, one of the most basic and best understood facts about human existence is that it eventually ends. However, advancements in technology may, within our lifetime, overcome death and allow humans to live essentially forever. In my paper, Immortality and its Implications, I outlined briefly the technologies involved in making immortality happen and whether or not immortality could be theoretically justified under various ethical and moral theories. The focus of this paper will be on how immortality would change our very conceptions about life and perhaps even personhood – ideas such as what it means to be alive, what it means to lead a good life, how to be a good person, and more. Temkin (2008) outlines how this topic is necessarily difficult to encapsulate: “…If we lived forever our psychologies would probably evolve, and we might find whole new life plans available to us that we can’t currently conceptualize…”
2. Background, Relevant Facts and Definition of Terms
The kind of immortality being examined in this essay is the kind that could keep our physical existence living indefinitely, through a combination of nanomedicine, artificial organ replacement (or cybernetics) and methods of storing our neural networks as data to later be superimposed on another brain. I outlined this sort of immortality in another paper, but it is important to define immortality as such – other thinkers would talk about an intangible sort of immortality, an immortality for the “soul” or “spirit” that transcends time (is an atemporal existence). Such a discussion is outside the purview of this essay.
An entire book could be written on the practical implications (and limitations) of immortality. There are many potential problems with getting immortality to work – overpopulation and sustainability (could the world support an immortal population, especially one that grew?), distributive justice (making sure everyone had equal access to immortality), social impacts and more. I’d like to sketch out some of these problems before moving forward with the examination of immortality.
Temkin (2008) succinctly sums up the main worries of overpopulation: “…if we succeed in extending lifespans indefinitely, where would everyone live, and from where would the resources come to support them?” The two primary concerns would be living space and living necessities (food, water, etc). Preston & Dixon (2007) elaborate (with the help of another work by Nussbaum):

Imagining a world of limited resources, if none ever dies, the resources will eventually run out. In a world where none dies, but some continue to be born, the burden will fall most heavily on the young, “for the people already around, who already command resources, will cling to them tenaciously. Life will be like a university faculty with no retirements, in which the old, tenaciously clinging to their tenured posts, will prevent the entry of an entire generation of young people” (Nussbaum, 1994, p. 223)

This has strange utilitarian implications – death, while perhaps a harm for the individual, may be of benefit to the needs of the larger population. The authors then outline how ceasing new births could potentially be an answer – that is, if one could find a workable solution to ensure immortal humans were not reproducing – but also provide a counterpoint to their own argument, in that the prevention of new births also represents a loss (of new ideas, perspectives, energy and so on).
While immortality may sound appealing at first, one worries about whether or not it would further entrench a class system that has already developed across most of the world – the rich versus the poor. Temkin (2008) outlines this concern:

…we live in a horribly unequal world. It has been claimed, for example, that a mere one half of 1% of the income of the top 20% of income earners would be more than sufficient to double the income of everyone in the bottom 20%. Given this, and given that millions of innocent children ‘die [each year] from easy to beat disease, from malnutrition, and from bad drinking water’, is there not a moral imperative to address the plight of the world’s needy, and try to give them something of a normal human life span, before we engage in longevity research? Surely, the benefits of longevity, if successful, would almost certainly go first to the world’s best off, who would willingly pay handsomely for them, and would only ‘trickle down’ to the world’s less fortunate, if it later became easy and cheap to do so. Are there not strong considerations of justice, equality, humanitarianism, and prioritarianism to worry about this predictable result?

It is easy to hope for an ideal system, and indeed, the thinkers in the fields that may ultimately bring us immortality seem to think they can do so affordably and distribute this boon to all. However, things rarely work out inventors and scientists intend – a recent and potent example would be the way the inventors of the atomic bomb petitioned the White House to never use their device (and, if memory serves, some of the research involved in the bomb’s creation was co-opted from ‘harmless’ research into then alternative energy sources).
Temkin (2008) would warn us of the potential social impacts of immortality. He outlines how currently, there is a large difference between ourselves and our grandparents but how in an immortal world a difference of only 60 years may cause us to regard our grandparents as peers. Given that, he writes:

But, speaking for myself, I think it would be terrible if I came to regard my mother or daughter, not so much as a mother or daughter, but as a peer. Likewise, as lifespans have increased the desirability of lifelong monogamy has been increasingly challenged, and many have started second families in their 50s. If we lived indefinitely, mightn’t we naturally have many spouses over the years? And then, depending on the rules of procreation in play, many children or stepchildren? What impact would this have on our notions of familial loyalty and duty?

Perhaps these represent valid concerns about the impact immortality would have on society and its values. However, as Temkin pointed out elsewhere in his paper, it is hard to know exactly how immortal life would go – as he said, we might evolve new ways of living that could be superior to our current way of life in such a way that is incomprehensible to us now. Perhaps we would come to regard all life as within our family, rather than being only concerned with those people we immediately know – and wouldn’t this cause us to live more responsibly with respect to the environment and the way we treat others?
The problem with many of these practical considerations is that immortality represents such a fundamental shift in thinking (and existing) that we can’t know all the answers. We are applying our reasoning, which has its basis in a mortal world, to a hypothetical immortal world. The way that we perceive time, for instance, would almost necessarily change if we were to become immortal – presently, humans are inclined not to worry so much about the long range impact of their activities, especially impacts that extend beyond their own life. And why should they, these people might argue? I can imagine a hypothetical argument: “After all, let someone else worry about it. The future will always be more advanced and maybe they’ll just invent a solution for me.” If we were immortal, such thinking wouldn’t suffice – we would come to worry about impacts one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand years down the line, because we would be around to experience them.
Additionally, regardless of how much we might worry about the practical implications of immortality, our worrying has little to no effect on whether or not the technologies that will grant us immortality are going to continue to develop. This may sound like an argument in the vein of technological imperative – that is, because we can achieve immortality, we must. But this is not the case. I am arguing instead that immortality appears to be inevitable (barring the apocalypse or a cataclysm like a massive energy crisis that alters the face of civilization and technological progress as we know it), therefore, we shouldn’t be concerned with whether we should stop it, but how best to utilize (and in some cases, distribute) it.
Therefore, for the sake of argument, I’m going to suggest that we assume a somewhat idealized conception of immortality – one where we aren’t concerned with the practical considerations, as they’ve already been solved. (Yes, the miracles of technology and social engineering have solved problems of overpopulation, distributive justice and familial concerns.)
3. Practical Problem and Ethical Questions
As stated above, while the practical considerations are important, they aren’t the main thrust. In an idealized world like the one I’ve posited for the sake of argument, one wonders – would one really want to be immortal? Will being immortal improve the value of one’s own life? How will being immortal alter the meaning of one’s life? Is being immortal right? Below, I hope to examine these issues and provide a solution to problems that may arise.
4. Ethical Argument and Counter-argument
One author that seems to appear consistently in the literature of immortality is Bernard Williams, whose thoughts are summarized by Temkin (2008):

Williams notes that if our lives persisted unendingly through time, then there would either be significant alterations in a person’s deepest projects, commitments, and character, or there would not. Either alternative, Williams argues, would be deeply problematic for the value of immortality for us.

To summarize in brief, Williams claims that if our concerns and character changed, why would we care about our future selves? Essentially, if one’s concerns and character cannot remain constant throughout one’s immortal life, Williams argues that one would find no reason at all to find immortality desirable. On the other hand, if our concerns and character do remain constant throughout all life, Williams posits that we will become bored and view suicide as an attractive option. Either way, the immortal life does not seem desirable to Williams. Williams’ argument suffers because it seems to be a false dilemma – a logical fallacy where the issue is simplified to only two choices. What if the appeal of immortality was precisely that you could change your concerns and character and explore life to the fullest, for example? There seems to be little warrant to the claim that an eternal life dedicated to purely one cause would become boring, also – especially in light of how immortality may change our conceptions and allow us to find new values or reinterpret existing ones. In short, Williams seems to be stuck thinking about immortality in a mortal way, and doesn’t give enough thought to the way life would change.
Some argue against immortality on the basis that it goes against nature. Horrobin (2006) is instructive on this point:

…There is an apparent conflation of the notion of the ‘ordained’ in a religious sense–the idea that the world and nature was designed by an all-powerful creator – and the idea of nature as being that which is governed by the laws of physics, and has evolved through blind natural selection and morally neutral stochastic events. However, the two concepts are absolutely distinct. Biological nature, as evolved and purely physical has no apparent component of the ‘ordained’ whatsoever. To suggest otherwise is to illegitimately conflate the physical aspect of nature with an entirely separate notion of supernatural ordination, in an attempt to perform an ‘end run’ around the glaring problem of the naturalistic fallacy.

Horrobin suggests that arguments that appeal to natural laws, for instance, are either knowingly or unknowingly relying on an underlying assumption about the existence of a creator. In contrast, Horrobin seems to suggest then that what is “natural” is merely what can happen – if immortality can happen, then it is natural. In simpler and more poignant terms, nature is reality, or even, nature is existence. To go against nature would be to go against reality, which is impossible. As humans, we do not rewrite the rules of reality – we merely understand them better and use them more to our benefit. We do not worry now about whether or not it is unnatural to drive a car, ride in a bus, fly in an airplane – though I am certain that as these technologies were coming about, people argued that they went against the laws of nature and should thus be abandoned as folly. The idea here is that a thing is natural if it exists, because if it exists, it clearly follows all of the rules of nature – otherwise it would not exist.
In my research, I came across an interesting paradox – religious thinkers tend to think immortality is fine in the context of an eternal afterlife (and in fact necessary for a meaningful life, as Thaddeus Metz goes to great pains to illustrate – he calls this the “immortality requirement” or IR). However, they rally against immortality in the current life as it goes against God’s plan. Let me first expound upon the immortality requirement by presenting Metz’s (2003) words:

Many religious thinkers maintain that for anyone to be oriented toward something higher in the relevant sense, one must possess a soul that will forever survive the death of one’s body. This is an instance of a more general view that is here called the ‘immortality requirement’ (IR). According to the IR, a person’s life is meaningless if she is not immortal.

And yet, these are the very same thinkers who argue that we should not pursue immortality because it goes against God’s plan! This not only smacks of inconsistency, but also of folly. There is an old joke that goes something like this: A man is on his roof in the middle of a flood, praying to God to save him. A person on a raft comes by and offers the man help, but the man refuses, claiming that he is sure God will save him. Another person in a kayak comes, only to be rebuffed by the man in the same manner. A helicopter arrives on the scene and drops a rope ladder down to the man, who politely insists that God will save him from his plight and refuses to make use of the helicopter. The man drowns, dies, and upon arriving in heaven, frustratedly asks God why God did not save him. God replies: “What do you think the raft, the kayak, and the helicopter were for?” The point here is that it is supremely arrogant to assume (given that God exists and is all powerful) we know what God’s plan is. It could just as easily be argued that it is God’s plan to grant us immortality at this moment in time, and that all along he meant for heaven to be on earth!
Let us examine Metz (2003) in more depth. He makes several arguments about the immortality requirement, but I’d like to focus on one in particular. He argues that immortality would be necessary to achieve perfect justice:

…Eternal life in heaven is necessary to reward the highly virtuous (given that they would strongly desire it). And supposing it is true that life’s meaning depends on being highly virtuous and receiving reward for it, we have an argument that entails the immortality requirement.

For Metz, the only way to achieve perfect justice would be with a perfect reward for virtuous living, but this seems to fly in the face of many moral theories – while it is easier to do the right thing if you are motivated to do so because of a reward, one could argue that having a reward is not a necessary precondition for right behavior. Right behavior should be pursued because it is right, period. This is also a limited interpretation of justice, on the view that justice is a system of punishments and rewards for behavior, rather than the view that justice is fairness for instance. Under a justice as fairness framework, immortality may be necessary in that it may be the only way to guarantee that everyone could receive fair treatment (as many are denied fair treatment as a result of time constraints or because they died before their case could be proven – in an immortal life, 20 years would not be so long to wait for justice).
Still other authors are worried about the meaning of life in light of immortality. As Horrobin (2006) points out:

…Suppose that, once free of our presently absolute life span constraints, then lives as lived would have no shape, no drama, no form, no meaning! It seems that what is worried about is not that there will be no variation, drama, form, or meaning, but rather that absent this particular structure, the present meaning of ‘human nature’ will be fundamentally changed or lost. It appears clear that beyond the particular structure alluded to, the author finds it difficult to see that there are or may be other worthwhile interpretations of ‘human nature’ that presently exist, or else will spontaneously arise. It is true that their form may appear alien to the worrier, or else be difficult to foresee, but is a claim that such different life structures are not, or would not be ‘human’ warranted?

The worry that life will become meaningless after immortality seems to be an argument from ignorance, then, which is a fallacy. Just because we cannot perceive the ways in which life will become meaningful does not mean that we must conclude an immortal life will be meaningless.
5. Personal Position and Justification
Truly, this paper only scratches at the surface of immortality. However, I think enough has been discussed to provide answers to the questions raised earlier. It does not seem apparent, first of all, that immortality would be wrong to pursue. After all, nothing in the moral realm seems to be absolutely “right” or absolutely “wrong,” that is, good or bad without context. We cannot reject immortality by merely saying “it is wrong to live forever,” for instance. We might reject it on the basis of practical considerations, but for the sake of argument, I am maintaining that these considerations will be taken care of. Secondly, as to how immortality may alter the meaning of one’s life, it seems impossible to arrive at a conclusive answer. Worry about this question, however, may be misplaced – if anything, immortality seems to suggest that humans will find a deeper and more satisfying meaning to life by living forever. The other two questions – would being immortal improve the value of one’s life and would one want to be immortal – deserve a little more time to answer. Being that this is a personal position paper, I will answer them personally.
I answer positively to both questions. My personal philosophy has always been to seek self-improvement, and if death is removed as an obstacle, it would be possible to continue this journey of growth and development indefinitely. Life, as we know it, often forces one to make one choice which is mutually exclusive with another (or many other) choices for various reasons – aging makes it harder to learn new skills and pursue different interests. Music, for example, is something I’ve always enjoyed listening to, but practical considerations (like having a job, getting an education, and so on) prevented me from taking the time to learn how to play and compose music. The mechanics of aging make it harder and harder for me to learn music the longer I wait. With immortality, however, I could take theoretically take up music (or any other interest/skill/hobby) and pursue it to the fullest. Some (like Temkin) argue that constantly learning and starting over in new fields would not appeal to them, and that they may grow bored with things they already love because once they’d found the best in that field (their favorite songs, works of art, and so on) they wouldn’t be able to tolerate anything less. Immortality, I would think, would have just as much an impact on the arts as it would anything else. Music is very time dependent, for example, but in an immortal world where we experience time much differently, who is to say what form music would ultimately take? I am sure that language would evolve, as it would no longer be necessary to “get to the point” all the time, and that would have an impact on any field that depends upon language. Furthermore, perhaps in an immortal world, humanity could come to a universal language (or several universal languages with different purposes) to better understand each other. There is a caveat to my acceptance and enthusiasm for immortality, however.
I think it would be important to respect the autonomy of those who wished to commit suicide. After all, many have fought long and hard for the right to die, and many thinkers have written about the importance of dignity in death (and being able to choose a proper time to die). Immortality would allow for people to decide when the most fitting end for their life should be, and allowing people to commit suicide would be an answer to considerations about an immortal life becoming too boring – once a person had done all they had wanted in life, they shouldn’t be forced to remain alive if they don’t wish to. Even if I don’t personally see any reason why I would want to kill myself, I should not be able to force life on people who do not wish to be alive – much like I should not be able to force death (murder) on people who do wish to be alive.
This paper is brief and my research only scratches at the surface of thought regarding immortality – it is a rather thick concept. I find it hard not to get excited about the idea, which seems to be in stark contrast with the literature on the subject. For example, there’s a lot of arguments about how we would all become bored or lives would be unrecognizable and uninteresting, or without death we would not be sufficiently motivated to do good things. Yet counterarguments are hard to come by. How great would it be if revolutionary minds, minds that helped humanity understand reality that much more, were still alive today and operating at peak capacity? I do not think Einstein, for example, was motivated by the fear of death – I think he was motivated by the desire to understand the nature of reality. What if Einstein were still around today to pursue that curiosity? How much better would we all be for it? Immortality represents such a drastic change in what it means to be human, it has the potential to be either the best or the worst thing to happen to us. Let’s not forget about the ways it could be best even while we try to prepare for the ways it could be the worst.
Works Cited
Metz, T. (2003). The immortality requirement for life’s meaning. Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 16(2), 161-177.
Temkin, L.S. (2008). Is living longer living better?. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 25(3), 193- 210.
Preston, T.M., & Dixon, Scott. (2007). Who wants to live forever? Immortality, authenticity, and living forever in the present. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 61(2), 99- 117.
Horrobin, S. (2006). Immortality, human nature, the value of life and the value of life extension. Bioethics, 20(6), 279-292.

“Deceit” (Novel fragments)

The below represents some fragments from a climatic sequence in my eternally unwritten epic saga. Enjoy.

“So, the ultimate question then becomes…what matters more, actions or words? Which captures the essence of reality more, language or deeds? There was the deed you committed – the friend you betrayed for the love you wanted – lost in a galaxy of language about the universe you exist in. Yet you cannot understand your betrayal without the crutch of words.
“Reality, then, can only be understood and interpreted as a series of words that form an ‘idea’ – another word representing yet more words. The fundamental role that language plays is at once taken for granted and exploited – sometimes by the same person. He twists and bends the truth, if he does not outright lie, in order to advantage himself at the expense of others.
“And what, then, is the truth? The truth has become the pursuit of the most accurate and best fitting words to describe what is, what was, and what will come to pass. Absolute truth, the Truth with a capital T, would give an absolutely accurate understanding of the aspect of reality which it braced. Yet it is more complex than saying ‘the child is one year, three months, seven days, five hours, twenty minutes and six seconds old.’ For that does not apply in every instance, and in fact becomes invalidated the moment it is spoken.
“Absolute truth is impossible to achieve, and instead we call veritable misnomers ‘the truth.’ What do words like ‘older’ mean to a universe that does not divide time as we do?
“As you well learned, religion is full of misnomers. Xaos was no God, no god – were she anything, she was a goddess and yet even that is a profanity of the Truth, a blasphemy against reality.
“What is the meaning of the implicit, correlated relation between honesty and the truth? Honesty is a relation of one’s understanding without any manipulations – an accurate, direct, and complete reiteration of a viewpoint to the best of one’s ability to articulate it. It is as close to the Truth – as accurate a distillation of reality – as one can reasonably be expected to come.
“What Seth Vidar came to realize were precisely these things. In fact, he achieved a higher understanding – a total understanding of reality as it is, a feat mirrored by only two others: Xaos before, and Athanasius after. And where they drew similar conclusions, they chose entirely different ends. Xaos sought to impose her will on reality by editing it – at the cost of her sanity. Athanasius sought to destroy it, deeming it irrevocably damaged by those that came before – at the cost of his humanity. But Seth Vidar did nothing, waiting instead for the inhabitants of existence to redeem themselves in light of their transgressions. He had already paid a high price to learn the truth. He suffered the loss of his body, and with it the difficulties normally imposed on man. He inflicted upon himself a self-imposed exile from the world of man – the world of language – an isolation of unprecedented magnitude: The Silent Vigil.
“But understanding alone does not grant new power, only a complete and whole conceptualization of your innate and static power in all of its applications, and limitations. This is what so angered Athanasius – the primal hurt of having a dream and knowing you can’t achieve it. So he underachieved.
“The ultimate trick of the universe is its simplicity; the ultimate irony is with the complexity it has been attributed. That complexity is the work of that which is more deserving of the attribution evil than any other force at work – Chaos. Chaos eradicates reality by complicating it beyond comprehension. Once it ceases to make sense – loses the ability to be perceived – it winks out of existence.
“Love is pure, and simple, and honest and true. It makes two people feel as one, an entire family feel as one – a whole community, an entire world. It connects – breaks down barriers, destroys the vastness of space and the longevity of time. It simplifies – is simple – is the truth.
“Hate is impure, for it is the manifestation of a lack of understanding. It is complicated, for it divides. It makes people feel alone, exist as individuals, infinitely dividing reality into competition. It increases the vastness of space, amplifies the duration of time. It is complex – justified by an infinite litany of events and prejudices and biases and mis-attributions and failed communications and on and on and on.
“Words complicate. Are not the truest loves unspoken? They exist beyond and without and in spite of language. The truest loves exist as what you could only call an intuitive knowing – there are no words to describe such love, such truth.
“All of us here are fallen from grace. We thought we loved, thought we were in love. Seth with Sara, Sara with Seth and then with you, you with Sara and then with existence. Me with Xaos, Xaos with me and then with Cyril, Cyril with Xaos and then with hatred. The truth is, we were united by a different emotion, by envy. We wanted love, thought maybe we were in love, but we did not understand it. We over-complicated it, over-thought it, nearly made it incomprehensible. We did make it incomprehensible. We analyzed it out of existence for ourselves.
“We are united by a wound, by a blasphemy against truth. For we committed the worst sin, profaned the name of the simplest and purest force in the universe with our vandalizing words and defacing phrases, with our insulting thoughts.
“The original sin was when man began inventing his own realities, his own framework to understand the world by – good, evil, love, hate, morals, justice, God, and on and on. The ultimate crime was the arrogance to perpetuate and make eternal this system – even after learning the absolute truth of the composition of reality and its truest, simplest laws. The justification for this decision was the entirely misguided and egotistical delusion that man’s framework was better than the ultimate simplicity – and the ultimate criminal was Xaos.
“Athanasius reasoned that the situation was helpless: the entrenched nature of language, made eternal by the blight of Chaos upon the universe…his dream of a humanity free from its self-imposed shackles was beyond his individual power to assure. This manifested in dread, in a fall from understanding, and he misguidedly decided – using a framework of his own thought, steeped as it was in language – that his best course of action to simplify the situation, to arrive back at the origin, was to eliminate man.
“But unnatural death, like hate, only complicates. Those that are left behind are inconsolable as they try, and fail, to grasp the rationale of the deaths of loved ones. The only rationale that can be imposed finds its birth in words, in language – which betray the very tenets of reality that the begrieved so desperately seek to understand. And slowly, the world becomes more and more incomprehensible, until…. And in this way, Athanasius was only unwittingly doing the work of Chaos.
“And what of Seth Vidar, the other figure who truly understands the nature of things? Words fail me now, for I myself lack his understanding. And even with that unspoken understanding, the best one can muster is an unreal clarity of articulation – which itself is a lie when compared to the absolute truth. So here are the blasphemous metaphors that will stand in place of real understanding, stand side by side with the ones already used up until this point:
“Chaos sustains itself by the symbiotic, parasitic relationship between Xaos’ dead body – which even now bleeds Chaos – and Eternity, which filters it throughout the entire universe. Eternity is truly beyond words – its purposes, the secrets of its workings, one cannot even begin to think of words to suffice. And you possess the Eternity Tear, a small fragment of what should have been. Using this, Seth Vidar can restore us back to the point of origin.”

Zen in the Art of Desire

The title of this post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I hope to analyze the effects my desires have had on me and attempt to temper them with a stoic perspective. I’ll probably be unsuccessful, but oh well. (One definition of zen, by the way, is “an approach to religion, arising from Buddhism, that seeks religious enlightenment by meditation in which there is no consciousness of self,” emphasis being my own.)

Stoicism teaches that desire (of any kind) can be disastrous. Epictetus wrote:

“Remember that following desire promises the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion promises the avoiding that to which you are averse. However, he who fails to obtain the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object of his aversion wretched.”

This is a fairly obvious statement – if you desire something and you don’t get it, you wind up disappointed. Similarly, if you wish to avoid something and you fail to, you also seem to be impacted negatively. Epictetus would argue, however, that these negative repercussion are not necessary; they are in fact a symptom of our faulty way of viewing the world.

Epictetus, again:

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and in one word, whatever are not our own actions. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men….”

What he is saying here is that we, as humans, have only limited control over our situation in life. Things which we routinely think of as “ours” (to include “our” body) are not, in fact, completely under our control. (Can you, for example, control whether or not your body contracts disease, whether or not it grows cancer, whether or not it circulates blood and whether or not your brain is sending electrical impulses? You can influence some or all of these things, but the stoics would draw a sharp distinction between things that you can control and things that you can influence.) Hardship and personal agony result from the dissonance between perceiving things as under our control which are not – after all, it is only natural to feel miserable if something you think you can control goes awry.

There are many other examples of things that are not in our control but are commonly thought to be. Epictetus provides several illuminating examples:
  • “Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible…But the terror consists in our notion of death that is terrible.”
  • “If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own.”
  • “Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For it is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.”
The Stoics, then, would have us realize that things outside of our control should not cause us grief. Epictetus elaborates on the nature of aversion and desire:

“Remove aversion, then, from all things that are not in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it would be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation.”

What’s the upshot of all of this? We can control our desire in the sense that we can (attempt and learn to) pick and choose which things we are desirous of, but we cannot ultimately control whether or not we receive most of the things we desire. If I were to desire to have better restraint, for instance, that is something I could control. If I were to desire, on the other hand, a lover or a family – that is not something I can control.
And that’s what I’m getting at. For quite some time, perhaps for all time, I have been very desirous of love. I did not feel, growing up, that I was the recipient of much love at all – and the love I did receive often came from questionable sources (like my alcoholic/drug addicted/womanizing brother), which had the effect of making the love itself questionable. I feel as though I have been used and taken advantage of (in the sense that I provided many kinds of support and sacrifices for people without receiving any reciprocation). In my life, I have had only one girlfriend, and this was not the most satisfying or lasting of relationships. I’ve had many other negative experiences attempting to reach out and find love in my life. (I felt that linking to other articles was more effective than paraphrasing their content, here. Such things are an old theme in my life.)
All of this had the effect of making me feel ‘love starved.’ But the idea here is that perhaps such thinking is wrong – perhaps viewing the world in the way that I have (and many other people seem to) is fundamentally flawed and incorrect. To be desirous of love and of all the “benefits” (as they are often referred to) of human relationships could be folly – I should be concerned only with the things that I can control and I should not be perturbed by those things which I cannot control. Certainly, I can try to exercise my influence, but I shouldn’t be crushed when things don’t necessarily go my way.
It seems as though I need to live more like this (Epictetus, again):

“Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass you by? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait til it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner in the feasts of the gods. And if you don’t even take the things which are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire.”

And when better to start, than now – as I’m getting ready to change my career up and spend the next three years (starting in March) overseas in various countries? I wonder if I am strong enough, however.

In the writing of this, I had forgotten to include the original impetus to even begin: There have been points in my life where I’ve been so cripplingly lonely that I entertain various fantasies of intimacy and love just to nourish myself. I’m not talking about sexual fantasies – I’m talking about fantasies where a girl I’ve known for a while reaches out to me and comforts me, holds me, puts me at ease… I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but my subconscious will provide me with these sorts of vivid dreams where I actually feel loved, and it has regenerated me at certain times. (It has also served to worsen me – drawing attention to what I felt has been absent in my life.) I bring this up only because it happened recently, and I don’t think there is much benefit to these sorts of fantasies – however comforting they may seem in the short term.
Ah, life. When did you get so complicated?