Dec 12, 2012

Rover's in a Farm Upstate, Timmy

It seems that lately death has been in the air, and then some. Of course, as usual, nothing is ever good or bad per se. That death is, in some intangible way, closer to us, is just the beginning of Saturn's transit through Scorpio (not to mention Saturn transiting the natal Pluto of those of my generation). This feeling has been alleviated recently due to entry of the Moon and Mercury into Sagittarius, but be sure that there will be an undertow of death in the next couple of years. Now, I've discussed death before, but given the circumstances, it might do well to revisit the subject once more.

It's a given that Western culture does not have a very healthy attitude towards death (which was exacerbated by the idea behind most monotheistic religions that this life is your "one shot to make it"), but it seems to be particularly true in 21st-century America. This is mostly manifest in one of two ways: either one believes that "I'm screwed anyway" and takes an all too casual attitude towards death, or one believes that everything that will not lead to salvation (in their narrow-minded view) is not worth dealing with. It needn't be said, however, that the truth is usually somewhere in between.

Things are becoming more and more extreme, of course. The most salient manifestation is the Maya doomsday prophecy. There is a clear misunderstanding of the cyclical nature of time - the end of a cycle is never the end, period. There is no "end, period." Unfortunately, any potential end of a cycle is quickly co-opted by fearmongers, because a good sheep is a frightened sheep. But...take a look at the endless proclamations of apocalypse - especially those discussed in the media - and you'll be hard-pressed to find a prediction that came true.

"I'm sure THIS time the Space Brothers will come!"

It wasn't until recently, however, that things took a turn towards nihilism, and that's where the real danger lies. At least the "one-shotter" who is trying to get his ticket to Heaven is trying to live out some idea of morality. The apocalypse cults were usually restricted to the fringe, but it doesn't take long to see impending doom in some way or other nowadays, and this takes many more forms than your run-of-the-mill ancient prophecy.

One of the more subtle ways the surrender to death appears is in popular culture (which is rarely taken seriously). An early example is the success of doomsday-asteroid flicks Armageddon and Deep Impact, and another the boom in War of the Worlds scenarios (Independence Day and so on). You don't have to be Jung to realise that popular culture is merely a reflection of what's going on in the minds of people, and hopelessness is the law of the day. Even in Armageddon, where the world is saved, I would venture that most people don't think salvation is a realistic scenario. Looking for Bruce Willis means we're not thinking about what we can do to save the world.

But what are YOU doing?
The thing is, the more you fear death, the more power you attribute to it, and the more you allow to shape your life. It's no wonder, then, that one of the memes getting the most plays out there is zombies*. I'm not going to bother listing the many instances out there, just look at how zombies have been faring better than vampires (though of course a certain tween franchise may have had something to do with that) - and even then, vampires are all about death too.

The biggest hit nowadays is The Walking Dead. It's telling that most people don't realise that the title refers not only to the zombies, but to the survivors as well (i.e.: death is always just around the corner). It's no coincidence that zombies popularly eat brains, because that's exactly what they do. Since the alphas of the world have been so successful in instilling fear of death in the populace, it makes sense that we need zombie flicks to project this fear in order to feel slightly better our predicament.

Is "Fear the living" what you want to hear?
The problem with zombie scenarios (aside from the fact that they are arguably the most unrealistic doomsday scenario, as any study of epidemiology will show - we are VERY good at adapting) is that they are, most of the time, completely hopeless. To live in a zombie world is to completely surrender all hope that there are better things out there. It allows us to abdicate from our responsibilities towards helping to make the world a better place: "The whole world's gone to the shitter, so I might as well drink my way out."

I urge the reader, then, to consider why they are watching zombie movies. This is in no way an indictment of, for instance, The Walking Dead. I haven't seen it myself, but from all I hear it's excellently produced, has very good characters, and so on. The important thing is to be aware of the psychosocial dynamics at play. That is to say: don't get too invested in it.

However, the fear of death rears its ugly head in many places. Geekdom and science are some of the latest victims. If you remember the science fiction of the 70s, hope and optimism abounded. In spite of their sci-fi guise, Star Wars and Star Trek clearly conveyed the idea that life was more than the sum of its parts. There was a deep fascination with the endless possibilities of the universe, and the character dynamics involved hope, sacrifice, and courage. Now what do we get? Humans caught in an ages-old machine war.

Star Trek had the balls to talk about God
It's more than just sci-fi, however. It's also sci. The mindset du jour in the scientific academia (though this has been playing out for long - Carl Sagan is certainly not recent - it's only recently that they've achieved mainstream glorification) is the view that life is simply a accident, and that after death there is nothing**. Basically, what Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are selling you is that "life's a bitch, and then you die."

Is it any wonder, then, that millions upon millions flock to evangelical churches? Say you were born in the slums, and saw violence and destruction around you on a daily basis. Then two characters come to you trying to convince you to join their side. One of them says: "You were simply unlucky in the lottery of life. There's nothing after all this violence, so you're pretty much screwed. Also, you're just like any schmuck out there." The other says: "You are special and there's something special waiting for you after death. Just hang tough, endure the bad stuff, and soon enough your suffering will go away." Who would most people follow?

Attendance levels "skeptics" can only dream of
One of the most disturbing aspects of the materialistic view is the singularity theory. Ray Kurzweil and co. suggest, essentially, that one day machines will take over (though usually this is along the lines that we'll evolve into machines or insert our consciousness into machines) and that we will live forever after this point. Here is where our sick relationship with death is most clearly manifest: the idea that we deserve to live forever.

The assumption, of course, is that death is a bad thing. Death is, however, acausally related to Birth. Where there is a birth, there will necessarily be a death. Conversely, though, wherever there is death, there is also birth. Remember Newton (one of history's most famous astrologers/alchemists)? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is not limited to material physics. Why then attribute an arbitrary value to death?

There is also the assumption that there can be a ghost in the machine. As far as evolution into robots goes, there is absolutely no confirmation that consciousness can ever be physically moved around - the translation of consciousness is a particularly nonsensical idea when you realise that the 'organ' of consciousness is the electrical field around us. As for robots taking over, it's quite simple: a character can never be more than a fragment of its creator (in all levels). You can teach a robot to do any rational calculation, but you can never teach a robot to do art, can you? All it will be able to do is imitate what has already been done. Why anyone would aspire to that is baffling.

The electrical field of the heart is 60 times greater than that of the brain

Undoubtedly, many science types will argue that the fact that we have never transferred consciousness is not proof that it cannot be done. Indeed, it's not. Consciousness, however, is not for the realm of science to deal with. It is not something that can be objectively experimented with, tested, and so on - it's necessarily subjective.

There is almost an undercurrent of panic when it comes to death in the 21st century, which makes it clear that this morbid fascination with hopeless scenarios is simply the death knell of the old Western culture. It doesn't take an economist to make a grim assessment of the situation in Europe and the US, and the cultural decline is but a reflection of this overall decay. Since we haven't been properly taught to deal with death, the only reaction left is panic (even if it is a very covert panic).

In the twilight of their empire, the British had the common sense to realise that their dominance was unsustainable. This allowed them to come out relatively unscathed from the decline of their hegemony. The same is not true in the US or the EU, though. There is a desperate clinging to the old energies - old energies that make less and less sense as each day goes by.

This is all well, though. If you've been paying attention, you'll see that this is also the birth of something new. While Western culture begins to eat itself, a new culture will rise. For every materialist turning to zombie entertainment there is a seeker who is tired of hopelessness. Think, then, on which side of history you want to find yourself in. Do you want to live within an idea of survivalism and fear, or do you want to live Love? Either way, the tide will wash away the cynics. A new dawn always puts a damper of the fear of darkness.

* Please check out this post for a more eloquent discussion of zombie-mania.

** I can't help but remember a quotation by Mark Twain: "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."

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