Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

The hidden justification for killing

tl;dr version: death happens anyway, why does it matter if it happens before the person's 80?

To that question, had I lived a century ago, I would have answered: it doesn't. So what's changed?

Our technology has increased. We're getting better at not only living longer, but living well. Before now, the existentialist idea of "We're all going to die anyway, so why care about anything?" was pretty irrefutable. People turned to deities and other external sources of Purpose to try and avoid the problem. At best, the only real argument that could be made was "Why not care? In any case, it's obvious that I as a human do care, and I would prefer a future of caring to not caring, even if there's no real good reason beyond human preferences why that should be." In many cases that's still the best argument that can be made.

Yet people still start wars over a mere couple thousands of deaths, happily ignoring the millions upon millions who die from disease and simply old age. 1.8 people in the world die per second; nearly 160 thousand deaths per day; nearly 60 million per year. People ferociously battle against Health Care For Everyone plans, wishing to save a couple bucks to contribute to keeping 45,000 people a year from dying. (Or better yet, allocating the couple bucks already paid away from military applications meant to kill people, toward applications meant to help people.)

Whether you're atheist or subscribe to some religion, death happens, and I think implicitly people have accepted that it doesn't matter. If you're religious, death is really a good thing because then you are reunited with God (if you were righteous, anyway). If you're atheist, you may have fallen for the existentialist trap (on which I wrote a bit), and living or dying makes no difference since death is inevitable.

That death is inevitable is the hidden justification for so many wrongs, I believe, and in many ways it's not a bad justification. If humans were routinely subject to being poked in the eye with a sharp stick, with no hope of it ever stopping, people would invent stories about how it was actually good for them, or that it was inevitable so why care about it.

The sad thing is that, looking at modern technology, death no longer seems inevitable. Vintage cars, properly taken care of, can last well beyond what they were built to last for. It is the same with humans. New technology is coming all the time, and the future looks bright for an end to disease and methods of rejuvenation to stop old age. To live indefinitely: it's physically possible, it's biologically possible, soon it will be technologically possible. If you doubt this, let me know in the comments and I will give you links and sources. Just because indefinite life has been hopeless until now doesn't mean it must always be so. It saddens me that people are so used to the stick in the eye that they can't properly see the way out of it. And even if they do, the passion that strikes us when a comrade dies does not arise when we have the chance to save all our comrades, ourselves, and humanity as a whole. So much is spent on death, it's sickening how little is spent on life.

This doesn't immediately sweep the existentialists under the rug: it doesn't answer the question "But why is life desirable?" But it does remove that hidden justification, that hidden premise that death is inevitable, from being a valid reason for anything.

Addendum: One of the other horrible things this hidden justification is responsible for, that I don't think I clearly spelled out, is the sheer insensitivity to suffering. "1.8 people die per second. So what? Everyone dies." "But we can solve it." "I don't believe you; nearly all your ancestors are dead, what makes you think you can do any better?" "*Points to science*" "Bah. *Closes mind*"

Posted on 2010-02-17 by Jach

Tags: existentialism, morality, non-violence


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Amaroq February 17, 2010 02:25:51 AM I sure think living longer would be a good thing.

About the existentialists though. I don't think living needs a justification other than the joy you can gain personally from living well. As long as you're still alive, you can, in principle, achieve happiness. Barring certain extreme conditions such as paralysis from the neck down.
Jach February 17, 2010 02:27:50 AM The existentialists will require you to justify why joy, happiness, etc. should be sought after. There's a fully general reply, but that's beyond the scope of this post / comment.
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