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Sunday, 19 November 2023


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I've been reading Swedish philosopher Martin Hägglund recently. Specifically, his book This Life: Why Mortality Makes Us Free. (Though I worked as a professional philosopher in the academy, he's very much outside my area.) Anyway he argues that our finitude (the fact that we're going to die, and the fact that our powers are limited and we depend on others) is the major source of value in our lives: we have to make the most of our connections to others and our various plans and project while we can, and there's an urgency about that and a fear that some things that matter will fail even as we try to preserve them. Eternal life, he argues, would be dull and pointless and you'd never have a reason to commit to anything. So make those photos you want to now, or write that novel, and work on your relationships to others: time is running out.

I'm having to push thoughts of my impending mortality more and more to the wayside as I continue living, and longevity (which sounds good) runs in my family, although it often doesn't bode well. While refraining from most junk/fast food, I still don't eat what would be called a particularly healthy diet- made all the more difficult here in the US of A.

I've long known that cattle are often fed Skittles...


Recently I was informed that in the interest of capitalist efficiency, the plastic bags they arrive in are often not opened and instead just grinded into the mix.

Long time reader, 34th comment. Nice article Mike.

Death is the greatest of taboo subjects. Very brave of you to put up a post on the subject. I'm one of those who have zero fear when it comes to that event. But I'm acutely aware that my lack of fear is an extreme outlier.

Isn't it strange that death is all around us, and yet hiding it from the masses is a top priority for society.

As for the decline as we age. There is a solution (glib but accurate), move to northern Europe. They seem to have realised en masse that moderation is good. More is more often less, than more.

'Enough' is a feast.

On a photo related note, I think I'd rather die with the memories and experiences of making photos than owning the latest gear.

Staying healthy is the key - although a percentage of Covid deaths were among seemingly healthy individuals, the vast majority were among the obese. The myriad of health issues associated with being overweight and lack of exercise rendered those individuals more susceptible to fatal Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The Covid epidemic illustrates the lack of well-care and epidemiological foresight of our health care system. We can, and should, do better.

All of those officious walking and eating guidelines are too heavy for me. I prefer the advice of E. B. White, who simply said…“Stay on your feet; it’s the place to be.”

And, when reading, I heed the words of Groucho Marx, who noted that…“Outside of a dog, a book is mans’ best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Don’t tell a Dutch person we don’t need dairy… :-)

Another Swedish recommendation: the book and TV series "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning", basically about how to die well, ostensibly focusing on curating your crap (or legacy) rather than forcing your loved ones to do it after you're gone. I haven't read the book (by Margareta Magnusson) but the series is surprisingly uplifting. Perhaps not a coincidence that people in a country ranked highly for quality of life seem to contemplate dying quite a bit.

Even great ones, like Jesus, Hitler, Heydrich, Napoleon, Beethoven, Mozart, John Lennon, Schubert, bin Laden, Kennedy, Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones etc. died relatively young.
This is not what we strive for.

Rustys comment is gold.

Mike, you are talking about dying of 'old age'. That is surely the objective, but so many die of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. I don't doubt that you can somewhat lessen your chances of going that way by choosing a good lifestyle but in my, admittedly limited experience, it seems to be a lottery. My wife had a healthy lifestyle but died of breast cancer when she was 63. My sister drinks heavily and is a heavy smoker. Now at at the same age as my wife when she passed she is physically and mentally perfectly OK. A friend, the same age as me (74), I would say lives a healthier life than I but has had a heart attack and is in the first stages of dementia. Personally, if I could choose, I would go out suddenly and not experience any decline.

“If only I’d eaten more kale.” Said no one on their deathbed, ever.

Vegan dying of vitamin B deficiency and a lack of dietary pleasure: Damn. I wish I'd ordered that big, juicy ribeye steak!!!

Secret: It's the stress in life that kills you. Not the occasional Twinkie.

At 76, I'm still above ground and despite a couple of chronic illnesses (diabetes 2 and CLL) I feel reasonably OK. I had a few nights in hospital a few weeks ago with chest pains but no cause found.

My point is that I feel I want to enjoy my life. I don't want to spend my remaining years in a nervous state in case I eat the wrong food. I'm very diet conscious and choose my food carefully, but if I feel like eating a good meat curry or a nice steak, I will. I especially eat cheese daily as I love it. Not a lot, just enough to enjoy some nice bread or crackers.

And while in the hospital I was asked several times about my alcohol habits. When I said two cans of beer EVERY day, plus maybe a glass of wine, all the doctors just nodded and said "That's OK".

So, sorry Mike, but I want to enjoy my time left.

By the way, this is in Oz. For my US friends, my hospital stay, treatment, ambulance rides and medications cost me nothing, or as near as. I pay $3K pa for private insurance and I'm very happy.

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