Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mortality

Upgraded from the Moot, in direct response to a denial of the assertion made in the first sentence.

You are, indeed, absolutely, and most certainly going to die, as will everybody else reading these words.

Genetic and prosthetic techniques will likely increase human longevity for some lucky humans, possibly in quite unprecedented ways, but that is another story.

And in any case I doubt very much that even the luckiest beneficiaries of such technique will acquire sufficient "superlongevity" to feel less keenly the existential dilemma and demand of mortality as such in consequence of these interventions.

(I am leaving to the side of this post the actually interesting questions of budgetary and regulatory priorities distributing the risks, costs, and benefits of emerging medical techniques -- as well as neglected ones -- in ways that are more fair, more democratizing, more emancipatory. I'm focusing here instead, for the moment, on much broader questions, many of which seem to me rather more silly than anything else.)

It is rather flabbergasting that one has to say these things to truly intelligent and earnest people, but when there are techno-immortalists and other Superlative technocentrics among one's readership these things become surreally necessary.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I think that it is an awfully good idea to come to terms with mortality sooner rather than later, else one become one of those unfortunate people who are not only mortal -- as we all are -- but manage to become less alive in life than they otherwise could be, either for an obsessive concern with mortality (a concern that distorts priorities outward from there) or an hysterical denial of the facts of mortality (a denial that spreads ignorance outward from there) that are the usual unfortunate and altogether unnecessary alternatives to coming to terms with it.

This is not to say that I am personally thrilled at the prospect of my own mortality (since being alive seems to me pretty much the only game in town), or, worse, many of the particular physiological pathways through which mortality tends to exhibit itself (some of which certainly seem pretty awful indeed). Nor do I believe that disease and mortality confer some special dignity or wisdom on a suffering humanity that could not find some equal or better occasion in an always flourishing humanity if that were our lot (as very obviously it is not), although it does seem to me a weird kind of unkindness, not to mention blindness, to deny that it is in coping with suffering and mortality that many actually existing human beings have found and do indeed still seem to find their way to that last best measure of dignity, wisdom, and meaning their lives will ever testify to. It is not only dumb but also awfully mean to deny these realities.

Again, these seem to me obvious rather than earthshattering insights, and their denial or denigration, frankly, much more infantile than daring.

29 comments:

giulio said...

Dale dear, if you want to die, please do. I will be very sorry;-)

But please don't tell me what to do. If I have any choice, I will not die, or at least not quite yet. Of course I realize that the probability of having a choice, at this moment in time, is vanishingly small.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to die? What a helpful bit of news, thanks!

seth said...

More important than the imperceptible probability of your having a choice, it seems to me, is the fact that were your faith-based fantasy to play out, and were you to have such a choice, you would have that choice as a result of your privileged position in society, the converse of which means that such a choice would necessarily be denied to the vast majority of your species. But then, you wouldn't be part of this species anymore, would you?

Personally, I prefer the religions that are easily identifiable as religions to the ones that purport such scientificity as to be understood in some way as other than matters of mere faith.

I wonder what aspects of this life the >Hist "community" (I use quotes because I’m skeptical that real community can exist where it is not rooted in some aspect of reality) misses altogether by virtue of what seems to be their exclusive focus on a fantasy future. Humanity in general certainly misses out on the contributions that could be made by such intelligent folk to already existing Human problems that could (and arguably must at least in part) be dealt with through the opportunities presented by emerging technologies. The fact that such intelligence seems to have no interest in dealing with the surmountable problems that already face us begs, I think, a questioning of the earnestness of such folk.

In the same way that I wouldn't want to go to a heaven to which the rest of my species wasn't invited, I wouldn't want to become a mehum if the opportunity wasn't available to everyone. That means that dealing with the changeable structural inequities that produce the unnecessary miseries of the majority of my species has to come first. When that's done, maybe I'll think about how to upload my brain, or consider cultivating a heroin habit. In the mean time, there's real shit to do.

"They'll be pie in the sky when you die."

seth said...

opps; meant to say pohum (or whateverthefuck) in paragraph 3).

jfehlinger said...

Something I sent to Dale a few years ago. It's gotta lotta
quotes, and yes, Giulio, some of 'em have religious overtones.

Subject: The Great Escape

Dale,

You wrote:

> I also happen to think it is deeply mistaken
> for technophiles to confuse the idea of the
> likely prosthetic prolongation of lifespan
> through medical means with the essentially
> theological notion of immortality in the first
> place. "Immortality" seems to me a notion
> freighted with implications, confusions, hopes,
> and significances that prosthetic prolongation
> does not in fact speak to at all. Nor should
> it really want to take that business on as
> far as I can see.

Yes, the eliding of "prolongation" into a
theologically-freighted "immortality" happens
repeatedly, nearly always unremarked-upon, on
the Extropians' and SL4 (I suppose the analysis
taboo comes from the fact that to note the
confusion would be to risk breaking the spell,
and cause pain to those who've pinned their
eschatological hopes on what they themselves
would defend as Science and Rationality).

Eliezer's lament for his brother contains a
particularly clear example of this:

"I used to say: 'I have four living grandparents
and I intend to have four living grandparents when
the last star in the Milky Way burns out.'"
http://bbs.extropy.org/index.php?board=69;action=display;threadid=59764

But what about that last star? Would death, even
after a trillion years (putting aside the staggering
assumption of any significant continuity between a
human mind and a consciousness that could encompass
a trillion years), be any easier to bear?

I see from my e-mail archive that I've quoted some of
this before, but it's worth repeating:


------------------------
The fact that we can die, that we can be
ill at all, is what perplexes us; the fact
that we now for a moment live and are well
is irrelevant to that perplexity. We need
a life not correlated with death, a health
not liable to illness, a kind of good that
will not perish, a good in fact that flies
beyond the Goods of nature...

This sadness lies at the heart of every
merely positivistic, agnostic, or naturalistic
scheme of philosophy. Let sanguine
healthy-mindedness do its best with its
strange power of living in the moment and
ignoring and forgetting, still the evil
background is really there to be thought
of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet.
In the practical life of the individual,
we know how his whole gloom or glee about
any present fact depends on the remoter
schemes and hopes with which it stands
related. Its significance and framing
give it the chief part of its value. Let
it be known to lead nowhere, and however
agreeable it may be in its immediacy,
its glow and gilding vanish...

The lustre of the present hour is always
borrowed from the background of possibilities
it goes with. Let our common experiences
be enveloped in an eternal moral order; let
our suffering have an immortal significance;
let Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities
pay their visits; let faith and hope be
the atmosphere which man breathes in; -- and
his days pass by with zest; they stir with
prospects, they thrill with remoter values.
Place round them on the contrary the
curdling cold and gloom and absence of all
permanent meaning which for pure naturalism
and the popular science evolutionism of our
time are all that is visible ultimately,
and the thrill stops short, or turns rather
to anxious trembling.

For naturalism, fed on recent cosmological
speculations, mankind is in a position
similar to that of a set of people living
on a frozen lake, surrounded by cliffs over
which there is no escape, yet knowing that
little by little the ice is melting, and
the inevitable day drawing near when the
last film of it will disappear, and to be
drowned ignominiously will be the human
creature's portion. The merrier the skating,
the warmer and more sparkling the sun by
day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night,
the more poignant the sadness with which
one must take in the meaning of the total
situation.

William James, _The Varieties of Religious Experience_,
Lectures VI and VII
"The Sick Soul"
( http://www.psywww.com/psyrelig/james/james6.htm )


------------------------
Oh, for Pete's sake. The crypto-religious manner in
which you've defined 'immortality' ('can't die, won't die')
makes that 'hypothesis' a contradiction in terms for
anything made of parts. In the real world -- any
real world we can conceive, I'd venture to say -- any
conscious being has to be built out of parts, ... [and] ...
that complex organization must be prey to
disruption...

Damien Broderick, on the Extropians'
mailing list.
http://www.lucifer.com/exi-lists/extropians/2227.html


------------------------
"'Thus far, then, I perceive that the great difference between
Elves and Men is in the speed of the end. In this only.
For if you deem that for the Eldar there is no death
ineluctable, you err.

'Now none of us know, though the Valar may know, the future
of Arda, or how long it is ordained to endure. But it
will not endure for ever. It was made by Eru, but He is
not in it. The One only has no limits. Arda, and
Ea itself, must therefore be bounded. You see us,
the Eldar, still in the first ages of our being, and the
end is far off. As maybe among you death may seem to a young
man in his strength; save that we have long years of life
and thought already behind us. But the end will come. That
we all know. And then we must die; we must perish utterly,
it seems, for we belong to Arda (in hroa [body] and fea [soul]).
And beyond that what? "The going out to no return," as you
say; "the uttermost end, the irremediable loss"?

...

'And yet at least ours is slow-footed, you would say?' said
Finrod. 'True. But it is not clear that a foreseen doom
long delayed is in all ways a lighter burden than one that
comes soon'"

-- J. R. R. Tolkien, "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth",
in _Morgoth's Ring_, Vol. 10 of _The History of Middle-earth_


------------------------
"What had seemed to us at first the irresistible march of
god-like world-spirits, with all the resources of the universe
in their hands and all eternity before them, was now
gradually revealed in very different guise. The great advance
in mental calibre, and the attainment of communal mentality
throughout the cosmos, had brought a change in the experience
of time. The temporal reach of the mind had been very
greatly extended. The awakened worlds experienced an aeon
as a mere crowded day. They were aware of time's passage
as a man in a canoe might have cognizance of a river which in
its upper reaches is sluggish but subsequently breaks into
rapids and becomes swifter and swifter, till, at no great
distance ahead, it must plunge in a final cataract down
to the sea... Comparing the little respite that remained with
the great work which they passionately desired to accomplish,
namely the full awakening of the cosmical spirit, they saw
that at best there was no time to spare, and that, more
probably, it was already too late to accomplish the task...

The sense of the fated incompleteness of all creatures and
of all their achievements gave... a charm, a sanctity,
as of some short-lived and delicate flower."

-- Olaf Stapledon, _Star Maker_
Chapter X, "A Vision of the Galaxy"



I do not, myself, believe that Christian metaphysics,
in our day, make a plausible story of how the
universe works. But at least the Christians do not
indulge themselves in this confusion (and it's one
quasi-respectable reason why a **serious** Christian
might be an implacable enemy of life-extension technology,
if such a thing ever became possible, though I suppose
that if that technological temptation ever came to pass,
many nominal Christians would feel they could afford
to trade in their old religion for a shiny new one).


------------------------
"[I]t is only in reading the work myself (with criticisms
in mind) that I become aware of the dominance of the
theme of Death. But certainly Death is not an Enemy!
I said, or meant to say, that the ‘message’ was the
hideous peril of confusing true ‘immortality’ with
limitless serial longevity. Freedom from time, and
clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the Enemy,
and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare
the death of Aragorn with a Ringwraith. The Elves
call ‘death’ the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation
is different: towards a fainéant melancholy, burdened
with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time."

_The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien_
No. 207, to C. Ouboter, 10 April 1958


------------------------
"Death . . . is a safety-device because, once Man
has fallen, natural immortality would be the one utterly
hopeless destiny for him. Aided to the surrender
that he must make by no external necessity of
Death, free (if you call it freedom) to rivet faster
and faster about himself through unending centuries
the chains of his own pride and lust and of the
nightmare civilizations which these build up in
ever-increasing power and complication, he
would progress from being merely a fallen man
to being a fiend, possibly beyond all modes of
redemption."

C. S. Lewis, _Miracles_,
Chapter 14 "The Grand Miracle", p. 210


------------------------
"The time was ripe. From the point
of view which is accepted in Hell, the whole
history of our Earth had led up to this moment.
There was now at last a real chance for fallen Man
to shake off that limitation of his powers which mercy
had imposed upon him as a protection from the full
results of his fall. If this succeeded, Hell would be
at last incarnate. Bad men, while still in the body,
still crawling on this little globe, would enter that state
which, heretofore, they had entered only after
death, would have the diuturnity and power of evil
spirits. Nature, all over the globe of Tellus, would
become their slave; and of that dominion no end,
before the end of time itself, could be certainly
foreseen."

C. S. Lewis, _That Hideous Strength_, p. 203


------------------------
"The story of Ayesha [in H. Rider Haggard's _She_]
is not an escape, but it is about escape;
about an attempt at the great escape,
daringly made and terribly frustrated.
Its closest relative, perhaps its child, is Morris's
_Well at the World's End_, which came ten years
later. Both stories externalise the same
psychological forces; our irreconcilable reluctance
to die, our craving for an immortality in the flesh,
our empirical knowledge that this is impossible,
our intermittent awareness that it is not even
really desirable, and (octaves deeper than all
these) a very primitive feeling that the attempt,
if it could be made, would be unlawful and would
call down the vengeance of the gods. In both
books the wild, transporting, and (we feel)
forbidden hope is aroused. When fruition seems
almost in sight, horrifying disaster shatters our
dream. . ."

C. S. Lewis, _On Stories (And Other Essays On Literature)_,
"The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard", pp. 98-100


------------------------
Mr. [Sherwood E.] Wirt [of the Billy Graham Evangelistic
Association, Ltd., interviewing C. S. Lewis on 7 May 1963,
about 7 months before Lewis's death]:

What do you think is going to happen in the next
few years of history, Mr. Lewis?

Lewis: I have no way of knowing. My primary field is the
past. I travel with my back to the engine, and that makes it
difficult when you try to steer. The world might stop in ten
minutes; meanwhile, we are to go on doing our duty.
The great thing is to be found at one's post as a child of
God, living each day as though it were our last, but
planning as though our world might last a hundred
years.

We have, of course, the assurance of the New Testament
regarding things to come. I find it difficult to keep from
laughing when I find people worrying about future
destruction of some kind or other. Didn't they know they
were going to die anyway? Apparently not. My wife
once asked a young woman friend whether she had
ever thought of death, and she replied, 'By the time
I reach that age science will have done something
about it!'

C. S. Lewis, "Cross Examination",
from _God in the Dock_, p. 266


------------------------
"What does war do to death? It certainly does not
make it more frequent: 100 percent of us die and the
percentage cannot be increased. Yet war does do
something to death. It forces us to remember it.
The only reason that cancer at sixty or paralysis
at 75 do not bother us is that we forget them. …
All schemes of happiness centered in this world
were always doomed to final frustration. In ordinary
times only a wise man can realize it. Now the
stupidest of us knows."

C. S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time," in
_The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses_
p. 53



--shrug--

Not that I myself wouldn't take advantage of whatever life-prolonging
technology becomes available. As I said once on the list,
if I could toddle through an Introdus portal [a Greg Egan
upload interface] with a swipe of the
credit card same as everybody else is doing, I'd probably
do it, for the same reason I go to work in the morning,
or go to the dentist regularly, or change the oil in the car,
or keep the computer backed up -- namely, to avoid or
postpone unpleasant consequences.

De Thezier said...

giulio said:

But please don't tell me what to do.

No one is telling you what to do. However, I would simply suggest that, while a person should be and hopefully is free to engage in "life extension strategies" it would be wise if that same person also rationally and emotionally comes to terms with his or her own mortality otherwise risk facing heart-wrenching confusion and despair rather than Zen-like serenity when at death's door...

One way to do this is to see death, especially involuntary death, as a tragedy we should work to overcome, but also as the return to nature of our elements, and the end of our existence as individuals. The forms of "afterlife" available to humans are natural ones, in the natural world. Our actions, our ideas and memories of us live on, according to what we do in our lives. Our genes live on in our families, and our elements are endlessly recycled in nature...

Dale Carrico said...

Dale dear, if you want to die, please do.

Again, facing facts isn't exactly the same thing as smacking my lips in joyous expectation at the near-term prospect.

But please don't tell me what to do.

It isn't me but reality that makes you mortal. And the denial of reality will not make you immortal. Don't blame me, pout and stamp at reality for all the good it will do you.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm going to die? What a helpful bit of news, thanks!

I quite sympathize with the spirit of your comment, Anonymous. But as you will likely see from comments that accumulate here, this is news to some people, and news they can indeed use if they want to live lives of sanity.

seth said...

sanity and utility

giulio said...

Re: "Humanity in general certainly misses out on the contributions that could be made by such intelligent folk to already existing Human problems that could (and arguably must at least in part) be dealt with through the opportunities presented by emerging technologies... there's real shit to do"

This is certainly a good point. I have two different answers to offer:

1) We also do other things besides writing about transhumanism you know. I take care of my family, see my friends, run a business, play games, read books, watch movies, write about other subjects, write a novel, organize events, collaborate with cultural organizations and also, as I have shamelessly admitted here a couple of days ago, also poop and fart. In the past I have been involved, at times quite intensely, with political initiatives that you would probably approve of, and will probably be involved in similar initiative in the future. I don't think transhumanist advocacy takes more than 5% of my time.

2) What about writers, artists, musicians, singers, football players, actors, cooks, porn stars, street performers, fashion designers, ice cream sellers, [list of hundreds of things that people do]. Doesn't the world need variety? I think the world is interesting because there are so many people with so many different interests, and somehow good things emerge from their crossed lives.

giulio said...

Re: "while a person should be and hopefully is free to engage in "life extension strategies" it would be wise if that same person also rationally and emotionally comes to terms with his or her own mortality"

Of course, and I often use mental devices similar to those you suggest.

And others. One of my favorites is thinking that, in some fundamental sense of being alive, thinking thoughts and feeling feelings, every "I am" is basically the same and after I die, even if nobody will remember my memories, there will still be conscious beings thinking thoughts and feeling feelings similar to my own, and in some sense they will "be me".

By the way I first found this beautiful concept in a Rudy Rucker book: Infinity and the mind. Too bad in Lifebox he seems to have abandoned it. Also Greg Egan hints at it in Permutation City (Peer).

There are _many_ mental devices that we use to come to terms with our mortality. What is wrong with one more?

De Thezier said...

There are _many_ mental devices that we use to come to terms with our mortality. What is wrong with one more?

Nothing unless the one proposed actually has the opposite effect which is what I would argue hysterical forms of immortalist discourse have had on many people.

Even transhumanist Buddhist guru George Dvorksy warned his readers about this fact in an old Betterhumans essay (which I can't seem to find).

jfehlinger said...

Giulio Prisco wrote:

> I don't think transhumanist advocacy takes more than 5% of my time.

I hear an echo of Woodrow Wyatt's interview with Bertrand Russell,
in which Russell remarks "I should like to say, by preface, that
only about 1 percent of my writing is concerned with sex, but
the conventional public is so obsessed with sex that it hasn't
noticed the other 99% of my writing. . . And I think 1% is a
reasonable proportion of human interest to be devoted to sex."
;->

I'm glad to hear you have a well-balanced life. Probably, in fact,
better balanced, by conventional standards, than mine.

The trouble is that you seem to be (rather heedlessly and unconcernedly)
advocating a -- well, let's call it a cluster of hopes -- that
have, in the past, accounted for more than 5% of human suffering.


http://www.google.com/groups?selm=20010225202650.03763.00000620%40ng-fo1.aol.com
-------------------------------
From: JoatSimeon (joatsimeon@aol.com)
Subject: Re: SM Stirling on the Singularity Re: REVIEW: Vernor Vinge's "Across Realtime"
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.written
Date: 2001-02-25 17:28:56 PST

The essentially religous/metaphysical nature of Vinge's construct is further
shown by the reactions of extreme denial and frenzied horror when someone
points out that the emperor has no clothes.

What's behind this stuff is not rational thought, but emotional longings for
immortality and transcendence -- the usual factors sustaining religious belief.

Evolution has played a cruel joke on us by making us continually aware of our
own impending nonexistance, while at the same time making us fear and dread
death.

So much of human culture has sprung from this...
-- S.M. Stirling


http://www.google.com/groups?selm=20010227013442.00400.00000101%40ng-fk1.aol.com
-------------------------------
From: JoatSimeon (joatsimeon@aol.com)
Subject: Re: SM Stirling on the Singularity Re: REVIEW: Vernor Vinge's "Across
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.written
Date: 2001-02-26 22:37:33 PST

. . .

Humans go into their worst killing frenzies when possessed by precisely the
desire for transcendence or various forms of projective immortality. . .

-- S.M. Stirling

jfehlinger said...

Charo is 67 today.

"I want to go to Heaven. Many times I think now nice that
will be -- to be an espirit, and to wiggle out of the body."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sixJx1YmyU

Coochie coochie.

Lincoln Cannon said...

I agree that immortality is an ideal, an abstraction that concrete experience will manifest only roughly, at best. We'll die, or experience something analogous -- either by choice or force.

But how long will we live? How well will we live? When we die, to what extent will death have the same effects on identity and consciousness that it now appears to have? How long will we remain dead? How will our understanding of death continue to evolve?

I can imagine a future in which many forms of death have no more practical consequence than sleep, although I suspect that, even then, other forms of death, with varying probabilities, will haunt our horizons. Of course, imagining such a future does not, in itself, make it so or possible. On the other hand, some futures may necessitate our faith for their realization -- our will and perseverence to create them.

Superlatives, although poorly esteemed here, are powerful linguistic tools. They are a sort of meta-abstraction. We group all of our experience together into something called "life". We imagine that life extended a year, then two, and so on until, for economy, we call the idea "immortality". We imagine that life better fulfilled, then better still, until, again for economy, we might call the idea "eternal" not only in quantity, but also in quality. The power of these ideas is obvious to all who are familiar with religion. Where there is power, there is opportunity both for benefit and detriment -- not just detriment.

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> ['Anonymous' wrote:]
>
> > I'm going to die? What a helpful bit of news, thanks!
>
> I quite sympathize with the spirit of your comment, Anonymous.
> But as you will likely see from comments that accumulate here,
> this is news to some people. . .

"I believe that I will live forever... It is a cellular
certainty, almost biological, it flows with my blood
and permeates every niche of my being. I can do
anything I choose to do and excel in it. What I
do, what I excel at, what I achieve depends only
on my volition. There is no other determinant."

-- Sam Vaknin, "Grandiosity Deconstructed"
http://samvak.tripod.com/journal9.html

jfehlinger said...

> "I want to go to Heaven. . .

This is a better link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCpbhJwOJ64

;->

AnneC said...

A post of my own, inspired by this one.

Mitchell said...

I think the most important thing to derive from the reality and inevitability of death is doubt as to the validity of birth - by which I mean the creation of sentient life by any means. I would think that some of the specific forms of death are already enough to make the deliberate creation of a being susceptible to such experiences immoral.

giulio said...

Lincoln's post:

As usual, you say what I mean much better than I could say it.

Jackie said...

Here is a webcomic that satirizes transhumanism (I think):

http://dresdencodak.com/

So far as this debate is concerned:

Dying is an aesthetic choice. To spend one's time, energy, and money to divert death is not so much fantastical or irrational as it is aesthetically inelegant, much like a beer swilling redneck at a california wine tasting.

giulio said...

Re: "The trouble is that you seem to be (rather heedlessly and unconcernedly) advocating a -- well, let's call it a cluster of hopes -- that have, in the past, accounted for more than 5% of human suffering."

That is not my intention. The cluster of hopes that I wish to advocate is one that results in more human happiness, _without_ the historically related cluster of hatred and fears that have accounted for much human suffering.

Perhaps what I want to say is too difficult to write, or perhaps (more likely) I am just a bad writer who should consider attending Dale's class before writing more.

jfehlinger said...

Jackie wrote:

> Dying is an aesthetic choice. To spend one's time, energy, and money to
> divert death is not so much fantastical or irrational as it is
> aesthetically inelegant, much like a beer swilling redneck at a california
> wine tasting.

Presumably what you mean here is that the manner in which one
accepts (or does not accept) dying is an aesthetic choice.

Whether or not one is going to die (in the long run, and often
in the short run) is not a choice at all.

The process of death is often far from "aesthetic", in any conceivable
sense of the word.

The "aesthetic" death seems largely to be an artifact of fiction.

--------------------------

The Third Age ended thus in victory and hope; and yet grievous among
the sorrows of that Age was the parting of Elrond and Arwen, for they
were sundered by the Sea and by a doom beyond the end of the world.
When the Great Ring was unmade and the Three were shorn of their power,
then Elrond grew weary at last and forsook Middle-earth, never to return.
But Arwen became as a mortal woman, and yet it was not her lot to die
until all that she had gained was lost.

As Queen of Elves and Men she dwelt with Aragorn for six-score years
in great glory and bliss; yet at last he felt the approach of old age
and knew that the span of his life-days was drawing to an end, long
though it had been. Then Aragorn said to Arwen:

"At last, Lady Evenstar, fairest in this world, and most beloved,
my world is fading. Lo! we have gathered, and we have spent, and now the
time of payment draws near."

Arwen knew well what he intended, and long had foreseen it; nonetheless
she was overborne by her grief. "Would you then, lord, before your time
leave your people that live by your word?" she said.

"Not before my time," he answered. "For if I will not go now, then I must
soon go perforce. And Eldarion our son is a man full-ripe for kingship."

Then going to the House of the Kings in the Silent Street, Aragorn laid
him down on the long bed that had been prepared for him. There he said
farewell to Eldarion, and gave into his hands the winged crown of Gondor
and the sceptre of Arnor, and then all left him save Arwen, and she stood
alone by his bed. And for all her wisdom and lineage she could not forbear
to plead with him to stay yet for a while. She was not yet weary of her days,
and thus she tasted the bitterness of the mortality that she had taken upon her.

"Lady Undómiel," said Aragorn, "the hour is indeed hard, yet it was made
even in that day when we met under the white birches in the garden of Elrond
where none now walk. And on the hill of Cerin Amroth when we forsook both
the Shadow and the Twilight this doom we accepted. Take counsel with yourself,
beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have me wait until I wither and
fall from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay, lady, I am the last of
the Númenoreans and the latest King of the Elder Days; and to me has been
given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace
to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep.

"I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within
the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and
go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together
that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide
the Doom of Men."

"Nay, dear lord," she said, "that choice is long over. There is now no ship
that would bear the hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I
will or I nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Númenoreans,
not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools
I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say,
the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive."

"So it seems," he said. "But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of
old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair.
Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is
more than memory, Farewell!"

"Estel, Estel!" she cried, and with that even as he took her hand and kissed it,
he fell into sleep. Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after
came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth,
and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together.
And long there he lay, an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed
before the breaking of the world.

But Arwen went forth from the House, and the light of her eyes was quenched,
and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter
that comes without a star. Then she said farewell to Eldarion, and to her daughters,
and to all whom she had loved; and she went out from the city of Minas Tirith
and passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees
until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone,
and the land was silent.

There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come,
she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the
world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men
that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea.

Here ends this tale, as it has come to us from the South; and with the passing
of Evenstar no more is said in this book of the days of old.

-- J. R. R. Tolkien, "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen"

Lincoln Cannon said...

The hand raised to finish the dying God is the sign of the oath to the resurrecting God. Why choose death as your superlative?

jfehlinger said...

Mitchell wrote:

> I think the most important thing to derive from the
> reality and inevitability of death is doubt as to the
> validity of birth - by which I mean the creation of sentient
> life by any means. I would think that some of the specific
> forms of death are already enough to make the deliberate
> creation of a being susceptible to such experiences immoral.

You've got a point, there.


"Come, what do we gain by evasions? We are under the harrow
and can't escape. Reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable.
And how or why did such a reality blossom (or fester) here
and there into the terrible phenomenon called consciousness?
Why did it produce things like us who can see it and, seeing it,
recoil in loathing? Who (stranger still) want to see it and
take pains to find it out, even when no need compels them
and even though the sight of it makes an incurable ulcer in
their hearts? People. . . who would have truth at any price."

-- C. S. Lewis, _A Grief Observed_

jfehlinger said...

Lincoln Cannon wrote:

> The power of these ideas is obvious to all who are
> familiar with religion. Where there is power, there is
> opportunity both for benefit and detriment -- not just
> detriment.

Giulio Prisco wrote:

> The cluster of hopes that I wish to advocate is one that
> results in more human happiness, _without_ the historically
> related cluster of hatred and fears that have accounted
> for much human suffering.

Maybe. But launching a "movement" is playing with fire.

Maybe Giulio isn't fully aware of just how crazy things
are in the U.S. these days. Then again, it hasn't been
**that** long since Mussolini. Any little nudge that jibes
with the Zeitgeist surrounding Terrorism (TM) these days
is **potentially** liable to be amplified into a conflagration.

There has already been rhetoric -- provocative, inflammatory --
on the >Hist lists that could conceivably, in an unlucky future,
lead to grief. There have been folks saying such overheated
things as "Delaying, either by actively hindering or by not
contributing to, the Singularity is tantamount to mass murder --
it means that potentially billions of people will die who
would not otherwise have died!" Or, "Pursuing this line of
A.I. research is criminally irresponsible! It's bound to lead
to a runaway Unfriendly A.I.!" The former sounds to me like
religious fanaticism, while the latter sounds like the
Unabomber.

Now you could say that these particular people are just
twerpy kids with delusions of genius waving their, well,
whatever organs the testosterone has settled in, in public.
True enough. But some of these same kids have now graduated
to courting billionaires for money. Some of them have
now taken up the Scientologists' ploy of hinting at legal
actions against folks who criticize them in public (ask
Dale about that). I say, look at **existing** cults -- the
Scientologists, the various new-age LGATs (large-group awareness
training companies -- like Keith Raniere's "Nexium") to
see where it can end. The idiosyncratic **content** (life extension,
AI, molecular nanotechnology) pales beside the **structural**
similarities to unsavory cult organizations.

And, as Dale has pointed out, it's not necessary! Existing
avenues of medical research (or neuroscience, or computer
science, or molecular biology, or solid-state physics, or
materials science) will **not** be accelerated by these
Extro or Transvision conferences, no matter how many Hollywood
types or ex-Star Trek actors can be persuaded to speak at them.


--------------------
WOODROW WYATT: Lord Russell, what is your definition of
fanaticism?

BERTRAND RUSSELL: I should say that, uh, fanaticism
consists in thinking some one matter so overwhelmingly
important that it outweighs everything else at all.
To take an example: I suppose all decent people dislike
cruelty to dogs. But if you thought that cruelty to
dogs was so atrocious that no other cruelty should be
objected to in comparison, then you would be a fanatic.

WYATT: But do you think this has happened a great
deal in human history, that large groups of people have
been seized with fanaticism?

RUSSELL: Yes, it's happened at most periods, in most
parts of the world. It's, uh, one of the diseases of
the mind to which communities are subject.

WYATT: Which would you say were some of the worst
occasions?

RUSSELL: There have been various occasions one could
mention. Take anti-Semitism, that is one of the most
dreadful, because that's -- the worst manifestations
of that are recent, and were so dreadful one can hardly
bear to think of them. Well, that -- though I know
it isn't the right thing to say, it isn't **considered**
the right thing to say -- but anti-Semitism **mainly**
came in with Christianity. Before that there was
very, very much less. But the moment the Roman government
became Christian, it began to be anti-Semitic.

WYATT: Why was that?

RUSSELL: Because they said that, uh, the Jews killed
Christ, and so it gave them a justification for hating
the Jews. I've no doubt there really were economic
motives, but that was the justification.

WYATT: But, why do you think people **do** get seized in
large numbers with fanaticism?

RUSSELL: Well, it's partly that it gives you a cosy
feeling of cooperation. A fanatical group all together
have a comfortable feeling that they're all friends
of each other. Uh, they're all very much excited about
the same thing. You can see it in any, uh, political
party -- there are always a fringe of fanatics in any
political party -- and they feel awfully cosy with
each other. And when that is spread about, and is
combined with a propensity to hate some other group,
you get fanaticism well-developed.

WYATT: But might not fanaticism, at times, provide
a kind of mainspring for good actions?

RUSSELL: It provides a mainspring for actions, all
right, but I can't think of any instance in history
where it's provided a mainspring for good actions.
Always, I think, for bad ones. Because it is partial,
because it almost inevitably, um, involves some
kind of hatred. You hate the people who don't share
your fanaticism. It's, uh, almost inevitable.

WYATT: Then, if it gets taken over by, uh, economic
considerations, say the... like the Crusades, then fanaticism
disappears and perhaps does no harm?

RUSSELL: Well, I don't know, I... I can't, uh, think
of any good that the Crusades did. The Crusades had,
of course, two, uh, different streams in them -- a
fanatical stream and an economic stream. The economic
thing was very strong indeed, but it wouldn't have worked
without the fanaticism. The fanaticism provided the
troops, and the economic motive the generals, [Wyatt
laughs] roughly speaking.

WYATT: What part would you say that witchcraft has
played in fanaticism?

RUSSELL: Oh, witchcraft played a terrible, terrible
part. Um, especially from, oh from about 1450 to
about, uh, 1600. A little longer than 1600. A quite
terrible part. There was a work called _The Hammer
of Female Malefactors_, which was written by an
eminent ecclesiastic, and, uh, inspired the most
**mad** profusion of witch-hunts, which the people
themselves believed. I think it's very likely that
Joan of Arc believed she was a witch; certainly, a
great many people condemned as witches did believe
they were witches. And, uh, there was an enormous
spread of cruelty. Now, Sir Thomas Browne, you
would say, when you read his works, he seems like
a very humane and cultivated person. But he, uh,
actually took part in trials of witches, on the side
of the prosecution, and he said that to deny witchcraft
is a form of atheism, because after all the Bible
says "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." And therefore,
if you don't think it's right to burn them -- people
you think witches -- you must be disbelieving in the
Bible, and therefore be an atheist.

WYATT: But how is it that quite sane people, on
the surface at any rate, can be fanatical?

RUSSELL: Well, uh, sanity is a relative term.
Very, very few people are sane all through. Almost
everybody has corners where they're mad. I remember,
once, I was motoring in California on a very very
wet day, and we picked up a pedestrian who was
getting wet through, and he inveighed against all
kinds of race prejudice. He said it was a most
dreadful thing, and I entirely agreed with him.
And then somebody mentioned the Philippines, and he
said "All Filipinos are vile!" [Wyatt laughs]
Well, you see, he had that little corner of insanity.

WYATT: But why do you attach so much importance
to the subject of fanaticism?

RUSSELL: Because a very great part of the evils that
the world is suffering are due to fanaticism. A very,
very great part. Always has been so, and it's
**worse** in the present day than it's ever been before.
I don't mean fanaticism is more prevalent, but it
is doing more harm than it has ever done before in
human history.

WYATT: Well, can you elaborate that a bit?

RUSSELL: Yes, certainly. It deserves to be elaborated.
I think that the East-West tension which is threatening
us all in the most terrible fashion, is mainly due to
fanatical belief in Communism or anti-Communism as
the case may be. Both sides believe their own creed
too strongly. They believe it, in the way that I defined
as fanatical -- that they think, that is to say, that
the **prevention** of what they regard as wicked on the
other side is more important, even than the continued
existence of the human race. And that is fanatical.
And it is that fanaticism which is threatening us all --
a fanaticism which exists on both sides.

WYATT: What's your definition of toleration.

RUSSELL: Toleration consists... Well, it, uh, varies
according to what direction you're thinking...
Toleration of **opinion**, if it's really full-blown,
consists in not punishing any kind of opinion as long
as it doesn't issue in some kind of criminal action.
And, uh, toleration of opinion is the **first** form of
toleration that arises.

WYATT: Well can you, uh, give some illustrations of
periods in history which have been tolerant?

RUSSELL: Um, yes. And it really does begin with the
end of the Thirty Years War. Um, it didn't begin
in England 'til a little later because we were in
the middle of our Civil War at that time. But it began
very soon after that. And, uh, the first really tolerant
state was Holland. All the leading intellects of the
Seventeenth Century, at some period of their lives,
had to take refuge in Holland. And if there hadn't
been Holland they'd have been wiped out. The English
were no better than other people at that **time**. There was
a Parliamentary investigation which decided that Hobbes
was very, very wicked, and it was decreed that no work
by Hobbes was to be published in England. And it wasn't,
'til a long, long time.

WYATT: Would you say that ancient Athens was a tolerant
state?

RUSSELL: It was more or less tolerant. It was, uh, more tolerant
than modern states were until the Eighteenth Century.
But it was not, of course, **completely** tolerant. Everybody
knows about Socrates being put to death. And apart from
him there were other people... Uh, Anaxagoras had to fly.
Aristotle had to fly after the death of Alexander. They
were not wholly tolerant by any means.

WYATT: But how is one to **know** when one's got to a
tolerant period? I mean, how does one recognize this?

RUSSELL: Oh, you recognize it by the... uh, the liberal freedoms:
Free press, free thought, free, um, propaganda, freedom
to read what you like, freedom to have whatever religion
you like, or lack of religion.

WYATT: But now, pretty well in the West, this exists
today. And yet you were saying just now that we've never
been in a period where there was more fanaticism.

RUSSELL: Well, I don't think it's true that it exists.
Uh, I mean, take for instance what they did in America,
which was to go through all public libraries, and any
book that gave any information about Russia was destroyed.
And, uh, you can't call that exactly tolerant.

WYATT: If you're not enthusiastic, you don't get
things done, but if you're over-enthusiastic, you
run the danger of becoming fanatical. Well, now, how
do you make certain that what you're doing is all
right, and that you haven't become, uh, in a fanatical
state?

RUSSELL: Certainty is not ascertainable. But what
you can do, I think, is this: you can make it a
principle that you will only act upon what you think
is **probably** true... if it would be utterly disastrous
if you were mistaken, then it is better to withhold
action. I should apply that, for instance, to burning
people at the stake. I think, uh, if the received
theology of the Ages of Persecution had been **completely**
true, it would've been a good act to burn heretics
at the stake. But if there's the slightest little
chance that it's not true, then you're doing a bad
thing. And so, I think that's the sort of principle
on which you've got to go.

WYATT: Would this apply to political parties and
governments?

RUSSELL: Oh, certainly it would. I mean, everybody who
belongs to a political party thinks the other party's
in the wrong. But, uh, he wouldn't say "therefore,
you have a right to go and assassinate them". You, uh...
there are certain things you **may** do when you think a
party's in the wrong, and certain things you mayn't.

WYATT: But what do you think of the limits of toleration?
I mean, you can get into a situation where you have
complete license and chaos.

RUSSELL: Well, the general principle **there** is,
that, uh, people should be allowed to advocate any change
in the law that they like. But in **general** --
though I don't say this always, by any means -- in
**general**, you should not permit the agitation for a
definitely illegal action prior to a change in the law.
You may advocate a change in the law, but you shouldn't
advocate an act which is illegal while the law stands
as it is. I don't say this as an absolute principle,
but usually.
--------------------

"Bertrand Russell Speaking" 1959 52 min.
Woodrow Wyatt Interviews
Published in _Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind_

Michael Anissimov said...

Does anyone actually read jfehlinger's copy-and-paste-tastic comments?

jfehlinger said...

Archangel Michael wrote:

> Does anyone actually read jfehlinger's copy-and-paste-tastic comments?

Why, exactly, do you care?

Give it up, Michael -- you're not going to start the avalanche
that will get me booted off this blog. There were moderators
on WTA-talk sympathetic to your complaints, including Giulio Prisco.
But not here.

jfehlinger said...

Michael's recent slap at a, hm, graphomaniacal commenter on his own
blog, was, I must admit, funny.

> The length of your comments also make[s] me want to drink paint.
>
> If not anything else, conventional education is a way to
> teach people social skills. Like how to not post Encyclopedia Boringatica
> into these comments. . .

If we're ever drinking at the same table, I'll have to
make sure the management locks up the paint.

(Michael seems to be getting a bit **edgier** as he gets
older.)