This is a short piece I wrote in response to a close friend of mine, who was experiencing severe thanatophobia (fear of death.) I think it is consistent with the Epicurean view on death, but let me now if there’s anything wrong with it. I’ll be continuing my Modern Philosophy series next week, and look out for any additional posts on the upcoming General Election in the UK.
The solution to the fear of death is the belief that mortality is good: that an immortal life would be pointless due to the absence of a teleology, or something to work towards by a set time. Conversely, mortality is what gives the world purpose: it’s what drives both human progress and biological evolution, it’s what defines us as a species. In other words, if we didn’t die, we wouldn’t be human.
Death is what makes life life; without it, life would not be life, but merely a continuation of existence in perpetuity. This is because an immortal life would have no raison d’etre, as there would be no definitive point in which you could have said you have accomplished your life’s goals. In a finite life, you can only set out a limited number of things you desire to achieve. Once you have achieved them, you could say your life has fulfilled its purpose. An immortal life has no such luxury. You would have an infinite number of goals, as you would have an infinite amount of time in which to achieve them. Thus, you would be shackled to the obligations of existence, with no possibility of release.
It’s no exaggeration to say that there are no advantages to immortality. None. You would live forever, but so what. As any economist will tell you, the less of something there is, the more its value. An immortal life would be worthless. Everyday would not be a day to be cherished or enjoyed, nor a unique opportunity to do something valuable. It would merely be a continuation of the existing state of affairs ad infinitum.
But even if I’m wrong, and immortality is something to be desired, the fear of death is still irrational. It prevents you from enjoying your life. It fills you with anxiety. It causes you to hypothesise untenable propositions about the possibility of an afterlife. In turn, this is often used to exploit people, to enslave them in this life in exchange for emancipation in the next. The fear of death becomes a means in which the powerful control the lives of those too miserable in their predicament to refrain from considering the promise of a better life, however farfetched it may be.
As the late Christopher Hitchens said, ‘there is nothing more, but I want nothing more.’ Immortality is not an ideal, but a dystopian notion; a distraction used to wreck havoc in the lives of the poorest and the most vulnerable. In contrast, death is not to be feared, but to be welcomed. It is the most effective way of driving us to make the most of our lives, and the only way of relieving us from the burdens of existence.