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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Millions and millions dead

Yes, I know this story is from The Onion. I thought it was funny, too. Go and enjoy it!

"As the body count continues to rise, a shaken nation is struggling to cope in the wake of the mass deaths sweeping the world population. With no concrete figures available at this early stage, experts estimate at least 250,000 U.S. citizens have died in the last month alone, with death tolls across the globe reaching into the millions."

"'Our family has been spared so far, but for how long?' asked mother of four Karen Beemis, of Scottsdale, AZ. 'Every night I lay awake in bed worrying and thinking, "This is going to get one of us someday, too. Who will be the first? Grandma? Grandpa? My great-uncle Ted in Michigan?' There's just no way of knowing."'"

From time to time, we have panics that don't come to as much as was feared, such as the panic about SARS ... and it looks, to date, as if the panic about swine flu may be in the same category. At least, I hope so, and there's evidence to that effect (but then again, nothing detracts from the individual tragedies that SARS did cause and that swine flu has caused so far). These panics can be put in perspective we think about the huge number of deaths every day, so many of them related to the frailty of old age.

Death the Destroyer is not our friend, and we shouldn't believe all the sententious rationalisations to the contrary (usually from religionists or crypto-religionists such as Margaret Somerville). We may not be able to do as much about it as we'd like, but we can probably do something . I think we should try, don't you?

6 comments:

Brian said...

Hi Russell, the WHO isn't helping much saying this represents a threat to humanity. Think about it. The Spanish flu knocked over 20 odd million people, tragic for the loved ones of those people indeed and I don't wish to minimize it, but that was probably only 1 percent of the human population at that time. It was most certainly not an existential threat to humanity. With today's population approaching 7 billion, are the WHO saying that 90 or even 95 percent of humans will be knocked over? Even if that were the case it would not be an existential threat to humanity, there'd still be hundreds of millions of us left. The tragedy of the Tsunami of 2004 did not represent any danger to humanity, and this flu is unlikely to kill a 1/100th of that number. It's stupid to suggest there is a danger to humanity.

What will happen is that the media will beat up each death because that's all the media do. I wish the authorities wouldn't give them tid bits to run with. The media would love it if a few 100 people died. It doesn't help a situation like this to run around screaming or feeding the screaming media. The silly thing is, regular flus are going around now, killing 1000's every year, why not panic about that?

/end rant.

Brian said...

Hi again Russell,
you say:
Death the Destroyer is not our friend
What does this mean? Death is just the cessation of existence. It's not a destroyer nor something malicious. Dying can indeed be terrible and awful. And for those left behind it can be tragic, terrible and hard to accept. But that's life. Are you anthropomorphizing a necessary part of the Darwinian struggle? ;)

Russell Blackford said...

I think it's perfectly rational to want to put off death (and decline) as long as possible, and I don't think the Darwinian struggle is a good thing. It's just a thing.

Brian said...

Russell, I think you've misunderstood me.Perhaps you were thinking I was inclining to some ascientific social Darwinism?
I was joking about the Darwinian struggle, it's only a thing, but perhaps it just produces good things.

Let's see. You exist, you feel this is good, for local definitions of good, and this is because of the Darwinian struggle. If it were not for competing organisms struggling for limited resources with death the inevitable result of loss there would be no humans (unless God put us here on the sixth day), and, a fortiori no Russell. In a necessary, but not sufficient sense (i.e. social influences, parental decisions, etc were also necessary, but not sufficient). And having an intellectual like you Russell seems to me, at least, to be a good thing. None of this means you should suicide or shorten your existence, after all, we're not required to kill or be killed, just die in time.

My problem is how is it rational for people to want to live indefinitely? Or abhore death? We have to die in the end. I'm arguing here about your characterization of death as bad. It's just as thing as you say. I'm not saying what that time is to die, 100 years, 200 with better diet and medicene? I worry about the fact that we're destroying the world, and instead of caring about the future, and future people, we seem to want to live forever and satisfy ourselves. None of which will happen if there's nowhere suitable to live or no resources to support us. As a doctor said to me once, "the trouble with people is they can't accept they're gonna die and blame us when they get old and don't function so well." Or put more colloquially, "it's not all about you". Anyway, I think it's irrational to not want to die sometime, when that time comes. What benefit humanity or the universe if a human lives forever? Hume took it in his stride, and there no evidence he was the worse for it after his death. I'd like to do the same.

I noticed you wisely quote the great Scot in a more recent post, and noticed the subtlety of his moral philosophy. Praise Hume!

P.S. can you give a rational reason for not wanting to die that doesn't state that you don't want to die, which is a given for a human?

underverse said...

I think it's perfectly rational to want to put off death (and decline) as long as possible.

The desire is rational, perhaps, but what about the moral stance?

"Death the Destroyer" could be rationally argued to be our best friend. Without it there would be--could be--no life. Those are the rules. Is that really more "sententious" than valorizing resistance and denial? You must have a few drops of Stoicism in you, no?

Brian said...

"Death the Destroyer" could be rationally argued to be our best friend. Without it there would be--could be--no life. Those are the rules. Is that really more "sententious" than valorizing resistance and denial? You must have a few drops of Stoicism in you, no?
Well apart from comitting the same error as Russell, anthropomorphizing a fact of life, - How is death a destroyer? All our matter recycles, and death is just a name we give to something that happens, it's not an existent, the matter continues, just that bundle of thoughts we call self doesn't - you make a fair point. As Hume said, reason is and always will be slave to passion (I think he said that). We want to live, it's a drive, from there we reason. But that doesn't mean we should put said selfish desire as the greatest good.