Perhaps uniquely amongst the people on Everything2 I have never smelled the stench of death
. I have led a sheltered life and have so far avoided this, and I believe that society in general is moving in my direction, until one day people who are terminally ill will be locked up out of sight until they die, and the fact of death will be erased from the collective mind, and thus we will become immortal; not literally so, and not individually immortal, but as a species we will believe that death does not afflict us, only the animals. We approach the iron face
I have never seen a dead penguin. Not in real life or in a documentary programme on the television. Obviously, penguins die - even in the polar cold, things degrade - but it does not cross my daily mind that such a thing happens. I think of penguins only in terms of living penguins, whereas my thoughts of elephants and rabbits are coloured by my knowledge that such creatures are poached, or hit by cars. When I contemplate a rabbit I eventually come round to the image of a smashed rabbit corpse resting in the gutter, but I do not have an equivalent mental image for a penguin, and thus penguins have a certain immortality in my mind, and perception is everything.
When the penguins are extinct and I write the history of their being, I will not mention that they die; and thus, future generations will believe that an immortal creature waddled o'er the cold earth. They will wonder why penguins do not exist in their time - if they are immortal, how come there are none left? They will begin to doubt the history books, just as man, having learned that the blue sky is not infinite and that the lights were merely stars, began to doubt the church. And this will lead to revolution, bloody, drawn-out revolution. And death. The denial of death is the triumph of death.
Therefore, to avoid this, it seems the logical solution would be to embrace the fact of death, as our ancestors once did. The Aztecs positively revelled in the worship of death, and were eventually consumed by it; the Victorians posed their dead children for photographers; whilst the urban populations of many western nations seem to glorify death and killing in action, song and film. I believe this is where hope lies, as eventually all of Earth will be an urban area. The future is not open spaces and flights to the moon; the future is the inner city everywhere, with shootings and killings as a daily fact of life. We should revel.
Death is a natural part of being human; without it, we would have had no incentive to develop language, for language is the communication of ideas from one generation to another, for we are all sinking vessels, filled with cargo. The cargo would sink with us were it not for speech and writing. If we lived forever, we would never have needed to communicate with others; each of us would be an island, content and placid, like rocks. Death makes our lives shorter and more intense; it spurs us on, the knowledge that time is finite. Too often the achievements of youth are overshadowed by the embarrassment of a drawn-out middle and old age; parents saddle their children with all kinds of burdens and preconceptions - "they fuck you up, your mum and dad" - and, as with Philip Larkin, I believe that society would benefit from their removal.
If our bodies were such that the act of copulation was invariably lethal to the male and the act of childbirth was invariably lethal to the female, the human problem would be resolved. There would be no psychosis from "beyond-life" (the generation beforehand), and we would not have the misery of watching our replacements surpass us. The population would be small enough for the Earth to be a paradise, although this will require us to eliminate all natural competition and create machines to produce food, as the knowledge of farming and hunting would be gone. We would live short, intense lives of magic and wonder and happiness, without the knowledge of death. This will happen; whether it is tomorrow or the day after does not matter for it is inevitable. We can try to hold it back but the waters will break. Better to dive in.
Be the river.