A Miserable and Worthless Life

In the comments a couple of days ago, Jim wrote:

But the post war generation don’t ‘do God’ so are terrified of death as the final end, and are trying to put that day off for as long as possible.

I think he’s quite right. I’ve said as much myself several times in the past. The modern cult of “healthism” is really all about indefinitely extending the duration of human life. What Deborah Arnott worries about, when she’s sat out in a pub garden, and smoke from some distant cigarette comes wafting past her, is that her life is being shortened by a few minutes. And she most likely has similar fears about the vehicle exhaust gases rising from the streets of London, six floors below her office. In fact, if she’s frightened of tobacco smoke, she’s probably also frightened of autumn leaves – you know, the ones that come spinning down from trees, and strike people’s heads at a high velocity, and cripple them for life.

Such a life is one that is completely dominated by the fear of death. It is a life that has been completely defined by the prospect of death. What an utterly miserable and worthless life!

But I’m not at all sure that ‘doing God’ dispels such fear. In many ways, the notion of an afterlife that kicks in automatically after death is even more terrifying, particularly if one is facing the prospect of eternity roasting in the fires of Hell. The ancient Egyptians were great believers in their own afterlives, and many of them seem to have spent much of their lives preparing elaborate tombs in which to spend them. But isn’t it also a rather miserable and worthless life that is spent preparing for one’s afterlife? Wouldn’t it have been better if they had just enjoyed life while they were living it?

And does anyone really want to live forever? Isn’t it the prospect of death that lends life a certain urgency? So much to be done, and so little time in which to do it. Remove that prospect, and you will have all the time in the world to do whatever you want. And then why do today what can be done tomorrow?

Birth and death are the bookends to life. They provide a frame around it, just like the frame around a painting, or the cover around a book. And are not these frames and covers essential parts of paintings and books? Is it the regular complaint of readers of books that there is nothing in them after the final chapter? Do they say things like, “I really enjoyed it, but there were only 14 chapters”? Or, on exiting a cinema, do they say, “Well, it was really exciting, but it only lasted 92 minutes”?

If long lives are the best lives, then are long books also the best books? Does anyone go into a bookshop and buy the longest book they can find? Does anyone return from a bookshop, and hold up some tome they’ve bought, and declare, “Look at this! 1,223 pages! And 560 words per page! All for £13.20! A real bargain!”?

Are authors judged by the number of books they have written in their lifetimes? “See that man over there? That’s Edward X, the famous author. Did you know that he has written 735 books? 735! And all long ones too.”

Or do you hear of artists being judged by the area of their paintings? Or architects by the height of their buildings?

And if books and paintings and buildings and movies are not judged by how long or high they are, why should any life be judged by its duration? I keep a picture of my uncle Fran on my mantelpiece. He was a Spitfire pilot in WW2, and he (is believed to have) died at the age of 23 when he bailed out of his Spitfire over the Mediterranean sea, never to be seen again. Should I grieve that he failed to subsequently become a junior bank clerk in the Hounslow branch of the National Westminster bank? It was never going to be quite as exciting doing anything else after flying Spitfires, was it? Was his a “premature” death? Is it ever a “premature” death when any soldier or sailor or pilot dies in battle?

And when Ayrton Senna died at Imola in 1994, didn’t he die when he was at the peak of his powers, and leading a Formula One motor-car race: in short, at the exact right time?

And would it have been better that Jesus had not died on the Cross at the age of 33, but gone on to live a long and unremarkable life, simply by dint of not indulging his seemingly-compulsive habit of delivering the sermons that got him in such trouble with Pontius Pilate? And was the problem with those sermons that they were too long? Or too short?

I’m only asking questions, of course. I’m not providing answers. But to me it seems that the short but sparkling lives of Jesus and Ayrton Senna and Francis Bassett are the ones to be celebrated and remembered, and not those of fearful miserabilists like Deborah Arnott, who are merely trying to live as long as they possibly can.

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About Frank Davis

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39 Responses to A Miserable and Worthless Life

  1. was the problem with those sermons that they were too long? Or too short?
    Infact those ‘sermons’ were actually what theologians call ‘logion’…what you or I might call ‘tweets’.

    …how does one say ‘ plus ça change’ in Aramaic?

  2. garyk30 says:

    Brevity, at least in speech, is much to be admired.

    The US Declaration of Independence is only about 1300 words long and can be read in less than 5 minutes.

    Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is only 272 words long.

    E=MCsquared is not even a word.

    Churchill said a number of very short and very memorable phrases.

    • natepickering says:

      Churchill also did much of his best work while mildly inebriated.

      • nisakiman says:

        He may have only been ‘mildly inebriated’, but from what I’ve read, by lunchtime he’d have packed away enough booze to put most of us under the table. His intake was positively heroic.

  3. margo says:

    ‘So much to do and so little time to do it … remove that prospect and you will have all the time in the world …’ Idle Theory?

  4. I think that death is NOT the end, is the most aggressively kept secret in the Western world. Any suggestions that at death, we function in a different dimension that is not in any way “religious” but a natural state, and recycle back for another life, are trashed, scorned and derided. Yet, that is a natural cycle of conservation that happens in all of science, conscousness excepted!

    Imagine a world that knew death was not an “end”. With the removal of the fear of death, all hell would break out!

  5. Jim says:

    “But I’m not at all sure that ‘doing God’ dispels such fear. In many ways, the notion of an afterlife that kicks in automatically after death is even more terrifying, particularly if one is facing the prospect of eternity roasting in the fires of Hell”

    Not really, because for the believer they ‘know’ they are going to heaven, not hell. Hence they don’t have to fear death, it is not the end. We see suicide bombers these days, they definitely ‘do religion’, they consider they’re heading for 60 virgins for eternity or whatever.

    No one thinks they are going to hell, they either are religious, in which case they think they’re going to heaven, or they aren’t religious, in which case they don’t believe in hell anyway. I mean if you genuinely believed in hell, you’d change you behaviour right? Become an adherent of the relevant religion in order to escape that fate. No one sits around terrified they are going to be tortured for eternity but doing absolutely nothing about it.

    • Frank Davis says:

      No one thinks they are going to hell,

      Isn’t that rather presumptuous of them? In Christianity, and in Ancient Egypt, there was a powerful conviction that the dead were tried and judged after death, and rewarded accordingly. In the Egyptian version, the heart of the deceased was weighed against a feather, and if it was heavier he (or she) was torn to pieces by an animal that was part crocodile, part leopard, and part hippopotamus (I once painted a picture of the scene, including the 40 gods who sat in judgement). In Christianity, the souls of the damned are consigned to hell. So why, prior to their trial and judgement, should anyone suppose that they will automatically go to heaven?

      It reminds me that Michael Bloomberg is on record as saying that he’s going to heaven:

      “I like what I see when I look in the mirror….We’ve probably saved millions of lives, and certainly we’ll save tens of millions of lives going forward,” he says referring to the causes he has supported and funded for the future. “There aren’t many people that have done that. So, you know, when I get to heaven, I’m not sure I’m going to stand for an interview. I’m going right in,” Bloomberg says with a laugh.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Deborah Arnott nurses a similar presumption. As do all those Islamic suicide bombers.

      Perhaps they all presume a little too much?

    • natepickering says:

      Yes, hell is more of a place you tell other people they’re going when you don’t approve of their behavior, and where you can imagine your enemies being tortured for all eternity. The truly self-righteous believer cannot imagine him or herself failing to attain the pearly gates.

  6. Jim says:

    Incidentally, watching my fathers health deteriorate over the last decade has been very instructive as to the concept of ‘a good death’ being more important than merely prolonging life at all costs. We have the technology to keep people alive nowadays, but at what cost? Not so much financial, but quality of life. Walking down the corridor of his nursing home (he’s at home now getting care there and is far better for it) and looking into the rooms and seeing what are effectively living corpses propped up in beds and chairs has made me sure of one thing – I’m not aiming to live as long as physically possible, I want to die relatively young, not be a dried out husk of a human being kept alive by medical technology.

    • Traditionally The Bestes Frau In The Whole Wide World’s people end their fairy stories not with the Great British nonsense of ‘and they lived happily ever after’ (you can bet the princess regretted marrying a lowly mill hand later on ) but with the Germanic logic of ‘if they haven’t died they are alive still’. However there is an alternate closing line of ‘he lived a good life and died a good death’ -from Bohemia/Sudeten Land I think.
      As I said over on Furlong’s site, as much as my heart goes out to Charlie Gard’s parents (and I don’t know who is right in CG’s case) , part of being a parent -should such a perverse, nay obscene, situation occur- is to ensure the best possible death for the child under the circumstances.

      • beobrigitte says:

        As I said over on Furlong’s site, as much as my heart goes out to Charlie Gard’s parents (and I don’t know who is right in CG’s case) , part of being a parent -should such a perverse, nay obscene, situation occur- is to ensure the best possible death for the child under the circumstances.
        I’m afraid this is not our decision to make, it’s the parents’. Quite often parents do have a gut instinct which turns out to be right and I’m not sure if the medical establishment or the courts should try and impose their decision onto the parents.
        If the problem is financial, I suggest to syphon off the money from the leeches and useless “prevention” lark to pay for these parents’ ?gut instinct, ?hope.

    • Frank Davis says:

      In addition, when I believed such things, I always believed I would go to hell.

      After all, didn’t picking my nose in church merit eternal damnation?

  7. Rose says:

    A cry of anguish that might amuse you.

    Why Is Everyone Smoking Again?
    Jul 11, 2017
    http://www.marieclaire.com/health-fitness/a28165/smoking-on-instagram/
    Lovely photos of the offence in question.

    • *PMSWS* (Pissing myself with schadenfreude!)

    • beobrigitte says:

      Since when did it become cool again to show that you smoke?
      Oh dear. The answer might break ?young Jenna Rosenstein’s heart.

      Made my day, Rose! Thanks!!!

    • Vlad says:

      ##But let’s not mince words: we all know smoking cigarettes will kill you. It’s toxic to you, your loved ones, and your pets. It’s socially and fiscally irresponsible. And we haven’t even started talking about the environmental impact of Big Tobacco.##
      This introduction to the article just goes to show the author is brainwashed beyond redemption. Perfect customer profile for Sickness Industry.

      • beobrigitte says:

        I’m glad my pets don’t understand human scare mongering. They are getting past their midlife at the ages of 15 and 12 human years in a SMOKING household.
        And one of the 12 year olds (asthmatic + food allergic) caused another cat owner to knock at my door recently because he beats up her cats and (sadly) killed 2 pet rabbits.
        Looks like my old bunch of cats has a lot of life left in them.

        And I continue to smoke in my house, even when I stroke them. They don’t mind me smoking.

      • beobrigitte says:

        Perhaps the youngsters in these photographs see us “past-the-use-by-date” ones in action in work?

        After all, we all live longer nowadays.

      • waltc says:

        Nah. Nonsmokers will never get sick. As she puts it so neatly, “…as a country, we’re wising up. We now care about things like kale and green juice…” Though somehow I believe that living among people who “care about kale” drives others to smoke.

    • nisakiman says:

      Further to that article, Rose, here’s another one that will be giving Stanton Glantz palpitations:

      In 2016, 41% of top-grossing US movies showed people using tobacco, according to a recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a decrease from the year before. However, there was an 80% increase in incidents of tobacco use in those movies from 2015 to 2016.

      http://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/10/health/tobacco-movies-teen-smoking-study/index.html

      It rather looks as if, despite the efforts of the joyless ones, tobacco, and in particular, cigarettes, are becoming cool and stylish again.

      It was inevitable really, that there would come a point when the lies and hyperbole of Tobacco Control turned smoking into an ‘edgy’ and rebellious activity that appeals to the young and beautiful who want to stand out. Not smoking has now become synonymous with mainstream, middle-class, obsessed-with-health-and-PC bores.

      And the irony of the situation is that the more the anti-smokers wail and gnash their teeth about smoking’s growing popularity, the more young people will be drawn to it. Such is the lure of forbidden fruit.

      Perhaps the worm is finally beginning to turn.

  8. beobrigitte says:

    Birth and death are the bookends to life. They provide a frame around it, just like the frame around a painting, or the cover around a book.
    I think this is a rather nice way of summing life up. The actual book we write as we go along, sometimes we have a plan and sometimes we drift.
    Until about 10 years ago I had loads of experiences to note down in my book of life. After that I became exiled to the outdoors to now being driven away from there, too.
    All because the fearful bank on that fiction that they can achieve a longer life span, or even immortality.
    I do wonder what Deborah Arnott et al are writing into their books. Hate filled, fearful stuff? Who would wish to read that?

    But I’m not at all sure that ‘doing God’ dispels such fear. In many ways, the notion of an afterlife that kicks in automatically after death is even more terrifying, particularly if one is facing the prospect of eternity roasting in the fires of Hell
    I do believe that there is a being we call god and that we all firstly have to experience our lives from our point of view and then again from the point of view of all others that we have somehow affected. Perhaps this is what the bible calls judgement and heaven/hell?
    I take a less religious but a more philosophical approach to life. I would like to think that I made the choice not to pursue a path of causing others misery because I think that’s the way I wish to lead my life rather than out of fear of punishment. We all have been given the freedom of choice, a freedom I find is gradually taken away from us. We are “nudged” and forced by the fearful to comply with THEIR ideology or otherwise be pushed into isolation.
    No, I do not wish to live any longer than my expiry date says. I also wish to continue with my, having started it with a lot of ideas of the things I could do, book that is gradually becoming less and less interesting as I begin to settle into my life as an outcast.

    Perhaps I shall devote a whole chapter (?) of MY book to the smokydrinkybar as I’ve had quite a few very much enjoyable evenings there recently.

    • Jay says:

      Taking it out of context I’ve always thought that Shakespeare’s “…our little life is rounded with a sleep” is a lovely way to express life.

  9. Mark Jarratt, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia says:

    And she’s worried about the baggage retrieval system they have at Heathrow
    http://www.montypython.net/scripts/worried.php
    More likely such high status mass behavioural modification propagandists have personal fast track Platinum frequent flyer baggage handlers though, bought with money stolen from smokers by the paternalistic Bully State.

  10. Barry Homan says:

    As I’ve always believed, if we didn’t die, we wouldn’t live.

  11. Rose says:

    Brought forward from the previous page

    H/T Timothy Goodacre and ReAndyMator

    Doctor’s Diary: passive smoking myths leave me fuming
    1 July 2017

    “Campaigners are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ban on smoking in pubs, restaurants and other public places. Two recollections of the crusade against passive smoking might explain why I will not be joining them.

    In 2004, a couple of years before the ban was introduced, I attended a historic presentation by Prof Sir Richard Doll, who co-authored the famous 1954 study that established the causative link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. In a 50-year follow-up study, published the year before his death at the age of 92, Prof Doll confirmed that, on average, smoking reduced life expectancy by about 10 years.

    In the Q&A after his lecture, Prof Doll annoyed campaigners against “passive smoking” by conceding that the evidence for its health risks was “very weak”. Subsequently, as a guest on Desert Island Discs, he told Sue Lawley that “the effects of other people smoking in my presence are so small that it doesn’t worry me”.

    Statistical sleights of hand are now being used to claim dramatic benefits from the smoking ban on levels of smoking and death rates from heart disease, both of which have been declining for decades. Smoking rates, in fact, declined more rapidly in the Seventies and Eighties before the introduction of coercive anti-smoking measures.

    The fact that the smoking ban coincided with a continuing decline in fatalities from heart disease does not justify the claim that the former caused the latter – a familiar epidemiological fallacy.

    Shortly after the introduction of the smoking ban, I arrived at my health centre surgery to find that the authorities had installed notices instructing patients that they were not allowed to smoke on the premises. Inquiries with colleagues confirmed that, for at least the previous decade, nobody could remember any patient lighting up in the waiting room. The notice was not only unnecessary, but also had a hectoring and bullying tone, reflecting the paternalistic and condescending outlook that pervades public health.

    No doubt, smoking is not good for health and patients would be well advised to stop. Yet there is something insidious in the way the anti-smoking campaign has increasingly curtailed the autonomy of the individual in making decisions related to health.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/doctors-diary/doctors-diary-passive-smoking-myths-leave-fuming/amp/

  12. Marvin says:

    The only difference between the living and the dead, is that the living has energy functioning within it, the dead do not.

    So it begs the question what happens to the “life energy” at the moment of death? does it leave the body, as the shroud of turin suggests, and goes towards charging up the ionospere, (which may be where the idea of heaven being “up there” comes from). It would make sense because the charged up ionospere will eventually produce lightening which forces molecules to combine, producing new life at the microscopic level, ie. the conservation of energy, or energy being recycled.

    Of course I could be completely wrong, no-one has ever come back to confirm or deny it, and it may be at death you simply run out of energy and cease to exist in any meaningful way, just like before you were born. God the topics on this blog are amazing!!

  13. Pingback: Missive From ‘Merica: A Couple Of Things… */cough…* – Library of Libraries

  14. Clicky says:

  15. waltc says:

    No, I wouldn’t say that shorter is sweeter (especially not as short as 20-30 years) though I also wouldn’t say that longer is better, especially not if longer means infirmity or pointlessness, let alone pain. The trick, I suppose, is to leave before you start to get terminally bored and while you still make a relatively decent-looking corpse. …As for afterlife, well, that too could get boring if you stick around as yourself, but incapable of action that makes any impact and without the unarguable pleasures of the flesh. There’s reincarnation but according to Vedanta and the concepts of karma, you return here to suffer the evils you did to others as a way to improve your soul, although if you were Mozart you might come back as Gershwin –or that guy who beats a kettle drum for the Salvation Army. Then, too, other theories of reincarnation say you might come back as a goat or a crocodile or a cat, though if your molecules are recycled, they might be spread equally among a corn crop and a mouse.

  16. RdM says:

    I’ve been off-line for a few days, bill not paid, maybe back on tomorrow, this via a friends wifi:

    Frank:
    He was a Spitfire pilot in WW2, and he (is believed to have) died at the age of 23 when he bailed out of his Spitfire over the Mediterranean sea, never to be seen again.

    Could he have been involved in the battle for the defense of Malta?
    I read The Kappillan of Malta / Nicholas Monsarrat slowly, moved, not too long ago.
    Many went down there & then.

    A really great & deep post.
    Other comments later.
    Thanks!

    • Frank Davis says:

      Could he have been involved in the battle for the defense of Malta?

      No. It was Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. He was flying from Gibraltar to Maison Blanche airfield near Algiers.

      I have written about that last journey here.

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