Friday, April 15, 2011

Bounded in a Nutshell, a King of Infinite Space

Peter Lawler:

Will indefinite longevity be the secret to human happiness? Well, there's no denying that people would rather not die at any particular time, and that there's a lot of misery in being governed by the scarcity of time. Time, we can't help but notice, ruins or undermines at least most forms of human enjoyment. That's why, we can say, that human beings have always longed for immortality, to be freed from the miserable constraints of their self-conscious mortality. When thinking about immortality, we can't help but begin with the Greek gods—who were self-conscious but didn't die. They were, in other words, in many respects like our vampires.

But the immortality of the Greeks gods was even meant to make sense or be a realistic possibility. The poets invented them—like today's poets employ the Vampires--to show that immortality isn't only impossible but undesirable. And so if we thought about who we are, we'd actually chose the mortality with which each of us stuck anyway. Our longing for immortality is best satisfied by accomplishments that stand the test of time—the immortal glory of the great political deeds or of the enduring beauty and wisdom of works of art or literature--although even our fame, we really know, doesn't last forever. And we can achieve a kind of immortality through our minds, through knowing the eternal truth about natural necessity, through philosophy. Everything great that we do—from having children to writing THE REPUBLIC –depends on being mortal. The polymorphous human eros that animates us, in other words, depends upon death. Only mortals know what it means really to fall in love.

Good stuff, preach it, true dat, but I must beg to differ with one of his lines above -- time is the necessary boundary marker that defines most forms of human enjoyment. The passing of time is what gives us the impetus to act at all. Without the need to take advantage of a unique, unrepeatable opportunity to act on a possibility that may never present itself again, why bother to do anything but daydream about limitless potential?

I've often thought that my late forties or early fifties would be enough living for me. It's not so much a statement of desire or intent to be dead within the next ten or fifteen years as it is a way to force myself to live mindfully in the meantime. If you didn't have a vague expectation of living for another several decades, becoming a doddering, senile husk of a person, what might you do differently now? How much more vivid might so many experiences seem in light of that perspective? I'd rather take the decade-plus of focused, intense awareness than the somnambulant daze that so many people spend their long lives in.