Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Dukkha

David Gems:

The battle with aging is akin to that between Heracles, the hero of Greek mythology, and the multiheaded Hydra. Each time Heracles hacked off a head, two more would sprout in its place. Likewise, the old man successfully treated for prostate cancer may not long afterward stagger back into the physician’s office with macular degeneration and dementia. Such piecemeal approaches to treating age-related illness have undoubtedly improved late-life health to an extent and they have increased life expectancy. This, again, is something to celebrate. Yet in the long run a more powerful way to protect against age-related disease would be to intervene in the aging process itself. This would provide protection against the full spectrum of age-related illnesses. Returning to our classical illustration, to really defeat the diseases of late life we need to strike at the heart of the Hydra of senescence: the aging process itself. But is this actually where biogerontology is headed?


Most parents tell kids, ‘You can do anything you want, you can quit any time, you can try this other thing if you’re not 100 percent satisfied with the other.’ It’s no wonder they live their lives that way as adults, too.” He sees this in students who graduate from Swarthmore. “They can’t bear the thought that saying yes to one interest or opportunity means saying no to everything else, so they spend years hoping that the perfect answer will emerge. What they don’t understand is that they’re looking for the perfect answer when they should be looking for the good-enough answer.”

The message we send kids with all the choices we give them is that they are entitled to a perfect life—that, as Dan Kindlon, the psychologist from Harvard, puts it, “if they ever feel a twinge of non-euphoria, there should be another option.”

We've all heard of various candidates for the most distinctive quality that separates us from other animals. But the idealistic belief that we can ever create a world free of pain, dissatisfaction and death (leaving aside whether we even truly understand what we're asking for) has to be a serious contender. I would say that the crucible for any experiential philosophy is how well it equips you to realistically and gracefully deal with the inevitability of suffering.