Thursday, 13 August 2015


It now seems the highest value is the number of years lived, not the quality of those years but their quantity. Thus, life becomes an actuarial calculation where the likelihood of being stricken with this or that disease is assessed and steps are taken to hold it at bay. We “screen” mortality on the unvoiced assumption that, if enough measures of this kind are taken by wise and circumspect humans, Death will be staved off for ever. But, of course, he won’t. He will always win the race. He will always invite himself to the party, welcome or not. This being the case, is it not wiser to assume his arrival, as the ancients did, and to concentrate, not on quantity (something less in our control than we choose to believe) but on quality of life? Is it not better to savour every outing and pleasure as though it were our last? Otherwise the healthy and happy will have their lives infected by imaginary fears regarding the means of our dying and the illusion that, in the end, it is in our control. There is something sisyphean about the elderly fitness fanatic endlessly running in the belief that, if he can only sustain superlative levels of fitness, he will always outrun Death. Of course, every runner falls by the wayside sooner or later.

This kind of calculation extends into all walks of life. Only crunch the numbers and you will achieve success - be it in teaching children or doing politics. We comfort ourselves with the illusion that life is an equation and that its solvability is within reach. In truth this illusion is only a self-deluding veil we cast over that which we find hard to accept. The maths give us the sense of god-like control. We hate to think that, with all of our technology and advancement, we are still just as exposed to the Reaper as Socrates was.


  1. Death drives everything. It has a function, certainly in evolutionary terms. Without death, there would be no evolution! But the same could be said for everything we achieve in life. Our desire to get things done and achieved is in part due to our finitude and efforts to make ourselves remembered past our inevitable deaths.

  2. Agreed. Death is the backcloth against which we act and we act better remembering this to be true.