Sir Francis Bacon

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

--Of Studies--

Necrology 2

~ 700 words

New Interesting Words!

salutary - adj - favourable to or promoting health.

solecism - n - a breach, error, impropriety or inconsistency, esp. in grammar or etiquette.

inimical - adj - unfriendly, hostile, adverse in tendency, harmful.

This post, as one might gather from its title, is the second in my Necrology series, based on a series of essays contained in "Death and Dying: Challenge and Change", edited by R. Fulton, E. Markusen, G. Owen, and J. L. Scheiber. Today's blog post is based on the essay "Life and Death in the USA" by Melvin Maddocks.

Let me preface by saying that I am not American in the traditional sense. That is to say, I'm Canadian. Thus, some of the more regional themes were not readily apparent to me as I read this essay, but thankfully the majority of the article is not of regional interest.

Maddocks' purpose for this article is mainly taxonomic, as he is almost exclusively interested in segregating people into groups based on their views and beliefs about death. While such systems beg for exceptions, it is interesting to note the author's perception of general trends in society. This article was originally published in 1974, so one might argue that the 70s were an entirely different time and place. I would stipulate that the 70s were the last social revolution I'm personally privy to, and much of what was decided forty years ago is still relevant in today's society (not only because people who lived through the seventies now run things. Scary thought?). We still make references to hippies, though they have long been extinct, or at least, the only surviving specimens are kept in captivity.

He groups people into three categories.

1) The Pragmatist.
These are people who act to thwart death wherever it occurs. Immortality is possible if you try hard enough, or at least, death can be managed out of existence. Hence you get a plethora of how-to books, guides, handbooks, pamphlets etc. all espousing their particular theory on death and the grieving process (which you pay for of course, they are pragmatists after all). Maddocks calls this politicizing. Here's one of those how-to books for free.

manuscript: How to Die for the Incurable Imbecile

-Step 1-

Stop breathing.

end manuscript

2) The Optimist
These are interesting folk who hold that death "could be the best thing that ever happened to you". Death is not a disease, it is the natural course of life. You are going to die anyway, you might as well embrace it. Life's end can be a beautiful experience, as beautiful as life's beginning. These are the sorts of people who tend to pull the plug on people on respirators. Why would you suffer, they might say, when you could simply die and end your sufferings. It is from this mode of thought that power of attorney came into being. You should make your wishes known. You should have the right to choose the manner of your death.

3) The Existentialist
This group, comprised primarily of young 'uns (according to Maddocks) are melancholics. Suffering is to be honoured, case by case, and death gives meaning to life. Death, therefore, is authentic, and kids these days crave validation. Hence, Maddocks neatly explains his theory of teen suicide. I think kids still crave validation, correct me if I'm wrong. I die, therefore I am. To these sorts of people, if they are authentically depressive by nature and not simply lured in by the lethargy of melancholy, the possibility of living forever would be philosophically castrating.

The extrapolation of this, as seen by Maddocks, is that you get one of two futures. You either get a society advanced enough (remember, this was in the seventies, when resources were limitless and science would advance indefinitely) to create the "Anti-Death Machine", or you get a society sensitive enough to extract death's sting, the "Age of Compassion".

Anti-Death Machine? Unlikely. We are no closer to immortality now than we were forty years ago when the article was written. It all seems a bit like science fiction to me.

Age of Compassion? More likely. At the very least there's much less overhead. It could arise as a natural consequence of religious (specifically Christian) beliefs. Compassion is undeniably espoused in the Bible, and Maddocks says that "imitation of Christ [is a habit] that post-Christians have inherited in spite of themselves."

I would like to close with a little verse that closed Maddocks' article.

Xerxes the great did die,
And so must you and I.

Youth forward slips,
Death soonest nips.


  1. Interesting. Fortunately, I'm too young to be blamed for anything that happened in the 70s. I like that last couplet. If funding for an "Anti-Death Machine" came before Congress, would it pass? It would probably die in committee thanks to lobbyists from the funeral and life insurance industries.

  2. I could see it being beneficial to insurance companies actually. Life insurance still exists because violent death is still permissible. However, since the odds are lower, the insurance company doesn't pay out as often. Imagine their delight when they realize there are some policies for which they never have to pay a cent to the policy holder.