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We fear death - but why do we want to live?

Posted on 03 Aug | 5 comments
Wait ... why are we doing this again?

America’s obsession with health can easily be seen as a fear of death – but is also a sign that we’re forgetting how to live?

The intriguing premise of an essay by English professor Mark Edmundson is that health consciousness can be the flip side of nihilism – what one does when nothing matters.  Because, Edmundson says, to live for its own sake is not to live at all. 

“Since the beginning of time (or close),” Edmundson writes, “men and women have sought immortality. They have sought to live as the gods do—eternally and in bliss. (They have, one might say, invented gods so as to show them an image of eternal life to which they might, with whatever daring, aspire.)”

But as he points out, the Gods were never content just to be alive.  “They love to make things—or inspire humans to do so. Athena presides over the creation of the city that bears her name; Apollo makes music and invents mathematics; Diana creates the arts of the hunt and all the woodland crafts; Aphrodite schools gods and mortals in the ways of love. Gods live forever in order to make things, to create where there was nothing, and to enjoy the fruits of their creation.”

Health and fitness buffs, Edmundson says, often have no such passions.  Ask them why they want to try and live forever, and they never respond “So that I can finish the work; so that I can make the discovery; so that I can find enduring love. The answer now—implicit, but to me, alas, unmistakable—is that I want to live simply to go on living. With the disappearance of tenable ideals, life, simple life, has become the great goal.”

This is a sign of our existentially famished times.  "For almost no one can believe in ideals anymore. A quest for artistic perfection? Absurd. A search for true and absolute knowledge? A joke. A life's dedication to compassion and lovingkindness? You must be kidding. So what is to be done with the power of human will that might once have sought after these things? It is redirected to more quotidian business."

That’s no way to live, he suggests:  “Health should manifest itself as a means to an end.” 

It is as though a man bought a car and spent all his time tuning it, getting the tire pressure right, vacuuming the interior, and checking the fluids, but the car stays parked in the driveway. The journey never begins. How could it? The man has no idea where to go. Just so, we tune our bodies, prepare for long life, maybe eternal life, though of what to do with that life, what makes it worth living, we no longer have any idea. So we turn living itself into the goal, just as the poor man knocks himself out maintaining an automobile that will never take him even a hundred yards away from where he lives.

Edmundson may be hard on people trying to take care of their bodies, but he has a point:  while the drive to live for its own sake can be a sign of mental vigor in some cases, in others it is a refusal to take the next step, to ask what one is living for, and in so doing confront ones ability to find meaning and make meaningful choices. 

“I want to live” should be the beginning of a motivation, not the end.

-- Benjamin Wachs

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Comments and Discussions

I respectfully disagree with

I respectfully disagree with Professor Edmundson. I don't see any fault with embracing and enjoying a healthy lifestyle for its own sake, and I applaud the "poor man" who finds his life's joy in tinkering with his automobile (even if he doesn't intend to ever drive it). If they find fulfillment that way, then why not? What else would YOU have them do?

Really, Really, Interesting!

Really, Really, Interesting!

Great post which reveals some

Great post which reveals some true issues with today's society. I don't know if the pitfalls lie in Modernism or in Post-Modernism or both, but today's people are obviously lost in the nihilism which has arisen. For me personally, I am a traditional Christian so I try to find all the beauty in man and nature, living to experience it, as well as living towards unity with God's will.

What I've also found interesting these days is that many people in society attack those who have ideals that they want to live by, whether they be spiritual, religious, ideological, philosophical, etc. If one tries to be sincere to what they hold up as their goal, society seems to want to silence those people as soon as possible.

We live to appreciate life

We live to appreciate life though life is complicated, so many trials. We live to experience death. We live to see the beauty of life. To experience what a simply yet memorable life is, others live to experience what a millionaire life is.

I'm simply trying to figure

I'm simply trying to figure out why we try our best? So far this is as close as I have come to finding the answer. I know that the best thing we can do is try our best, but why? To understand this I will have a complete understanding of why I must do what I do and ultimately give me the confidence to try even better in life.

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