Politics won't cure death

Garvey, John

OF SEVERAL NINAS John Garvey POLITICS WON'T CURE DEATH REMINDERS OF INEVITABILITY When my seven teen-year-old son said the other day that it might not be too great a tragedy if...

...If death were not terrible, the resurrection would not be so hopeful...
...The other point is that a lot of our major concerns are ways of dealing in a round-about way with a fear of mortality or, rather, not dealing with it...
...There is some reason to be suspicious about the concerns people have at public and political levels with the arms race, the depletion of the ozone layer, and AIDS...
...But even if I were not a Christian, even if I were a Buddhist or an agnostic, the fact would remain that my death is inevitable, and so is the death of everyone I love...
...It is clear that unless we change the way we look at the nation-state and our relation to it, we will fill in the gap left by nuclear armaments with chemical and biological warfare and a great increase in conventional weaponry and troop strength...
...OF SEVERAL NINAS John Garvey POLITICS WON'T CURE DEATH REMINDERS OF INEVITABILITY When my seventeen-year-old son said the other day that it might not be too great a tragedy if a race which allowed for Spuds MacKenzie beer commercials were destroyed in a nuclear war, I was at first inclined to agree...
...585...
...But our motives are often mixed, and in a society as distracted and directionless as ours is, we have to fight our way clear of a lot of weedy thinking to find any clarity at all...
...To say that all of us will die is obvious, and yet no one lives as if this were the case...
...In a secular society which is pervaded by electronic media the things we have urged on us as important must change, in order to keep news before us...
...I believe that death is every bit as dreadful as it looks...
...Before dry, serious activists take up their pens to write to me, accusing me of thinking that irritating beer commercials are worse than nuclear war, let me say that working for peace is very important, our most important political job and one of our most important moral ones...
...The former priest, Dubus writes, believes "that bread and wine becoming body and blood was neither miracle nor mystery, but natural, for it happened within the leap of the heart of man toward the heart of God, a leap caused by the awareness of death...
...All of these superficially unrelated things are serious, all deserve serious study and work, and we are fools if we think that our leaders, left to themselves, will do anything other than make matters worse it is important to watch the people in charge like hawks...
...I have mentioned one before: it involves the way politics can become a substitute for morality, a sign to yourself and to others that you are the right sort of person because you feel the right way about something important...
...People have written at some length about the effect of the threat of nuclear war on the way young people understand the world they live in, but my son's misanthropic comment makes me think that there are some other forms of psychic damage being done to young people, and the rest of us as well...
...But our concern shifts and changes almost fashionably...
...This may be why so many of us are terrified of solitude and silence, which remind us too powerfully of our contingent and limited natures...
...Much of what we do, politically and culturally, is don£ as a distraction, and some of the things we are involved in, politically and culturally, are at heart not very different from watching a game show...
...There is a short novel called Adultery, by Andre Dubus, one of the wisest and best contemporary American writers, which tells of an affair between a former priest and a woman whose husband is unfaithful and completely self-centered...
...Well, probably more than two, but this column can't get too long...
...Our terror of illness, and our fear of aging, come from the fact that these things are reminders of this inevitability, from which we spend so much time distracting ourselves...
...I was reminded of a line of graffiti a friend saw years ago: "A world which makes Twmkies and cars with fins owes me a living...
...They are attempts to distract ourselves from our emptiness, or to find a permanence, a grounding, which death teaches us is unavailable...
...There is an American tendency to think that if we eat and drink right and don't smoke and if we exercise, we will not die...
...Believe me, I think that much of the reasoning, (and the feeling) behind work for peace, justice, and ecology is exactly what it should be...
...As a Christian I believe, in the words of the Orthodox Easter liturgy, that "Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life...
...The race had it consciousness raised for about five minutes, and then got interested in something else...
...I am not counseling quietism...
...Whether we die because of AIDS or the bomb or some great natural catastrophe, the fact remains that if one cause of death is avoided, another will get to us somewhere down the line...
...We will be safe, our children will be safe, if we deal in the right way with AIDS, the nuclear threat, the environment, etc...
...All of these things are metaphors for death itself...
...They ignore the fact that a great many advocates of disarmament would argue that it is morally wrong to risk the lives of future generations for reasons of state, and would argue further that killing on such a monstrous scale is indefensible, and a far worse evil than dying...
...We should at least be aware of the extent to which this drives us to distraction, and not allow ourselves to be moved foolishly...
...Here is an example: some critics of Schell and other anti-nuclear thinkers have argued that the peace movement assumes that the worst thing which could happen to anyone is death, a plainly unchristian idea, since we believe that our lives and the lives of all human beings are eternal...
...It is a fact that everything we do is done in the face of death...
...It is not at all clear that we will be safer...
...Unless the human race can manage somehow to outlive the physical universe, there will even be a time when the race as a whole will die...
...If environmental issues, issues of war and peace, or health issues, do not periodically change places in competing for our attention and concern, they become olds, not news, and people change channels...
...For example, you would think from the anti-nuclear demonstrations of a few years ago that the consciousness of the masses had been raised at last, and finally, with all these millions in the streets, the race would awake...
...This sort of thing has been said before, by me and by other people, and its meanest use has been by conservatives, who want to discredit any involvement in movements for peace and justice...
...However, I am concerned with the ways in which our thinking about nuclear war can become too narrow, as if that were our major problem...
...I don't question that a movement to reduce or eliminate nuclear arms is about doing just that but my attachment to it might mean something more, or anyway something other, than a desire to see weapons eliminated...
...However, to the extent that a fear of death is what drives us, politically and morally, there is reason to mistrust our direction...
...584 Two things have to be said about this...
...Even in some of the writing I admire most (Jonathan Schell's Fate of the Earth, for example) there are assumptions which I think need to be questioned, though not always in the ways conservatives have pointed...
...Beyond this, it is necessary to be clear about our attachment to moral causes of any sort: are they really about what we claim they are, even when we deeply believe our own claim...
...like fashion, our concerns seem to be odd forms of weather (there is an unexpected paisley front moving in, followed by brief passages of leather, and the weekend forecast includes a new linen look...

Vol. 114 • October 1987 • No. 18


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.