And throughout human history, there is no way for us to tell whether someone made her tribe successful ninety thousand years ago by crawling to the river and tumbling into eternity rather than hanging around and using food to survive that would've been fed to three healthy newborns otherwise. The heroic sacrifices of the past are hidden from us, and the survival of, say, caveman family groups, based on the amount of resources that needed to be dedicated to selfish hangers-on each year, can't be quantified based upon the private nature of helpful suicide.Be more realistic. Change "successful" above to "alive" or "not starving and then dying." Organisms, groups of organisms, going extinct isn't unlikely or a joke or an impossibility. We try to pretend it is, now, and that the world has transformed itself to conform to the twisted morals we derive from our illusorily protective culture, but the world has not changed, and humans out-survived many species, and many other humans, to be here, and the others died, so it's not hypothetical. If any gift can be given, here, it's the option to not die. The rather priceless, profound gifts given to those groups which did survive this disease-ridden mess enough for a few to make it through the maze, deserve at least a hint of our privileged memory.
These unknown heroes made the tough decision and the individual sacrifice. Not the toughest, not the biggest, but significant nonetheless. We postulate, but not prove, the existence of these people, just like we assume someone who risks it all during a hunt-fight in the hungriest times for our ancestral line existed and deserves our personal regard, even if the past few hundred years has taught us that it's stupid to try to remember or care or think about the things others may have so amazingly done for us. We're encouraged to remember well-funded television-media-covered protests, but not things that are about actual survival, like there's any greater dignity possible. So too those who've removed themselves from the tribe for reasons of group survival or dignity alone. This is a history that, as aforementioned, we can never know nor prove by traditional methods; it is deeper and more important than that, dealing as it does with things too important to write down. We love the idea of the warrior who stays behind, facing almost certain death to hold off ten of the enemy, so his child can escape and live a life, but we decry the idea of the cripple who steps out, facing not-almost but actually-certain death, so his child can escape and live a life. Are we afraid to be shown to be cowards by those who could take the final step, where it's not someone else giving the final flash, but his own hand?
So give it some regard. It's a long winter coming up, and there might not be enough food for all of those new kids. Horguld's knee is acting up again, he can't hunt, he can't fight, and come next Spring, he knows the knee is just going to get worse, like it did last year (and, well, like every year since he'd seen his thirty second summer, good grief this is often so very obvious a pattern), and he'll become one of the old ones who are still there, lying around the camp and eating their share of the kill each night, occasionally offering advice that is good but doesn't outweight the costs to his people of his mouth to feed. So one day when no one's looking, he limps out for his own "hunt." He makes friends with a sturdy bull he's far too smart to've ever tried to actually hunt the type of during his better years, gets happily gored, has a painful death but one that only lasts a few hours instead of a few years, no one finds him, and his gift to us is his life, unsung and unknown, except that we now would call him a coward or an evil man as we go forward with our own lives, for him pissing off god by saving all those kids' lives at the expense of his own or for not having the "courage" to eat the kids' food and "deal with" his knee's condition by keeping it around to make him feel like an awful waste. Magnify conditions as needed for the many possibilities that have doubtless faced human groups and individuals since they existed. How many people decided they loved life too much, so they were going to give up everything they loved instead and lie on their backs near the campfire talking about their accomplishments past, and feeling deserving with every bite? How much semen leapt out of their shriveled cocks to fertilize the newly fertile thirteen-year-old offerings brought to him in honorable recognition of his deeds past? When it's either starve or dominate the watering hole, and another tribe isn't carrying all its seniors but has ten more fighting men instead, who wins the battle and gets the watering hole territory, and who dies? Which set of choices do you think you, or your family, sprang from? Fear of death suggests we were mostly the latter, starving babies so we could hang on a few more winters, but that doesn't mean we're any less in debt for our survival to the ones who made the right choice. Indeed, our ability to feel that kind of despair, and to want to die when we feel worthless, suggests there's at least some of the good in there.
Old Imilda. Hot summer, plenty of food, but she can't control her functions anymore, so the group has to keep moving around because she leaves a steaming pile of infected diarrhea every night and no one wants to stay there. Is the solution to give someone free meat in exchange for scooping and covering every day, costing them a hunter plus everything he eats, or is it for Imilda to crawl down to the river when no one's looking? Her suffering, like Horguld's, is profound, and needs to be part of this equation. Her desire to be free of the mortal prison is perhaps more compelling than her desire to not cost her kin two hours of hunting every sun so they can move the camp and set her up somewhere initially nice, but who made the decision for what reasons still included the selfless act, and the suffering of the individual can perhaps be spiritually connected, rightly, to the suffering of the group that will result from perpetuating the suffering of the individual, like when Hal's nine hundred thousand gets spent on the home where he hates everyone and the nurses can't help laughing at his endless verbal slips and he feels so goddamn awful about messing his pants every day that he now hates god and his kids only visit once a month oh god let me out of this hell please. Our scorn, our ignorance, of our predecessors who saved us, has led us to this horrible treatment of our own imprisoned souls. Yes, being unable to be a functioning human means you should die, should be allowed to die, and there's a colossal difference between taking care of someone while he has a broken leg versus forcing someone to ape real life in a professionally monitored apartment complex. Someone merely wounded, merely sick in a small or ordinary way, has the light of recovery to look forward to, but not the elderly or those with more complex conditions. What would have a great impact on the efficiently suicidal is that it's not going to get better.
When we think of an end like Horguld's goring or Imilda's drowning or a million other caveman-style names' passings, we like to flatter ourselves with the goodies we have now, like "social services can handle it" or "we have a financial surplus" now. And maybe that would be a relevant argument if people never faced the ability to die for lack of funds. You don't immediately die if you start sleeping in your car and eating at the church downtown, but that kind of stability isn't actually stability. Uneducated kids; undereducated kids; relationships you can't escape; a thousand other things: all leading to the violence, lack of food, and temperature of the street, and once it's done, no one wants to hear your story and if they do even you can't tell when the actual decisive moment was that made this a potential risk. How many violent acts or accidents or weird things or never-found things traced their beginnings to a choice, we'll never be able to know, but the numbers are statistically large, and still we're confident that everything's changed and there are, like, people who take care of that stuff. So, although less visually dramatic and more modernized, and less appreciated by a population too proud and stupid to conceive of it, the caveman's choice is still with us. We hate that it is, but it's still here. Graph someone's life and determine the point at which they just gave up, that dude couldn't afford to hire them, they were sure they had another month before the County acted on that thing with the house, and path it with their willingess to take that sorta dangerous "job" that might sorta kinda be illegal, or to try another country where maybe they never come back even though they would've wanted to, or they just go outdoors and fuck it cardboard is fine I hate my life anyway, and subtract the impression floating around that TV drama can fully convey it, and you're closer to seeing the frozen bodies that the downtown road dudes clean up in the morning before business traffic gets heavy.
If you're 78 and have some heart condition, and you'd be dead already if not for all the machines the medics brought and the hospital had afterward, and the doctor says he's seen it a hundred times and it's going to get worse and you have about three years, you're looking forward to, at best, three years of puttering slowly around, unable to do anything you love, your presence always an ache and a burden to people who care, and you might see the efficiency, the blessing to what you love about the world of you not being there--but you won't see, except in dreams, the young man's hope of healing up and then doing all the fun stuff again. Refusing to tolerate that is an act of human dignity, bettering the lives of those here now and those who'll come later, and not permitting "human life" to exist like that. We thank those who've made that decision, and the many millions who would have and would love to now if they weren't prevented from doing so by the helpful staff who knows damn well there would be a lot of slit wrists and sheet-nooses if they didn't have a good policy for making sure utensils don't leave eating areas, kept an eye on what's allowed to come in, and let it be known that they check up every night to be sure you don't escape; those prisoners' growing desire for some priceless dignity (though sadly channeled through state legislatures and serpentine AMA cooperation now, where standards and diagnoses for the aged are being subtly changed so you don't know enough to think what you would've if "reckless" truth were too honestly told, although in these first few years there are some crusader-practitioners who are doing a nice job, but that won't remain and the AMA damn well knows it) is, perhaps, the only thing that will keep the rest of us from being in a government nursing home cradle to grave.
Go back to the 78-year-old in 2018 who had the heart condition. Your heart rate is limited, so no more exercising, hiking, adventuring, fucking, or anything else, no matter how much money you throw around. The picture starts to look different, then. What do you want out of life? It's already gone. We scorn the ill, like they shouldn't care that when they get that heart condition, maybe they're 17 and learn they have at least ten years but no traveling by yourself and no sex and no sports and no real life for you, you're basically an infant who exists to burden and validate us, and we act like we're qualified to judge if it's worth living, oh at least you can watch T.V. and love people platonically, who do we think we are? We act like it's negligible when someone can never be regarded by others as a normal person; like he should be fooled by our compliments that he still has dignity, which of course we define for him.
There is a different insult, a different horror, in how we treat the aged versus the young. What we do to the old people we force to survive half-aware on machines and drugs is terrible, but there is a certain more terrifying potence in our use of the young, far more disgusting than even the testimony of some middle-aged terminal dude talking about his favorite shows and how he "makes the most of it" and his dreams of hiring a four person retinue to finally get him to the east to see those statues while his kids work at the grocery store to add to his "basics" fund and skip semesters to make the state college bills balance out. There is a unique ghastliness in our promising that the terminal kids will "still have a normal life! Come on, let's go!" Coupled with our centurial insistence that efficiently killing Arabs who get too close to Israel and stopping male pattern baldness are far more important tasks than working on the many things which cheat kids outta life after a few years, our willingness to play the endless farce for the dying young smacks of a greater wrong than even imprisoning the elders under expensive care. The tenderness of youth, perhaps? The bald kid being forced to infuse mustard gas derivatives and pretend to feel okay about being dragged to a baseball game twice a year lives a private horror more profound, even, than the elder forced to watch his kids pretend nothing's wrong in the hopes that he'll finally change his will. Without the confidence to speak their minds, constantly rewarded for showing a positive attitude toward those who "help" them and promise them that aching life in bed is really cool actually and that they can get everything they want, young victims can never really speak, because the fragile egos of those who use them need them to deliver the right confident lines. That subtle, unspoken requirement is more profane, even, than the western nursing home.
(Anecdotal aside, I was in a Canadian one once, and the thing the prisoners all hated was the way this one Scottish employee-dude would always sigh when one of them did something that was, admittedly, actually damned annoying. He had this sort of gusty, faux-powerless sigh like he wasn't the only one being paid to be there, and he would've been an awesome movie character, but after he did it two hundred times a day I could completely understand the residents' attitudes, and he never did it around anyone but residents so no one else knew or cared, and a suddenly lucid dude once told me that everyone thought it sounded like "the wind escaping from Satan's gaping asshole" which was funny enough to remember. But I'm always amused when I see commercials for those places where the temps slash attractive actors playing employees talk about how they love their residents. Moving on.)
It's an incredibly selfish act to spend your grandkids' employable prospects on you getting to make it to the applesauce dispensary for three more years. And yet we shame people who don't; we don't give them the support to save their family, but mock and deride the idea that they wouldn't be "brave" and spend everything they worked at for forty years keeping themselves tottering in the applesauce line. We'll have a funeral if he dies naturally, but we're not decent enough to support him through the transition of saving himself from not having to shit his pants and constantly babble incoherently, what monsters we are. And genetically, we see how this attitude works well with the religion of turning the other cheek and giving up wealth and letting the invaders have it all: because if you take that one point three down with you, someone else's grandkids can afford that education that your grandkids couldn't. Wealthy families with more experience at this game have more mercenary willingness to plan for, and try to control, the aging of their senior members, with the happy foreknowledge and planning of those members themselves--and even that is changing now, as society becomes increasingly about trapping even the once-powerful in amazingly expensive zombie-houses for a few years before a more thorough death to prove what a great society it is.
(Seriously, we are monsters. We'd be terrible judging from the wars we have alone, but the sick fetishizing of our old in the domestic torture prison--anecdotal aside, and they do think it's prison, and they don't want to go, and they want to just take a deadly pill and be gone already, because they're sane, and it is our cruel perversion that we won't permit them escape--proves that we're not just the serial killer in the movie, but the one who keeps a basement full of torture victims. If that's not you, then you have to realize that they surround us, and they are that disgusting and dangerous.)
Stopping the exploitation of the dead and the would-be-dead is a different matter entirely; probably an impossible one, given the sick, perverted ferocity with which people protect their right to keep their wrinkle-dolls alive to speculate about. Or, for that matter, their congenitally failed youth-dolls. Look how nice and how glorious I am. Sally will never walk and never do math and never complete sentences, but I have decided that she doesn't know what shame is and I can push her around and show her to everyone and that makes me a good person aren't I great? If she's embarrassed inside she's simply wrong, that's just the way it is, I have decided that it makes our world better and she is not a failure and don't you dare make fun she is proud to be displayed. It's a terrible, expensive, incredibly painful experience to be kept around to prove how nice everyone is, but you'll do it, won't you? They need it. They need young and old to be protective totems against death, proving that they can hold nature off for some amount of time. Being "humane" has nothing to do with it; the prisoners themselves often speak of how badly they want to be out, and when they have the wisdom of age and see it coming, they fight like hell or beg someone to drop them off the high falls instead of adding them to the ranks of the applesauce undead. The young are less talkative because they are so giving, because they know how much the show of their life means to the people who keep using them, but if they're allowed to talk just among themselves, the talk is similar, do you think there are unused cyanide pills at pawnshops or somewhere people wouldn't think of? Is it true it hurts? I thought it was painless but then I read that--shhh, it's my mom! Hey Mom, yeah I'm feeling lots better. Science says I'll feel worse every day but I'm actually feeling lots better don't listen to science.
When your time comes, you can contemplate this essay again while considering either sudden escape or four years trapped in a building with people who will never remember your name, defecating on yourself helplessly every night and having an hour a day of incredible chest pain and then riding morphine until dinner when you have to watch the most pitiful local comedian get experience telling you jokes cobbled together from a history book that approximates his understanding of what your era was. And then you piss yourself on the way back to your room, and everyone sees, but it's okay because they're either professionals or they won't remember it anyway, oh god when will I finally be out of this hell? I try to stay tough about the cancer because I don't want to make Mom feel any worse so I'll try that new pineapple therapy from the article she sent and act hopeful about it oh why won't someone just shoot me or the car hits an overpass I don't want to hurt anyone else but living an entire life without sex or freedom of any kind is not fair I want out now.
Admire those few who have escaped. Not only the elders who bully everyone away so they can fall in the kitchen and be found reeking by concerned neighbors seven days later, but the historical free, who did it before anyone kept statistics; who knew that it took food and time to keep them around and didn't want to be there justifying the theft from the next generation. Every last crawling escape and accidental crash and bravely stupid solo match against the wildebeest is a heroism, a beautiful heroism, and even if today it's confined to a shotgun and a trailer, a late car crash before they yank the license, it's essentially the same gift.
* * *
This raised a number of issues which we might contemplate in other terms. Perhaps the most interesting, the most neglected, is the thoughts and wishes of the sick person. When a permanently sick child, or a dying elder, expresses a wish for it to be over, a healthy society would treat it rather the opposite to the way it's treated now. Now, a vast infrastructure of LIVE FOREVER! springs into action, complete with massive corporations and books and pamphlets and video shorts and a hundred years of bullshit community wisdom about how only quitters or cowards give up. The desires of the person who is hurting mean nothing. Indeed, they frighten the healthy. A healthy society would at least have an option for "Oh, it hurts too much to keep going?" and be responsive, rather than the perpetual "You don't want to be a coward that we hate, do you?" that people get now, cloaked in love and flowers. Like people who just weren't meant to be on the football team, we should be nice about people who want to leave, and not bully them and use dirty words (where they do too know what we mean) to encourage them to keep getting smashed. Society won't end; society won't even notice. The only people who will actually be hurt will be a few hundred incredibly evil perverts who run these things. There'll actually be more resources for helping the more people who will be living healthy around us, who would be dead, nonexistent, if we hadn't changed things.
The disregard of people's wishes, the discouragement of them being honest, is a major component of the zombie culture. How many seniors have wished that their state were "like Oregon" and how many little kids in incredible pain that's going to get worse have confessed that they'd rather die than keep it up? We're too frightened to say. It's something we can "solve," because going through anything is mandatory. We don't respect people's wishes when we know better. We build the prison and laugh and act normal until we realize the walls are around us. Enjoy the nursing home, where everything is soft and rounded to protect you so you can stay there. Rather a metaphor for the rest of our societies, really.
The use which the sick provide to the healthy is also an important issue. This one has made dark of it here, but in aloof, purely unemotional language, we must acknowledge the ways in which we use the suffering to vindicate ourselves. What purpose does keeping alive people who want to not be alive serve for us? Perhaps it dispels our own fear of death, to think that instead of dying at 80 we'll be cared for so we can shit ourselves until 90 before dying. Or if a little kid gets a terrible disease at 8, does keeping them suffering until 12 somehow validate our experience of life? Do we think it's okay to keep them trapped in hell for four years of indescribable suffering because it improves our tech and maybe, we claim, actually cures the disease later? What kind of price can you put on that pain, and is it okay to ask an 8-year-old to pay it? Does fighting that hard for people to suffer prove that we actually do value life itself, regardless of quality, regardless of what its possessor thinks? Would you like to have your favorite thing to eat, cuddle up with your bear, and go to sleep peacefully and not wake up ever again, or would you like to get pulled awake in two hours and have another visit from the chemo fairy and the needle family? Your answer is wrong. I know best. Come with me.
Being saved from ourselves, which might not seem so horrible until you're the one being saved, has been a characteristic of our society for over two thousand years, nascent since the Christian invasion of Europe, but now beginning to take its true form. When the Jews implanted their rabbi-religion into the Roman Empire, then the rest of Europe, they planted a seed that is only now beginning to show part of its terrible mature shape. Many insanities have resulted from the Torah and Europe being combined, to be sure, but the rottingly sick perspective on the most basic aspects of life has yet to be expressed in full. As we trap our dying young and old in drug dispensaries with teams of waged caregivers, we see something of the future the Torah intends for all of us, just as, in the Gaza Strip, we see what they'd do to every gentile today if they had the current power over the rest of us that they do over the Palestinians.