The question is: is the worth of life determined by how good you feel?
While emptying the dishwasher a week or so ago, I overheard some dialog on the TV show Glee in which suicide was a topic of discussion. The characters went around and stated something they were looking forward to in, I suppose, an effort to thwart depression. It reminded my a lot of the “It Gets Better” campaign that went around the Internet not long ago. The message is: your burdens are worth bearing now because it will get better.
This seems to suggest that life is worth living because of the good feelings felt while living it. So what if you were a 93 year old with a terminal illness and went through excruciating pain every day, and it was only bound to get worse? Is it OK to go ahead and kill yourself because it doesn’t get better?
There was recently an article in our local paper about a man who had the phrase “No CPR” tattooed to his chest. Should he stop breathing, he did not want to be revived. Is that morally OK? If so, would it not also be morally OK to just go jump off a bridge? Since both rely on you making a conscious decision about living your life, what’s the difference? Does the nature of the physical manifestation of the cause of death outweigh the nature of the preceding intent? (That is, the intent to die to prevent further physical pain?)
At what point is physical pain so bad that it is OK to not want to live anymore?
If you are reading this, you are probably alive. Do you want to stay alive? If so, why? There may be a few possible answers:
– I am afraid of death because I don’t know what awaits in the afterlife
– I am afraid of the pain before death; I don’t want to experience it
– There is joy waiting for me in the future and it’s worth waiting for
– I am experiencing joy right now that is worth remaining alive to feel
Is it not all about joy or the prevention of pain, either now or in the future?
I’ll certainly admit that I do not currently have a concrete set of answers. I continue to ponder this issue. But wanting to die to prevent physical pain seems morally wrong to me, at least while such pain does not interfere with the mental faculties that allow you to wish for death. That is, tattooing “No CPR” to your chest is morally equivalent to jumping off a bridge, though it’s probably less physically painful. If you are wishing for death, then you are obviously in a mental state in which you are able to think of something other than just physical pain (such as the absence of it).
I do think it helps to not think of the joy of this life as an end in and of itself. That is, if we can understand that there exists an objective truth outside of our own existence, then our life must be eternal. (Showing why this is so may make an interesting future blog post, for it’s a leap many philosophers can’t or won’t make, such as Ayn Rand and Bertrand Russell.) If life is eternal, then it doesn’t end with the death of our physical bodies in this world. (Though the nature of our existence without physical senses is unimaginable to us at this time, keep in mind that our consciousnesses are already not physical things.) If life doesn’t end with the demise of our physical bodies, then a lot of things we are naturally conditioned to care about don’t actually matter so much. Such things include: perfect justice, fame, power, money, attention, school grades, perfect physical well-being, material items, and goals and dreams that are physical in nature (e.g. “I want to be a movie star!”; such materialistic dreams are very much encouraged by American culture, while watching others achieve them is often considered vulgar (“Grrr! I hate the 1%!”)). If life is eternal, material wealth and social status are ultimately irrelevant in and of themselves, because death in this life will rid you of such things.
The thing is: we’re naturally conditioned to get joy from these things, and if life is worth living for the joy of it, how can these things not be life-worthy pursuits?
So I’ll claim that, yes, pleasure and joy are worthy pursuits. But not in this life, where such pleasure and joy can only be imperfect. One must find joy in something not competitive or physically-based, something that is as eternal as life itself. (Such as, perhaps, love. And not just conditional love for some singular sweetheart, but love for all, even those that would do evil. Talk about unnatural!)
I suppose this all relates back to the old conflict of living in the present versus living in the future. For the most part, we naturally live in the future. The reason we do just about anything physically is to achieve some physical end; ultimately joy or the prevention of pain. But this also brings about anxieties. You don’t kill yourself or let yourself die to take away the pain you feel now. There’s nothing you can do about that. You do it to prevent yourself from feeling the pain you would feel later on if you weren’t going to be dead at that time. (Of course, if it’s just a few minutes or seconds into the future, we may refer to it as “now”, but it’s not really.) But if you only live in the present, you wouldn’t eat, for example, and would soon die.
So I’ll further claim that we can’t stop living at least somewhat in the future. This is necessary. But we must balance how much we live in the future. If we find ourselves getting anxious (which naturally happens to everyone), then we are focusing too much in the future. We must physically live in the future to maintain our lives and well-being, but we must emotionally (or perhaps a better word might be spiritually) live in the present. We don’t stop ourselves from killing ourselves because our emotions will get better later, but because we’re not focusing on the world in the right way in the present. Which isn’t to claim that it’s always easy to do so, just that it’s worth living to try to.
Again, these are issues I’m still pondering. But the thought that life is only worth the joy you’re capable of feeling (or think you’re capable of feeling), whether in the present or the future, strikes me as incomplete.