More death

Further to my thoughts on death in the modern, developed world:

Bizarrely, the sudden, violent death that people do see isolates them even more from real death:

  • Violent movies and television
  • Video games

That’s not death. It’s a cartoon. It’s so preposterously unlike real death, no one can take it seriously.

The hero walks unscathed through a hail of lead, dispatching enemies in flames and explosions and downpours of blood.

If your X Box persona is killed, you press the reincarnate button and live again.

Worse, it’s antiseptic cartoon death. One doesn’t even need to wipe blood off the screen.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the most highly developed nations deal death, equally isolated.

First, in the 19th century, by long-range artillery. Then by aerial bombardment. Now, by cruise missiles and drone strikes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of taking out bad guys without risking the lives of our soldiers and Marines. And those soldiers and Marines still see death up close, in a way almost none of us will experience or understand.

We as citizens are further and further removed from those who see death close hand. A tinier and tinier fraction of our citizens in the day of decision venture much for the liberties we now enjoy.

In a few weeks, the son of one of my Love’s closest friends will start officer training for the United States Marine Corps. He is everything one could want and admire in a young man: intelligent, cultured, thoughtful, respectful, kind, generous. He’s crazy handsome and built like a brick outhouse.

Even I, a notorious, lifelong lesbian, think this kid is a hunk.

While in college, he has served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician. He has run into a burning building to save a child.

Did I mention he’s also brilliant? In a year, he will have an honors degree in physics and mathematics from one of our most prestigious colleges.

He could immediately make a six figure salary designing derivatives in an air-conditioned office on Wall Street.

Instead, he will venture his life for you and me. He will stand between us and sudden, violent death.


 This originally appeared (in slightly different form) as
my comment on a post at one of my favorite blogs,
eerily cheerily

One of the things that has struck me most strongly about moving from the rural mountain West to New York City: People are insulated from death. I assume that’s true of urbanites, suburbanites and townsfolk everywhere in the developed world.

Most people in the developed world will go through their life never seeing a person die young or violently or suddenly. They might hear of it. They probably have seen a body in a casket. But if they have seen someone die, it will be someone old or frail, in antiseptic conditions.

I’ve never lived in a city before. I’ve only been here a few months. But my Love warned me about this before I came here. I’ve seen it already. People do not understand death, other than death from old age or cancer. They are not equipped to deal with it. They – we – have cultural and social amnesia. If people aren’t exposed to it, it doesn’t happen.

Oddly, they’re the ones who seem to need trigger warnings. Tell someone that your child cousin was killed before your childhood eyes in a horrible accident. You will be met with disbelief, an inability to comprehend. It’s seems to be a sort of PTSD, except that they’ve not had a traumatic stress. It induces cognitive dissonance, in some, a rampart of willful obtuseness.

My Love and I grew up in a different place, the rural mountain West. Young people – even children – die suddenly and violently. I started kindergarten with 30 children, all the 5-year-olds from half a county the size of Rhode Island. Four of those kids were dead in horrible accidents before I left for university. My Love and I have both witnessed sudden, horrible, violent deaths. Deaths of children and family members.

I grew up in town – a very small town, far from any city, but town. We were somewhat insulated from death. My Love grew up on a ranch, where sudden and violent injury, maiming and death are commonplace, a yearly occurrence.

We don’t have shrinks out there. You go to your minister, he tells you your loved one is in a better place and you’d better get back to work or your kids will starve. It’s a harsh world. Leave the dead to bury to their dead.

Slightly edited from the comment.