Deathism a type of bio-fatalism, is a widely held believe that death is natural, inevitable or even desirable. In social psychology the idea is sometimes known as 'terror management theory'. Even amoung those to who research longers healthspans, many will suggest "compressed morbidity" a quick and painless death to follow.
Transhumanists have collectively used the term 'deathism' to critique 'the set of beliefs and attitudes which glorifies or accepts death and rejects or despises immortality' since Max More compiled a list of Extropy Neologisms in 1994.
Apparently there are humanists who felt some dissatisfaction with the rather comfortable nature of modern humanism. And the other half were very dug in on 'no, death is good for us' or 'death is natural' and just by its meaning we need to accept these limits. So I think it's interesting that humanists that can be quite strongly and explicitly atheistic, can actually agree quite strongly with most religious people in defending the idea that death is a good thing, a part of human nature and it should stay that way - Max More
- ASIMORT: (a) A dead science fiction writer. (b) A dead secular humanist. (c) Any person who believes it to be their duty to die to "make room" for future generations. [ Mark Plus, April 1992]
- EPHEMERALISTS: Persons who reject immortalist technology and values (the result of deathist thinking). [MM, 1990, from "Ephemeral", Robert A. Heinlein, 1958]
Popular memes include:
- Global Decay - overpopulation and severe environmental issues
- Relative Time - suggesting memories will decay in time
- Mental Decay - such as dementia, but this is why we need to increase our healthspan and well as lifespan
- Severe Social Divides - oligarchy
- No Value - devaluation of time-bound human experiences
- Monotony - the idea that we won't be able to find infinitely creatively things to do and kill ourselves
- No Social Progression - freezing of current social norms
- No Retirement or Welfare - probably a fair point on the retirement front. But what if we have universal basic income and make it to a post scarcity society?
- Useless Criminal Punishments - implying today's punishments are useful
- Violent Death - discounting posthuman transhumanism
- The association of the wisdom of senescence
- Association with risk taking and
- Desire for outdoorsy activities
- Desirable competitive behaviour
- Incentive for socialisation
Currently, it is commonplace to withhold certain medical treatments and utilise 'do not resuscitate' orders in accordance to patients wishes or with chronically ill or the elderly in exceptionally poor heath, toeing a line on euthanasia.
Some medical professionals have labelled investment in cancer research as a 'waste', relative sudden or painful deaths from organ failure or dementia.
Certain atheistic perspectives attribute the influence of religion as the cause of deathism. Despite this assertion, many secular humanists share a comparable attitude towards the acceptance of death.
Physicist Max Planck touted Planck’s Principle:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Many paradigm shifts have only occurred after the death of a generation of incumbent scientists. The implications is that the scientific establishment is driven significantly more by inertia than reason in some cases. Does this support death as catalysing function to scientific progress, or does it have more to say about the limits of scientific rationality?
Utility of the word 'deathism'
There is, however, a certain dismissiveness and scorn that can soak into short *-ist terms. "Oh, you support X, you're just another Xist!"
My view on this matter is a nuanced one. It is crucial to make a distinction between (i) people who simply hold the common “tragic worldview” – who accept their mortality as inevitable and try to “make peace” with it and (ii) people who actively work to stop life-extension technologies. The former are simply mistaken and can be reasoned with, persuaded, or at least led to gradually become more comfortable with life extension as it becomes ever more real.
The latter, however, might not be open to persuasion and might pursue legislative action (or worse) to stop life-extension research. Every person’s arguments should be addressed civilly and intelligently. The label “deathist” is not uncivil per se, however, and has its place with regard to people who cannot be swayed by argument or evidence from a position that is actively hostile to life extension. These are not your rank-and-file skeptics of radical life extension, but rather people such as Leon Kass, Sherwin Nuland, Daniel Callahan, John Gray, and Nassim Taleb, who will not be shifted from their anti-life-extension views and who have made considerable amounts of money out of attacking pro-longevity ideas. Calling these people “deathists” is not aimed at persuading them, but rather at alerting possibly more objective third parties of the dangers of their views. If there is still the opportunity to persuade someone, then labels of this sort should not be directed at that person.
Responding to deathism
"If death is so great, why are you still here?" Despite an abundance of perfectly good bridges to jump off of, highways to play in, and the wide availability of drain opener, the people who wax poetic about how wonderful and natural death is seem to be just as keen as anyone else to continue their own lives. Deathism, then, takes on an air of hypocrisy: the deathist considers it to be the moral obligation of other people to die, while they themselves seem to have no interest in checking out anytime soon.
Some people who adhere to the religion of Christianity may argue that death is necessary in order to move on to a better realm of existence (i.e. heaven). However, this line of thinking is not consistent with the teachings of Christianity which state "...behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21) which would imply that our true state of joy is not to be found in some afterlife only accessible after death, but is instead an innate part of our nature, waiting to be tapped into. This idea has been further expounded by the spiritual teacher, Yogiraj Gurunath Siddhanath, who made the case that, "If your mind is like heaven, but your body is in hell, then you are in heaven. If your mind is like hell, but your body is in heaven, then you are in hell." The underlying idea behind this is that true happiness can be experienced anywhere at anytime and that one does not need to undergo death in order to transition into a different realm (heaven in this case) in order to experience it.
Below is a more poetic argument against deathism and in favor if rejuvenation.
"Perhaps when humankind masters the laws of nature to such an extent that it is able to indefinitely prolong its life, then perhaps humankind will find within that new life, a more complete and perfect death than what nature would have otherwise provided."
Blade Runner implies acceptance of death is a means through which the sentient replicant Roy Batty can achieve humanity:
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
Stranger than Fiction invites the protagonist to accept their death as if they were a fictional character:
No one wants to die Harold, unfortunately we do. Harold, Harold listen to me. Harold, you will die, some day, some time; heart failure at the bank, choke on a mint. Some long drawn-out disease you've contracted on vacation, you will die. You will absolutely die. Even if you avoid this death, another will find you. And I guarantee, that it won't be nearly as poetic or as meaningful as what she's written. I'm sorry but it's ... it's the nature of all tragedies Harold. The hero dies, and the story goes on forever.
- Urban dictionary:Deathism
- Terror management theory on Wikipedia
- The Onion: World Death Rate Holding Steady At 100 Percent
- Why I Hope to Die at 75 - Ezekiel Emanuel
- Is "Deathism" a Useful Term?
- Transhumanism as Simplified Humanism
- Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever - Can billions of dollars’ worth of high-tech research succeed in making death optional?
- Max More - Transhumanism and Virtue
- Extropy Neologisms
- Old People Are People Too: Why It Is Our Duty to Fight Aging to the Death
- Quest for immortality
- 10 Terrifying Downsides to Immortality
- A defense of Senexism (Deathism)
- Blue Oyster Cult - (Don't Fear) The Reaper 1976 Studio Version
- City of Angels (film)
- Cancer is the 'best death' – so don't waste billions trying to cure it, says leading doctor
- To Ensure a Future of Transhumanism, Atheists Should Confront the Deathist Culture Religion Has Sown
- The Church of Perpetual Life Wants to End Deathism
- Planck's principle
- Are scientists blocking their own progress?
- Is "Deathism" a Useful Term?
- Who Are the True “Deathists”? – Article by G. Stolyarov II