Lately I read an article in my local paper about how a butcher’s display window had started to garner protest, as the villagers found the hanging carcasses and skinned animals in it distasteful. I didn’t know if I had to be amused or worried.
Another incident was on Facebook, where a girl offered a coffin for sale, in “mint condition with only slight wear from repeated use”. Apparently she had gotten it from her parents, who were performance artists. The reactions on it were incredible; people called this girl without empathy and morals, they literally cursed her to hell, said she had no respect for anyone’s feelings… Only because she was using a public forum to sell a theatrical decor piece (it was a real coffin, but still) related to death.
We are humans. We live. We die. We rot and decay. That is simply the way of things. It seems however, that our society becomes less and less capable of dealing with this reality as time passes. We eat beasts, but we would rather not be reminded of the fact that our frozen pork chops and cutlets were parts of living animals once. We want to ban all reference to death from our life, and consider all who don’t do so deviant and disrespectful. Death has become a matter of “dark” subcultures and medical personnel; it has no place in most people’s daily life anymore.
This wasn’t always the case. Memento Mori pieces (“reminders of death”; artwork and objects meant to point out the transience of human life) used to be omnipresent in people’s lives, and death was a most normal thing to, if not outright discuss, at least spend some thought on. I’m not a historian so I can’t say for certain when and why death became less prominent in our western society, but I think it has something to do with the vast advancement of medical science that started around the 17th century. With cures and treatments being found for a variety of illnesses that used to be deadly, and life expectancy steadily going up, it’s not so strange that people began to focus on the lengthening of life rather than the acceptance of death.
Why is this bad? Or better, why do I think this is bad?
Apart from the ridiculous situations it brings forth (if you eat meat, you should be able to stand carcasses; otherwise you could just as well be a vegetarian), thinking on death is necessary to be able to deal with it when it inevitably comes. I think the estrangement from our mortality isn’t doing our society any good. Dying has become a matter of debate; people are making a fuss over whether “psychologically suffering” minors and senile elderly should be allowed euthanasia, whether it is right or wrong to “choose” death, if some people wouldn’t be better off dead… It worries me, because the way we look at death says a lot about how we look at suffering.
We want people’s passing to be clean, quick, painless, and most importantly, unnoticed. We’d hide suffering in little white rooms and try not to think about it, and also, we’d put an end to it as soon as possible. There is already so little room for pain and natural decay in our society, so little acceptance of the basic strains of life… We have to be young and active as long as possible, and when we can’t (anymore), we are expected to quietly remove ourselves from the sight of others, thank you very much. How long until we aren’t even allowed to die when death comes anymore?
A society that can’t accept death has no room for aging, for suffering, for decay. For all their perceived unpleasantness these things are normal, but we make them taboo. I find this a worrying thought, and I wonder what our world is coming to…