[Smashy the Hammer] [An Aspiring Luddite]
I carry no phone
An aspiring Luddite
In a wired world.
[Jeff Berry]
Jeff Berry is an early adopter of the Internet and the Web, a late adopter of Twitter, and declines to adopt Facebook. With the death of Google+, he's experimenting with federated platforms. He admins a medievalist Mastodon instance, and can found on the PlusPora diaspora pod. He hates cell-phones.

Death and Some Beans
14 December 2012

I just recently re-read Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which I claim is the funniest work written in English in the last one-hundred-and-seven years, and, incidentally, the best thing either of them has ever done. However, that is rather beside the point, the point being that it features a character called DEATH. One of the Four Horsemen, et cetera, with all the associated baggage. Despite the magnificence of the book, that is not what DEATH is.

DEATH should not be written in all caps. It should be written "death," or even "     ". Death is not a presence, rather it is an absence. Death is waiting for someone who never comes.

Perhaps that's why we personify Death. As a species, we don't deal particularly well with nothingness in the abstract. There is no Roman numeral for "zero." You can't look at zero. When Blackadder is teaching Baldrick math (or trying to), he says something like, "If I have three beans and I add two beans, how many beans do I have?" "Some beans," is the reply. But if you have three beans and take away three beans, you don't have no beans, you have nothing at all. And that's death - "no beans."

You can't fight an absence either, there's nothing to fight. So you stick a skeleton in a robe and call it Death (or DEATH) and fight that instead. It still doesn't work, of course, since that's not death any more than a star on top of a Christmas tree is Alpha Centauri. But it makes us feel less helpless, which is no bad thing.

Why, I wonder, don't we think about life that way? Why don't we write about LIFE? It doesn't make any more sense than DEATH, of course, but it's less depressing. Instead of fighting against DEATH, why don't we fight for LIFE? Where is the personification of life?

You can't personify life easily, though, since life (unlike DEATH?) is so varied. If death is "no beans" how many beans is life? One? Three? Or, as Baldrick says, "some?" Or can it be "negative three beans?" There's a philosophical question for you. If death is zero, then it should be better than a life of negative three. Or does only the absolute value of life count?

There, I've recast all the quality of life debates as simple math and a scene from a sitcom. Not a bad trick, although it doesn't really help. When the holiday season comes around, I, like so many others, think of those who won't be celebrating it this year because they simply are not. I wait and they never come. The dead do not miss the celebration, of course, but my celebration is poorer for their loss. I still have some beans, but fewer than I had before.

This holiday season, don't forget to count your beans and enjoy each and every one.

© 2012 Jeff Berry
The Aspiring Luddite