Do not go gentle into that good night . . .
By Lance Corporal X
This article was also based on a throw-away comment I made in response to Sec. Yasay’s insensitive comment hinting at detente with China on the issue of the South China Sea, in which I mentioned that man-made (in China) islands are entirely moot when viewed in context of sea level rise. JoeAm acknowledged this as compelling, and suggested that it should be an article (basically, how most articles get written here). Being a good Marine, I have to oblige My Captain, O My Captain — also now and then I have to perform acts of penance for my belligerence here. I hope this article more than makes up for my recent infractions.
As I was typing away, edgar lores published his article on “Judgmental Disability“, forcing a shift in my direction of thought. I responded with the idea of self-sacrifice hinting at death as the ultimate form of this. Later on the commentary, LG asked for seconds, with a specific order, “I wish for concrete over abstracts, re: information, to address Judgmental Disability Reduction. I hope such is the logical extension of the article/discussion. Even just piece meal aspects of it. And there are, I imagine, a hyperbolic million aspects to zoom on concretes.” Since edgar has provided us with a vector, we’ll set sail a ship upon it, which we will theme Death.
This article will be in three parts,
I. What it means to die well
II. What it means to live well
III. What to do about it
I. Dying well
I think it was Cicero who once said that philosophizing is nothing more than getting ready to die. It makes perfect sense to me, because all the wisdom and arguments in the world eventually come down to one conclusion — which is to teach us not to be afraid of dying. So the only branch of learning for me that’s worth my time is that which deals with knowing myself, and which teaches me how to live and die well. So what does it mean to die well?
I’ve been in too many unpredictable and uncontrollable situations to know that in the end, I know nothing — Socrates said something similar. What I do hold dear is my experience. So I’m basing my definition of dying well on what I’ve done, and on what I have seen and heard from others.
The people who tend to think consistently about death, aside from philosophers, are monks and soldiers. Even the most obtuse of soldiers will recognize a good death, from an average one, to an exceptional one. No one wants to die cowering in fear. I would also go so far as to say that the purpose of a Corporal and Sergeant is to inoculate their men from such fear, as this is the essence of troop welfare.
There are plenty of analogies outside of combat that we can take wisely from when talking about courage and dying— for example, this account of a suicide is, to me, a good death, even an enviable one. I’ve seen people die purely by happenstance, with no rhyme or reason, they simply stepped on a mine or drove through an IED. BOOM! Dead. These deaths I’ve always categorized as accidents, similar to car accidents on the freeway resulting in deaths. Assigning blame I’m not too concerned about in my attempt to categorize types of deaths, I’m more concerned about the mental state, in this case ignorance or surprise — where the one doing the dying has no choice.
The deaths that interest me are those in which you have a choice. Specifically, those who die for themselves and for others. Even your most unread or unwise soldier will recognize the virtue of dying in this manner. For a soldier in combat, the act of sacrifice is usually done along side the act of killing, and therein lies the rub, since the definition of a good or evil fight will differ.
Since the theme of President Duterte’s tenure seems to be focused on death and killing. It’s high time, the Philippines starts examining what it means to kill, what it means to murder and what it means to commit suicide. The last one is the most difficult as there will be a myriad of reasons and rationalizations surrounding this choice, but in the end, it is for self or others.
This is where self-sacrifice meets self-preservation. To me, the best type of death is that in which you sacrifice yourself for others. The idea of self-preservation demands that we hold out for the best type of death available. So in studying death and what it means to die well, this choice can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die.
Suicide then is the preferred method of dying, though variables and criteria will differ for each individual. I will not judge according to value, preferring instead factual judgment — based on the quantity of your experience and how many lives benefited, though not limited to that. Holding out for a better death, then becomes a form of defiance. So willingness to die sustains your life, which in turn, defines what it means to live well.
II. Living well
“If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.” — from Hagakure (“Hidden Leaves”).
If the first consequence of dying is a shot at defiance, the second will be freedom. This revolt gives life its value, freedom makes it all worth while — now that we know we can commit suicide or die for others at our choosing. For me, though, knowing whether or not man in general is free is not as important, since I can only experience my own freedom. Similarly, the reasons for dying will differ from individual to individual — the only metrics of value is in how many stand to benefit because of your death.
Now that we’ve defined what it means to die well, living well is easier to define since the point of dying well is instant willingness to die — preferably not for an idea, but for people and experience. I hold factual judgment here as more important than value judgment. Your commitment to this notion will be revealed in how you live your life. The spectrum of activities and work in which this individual will allow in his life will be vast.
Ideally, the person who is ready to die at a moments notice will not concern himself with family (though he can), will not concern himself with permanent fixtures or wasteful hobbies (though he can), nor will he pursue extended relationships (though he can, too). He’ll know that he can better serve the world, thus himself, if he focuses on the things that truly matter given his not so permanent life span. Remember, he will think of himself as either already dead, or will be dead tomorrow.
At the very shallow end of this understanding is the YOLO meme (You Only Live Once), which usually morphs into FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) , especially if one owns a selfie stick. I’m in no position to value judge this act, but the rise of deaths involving people simply attempting to document themselves being part of a YOLO fad, whether it be jumping head first into a shallow pond or falling off a high rise, gives us pause.
So here, being ready to die willingly at any time, the whole notion of a good death can also be mired by our penchant for herd thinking. Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the NPA, what happened recently in Kidapawan, and what happened in Mamasapano, I categorize as related to this YOLO/FOMO phenomena, essentially it’s group think. Even when you think you’ve figured out what it means to die a good death, you can still get bogged down by the herd.
This was the same contradiction I found in the military. The best way I think to peel yourself away from the herd, especially once it takes the direction of lemmings, is precisely to spend the bulk of your time cultivating depth of character, living simply and parsimoniously, and lastly balance faith and reason.
You cultivate depth of character most effectively through quantity of experience, and by placing yourself in other peoples’ experience. Living simply and parsimoniously not only allows you more time to do all the worthwhile things in life, but it inoculates you from being so easily bought. Balancing faith and reason doesn’t only apply in religious matters, but also in politics, because this habit once mastered will grant you the ability to see through the fluff.
Dying as defiance is an easy realization since you only have your own mind to contend with, but the freedom associated with that defiance will be in conjunction with others, either those neutral to your existence, ones who stand to oppose and mean you harm, or those in harmony to you. So guard this freedom with all your might.
III. What to do
The third consequence that follows is passion. Now that we’ve wrestled with our minds to come up with a definition for a good death, and are ready to put this freedom to good use, I don’t think we’ll easily fit in a regular 9 to 5 setting, any more than we’ll fit into quiet retirement. It’s time to act, and finally we are ready to oblige LG’s order for a second helping.
Nothing lasts and no victory is final — this is what I learned in the decade my country spent going to war. Value judgment and quality of experience I will leave to others, when it comes to action, we want only quantity of experience. There’s plenty of things to do. Whatever you’re passionate about is worth doing, but since the theme here is Death, let us find the most absurd problem and attempt to conquer it.
We are ready to die and we’ve inoculated ourselves from lemming mentality, now it’s time to conquer something — that’s basically what passion is. Now let’s look for the most absurd problem. The one thing that will destroy us is climate change. It’s already here, so essentially we’ve already committed mass suicide. Nothing we do now will help reverse it. Sea level rise, salt water intrusion, desertification, more drought, bigger storms, and more ice melt — like I said, the most absurd problem.
We slit our wrists the moment we started extracting fossil fuel from the ground. We are still in the process of dying, but within a generation or two, we will see the beginnings of total collapse. Our choice now is to sit at home and watch this collapse live on TV, or we can rage against it. There’s a guy who suggested that we should name these now bigger storms Hurricane Exxon Mobil or Typhoon ARAMCO, a great point. Instead of innocuous names like Sandy and Yolanda, let’s identify the usual suspects; Sinopec and PetroChina are both up there.
karl garcia mentioned that I should cover the commodities market and China’s undermining of the petro-dollar regime. It’s way too complicated for me to wrap my mind around, so we’ll just assume that China is simply attempting to divest from fossil fuel. For a long time now, China’s been burning its own coal to power its breakneck growth. Along with coal, they’ve also been shipping in oil from other regions. Their belligerence in the South China Sea is partly due to their insecurity over the method in which they import oil.
Now China is ready to follow the US model of energy “independence”. The third type of fossil fuel is Natural Gas, and fracking is the new fad. One way the US is alleviating China’s fears in the South China sea is by helping it frack inside China. Many Americans equate President Obama’s presidency to Obamacare. To me, he is the fracking’est president in history, and Hillary Clinton exported fracking to the world via Dept. of State initiatives, the latest of which is with China. So whether it’s carbon dioxide in the long term, or methane in the short term by way of common industrial leaks, we’re dead.
So how do you defy, how do you exercise freedom, how do you convert passion into rage?
The answer to me came while Freddie Aguilar was strumming his ballad during the inauguration. As the camera panned out, I noticed the most colorful attire seated in the front rows were of Sec . Gina Lopez and Sec. Leonor Briones. Both women have an insurmountable task ahead, protecting the environment and educating the Filipino. And in the midst of sea level rise, droughts and big storms in the Philippines, their absurd tasks only pales in comparison to that of Global Warming.
A whopping 75% of power in the Philippines is generated by means of burning coal, oil and natural gas (the other 25% is through hydroelectric and geothermal plants, only 0.5% is by way of clean energy. How to rage constructively is the question, and running amok or going juramentado is not an option. Neither represents a good death nor a life lived well, though they might qualify for passion.
I say revolt by fully divesting from fossil fuels. I wrote this article using my old laptop powered by GoalZero Yeti plus accompanying solar panels and two other separate solar panels my buddy jerry-rigged for me last summer. I leach off my neighbor’s wifi (with their permission of course). And I drive around a 1993 Toyota Corolla I’ve had for 10 years now. So I’m not fully divested. But it’s the goal, and the reason I regularly go out camping, as constant reminder that this goal is do-able.
So this rage will be two pronged, attack from the bottom-up and attack from the top-down.
The bottom-up approach is similar to what I’m doing, but since most in the Philippines already have less to nothing, it’s only a matter of convincing the privileged over there that what the US and China are doing is not progress, it’s the very opposite of progress. Both Sec. Lopez and Sec. Briones can play a role. For example, both can expand Bantay Dagat under their respective offices. Then further expand it to not only cover just the seas but also the mountains. Keep a close eye on those who will do harm, whether by accident or by design, to the rivers and mountains of the Philippines. Consumer grade drones with high definition cameras have done wonders to create awareness and elicit action. Also document sea level rise and salt water intrusion in the Philippines.
This top to bottom approach requires the re-tweaking of national priorities. Sec. Lopez and Sec. Briones can also task their respective offices to play a bigger role in global affairs. With Sec. Lopez focused on the virtues of a clean environment and Sec. Briones encouraging students to really examine what a life lived well entails, the Philippines will have something better to offer China instead of just fracking as solution to the South China sea problem. Once the Philippines can fully document sea level rise, it can render the current spat there as moot. Why invest so much when the seas will just flood these man-made islands? The Philippines will now be in a better position to negotiate, or better yet collaborate. There’s no future in fracking, you’ll only increase methane in the air, thus speeding up Global Warming.
Then give China an offer they can’t refuse — “You guys are dying from polluted air, so are we (so is the rest of the world), why don’t we both fully divest from fossil fuels?” Forget about fracking, forget about man-made islands in the South China sea. The Philippines and China can begin a new relationship in which the Philippines offers them a vision of cleaner air and environment, while China provides the Philippines with the means to harness clean energy. By divesting, China won’t need to undermine the commodities market by subverting the petro-dollar regime, it can simply scale-up production of clean energy technology. I spent close to $500 dollars for all my GoalZero gear, second hand no less, can you imagine if China scaled up? We’d probably be able to get personal clean energy generators for a lot less.
The Philippines can kill the fossil fuel industry by encouraging China’s ability to scale-up production of clean energy technologies — the US seems determined not to lead this charge. China will be the new factory for making clean energy technologies and the Philippines its show room.
I know much of this is wishful thinking. But this is an example of passion focused on a most absurd problem, and deciding to focus your time and effort in conquering it. Remember Global Warming has already killed all of us, we are all dead, we just don’t know it. The flicker is almost about to go out, so . . .
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I attempted here to tie together completely different strings coming from different places, whether it’s loose or a secure knot, I’ll leave to the readers to decide. I know this reads more like a tangled mess than a nice orderly symmetrical square knot. I took heavily from Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love”, from Albert Camus’ “the Myth of Sisyphus” and from Michel de Montaigne’s “Essays”, particularly his essays “On Dying” and “On Experience”. There’s a glimmer of hope here, no matter how tiny, so I know I’ve failed in the eyes of Albert Camus, but he’s dead. I can only hope I have not failed in the eyes of LG here, and that this article qualifies as concrete, and our small sail boat has not sunk in the middle of the ocean.