Special Thanks Angela Behm Iris Poole Jessi Bennett Cassandra McCollum
There Is No_System is a production of Brian Behm Creative.
You, me, and everyone else; we're ALL going to die.
There's a financial blog I read called Zero Hedge. It's a weird financial blog (very much in the hodler 'bitcoin' is king genre), and they're constantly being confused for Russian propaganda, so I'm not telling you to read it, but stay with me. As I said, it's weird. For example, the author of every article is Tyler Durden, the anti-hero of Chuck Pahlinuk's Fight Club.
I bring it up because 'zero hedge' means that everyone's survival rate is zero on a long enough timeline. There isn't anyone in all human existence, even Jesus (if you lean that way), who has escaped at least a little bit of death. Nobody is getting out of this world alive.
In the last episode, we talked about Thornton Wilder's Our Town. We didn't remark on this aspect of the piece, but there's not much of a narrative, and, if there is one, it's death. The whole play is STEEPED in death. So you could argue that death, and our impermanence, are the entire point of the play.
7:19 in the PBS Performance "I want to tell you something about that boy Joe Crow. Joe was awful bright, graduated at the head of his class, and got a scholarship to Boston Tech... MIT that is. Graduated head of his class there too, written up in all of the Boston papers. He was going to be a great engineer; he was. Then the war came along, and he died in France. All that education for nothing."
In the play's time, death's still a big thing. I'm not saying that death has gone anywhere; we all still die, But, in your life, in my life, is it something that we dwell on?
I remember growing up under the impression that we would enter a nuclear holocaust at some point. All of Gen X did. But then the Berlin Wall fell, Scorpion recorded Winds of Change, U2 headed off to Berlin to record Achtung Baby, and Jesus Jones talked about how we were all waking up from history. It wasn't like everything was 'better,' but suddenly, it felt like maybe the world wouldn't blow up the next day.
Last year someone on Twitter shared the cover of a WIRED magazine issue from 1997 they'd unearthed all about "THE LONG BOOM ."I remember getting that issue and thinking they were crazy that we would be looking at 25 years of awesomeness. Aside from the positivity, they also talked about other scenarios in the issue, which is what the Twitter commenters wanted to bring up. The link is in the show notes, but I'll read a couple of them. See if they sound familiar.
1) Tensions between China and the US escalate into a new Cold War – bordering on a hot one.
3) Russia develops into a kleptocracy run by a mafia or retreats into quasi-communist nationalism that threatens Europe
9) An uncontrollable plague – a modern-day influenza epidemic or its equivalent – takes off like wildfire, killing upwards of 200 million people.
Sounds crazy, right? Future predictions aren't always hard to get right if you know how to think about the future. They can also be wildly off, but sometimes, it's not hard to see where a rhythm might swing back, starting from the assumption that history rhymes.
I was at Costco the other day picking up a pizza for dinner. At the start of COVID, I remember how, every time I went, it seemed they had adjusted how they were queuing people up to get into the store. It was like a bizarre amusement park ride with everyone tightly wound up, both emotionally and physically. There was no way not to be wary of all of the people around you.
Aside from the months after 9/11, I think most of us didn't start feeling like death was a roommate until the pandemic. During those first few months of the "15 days to slow the spread", the veil between life and death got a lot thinner. After that, I think we were all thinking about death on a level closer to the way people experienced other plagues in the past. I want to posit that that might be the best thing that comes out of the pandemic, and I hope that we don't lose sight of it.
That doesn't make me a goth (though I do lean that way), and God knows that No_System leans that way, but memento mori is something that I think we could all use more of. It's, honestly, one of the main reasons No_System exists.
Memento Mori, Latin for "remember that you have to die," was? Is? a practice where you remind yourself that nothing is guaranteed. It's one of the most basic blocks of stoic philosophy. Weirdly, thinking about the inevitability of death can make you more appreciative of what you have and if you were a light bulb (and how often do you get to have someone say, "if you were a light bulb?"), burn a little brighter. It's almost odd, in a way, that thinking about death doesn't immediately send us to nihilism, but they come from different places. (insert Lebowski nihilists clip)
Stoicism is inherently smaller; it's concerned with ourselves and how we react to the world. I feel like I'm still trying to understand it because there was a time in my life when I thought that stoicism would allow me to get rid of my emotions. I know that I sound like I'm beating a dead horse when I bring this up repeatedly; before I knew that I had ADHD, I thought it would help me get past this thing that I didn't understand. That was wrong. Stoicism isn't about getting rid of your emotions. It's about contextualizing them and learning to look at them from a perspective outside of yourself. Stoicism sets perspective.
Tim Ferris has this great exercise called Fear Casting that comes out of stoic philosophy. When you're preparing to do something, you think, "what's the worst that could happen?" and you dwell on it.
For example, let's say you want to be a standup comic, and you're off to your first open mic. What's the worst that could happen? Well, you could bomb and have the crowd booing you. You could forget what you wanted to say and go blank. You could get heckled. You could feel embarrassed. But after that, would you be any different? Aside from some embarrassment, would the rest of your life be any worse? If the answer's no, why not take the risk? You've recontextualized your fear, and maybe it's easier to step out and try something.
Nihilism, though, is a whole lot larger. Instead of focusing on you and your locus of control and being grounded in optimism, there's an inherent pessimism in the nihilists. "What's the point? All of this is meaningless. We're all going to die, so why should anything be pursued?"
There's no room to make the argument here. Still, I think the two schools of thought also encompass some of the differences in the spectrum between anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-socialism. We're going to put a tack in that because it is something that, as a bunch of anarcho-capitalists, we'll need to unpack.
The two philosophies enter the timelines more than 2100 years apart (stoicism coming out of Cyprus in around 300 BC), nihilism in the 19th century) and even there, It's almost like you can see nihilism like a petulant kid who intentionally rejects something just because it's something their parents believe. That's not fair to Nietsche and nihilism, but for right now, it's not the worst mental model.
We fall much more on the stoic side of the fence. As I was researching this episode, I stumbled on a piece from the 15th century called "Dance of Death ."It, too, is in the show notes if you'd like to look. The painting is a scroll that shows people from all walks of life walking towards death with skeletons in between them. Everybody gets the same result, from a child to a laborer to a tradesman to a noble to the king.
Memento Mori. We're all going to die. We all have the same outcome in the end. One could say, "All men are cremated equal," but we prefer Not Greater Or Less Than.
For an excellent additional dive into Memento Mori, you should check out some of Ryan Holiday's work. His books on stoicism have been some of my most given away books, but a TEDx talk he gave in Hungary was also the basis for some of this material. At the end of that lecture, he talks about how he carries a challenge coin with him. It says memento mori on it, and he keeps it with him to remind himself of the inevitable.
Having that Not Greater Or Less Than symbol on a hat or a shirt tells us the same thing. It reminds me that we're all hurtling through space together. We all have a similar endpoint, so I need to have empathy.
I'm also reminded about that as I walk past a funeral home on my way to work. Sirens on the way to the nursing home in my neighborhood tell me the same thing. Man, people are dying at that nursing home all of the time. They should look into that.
I've got a couple of pouches of my parents in my desk drawer at home. And when I say "pouches of my parents," I LITERALLY mean that they're small pouches that contain a small portion of my parent's ashes. You see, they wanted to be buried together. The problem is that they didn't both fit in the ossuary. The cemetery did what they could, but there was just too much. So they put the extras in a little 'to go' box so that we could take the rest of the ashes with us. You haven't experienced awkwardness until one of your mom's dearest friends asks if she can have some. We parcelled some out for her to spread my mom around her backyard, but pro-tip, don't. It's weird.
I meant to spread them around my backyard, but maybe this goes back to my tattoo neurosis; I couldn't do it. What if we moved someday and we left my parents behind? It's been a positive, though, because having them around centers your mind.
I loved both of them, even if we didn't always agree. I wish they were around so that my kids could know them. But knowing that they're not and being reminded of that because their ashes are here reminds me that I need to work. I need to accomplish what I can because I'm going to be the bag of ash in my own kid's desk drawer.
What do you still want to tackle with your life? What's the worst that could happen? How afraid do you have to be when you know the endpoint? Knowing that, where's the risk in trying? What do you have to lose?