The Psychology of Perpetual Youth

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One of the many troubling things about human consciousness is, well, consciousness. We have instincts, but like frosting on a cake, we overlay them with self-awareness that transcends time and space. Consciousness includes the ability to abstract and create. We are a story-telling species, easily frightened by imagined threats, tempted by imagined riches, angered by imagined insults, and thrilled by imagined victories. Witness: the gaming industry.

There are so many directions Dr. Bossypants could go with the astute observations in the previous paragraph, but for today, we’re going to focus on one pernicious outcome of consciousness—our abhorrence of aging and fear of death. The instinct to avoid death appears to be built into all living things (for some good reasons), but humans have taken this avoidance and run with it, far beyond those good reasons.

The longing to be young, healthy, happy, sexy, and rich has propelled medical science forward—we have organ transplants, face lifts, butt tucks, artificial limbs, chemo, pills to drive away sadness, pills to calm us down, rev us up, lower our blood pressure, and cause erections. No doubt we will continue to chip away at reducing or eliminating the effects of injury, disease, disability, and aging. By and large, this is quite laudable. But oh my, there are serious downsides to all this wonderment.

And one of these downsides is denial. Because we are wired to fear and avoid death, we’ve become worshipers of youth and deniers of mortality. We don’t like old people, even if the old people are us. We thus fail to age gracefully, fail to recognize or elevate the positive aspects of aging, and fail to prepare for our demise. We claim to be shocked at the passing of the years, even though we’re a species of historians. Aging and death catch us by surprise, and many of us complain vociferously, as if we are the first to face such indignation.

Dr. Bossypants is quite concerned about the costs of this denial, and the resulting inability to deal with death knowingly and humanely. She is concerned that as we first-worlders age, we tend to bitch and moan, wasting the precious time we have left in a narcissistic dither about how this or that shouldn’t happen to us. Thus, she has written a novel (cleverly entitled Boomers) which she envisions serving as an aid to those who might venture into these topics. Because she had good editors, it isn’t as preachy as she wanted it to be, but it still makes a few discussion-worthy points. And it would be a comfort to Dr. Bossypants if a few people bought this book and thought about the issues she raises. To that end, here’s the link to that evil empire, Amazon, wherein efforts such as these find a home.

 

 

 

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The Human Condition

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The human condition defies simple analysis. The arc of our storyline includes both acceptance and defiance. We are consistently contradictory. Storefront “absolutes” fade in the sunshine of experience. Sure-things aren’t. The givens of life slip away as science, rationality, or whim take them apart. Sometimes, they reappear, refined. Sometimes they end up shelved in the great museum of human fallibility. Sometimes, we bury them in shame.

We continue to wrestle with powerful, apparently-biological urges to accumulate and reproduce. Thankfully, within our species, there are many examples of humans doing otherwise. Thus, we know that among our many capacities, we have the capacity to deny biological urges. We can say enough and mean it. We can get by with less than enough when motivated to do so. We do not always reproduce, and those who do often choose to limit the numbers of new beings they create.

But we also know that many humans dedicate their lives to unfettered reproduction and accumulation—whether that be money, homes, widgets, power, underwear, offspring, achievements, titles, friends, or enemies. It can be great fun. Some humans love to push the limits. Other humans love to watch—getting vicarious thrills from the courage, clucking their tongues at the foolishness. Some accumulations and extreme efforts appear to be harmless, but excess should always be examined and balanced. It is the rare accumulator who doesn’t need constraint. It is the rare achiever who doesn’t need the equilibrium provided by humility.

So, yes, we are complex beings, imbued with choice. Our destiny as a species appears to be dependent on the choices we make. Short-sighted greed, cruelty, and destructive accumulation are well within the repertoire of human choice. Denial has become a refined art form. Cruelty and falsehood are endorsed or tolerated in the service of far-fetched conspiracy theories, sometimes cloaked in a fetid version of a contorted God.

Suffering is suffering. Hunger is hunger. Death is death. And the earth, our home, is finite. If we had the will, we could alleviate hunger and reduce suffering. We could choose to live with more compassion, wisdom, and self-sacrifice. It is possible to set in motion systems that will heal and perhaps stabilize our little planet. But no matter what, we will die. No amount of accumulation will change that. No amount of denial.

Therefore, Dr. Bossypants offers this simple suggestion: How about we accept our mortality and plan for our deaths instead of run from them? And since we have a choice, how about we live lives filled with joy and meaning, generosity and connection? Just a suggestion. Up to you.