Reading Emanuel’s essay, I began to despair — not just about the moral outlook it expresses, but about whether its readers will even recognize how monstrous it is. Emanuel has taken the ethic of meritocratic striving that currently dominates elite culture in the United States and transformed it into a comprehensive vision of the human good. Viewed in its light, the only life worth living is one in which you endlessly, relentlessly strive to look as smart and clever as possible in the eyes of other smart and clever people. The ultimate goal of such a life is to be considered the smartest and cleverest person of all. Once old age or any other misfortune gets in the way of continually striving for that goal, one might as well cease to exist.
I think that’s an over-reaction. One does not need to embrace the cult of “achievement” or “success” to find old age, especially really old age, to be increasingly burdensome, and therefore not worth extending indefinitely at the cost of everything else. I suppose you could come away from Emanuel’s piece thinking that it values human productivity as the sole human good and thereby tacitly endorses a “eugenic” point of view. But that’s not what I took from it.
Here’s what I took from it. Life is not a sprint; it’s a marathon for most of us. And it has a very different pace at the end than at the beginning. Accepting this slower pace does not mean we should end the race before it’s over; it merely means that toward the end, the kind of things we might have done to our bodies to keep them fully poised for the future should not be our top priority. I’ve long joked that if things get really bad for me in my 70s, I’ll just stop taking my AIDS meds. But it isn’t entirely a joke. A graceful acceptance of one’s ultimate term limit can be a source of joy and peace and freedom, as opposed to the desperate life-extending mentality that leaves so many of us to die in intensive care. It is a more natural and less hubristic way to live. And to die. I have a feeling Montaigne would approve.
Today, we witnessed the launch of yet another bombing campaign against yet another country in yet another war authorized neither by Congress nor the UN. We observed the power and endurance of golf in China; the self-pity of most minorities and especially white evangelicals; Tocqueville’s insights into the current Middle East religious wars; and Nicolas Sarkozy’s chutzpah when it comes to saving marriage from the gays. Plus: results from one of the toughest window view contests ever. One contestant writes:
It’s obvious I can never win the VFYW contest. I mean, this week I identified Iqaluit, of all places. I found the right apartment building. I found the right apartment. I even found the right window. But I didn’t find the right part of the window! Good grief, as Charlie Brown would say. It feels like Lucy has whisked the football away again.
In other news, I finally broke down, got over my cheap ways, and bought a subscription.
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See you in the morning.
(Photo: A red deer is seen through the morning mist in Richmond Park on September 23, 2014 in London, England. Tuesday marks the autumn equinox where day and night are of equal lengths. By Rob Stothard/Getty Images.)