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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
I’ve had a strange couple of weeks. This tumultuous period began with the death of my cat, just two days before the end of 2010. Initially I suspected that he had been poisoned – this being Thailand, after all. A quick Google search quickly revealed, however, that he had more likely died from rabies. In his case, the disease appears to have taken the paralytic route, a lesser known but nonetheless extremely common form of the notoriously lethal illness.
I ended up receiving rabies PEP only to later discover that the course of treatment I was administered was well beneath the standard of that recommended in the States (for those who know the score, I was given the vaccine only, without HRIG/ERIG). Needless to say, this resulted in quite a bit of worry on my part, as I considered the (relatively small) possibility that I might be one of the unlucky few who developed symptoms of the disease more rapidly than the vaccine alone could provide immunity.
This sudden possibility of my own imminent demise necessarily lead to, amongst flashes of sheer panic, reflections on the nature of life and – at the risk of sounding cliched – our ultimate purpose here on this earth.
I should say that in the face of my own mortality, in the midst of an incredible string of bad luck, it has been quite tempting to attribute my plight to the presence of some wrathful god. After all, if such a being existed I have certainly said and done plenty of things to upset it. The prospect of a sudden, painful death is also quite an inducement to find solace in the existence of an all-knowing and compassionate creator. I am pleased to say that, so far at least, I have managed to avoid falling prey to such fallacies.
But the most important outcome of my experience has been to reexamine some of the ideas I hold with regards to both individual and societal meaning. The conclusion I reached is this:
As humans, we all experience suffering. The existence of suffering might be said to be the one commonality that all human beings share – particularly the suffering associated with death, as even the very wealthiest among us cannot escape its shadowy grip. So it would seem to me that the overriding goal of our society – and for the individuals within that society – should be to eliminate suffering in any way we possibly can.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means we should spend our excess wealth feeding, clothing and sheltering the poor. We should devote our time, energy and intelligence to curing the myriad diseases that plague humankind today, and implementing the remedies we find on a global scale. We should strive to eradicate disease in its entirety. We should immediately end the creation of the means of death, such as guns, bombs and fighter jets. Soldiers should be transformed into builders of schools and hospitals, roads and bridges.
Why do we devote so much human potential to such devastating ends? How many human lives have been spent inventing deadlier and deadlier weapons of destruction? How much money has been spent fighting utterly unnecessary, barbaric wars? Why do we squander our intellectual and material wealth on the means to further propagate suffering, rather than the means to end it?
Similarly, how many human lives have been wasted in the pursuance of totally worthless endeavors? How many potential geniuses have squandered their time and intellect in the creation of endless marketing gimmicks or shallow ad campaigns? How many would-be discoverers of the cure for cancer have thrown away their lives trading fictional wealth in the fictional stock market? Why are our priorities as a society so backwards?
We have very little time on this earth, and the time that we do have is invariably tainted with immense suffering. But given the resourcefulness and tenacity of the human intellect, it doesn’t have to be that way.