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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


The Necessity of Human Mortality

This essay is part of a longer work about the central role of mortality in sustainability, ethics and the human experience. It is scheduled to be published as part of a new book, Heroic Compassion: Life, Death and Destiny in the Human Epoch, in 2017.

We will soon face the necessity — and the opportunity — of voluntarily limiting our own life spans for the good of others.

We are almost ready to acknowledge the necessity of our own mortality. When we do, we will finally realize the full heroic potential of our species.

Our heroic potential is based on humanity’s unique capacity for compassion and sacrifice.

Walking along the beach 

Technology is helping us live long lives. A lot of smart people are working very hard to help us live even longer, maybe hundreds of years.  In fact, human longevity may be the central preoccupation of science today. We’ve actually doubled our life expectancy in the last 150 years. Various researchers today believe we’re close to curing diabetes, influenza, meningitis, heart disease, leukemia, breast cancer and prostate cancer. The big thinkers at Google have set their sights even higher. The giant search-engine company is funding broad research aimed at preventing aging itself with a vision of a world in which no person would ever grow old or, presumably, die.

Yet our mortality is necessary to the health, prosperity and the very survival of future human generations, not to mention every other living thing on this planet. The human population has more than doubled IN MY LIFETIME. Every environmental problem, every vexing puzzle of human sustainability, is traceable back to the rapid growth of our population. If we acknowledge that human overpopulation could exhaust resources and threaten the habitat, then human longevity obviously is a major risk factor.

So we may be called upon, individually, to volunteer to die.

The good news is, we are capable of realizing this necessity and of making this sacrifice. After all, people give their lives every day in the service of their societies. Soldiers, police officers, firefighters and physicians all risk their lives on a daily basis to protect other people. The evidence is clear: We will sacrifice our own lives for the greater good.

As a species, we now have the chance to realize this potential for heroic compassion on a global scale. Individually. One heroic person at a time.

When we acknowledge the necessity of our own deaths, we will fulfill humanity’s destiny as the most compassionate and heroic creatures in the universe, the only creatures capable of making this sacrifice consciously.

That’s pretty exciting, don’t you think?

The idea has changed my experience of life, entirely for the better. After it occurred to me that my own mortality was necessary to the health and happiness of future generations — including my own great-great-grandchildren — death was no longer so frightening. I mean, if I had the choice between immortality and children, I would choose to die. Rather than going on forever I would want those future generations of children to live in my place. When I realized I have chosen death, it suddenly doesn’t seem so frightening any more. Death is the destiny I want.

Plus, my new awareness of the human potential for heroic compassion caused me to see people — all people — in a new light. Each of the people surrounding me in the airport terminal is capable of heroic sacrifice. All the people on the train, each person in the restaurant, even the harried shoppers in line at the grocery store are each capable of accepting death so that others may live.

If we fail to meet the challenge, then the degradation of our only viable habitat — Earth — is on us. The extinctions are on us. The suffering is on us. In a sense, it’s an evolutionary challenge. We need compassion to survive. If we are wiped out by some environmental, military or health catastrophe related to overpopulation, then we have failed to adapt in time.

Past generations developed strong bodies and brains. They invented technology that has supported our expansion across the globe.

Today, the remarkable evolutionary challenge we face is literally a set of natural conditions requiring that we exercise compassion more effectively.

Photo by Fotolia/Natalia Sinjushina


Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on Google+.

ozarkgypsy
1/29/2015 1:56:30 PM

Here's an idea, lets get all the banking leaders, politicians, oil industry leaders, and those that refuse to live green to oft themselves off. If people need to be gotten rid of, why not start with the ones that cause unneeded destruction of the earth? disclaimer:(this comment was made for entertainment purposes only)


bryan welch
1/28/2015 5:25:48 PM

I have great news, "Anonymous" and "OrangeJello." I will go first. I will take my own life if I outlive my own chosen maximum lifespan (in the high two figures). :) And Tookiebrookie, thanks for actually reading what I had written. - Bryan


orangejello
1/28/2015 8:04:27 AM

I was going to post a thoughtful rebuttal, but anonymous beat me to it! This site is great for promoting a more harmonious relationships with the earth. Now bryan welch is telling us to kill ourselves in a nice way? This is not the place for euphemisms. Call it what it is: SUICIDE. At least he is not advocating a government mandate, or is that the next step? The right to life is a natural right, above any government. No one has the right to say the earth is overpopulated. So bryan and tookie, you first.


tookiebrookie
1/26/2015 11:38:14 PM

Science fiction has long addressed the theme of the conflict between reproduction and living forever, presenting the conflict as either/or. Societies with eternal or very long life are sterile. The technology of extending lifespan creates many ethical questions surrounding unintended consequences including sustainability of resources and quality of life issues. Some of the best examples addressing these issues in literature are in the Short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, such as "Welcome to the Monkey House" (criticizes euthanasia) and "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" (over-population). Who could forget the haunting finale to the 1973 film "Soylent Green," based on the 1966 sci fi novel "Make Room! Make Room!" by Harry Harrison? In his article, "The Necessity of Human Mortality," Bryan Welch is not advocating suicide or euthanasia. He is offering the idea of ethical individual choice not to exploit technology for the unintended consequences of a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and all year humidity due to the greenhouse effect. The second season of the ABC series "Resurrection" has just ended with a cliffhanger of the dead returning to life worldwide, which the character of the Preacher predicts as the end of the world. Similarly, the final season 8 episode of the BBC's "Dr. Who" averts the end to the world by thwarting the effort to raise the dead worldwide, transforming everyone into cybermen (soulless immortal beings). In the 1999 movie "Bicentiannial Man" with Robin Williams (based on a short story by Isaac Asimov), Andrew says "I would rather die a man than to live for all eternity as a machine." In our literature and our real life heroes are people who willing sacrifice their lives for the greater good. Perhaps we are not being asked to choose death, only to choose to limit unnatural human intervention to extend life at the expense of others. Welch's essay calls us to higher consciousness thinking about ourselves in the world and our role in the human race and to act responsibly and compassionately. Our survival as a species and as moral beings is more important than our individual longevity. Opting out of the delay in returning our bodies to the stardust from which we came to allow life to go on is a good and natural thing. We have nothing to gain by putting it off. For all of our fears, we cannot avoid our inevitable destiny. Why should we continue to use up resources which rightfully belong to those who come after us?


tookiebrookie
1/26/2015 11:36:27 PM

Science fiction has long addressed the theme of the conflict between reproduction and living forever, presenting the conflict as either/or. Societies with eternal or very long life are sterile. The technology of extending lifespan creates many ethical questions surrounding unintended consequences including sustainability of resources and quality of life issues. Some of the best examples addressing these issues in literature are in the Short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, such as "Welcome to the Monkey House" (criticizes euthanasia) and "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" (over-population). Who could forget the haunting finale to the 1973 film "Soylent Green," based on the 1966 sci fi novel "Make Room! Make Room!" by Harry Harrison? In his article, "The Necessity of Human Mortality," Bryan Welch is not advocating suicide or euthanasia. He is offering the idea of ethical individual choice not to exploit technology for the unintended consequences of a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and all year humidity due to the greenhouse effect. The second season of the ABC series "Resurrection" has just ended with a cliffhanger of the dead returning to life worldwide, which the character of the Preacher predicts as the end of the world. Similarly, the final season 8 episode of the BBC's "Dr. Who" averts the end to the world by thwarting the effort to raise the dead worldwide, transforming everyone into cybermen (soulless immortal beings). In the 1999 movie "Bicentiannial Man" with Robin Williams (based on a short story by Isaac Asimov), Andrew says "I would rather die a man than to live for all eternity as a machine." In our literature and our real life heroes are people who willing sacrifice their lives for the greater good. Perhaps we are not being asked to choose death, only to choose to limit unnatural human intervention to extend life at the expense of others. Welch's essay calls us to higher consciousness thinking about ourselves in the world and our role in the human race and to act responsibly and compassionately. Our survival as a species and as moral beings is more important than our individual longevity. Opting out of the delay in returning our bodies to the stardust from which we came to allow life to go on is a good and natural thing. We have nothing to gain by putting it off. For all of our fears, we cannot avoid our inevitable destiny. Why should we continue to use up resources which rightfully belong to those who come after us?


anonymous
1/21/2015 1:10:53 PM

This is one of the most ridiculous pieces of Eugenics fantasy I have read in a long time and I am a little surprised to read this article on Mother Earth news. Maybe I shouldn't be and that is my fault for not following this magazine more closely. Unbeknownst to me the homesteading message secretly was supported by scientists and academics who want all of us rabble to kill ourselves for "the good of humanity". I have been a subscriber of Mother Earth and enjoyed the articles which when taken together pretend to promote a more rewarding, healthy and invigorated life. This is done with simple living while reducing the harmful chemicals we put into our bodies both disguised as nutrition and medicine. Along comes this author who tries to paint suicide as the epitome of heroism to save our planet. I know you are not the only person who believes that humans are the cause of all of the world’s problems but I never hear you or anyone who believes as you do offering to sacrifice. Your suggestions are for everyone else. I worship a different God though and people used to live much longer lives before science and chemistry got involved. Old Testament style. I think Mother Earth should go back to advocating for the reduction harmful chemicals in our world, not people. This evil propaganda is beneath you. Or is it? I have some final words for the author: You first! That would be pretty exciting.