As our modern living environment becomes increasingly cover with and filled with technology, people increasingly feel separated from their organic grounding in nature. And because this loss of grounding leads to a loss of participation in the flow of processes in nature, many people become increasingly unused to and uncomfortable with this flow of processes and, in particular, the final process which is death. Even though they still crave and need the organic stimuli involved in these processes, as they become more and more involved in defending themselves against sensory distortion, they lose their capacity to effectively absorb organic stimuli. These people become increasingly conscious of their mortality, because organic perishability – the mortality of all organisms – is just not a part of their daily lives. And then these people develop different ways of defending themselves against a growing sense of dread because of this ongoing growing sense of mortality.
One path of defense is to use technology to help suppress an elevated awareness of death. By becoming more like machines – either taking on machine behavior or trying to replace more and more parts of the organic body with machine parts - people try to deny their mortality by identifying with those entities that don’t suffer from organic perishability. Modern machines, with their relatively easy-to-replace parts are potentially immortal. To identify with machines is to adopt the aura of immortality. Some people adopt what they perceive to be positive traits of machines – productivity, efficiency, objectivity. Some people immerse themselves in defined discrete data – the language of modern machines. By opening themselves up to oceans of data, rather than oceans of water, and filling their minds with such data, people develop pixilated landscapes in their minds, fragmented consciousnesses built on points of data. The result is a gradual loss of coherent consciousness. This loss acts as good protection against the panic that comes today from being estranged from organic grounding as well as from the natural flow of organic processes that leads ultimately to perishing in death.
Of course, some people want to go one step further and actually give up their organic physical unity as well as their organic mental unity by replacing more and more parts of their coherent organic body with machine parts. This further leads to fragmented self-awareness, which, when all is said and done, may be one of the best ways to numb one’s consciousness and thus one’s awareness of death. Of course, in the long run, as has been discussed in previous articles, developing a robotic consciousness or becoming a cyborg is ultimately a way of killing the organic human essence. It is like people who become somehow robotized are also willing to experience a partial death in order to avoid focusing on a total organic death.
Then there are those people who are unable to use modern technology to practice a denial of death, who experience their modern inflated awareness of death as putting them in an ongoing living death and who find terminating their lives in the physical world a preferable alternative to the pain of their ongoing awareness of their mortality. What is interesting is that the act of suicide can lead to a kind of surrogate immortality for the person who commits it in today’s world that he would not have been able to achieve while staying alive. I’m talking about the shocking painful memories left with the people who survive the person who commits suicide. The graphic unnatural death of the deceased engraves a vivid long-lasting memory on the people who knew him or knew of him. Suicide helps the deceased rid himself of the pain from his separation from organic grounding as well as giving him an awareness before he dies that he is doing something that will give him a kind of life through the memories of others after he dies.
The preserved organic imprint from the suicide is amplified when other people die in connection with the suicide. The death of others can be accomplished through a mass killing, after which the killer can point a gun at his head and kill himself. Or there can be a mass killing in which the killer puts himself in a situation where he will be killed in a shootout with law enforcement. The imprint of these mass deaths is much greater than that of the isolated suicide. Unless the suicide is a well-known individual, the imprint of the memory of his death extends only to his family, his friends, and his acquaintances. In the case of a mass killing, the imprint of the memory of the death can extend to a whole nation and even internationally.
This approach to dealing with the fear from the increased awareness of mortality in an ungrounded living environment is very different from the approach of embracing and merging with the cause of the loss of organic connection - namely modern technology. A person who merges with this technology as a cyborg does not have to worry about leaving organic imprints as a basis for a surrogate immortality. As a cyborg that aspires to real immortality, such a person finds that a surrogate immortality is unnecessary. Such a person believes he can go on living forever.
As for the person who merely identifies with modern technology rather than merging with it, living in the modern work environment filled with computer screens and computer data doesn’t help him to fully affirm his immortality, but it does help him to forget about death by becoming numb to his mortality. The reams of data on the computer screen are free from any hint of organic perishability. They exist free from any hint of organic decay, as they float in the experiential vacuum created on the computer screen. In a sense, as the person’s mind absorbs these data, it experiences a temporary sense of immortality. Such a sense of machine-based immortality is obviously not as enveloping as that of becoming a cyborg. A person who just uses a computer would have more of a sense of his mortality than a cyborg, because his involvement with the immortalizing machinery would not be as constant as that of someone who had merged with it. Nevertheless, truly immersing in the world of a computer would still be an effective means to deal with the modern existential despair that comes from being disconnected from organic grounding.
So here we have two basic approaches to what we can call a modern existential despair over death as a result of separation from organic grounding. One approach uses technology to decrease one’s fears through either identifying with or merging with the supposedly immortal modern complex machines. In the other approach, feeling shut out from organic grounding by modern technology, and despairing of ever being able to make meaningful organic imprints to feel alive as well as to preserve some of them to prepare for death, a person gets rid of his pain by taking his own life and sometimes the lives of others in the process. The person gets rid of his existential despair and leaves a searing imprint through the memories that are left in the minds of the people around him and sometimes the minds of strangers as well. While the second approach involves total death, the first approach involves a living death from numbing a person’s consciousness to the pain of a real death. All this proves is that we need a solid organic grounding in our field of experience in order to feel fully alive and to prepare for death. The challenge today is to find some way to recreate enough of this grounding so that the dangerous approaches to life just discussed no longer play such a prominent role among modern humans.(c) 2015 Laurence Mesirow