The Big Question

“I feel my age today, Dave,” said my buddy Tom.

“I also am feeling my age today, my friend. I try to be cavalier about it but it’s a serious subject. You can’t joke about loss of vigor, increasing frailty, rising disease risk and failing cognitive faculties. Then there’s the unavoidable matter of the end of consciousness and the self—death, in other words—that’s drawing closer and closer.”

“So Dave, what’s our topic to discuss today?” said Tom, squirming on his green padded stool.

“How about: What makes people act the way they do?”

“Okay Dave, you start us off by answering that question.”

“I think it’s the fear of death, that is one of the primary driving forces of human action.”

“Anything positive about that grim thought?”

“Well Tom, the thought of inevitable demise can be a motivation to live life, while you have it, to the full. But the bugaboo at the core of the human condition is inevitable death.”

“I don’t think about death very often,” said Tom, soberly.

The barkeep brought our beers and we both took a sip.

“Tom, whether you are conscious of it or not, you are aware that we humans will die and this has a profound and pervasive effect on your thoughts, feelings and behavior.”

“So we are aware of many things because we are the smartest creatures in nature.”

“Right on Tom, because of our intellect we are aware that we exist, but we also know that someday we won’t exist. Our intellect makes us aware of the joys of being alive but the downside is the awareness of death.”

“So Dave, I guess that’s our predicament.”

“Being self-aware is wonderful BUT we pay the price because on the one hand we have an intense desire for continued existence but on the other hand we recognize the futility of this quest.”

“How do we manage this existential terror of death?”

“Two ways, Tom, cultural views and personal significance, known as self-esteem.

Cultural views are beliefs we create to explain the nature of reality to ourselves.

They are religious belief in immortality and symbolic immortality, the belief that our life works will last past our death. Ex- your writing or painting or in the memories of the living.”

“Wow! I am a good actor maybe some will remember my artistry on stage.”

“You never know, Tom.”

“What about the second way, self-esteem?”

“Our self-esteem, how we feel about our accomplishments, enables us to believe we are significant beings rather than just material creatures destined to be obliterated.”

“Thank goodness for our confidence in our self-worth.”

“That’s right Tom, we would all be quivering piles of biological protoplasm on the fast track to oblivion if it wasn’t for our creations of reality.”

“So we create effective terror management beliefs that we are valuable members of society and this helps us through the mist.”

“That’s right, my friend, we create our meaning and purpose in life. If you take away our meanings and purposes all we would have left would be the thought that we are vulnerable physical creatures that are on earth for a short time.”

Tom looked a little dejected with this discussion.

“What do you hope for Tom?”

“I hope for a sound mind in a sound body!”

“Me too, buddy.”

“I was just thinking, reminders of death are all around us everyday. Turn on the news, there is a lot of death news in the world. By middle age, grey hair, wrinkles, body aches are all reminders of how soon death is coming. So, why aren’t we cowering in our closets?”

“Because we have psychological defenses to cope with death thoughts. We suppress bad thoughts and we keep death thoughts from becoming conscious and then you tell yourself, “NOT ME, NOT NOW.”

“I’ve got it Dave, instead of thinking about death, your defenses DISTRACT you with matters like: What’s for dinner or where to go for your next holiday also how much you have accomplished.”

“Lets have one more beer for the road.”

“Hey Dave, alcohol and drugs are ways to diffuse death. By diffusing from death you separate from it. I wonder how many beers it would take to diffuse, to dim awareness and distort perceptions?”

“Don’t worry Tom, two beers just relax you.”

We both drained our beer glasses.

“So in conclusion, accepting our mortality is a means of diminishing the destructive effects of our death fears so we can appreciate everyday life.”

Tom spoke up: “Life not death is the great adventure.”

“A final word about how life is so transitory, everything in life passes fast. Evaluate your own life: Think of the moments of joy and victory in your life. Think of the moments of sorrow and defeat. Are they permanent? NO!

They all come and pass away. You are just a watcher. We are witnesses of all this. We are the perceivers. Life comes and goes. There is nothing permanent in this world. Everything changes. You have survived all the setbacks, defeats and sorrows. All have passed away. The problems in the present, they too will pass.

You are just a witness of change. Experience it and enjoy the present moment.


So now to lighten you day:

The only thing worse than growing old is to be denied the privilege.

Sing along:

For life is quite absurd,

And death is the final word,

You must always face the curtain with a bow,

Forget about your sin,

Give the audience a grin,




War, What’s It All About?

At the moment over twenty conflicts are going on around the world.

At the top of the list is the “War on Terror”.

This concerned my buddy Tom and I as we climbed up on our green padded stools.

The barkeep brought our pints and said:

“I’m at war with my beer supplier, he’s late again!”

“See Tom, you can’t get away from war.”

“The majority of the conflicts now, are in Africa and the Middle East,” said Tom, soberly.

“There’s one in Mexico, Tom, it’s the drug war, the cartels fight for territory, cash and power. The US wants to tighten the border to halt drug gangs from coming into the country.”

“Of course, Dave, all this fuels weapon manufacture and arms trade. The military-industrial complex is making billions!”

“Yes Tom, I suspect the complex pushes for war.”

“So many global conflicts are bubbling, I hope our leaders can handle them carefully and diplomatically otherwise violence could escalate very fast.”

Tom and I sipped our beers and stared at the sign behind the bar:

“The only war worth waging is one against the poverty of ideas.”

“That sign is food for thought,” said Tom.

I nodded.

“Tom, lets list some of the reasons for war.”

“Okay Dave, you start off.”

“I’ll start with making a comment, I think violent conflict is hard-wired into the human psyche since primitive times. The first reason for war is Defense against an aggressor or potential aggressor.”

“Another reason is Economic Gain, to take control of another’s wealth, oil, etc. Or to protect a country’s economy.”

“Here’s one, Tom, Territorial Gain, the want or need to get more land or take back what was lost.”

Here’s a big one, Dave, Religion, different religions fight each other, such as Protestant vs Catholic or Sunni vs Shia. Religions have deep roots and any conflict can get very volatile.”

“There are a few others such as Nationalism, Civil War within a country, Revenge, to punish or redress a grievance, and last is Revolutionary, where a large section of a population revolts against their rulers because they are dissatisfied with their leadership.”

“Wow! Dave, that’s quite a list.”

“Tom, lets discuss a little about: How we decide to support our country or any country, when it enters into war? We can look at this question with The War on Terror in mind.”

“Well, I guess what we have to do is examine the reasons to support or not support a country when it enters into armed conflict.

Punishment is a reason. President Bush said after 9/11:

“Make no mistake the USA will hunt down and punish those responsible for these attacks.” Bush wanted justice, the evil doers needed to be found and punished.”

“Yes, but Dave, in the legal sense bringing one to justice requires capture and trial and Bush said he wanted bin Laden dead or alive.”

“Also, what forms of punishment are justified when maybe innocent people will be killed?”

“In any war there is collateral damage.”

We both sipped our beers and pondered…

“What about National self-interest to support a conflict? When a country is threatened by hostile aggressors, then self-interest is a vital factor.”

“Are we saying that self-interest is a justification for war?”

“Many are against self-interest as a justification. I can see their point.

Think about it, Tom, if nations were justified to go to war whenever it was to their advantage, there would be no good guys or bad guys, it would be every country for itself.”

“The other thing in the equation is Appeasement (the policy of giving in to aggressive powers to keep the peace).

George Bush after 9/11 was using anti-appeasement to rally the civilized world to America’s side. He was raising the fear that if we didn’t stand up to evil now, further and greater wrongdoing would follow. So it is necessary to go to war in order to prevent even worse bloodshed in the future.”

“Yes Dave, I can see that is a powerful argument to go to war. But there is sometimes a downside, such as the case in Afghanistan, did we reduce the threat of terrorism or did it just create people sympathetic to the terrorist’s goals?”

“Well Tom, it’s too bad the world is NOT 100% in favor of Pacifism, the extreme opposition to war.”

“When you talk about the morality of war the subject gets complex.”

We both agreed.

Here are some thoughts on war:

Why worry about the future? Between the bomb and pollution, there may NOT be any.

History reveals that wars create more problems than they solve.

In the war of right and wrong, we can’t afford to be neutral.

Tom and I drained our glasses of beer and left the building.