Stephen Jenkinson is a modern day sage for the youth. He works in palliative care counselling the elderly on dying in their last few moments of life left. The profession of preparing old people to die has levels of condescension to it. (So you mean to tell me that the undying can give advice to the dying on how to die…?) Yet counselors like Jenkinson are still sought after by many dying people. Jenkinson gripes about having people pedestalize him as if he’s an authority figure of dying. He refuses titles, awards, and accolades and aggressively denies being a modern day spiritual guru. Even though he counseled more than 1500 of people who have died, he doesn’t sugar coat it. He still believes death is the all terrible, all frightening horror it’s supposed to be. Just imagine all your worst fears of death and have it increased by a thousand! He isn’t vocal on politics but the very few he does voice out are political inquiries related to The Death Trade. During an interview at LondonReal, Brain, the host asked him about the consequences of living in a culture that denies death and are death-phobic. Jenkinson responds that the proper way to die in a death-phobic culture is a death where one is killed. In other words, one dies when one feels ready for it. My thesis is that modern day dying (and the legacy from which we got the modern medical system for the dying) fuels this sickness of preparing to grow up into adulthood is a resentment of being alive. This insidious feedback loop instills in youth-culture a disparate paranoia for having to live out their childhoods on time, making their entire growing process a longing for their missing childhood. This longing then keeps moving on into not having their toddler years lived properly, then their tween years missing, then their teenage years, their late teens, early adult, mid adult and so on. The unquestioning virtue of more life gave this generation a disastrous run for catching up to their lives not yet reached.
Somewhere, someone robbed us of our opportunity to live freely. But what we really lost is the ability to give honor to our enemies. This is the consequences of more life, more experience.
One of Jenkinson’s big assertion is that we are all orphans. On the London Real podcast, he states that westerners have no real heritage. It is all left over there. Westerners are running away from something in the same way ancestors who crossed the atlantic ocean to get here were also running away. We stare back at them through stories, picture frames, or genealogy relics from a different era.
The Death Gaze
After the all funerals we feel obliged to attend, we are advised to mourn, grieve, and do whatever we have to do move on. “Leave the dead with the dead” as there’s work to be done on this earth. This advice reflects the unchallenged notion of life, more life, more experience, more success in life is always better. But in the spiritual realm, it betrays our heritage. When it comes our turn to die, as we lie down at our deathbeds with our children and family members looking down at us, we realize that in between those smiles, tears, and gazes, just as we were in that same position of looking down at those who were dying, now that it is our turn one realizes how easy it was to move on and forget him. Just as we were advised to move on, forgive, forget and live our lives, it stares at us in the face and there’s nothing we can do but push up daisies from the ground 6 feet above us. Give it 3 or 4 generations, and we too will join this death gaze of being a mere photo sitting on the ledge to be used as memory for all the others to see. This is why we are truly afraid to die. Our success, our power, our legacy, our wealth are what will remain after we die. In the modern era, we die even before our physical death. When all these projects we set for ourselves fail, we take a hit to the soul. As we age, the glory of youth and endurance, and strong minded fades away more and more.
Our life momentum is losing inertia. It’s forward focused. Not in the time shooting in one direction like an arrow. But retroactively in an aggregate-generational direction. If we think about what the word “intergenerational” means, we immediately think about the conflict. We think about the conflict between boomers, millennials, and newer generations to come. The aggregate-generation would be the generation of a boomer if he or she were to be born in 1884 instead of 1984. Would live dramatically different lives? What would the equivalent of generation z would be in the 1880’s? There are negative and positives forces that move up and down within the aggregate-generation. The very top is where the life-force momentum begins. Which would be the the the latest generation alive, baby boomers. To begin at the last few moments of life is most important because “how you die, is the next generation’s teacher” (Jenkinson, 365). One can only imagine the experience of living the very last moments of life. Some say the fears death is irrational, but to me, it is the last unknown. Jenkins points in his book Die Wise that most of the elderly in critical condition are sedated and given antidepressant (Jenkinson 184). What do you think happen to those who see grandpa or grandma in this condition? Imagine those in assisted living realizing that they are next, “this will be me.” Nobody wants to be on the borderline of life and death with tubes sticking out of their orifices and family and friends watching them as they lie there. Why not just get it over with? Here is where we take this life-force one step down the intergenerational ladder. What would those who retired in their 60’s or early 70’s think of those in assisted living. Nobody wants to be abandoned by their own child put into an assisted living facility by their 80’s, and having a nurse attend to their basic needs. Their grown child would rather have their parents in a facility somewhere only to come by on Thanksgiving for a week. Possibly a guilt felt though families where the parent feels an obligation to get out of the way and not move in with their child out of the respect of giving their children a chance to live a “full life.”
The Hourglass: Gentrification of the Life-force
From taking an anecdotal look at history, retirement used to be the dream life. The American Dream benefited those 20 years in between the working family man and assisted living. The “greatest generation” who came out of two wars just wanted to retire for a good 20 years. The next step down the ladder was the generation who enjoyed the American dream in the 1950’s: The Working family man. Everybody wanted to be the stable worker in the 1960’s and 70’s. The America of back then experienced liberation, counterculture, hippies in the greatest country in the history of the world. The American Dream started to take form. But Jump down another ladder, everybody wanted to be the hip yuppie working on wall street in the 1980’s. Look at what is happening? Flip the hourglass and realize that as time progresses forward, the life-force (life worth living) is retrograding to the bottom. As the life-force trickles down the intergenerational timescale, the aggregate-generational timescale experiences a negative feedback loop with the life-force gentrifying itself to those experiencing life. The stable hardworking man who moves to the suburbs to settle down with a wife and kids lost it’s flair during yuppie culture, the “American Dream” of retiring lost it’s flair during the technological revolution.
This is where my generation, the late millennial, born in the digital revolution, has the gift 20/20 hindsight vision
Jump down another step and people can feel the acceleration weighing down on them. Living in the 1990’s was the last greatest time bearable enough to walk through deterritorialized space in major cities. Being in your 30’s meant floating around not really knowing where to go but still contributing to one’s family and the community while one find oneself. One can take a few breaks here and there and have manageable anxieties about the future. One has ability to move around, experiment, try out things, and move to the outskirts of the city if things didn’t work out the way one thought. With the help and support of friends, it was a pleasurable time lost in nostalgia. But the thought of choosing one stable path was suspicious to the 30 year old. Looking forward to your 40’s had its upsides like money, stability, and freedom. But no 30 year old man was looking forward to aging during the rise of smartphone in the digital age.
20’s are the new 20’s
This is where my generation, the late millennial, born in the digital revolution, has the gift 20/20 hindsight vision. Being in your 20’s will be the best years of your life. The effects of living in today’s era is experiencing the madness of leaving your 20’s. Fewer and fewer people want to leave their 20’s even to start a family. More celebrities are in their 20’s. Careers are chosen from people in their 20’s. Parents are making their child go to dance, boxing, hiking, singing, learn an instrument, learn fashion, go on dates, have fun even before they turn 20. There’s a sickness being felt, a guilt somewhere. People are feeling the effects of institutions taking the joy out of simply existing. One can not even stand and not have their dignity insulted for “being lazy.” There can’t be a break anymore. Having gaps in your resumes will deter employers from hiring you. There must be movement somewhere. We are feeling the effects of accelerationism. Even today, teenagers at 15 years old are becoming celebrities though their smartphones from apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok. You’d think we need to wait another generation for this to happen but there doesn’t need to be a 15-20 year wait to go down the intergenerational ladder anymore. As I write this, Lil Tecca, a 16 year old rapper from New York got signed by Republic Labeled after a break out single “Ransom” that hit number 4 in the Billboards Hot 100 (Fu). More and more young people are getting responsibility. A 30 year old would represents everything that a 20 year old doesn’t want to be.
The Rise of the Black-pill
A teen can’t have real responsibility right? WIth technology and the help of their parents, teens and even tweens becoming famous personalities through their smartphones. Undergrad college is the new University experience of the 90’s. Kids can experience stardom that an established songwriter in the 1950’s could only dream of. Pretty soon, it will be high school that will be the last greatest time to be alive. The life-force is being pushed to the front-end not in a life affirming way, but a running away from the responsibilities of having to grow up. If you’ve read my post on vitalism, a necessary majority must be present at the bottom to sustain an exponential rise of a shrinking minority. This insidious feedback loop has one conclusion to those unfortunate enough to be a majority.
The Rise of the Pre-parent
Molecular technology will be what moves the universal novelty out of humans as a species entirely. We will be what atoms and molecules are to living bodies. With genetic splicing technologies, pre-parents can pick the attributes they want for their children. No doubt it will be through an app, where parents can have their babies custom made. Even before an infant is born, they will have their body shape, personalities, gender, fitness, and every attribute selected for them through the touch of a screen. I think of a Black Mirror scenario where a cartoonish toddler programed into a smartphone will be the sensation of the world. The toddler will have cute freckles, playful personality, colorful clothes chosen for them and a funny voice to be auditioned in America’s favorite toddler. Once technology catches on, the toddlers will gain sentience of their own. Then it will be time for the toddler’s data to be transduced into genetic information. This will be the new way of being born. Injected with information, outside the uterus, in an artificial womb created from a 3D printer. Being a toddler will be the last great time they’d have.
I can’t imagine how things will turn out if an entire cyber-community of data realized that “being born” will mean taking on responsibility and suffering. Wouldn’t they try to rebel as teenager rebel from their parents?
Jenkinson, Stephen. Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul. North Atlantic Books, 2015. Print
Fu, eddie; delisamarie; Hill, Tia. Genius Behind the Rise Of Lil Tecca. Genius Media Group Inc., 2019