In his last article for The Guardian, days gone by, one of the most recognized thinkers of the moment, the Israeli Yuval Noah Harari, wondered from the title if the coronavirus would change our attitudes towards death. He himself, in his most famous books (“Homo deus” and “Sapiens. From animals to gods”) postulates a future world in which death will be an eternally postponed event, by virtue of the possibilities of science.
Precisely, the cited article begins with the statement that modern man believes that somehow he will be able to overcome this transition and achieve immortality, thanks to his scientific knowledge. This idea, explains Harari, is the one that divides with respect to a world before the modern era. Before, death was a constant presence for man, an inevitable moment, a scene in which the human being laid down his pride and submitted to the power of a superior force, call it destiny, nature or God.
Before the advance of a plague, for example, in antiquity; the communities wept and lamented, but accepted with resignation the designs of that power that surpassed them.
Today the opposite is happening. In the face of any natural disaster, we tend to look for human fault and try to prevent it from happening again. For this reason, the historian explains, these days the temples of the main religions are closed but huge future investments are already planned in the areas of health and science of all governments. Because our new gods are men and women in white coats. And the consciousness of fragility that puts the pandemic so starkly before our eyes will only make us reinforce the only defense mechanism that we recognize today: medicine, biology, technology.
Surely, the philosophy departments of the universities, Harari ironizes, will not see their budgets increased. Governments are not interested in philosophy. But individuals of flesh and blood should be concerned with reflection for the meaning of life, for finding a way to deal with death, grief and losses that affect us all.
On this path, most of us are alone and very poorly equipped.
Plays. Death hides itself, covers itself, surrounds itself with euphemisms. But we can’t avoid it forever. It is precisely in this need to return to one of the great mysteries of life that the success of many literary works on the subject can be understood. From “The Year of Magical Thought” by Joan Didion to “The Death of the Father” by Karl Ove Knausgård or “On the Lives of Others” by Emmanuel Carrère.
We found an identical search in “After Life”, the series written, acted and directed by the savage English comedian, Ricky Gervais, which has just premiered its second season on Netflix.
The approach is simple and spoiler-proof, because not much more happens in the story than is presented in the first chapter: the protagonist’s difficulty in assimilating the death of his young wife, a cancer victim. The man, an authentic Gervais duplicated in fiction, with wild irony, questions everyone around him about the meaning of his existence. Why live if we are going to lose those we want and we too will disappear? In solving this enigma, the series has hilarious moments, which decompress the anguish transmitted by this grieving husband. And in the second season, a touching tenderness appears that coexists with the rawness of our finitude and the enormous joke of believing that we have some power over our lives.
In its realistic approach and without shortcuts, the series also proposes a path of consolation. And that path is made of solidarity, care for others and protection of the weakest.
“If I had the gift of prophecy, and knew all mysteries and all science; If I don’t have love, I am nothing ”, says the Gospel.
Faced with the commotion posed by events such as the pandemic, science can give us peace of mind, but more resources will have to be made to find another type of peace. Philosophy, art, or religion seem to be better equipped to help us understand our limits or bear the weight of big questions.
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Why do we need less science and more philosophy?
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