Death Positive Movement
post by lejuletre
The Death Positive Movement was started by Caitlin Doughty to build a culture of positivity around the prospect of human mortality. The 8 Tenets of the Death Positive Movement are outlined as follows:
- I believe that by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society.
- I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.
- I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.
- I believe that the dead body is not dangerous, and that everyone should be empowered (should they wish to be) to be involved in care for their own dead.
- I believe that the laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honored, regardless of sexual, gender, racial or religious identity.
- I believe that my death should be handled in a way that does not do great harm to the environment.
- I believe that my family and friends should know my end-of-life wishes, and that I should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.
- I believe that my open, honest advocacy around death can make a difference, and can change culture.
I was familiar with the DPM through several friends long before I was aware of rationality. Getting involved with rationality and LessWrong has put me in contact with many people who hope to live forever (or a very very long time), who believe that death is unequivocally bad, and who have devoted their lives in one way or another to combating death and reducing it wherever possible.
On the face of it, these seem very contradictory. The Death Positive Movement is all about coming to terms with the inevitability of death, not trying to fight it. And yet there isn't anything in the 8 Tenets that seem to stick out as being at odds with a desire for a long/never-ending/indefinite lifespan. (Unless you disagree about death being inevitable, in which case I'm especially interesting in hearing your thoughts.)
I have always had some degree of thanatophobia (death anxiety) throughout my life, ranging from dull dread to daily panic attacks. The DPM has always appealed to me as a way of combating this death anxiety: If I could conceptualize death as less of a boogeyman, maybe it wouldn't seem so scary. If I could talk about death openly, maybe I could make contingency plans that would help soothe me. If everyone was more open about their personal fears regarding death, maybe I wouldn't feel as cowardly.
But the prospect of ubiquitous indefinite lifespans would also soothe my anxiety. I could avoid the fear of anyone dying (though the end of cancer might not mean the end of car crashes) because the possibility wouldn't be there in the first place.
I'm still working through my own relationship with mortality of both myself and my loved ones, and I'm curious to hear anyone's thoughts.
Have you heard of the Death Positive Movement? To what degree does it seem compatible with the desire for indefinite lifespans? Could one be part of the Death Positive Movement and still have a personal desire to live forever? Is a cultural attitude of death positivity compatible with a cultural desire to disarm death?
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comment by frontier64 ·
2020-12-11T22:10:09.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The death positivity movement seems to misunderstand the point that the issue with death isn't some ancillary result such as people not getting buried in the exact way they desire, but rather that sapient human beings with thoughts, knowledge, memories, and emotions are ceasing to exist forever! Now if DPM thinks that there are issues in the way that death is handled that cause solvable negative externalities (besides people dying) that's all well and good and probably true. The problem is that they seem to equate solving those minor negative externalities with solving the inherent problem of death itself.
The website's name, "Order of the Good Death" is oxymoronic. Death is bad. Even if people can die at age 90 in exactly the way they want, have their remains taken care of exactly how they want, and be assured that their decaying body won't negatively impact the environment, their death is still bad. DPM implies this bizarro world where if they can just solve all these minor issues related to death that somehow the whole process will become good. If you could just take out all the fuss, dirtiness, and other minor negative externalities from torture then that practice could be made "good" as well.
I see no value in this movement and actually quite a bit of harm as it may successfully attract resources that could otherwise be used to solve the fundamental problems of aging and death towards solving non-issues like overcrowded burial sites.
Additionally, tenets 5 and 6 are clear warning signs of intersectional nonsense: "Let's throw some anti-racist and anti-sexist talking points into our philosophy to latch onto those movements and hopefully they'll throw some support our way." The rest of the website is littered with similar intersectional phrases as well. They're not there to solve any particular issue but to signal to others that the founders of this movement are Right-Minded Thinkers Who Should Be Supported By The Cause. Any movement that isn't explicitly related to anti-racism or anti-sexism that wastes bandwidth signalling to people that supporters of this movement are also anti-racists and anti-sexists just isn't practicing effective altruism and is instead virtue-signalling.
Replies from: pjeby, lejuletre
↑ comment by pjeby ·
2020-12-17T21:30:12.914Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The website's name, "Order of the Good Death" is oxymoronic. Death is bad. Even if people can die at age 90 in exactly the way they want, have their remains taken care of exactly how they want, and be assured that their decaying body won't negatively impact the environment, their death is still bad.
Bad for whom?
Replies from: frontier64
↑ comment by frontier64 ·
2020-12-26T00:42:05.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Eliezer has written extensively on why death is bad for everyone and my understanding closely aligns with his.
Replies from: pjeby
↑ comment by pjeby ·
2020-12-26T22:09:47.369Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I think you're missing the point of my question, which was that "Death is bad" is, at least on the surface, an instance of the Mind Projection Fallacy: projecting a label out into the world as if it could exist independently of the mind doing the labeling.
Specifically, "badness" requires a mind capable of experiencing the concept of badness... and a dead person lacks such a mind. So to say "Death is bad" is leaving out the whom. That is, it's bad as perceived by the living. Dead people lack any values by which to judge it, or an active mind with which to do the judging.
While a person is alive, they can look forward to a future in which they would dead, and experience emotions regarding this imaginary predicted future... but that's not the same thing as that future actually being "bad" for them in that future time. It can only be bad for people still alive.
So, (for example) the analogy to torture fails here. A tortured person is alive and can perceive the experience to be bad, regardless of whether anyone else cares. But a dead person can only matter to the living.
↑ comment by lejuletre ·
2020-12-12T00:30:10.284Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Even if people can die at age 90 in exactly the way they want, have their remains taken care of exactly how they want, and be assured that their decaying body won't negatively impact the environment, their death is still bad.
Would you say that a 90 year old who feels that they are ready to die is suicidal? Is being ready for death the same as wanting to die? I can definitely see how the DPM could lead to restructuring of resources which may be counterproductive. But I think that is only the case if full immortality is in fact achievable. Do you think that it is? If not, it seems to me that cultivating a healthy reconciliation with death is a worthwhile goal as long as freak accidents can end still lives.
Also, 5 and 6 definitely seem like liberal posturing, but I think they're entirely necessary. Especially with regards to religious traditions, I don't think it's unreasonable to specifically state that respecting the religious traditions of the dead are important, especially if the dead person in question is a member of a minority religion.
The impact of the funeral industry on the environment is also not negligible. The first duckduckgo result for "environmental impact of burials" was this article, which says that
According to the Berkeley Planning Journal, conventional burials in the U.S. use 30 million pounds of hardwood, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, 104,272 tons of steel, and 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete for burial vaults and caskets. The sheer amount of materials used is staggering.
The amount of wood needed to create caskets is equivalent to 4 million square acres of forest, which contains enough trees to sequester 65 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. The amount of wood used in casket making can supply the wood needed to build over 90,000 homes.
Many members of the DPM favor natural burial (put the body directly in the ground), but since this is far from the status quo, and since the status quo is itself harmful, I think addressing this concern is not entirely signalling.
I hope I'm not misinterpreting you! Let me know if you have any further thoughts. Your points are very interesting.Replies from: Viliam
↑ comment by Viliam ·
2020-12-17T19:41:22.911Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Would you say that a 90 year old who feels that they are ready to die is suicidal?
Suicidal would imply that they somehow actively contribute to the outcome. Like if they stopped eating, or something. For merely feeling ready to die, I'd say the proper word is "depressive".
comment by pjeby ·
2020-12-17T21:27:38.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Could one be part of the Death Positive Movement and still have a personal desire to live forever? Is a cultural attitude of death positivity compatible with a cultural desire to disarm death?
Sure. Why not?
ISTM the term "Death Positive" is a weird misnomer, though I can sort of understand it as a spin on "Sex Positive", as in, sex positivity is about removing taboos from the discussion of sex. But it sounds more like "Positive" in these terms expand to, "let's make it so we can talk about this without it being weird," not necessarily "there should be more of this thing".