Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Amortality: A Consequence of Early Mortality

Catherine Mayer writes in Time about one of Ten Ideas that are Changing the World: Amortality. She writes, “The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.” Ms. Mayer observes that this is more than a result of boomer age-resistance; it’s actually a separate (if related?) phenomenon.

I have noticed this “amortality” in myself, although I have tended to write it off as a product of life on the early side of middle age. I have assumed that my desire to pretend I am still in college is either some form of mid-life crisis, or some immaturity I will outgrow, or both.

But, in any case, I think Amortality is a consequence of Early Mortality, of the death-cult envelope in which every member of the developed world now lives.

From the earliest ages, we are super-aware of death and its causes:

• Posters in our local pediatrician’s office show pictures of slim children and obese children, and list the statistical likelihood of illness and death for each.

• The ebullient BNL song, “If I had a million dollars, I would buy you a fur coat, but not a real fur coat, that’s cruel – I would buy you an exotic pet, like a llama or an emu – We wouldn’t have to walk to the store, we’d take a limo ‘cause it costs more” is sadly irrelevant. If I had a million dollars, I’d stick it in a CD or a mattress and wait for the market to improve, so that I’d be able to afford long term healthcare.

• News websites feed our hunger for statistics as well as fear, plugging us with numbers on the top ten causes of death in our country, state and hometown, broken down by age, demographic and social status.

We worry about diet, exercise, retirement accounts, long term care insurance, war and terrorism, global warming, social collapse, anxiety disorders.

We start forestalling death in our youth, with everything from college-prep pre-schools to pre-arranged funerals.

So it’s only natural that, with death constantly on our mind, we live every moment to its desperately youthful fullest, to the best of our ability, resisting any change, any concession to the grave. We are afraid to do otherwise.

The irony is that this desperate amortality is, itself, a contributing factor for those anxiety disorders. As the Talmud teaches, one who is forever worried about tomorrow’s bread has no life at all.

We might do well to acknowledge the grave even as we forestall it; acceptance tends to be a healthier option, physically, than denial.


  1. I think there's more "I" in those statements than "we" - I'm certainly not preoccupied with motrality, and neither are most of the people I know.

    But we DO have a very different lifecycle ahead of us than our grandparents or great-grandparents did. Most of us are probably facing not months, but years or decades of incapacitated-but-still-alive time when we need full-time care. In the past, these folks used to just die, not linger.

    Hard on the caregivers, but also hard on the lingerers. I think part of the amortality is simply that people EXPECT to continue to be healed, cured, restored, etc., for much longer than they used to.

    Remember the generations for whom a broken hip was basically a death sentence, as they retired to bed and never got up again?

    Now you've got people that age having tennis injuries fixed so they can get back in the game.

    Unfortunately, we still can't "heal" things like macular degeneration, age-related hearing loss, and all the other things today's old folks suffer from.

  2. I hear, Tzipporah, but so many people I see are absorbed in warding off death that I can't help but think it really is a "we."