There is a very popular opinion that choosing life is inherently superior to choosing death… This bias constitutes one of the most obstinate mythologies of the human species.
This prejudice against death, however, is a kind of xenophobia. Discrimination against death is simply assumed good and right. Absolutist faith in life is commonly a result of the unthinking conviction that existence or survival, along with an irrational fear of death, is “good”. This unreasoned conviction in the rightness of life over death is like a god or a mass delusion. Life is the “noble lie”; the common secular religion of the West.
For the conventional Westerner, the obvious leap of faith to make here is that one’s “self” and its preservation constitute the first measure of rationality. Yet if one begins reasoning with the unquestioned premise that life is good, or that one’s own life or any life is justified, this is very different from bringing that premise itself to be questioned rationally. Anyone who has ever contemplated his or her own mortality might question the ultimate sanity of the premise of self-preservation. Even if it is possible to live forever, moreover, this makes not an iota of difference as to the question of the value of existence.
Most people are so prejudiced on this issue that they simply refuse to even consider the possibilities of death. Humans tend to be so irrationally prejudiced towards the premise of life that rational treatment of death seldom sees the light of day. Most people will likely fall back on their most thoughtless convictions, intuitions, and instincts, instead of attempting to actually think through their biases (much less overcome them).
Yet is choosing death “irrational”? For what reason? For most people, “irrationality” apparently refers to a subjectivity experience in which their fear of death masters them — as opposed the discipline of mastering one’s fear of death. By “irrational”, they mean that they feel compelled to bow down before this master. An individual is “free”, apparently, when he or she is too scared to question obedience to the authority of the fear of death. This unquestioned slavery to the most common and unreasonable instincts is what, in practice, liberal-individualists call rationalism.
Most common moral positions justify and cloak this fear of death. And like any traditional authority, time has gathered a whole system of rituals, conventions, and customs to maintain its authority and power as unquestionable, inevitable, and fated; fear of death as the true, the good, and the beautiful. For most people, fear of death is the unquestionable master that establishes all other hierarchies — both social hierarchies, and the hierarchies within one’s own mind. Most are humbly grateful for the very privilege of obedience and do not want to be free.
I propose opening your mind towards the liberation of death; towards exposing this blind faith in life as a myth, a bias, and an error. To overcome this delusion, the “magic spell” of pious reverence for life over death must be broken. To do so is to examine the faith in life that has been left unexamined; the naïve secular and non-secular faith in life over death.
Opening one’s mind to death emerges from the attempt to unshackle one’s mind from the limitations of all borders. It leads to overcoming all biological boundaries, including borders between the “self” and the larger world. It reaches towards the elimination of biologically based prejudices altogether, including prejudice towards biological self-preservation.
The attempt to go beyond ethnocentrism and anthropomorphism leads towards overcoming the prejudices of what I call viviocentrism, or, life-centeredness. Just as overcoming ethnocentrism requires recognition of the provincialism of ethnic values, overcoming viviocentrism emerges from the recognition of the provincialism of life values. Viviocentric provincialism is exposed through an enlarged view from our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, and the limits of our knowledge of the larger cosmos we live in.
Overcoming the prejudice against death, then, is only an extension and continuation of the Western project of eliminating bias, especially biologically based biases (i.e. race or sex based biases). The liberation of death is only the next step in the political logic that has hitherto sought to overcome prejudices based on old assumptions of a fixed biological human nature. Its opposite is an Aristotelian, teleological conception of nature; a nature of natural slaves, natural aristocracy, natural patriarchy, natural inferiority of women, natural racial kinds, natural heterosexuality and, finally, natural self-preservation. This older, teleological view suggests that individual self-preservation is an expression of a fixed biologically based nature that culture and/or reason is incapable of changing, altering, or overcoming.
Just as it was considered unnatural or even insane that men be loosed from “natural” subordination to their king, or that women be unchained from “natural” subordination to their fathers and husbands, today it is considered unnatural that death be liberated from its “natural” subordination to the tyranny of life. From this point of view, one can recognize that the pro-choice stance on abortion and the right to die stance on euthanasia have already opened paths over conventional pro-life superstitions. These developments towards the liberation of biological death may lead to what may be the highest fulfillment of egalitarian progress: the equality of life and death.
— Mitchell Heisman, An Experiment in Nihilism