Vitalism Signs

By Rebecca Koch 

Despite my reputation (admittedly self-perpetuated) as the “goober voice of vitalism,” in actuality I have more than a nodding acquaintance with what is commonly referred to as “the arts.” Although I’d rather be wrapped in barbed wire and poked with a stick than attend an opera or ballet, I’ve taken many deeply rewarding opportunities to visit the art and natural history museums of nearly every city I’ve ever visited. I once even drove more than 450 miles, probably 100 of them through a record-breaking snowfall, to catch the Van Gogh exhibit at the National Museum of Art. Yes, goober though I may be, I’ve stood in front of paintings, in public galleries—out in front of God, sophisticates and everybody—and wept. Embarrassing, yes, but true.

Thus it is, through the gift of public museums, that I’ve had the opportunity to visit extensive exhibits of the work ordered by Chinese emperors and Egyptian pharaohs—and been nearly overwhelmed by a remarkable similarity between the two. Both ancient Chinese and Egyptian societies—and many before them—seem to have produced rulers who, even though separated by centuries and continents, came to the very same delusional conclusion: If I’m wealthy enough, amass enough stuff and enough people to do my bidding and build big enough monuments to myself, I will live forever.  

There must be something about great wealth—whether in money, power or intellect—that seems to lead some human beings to forget there is a natural order and that they are inextricably tied to it. We live in a time in which a greater percentage of people in industrialized nations are wealthy in the sense that we have plenty—though the pie is definitely shrinking. For the most part, even as we must recognize there are heartbreaking (and widening) gaps for some, we have more than enough to eat year-round, a longer life expectancy, greater access to clean water and sanitation, more leisure time and more disposable income—across the board—than at any other time in history.  

Flash ahead a few years from my realization that vast wealth somehow creates the delusion in dynastic rulers that death can be thwarted, and imagine how stunned I was to find clear evidence that “regular folks,” some of whom read my hometown newspaper, now hold this delusion—at least subconsciously. It was with fascination, disbelief and, finally, a kind of horror that I saw the “Living” section of the paper now contains a regular “Live Forever” feature series.

It’s understandable that human beings who observe that life is self-healing and self-maintaining across the tapestry of life might assume that it could go on forever in an individual—except for the fact that humans are also able to observe death. And, as a vitalist, if you trust that the conscious, creative universe knew what it was doing when it created fevers and such, you must inevitably trust that it knew what it was doing when it created death.

I’ve been joking (or so I thought) for a long time that it’s looking like people are really starting to believe that they can stay (or get) so healthy—or so “medicopharmanutritionally” altered—that they will never die. Or perhaps that they can begin to age in reverse, turning back the clock until they are beamed heavenward by the gleam in their parents’ eyes that immediately preceded their conception. 

It’s been said that our awareness that we are mortal—that our lives are finite and we will die one day—is the hallmark of human awareness or sentience. The very idea that there are books and newspaper articles running under the heading, “Live Forever,” should be disturbing to every vitalistic thinker—every sentient human—on the planet.