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Big man, pig man/Ha ha, charade you are – Pink Floyd

Wonderful news: Our technomessianist professionals in the laboratories and operating rooms have developed at long last the method for implanting successfully a pig’s heart into a man. It was accomplished this past January for the first time, and was of such momentous occasion that major media celebrated the god-like return of the pigman heartholder from the verge of certain death.

The pigman, David Bennett of Maryland, 57, suffered an unspecified heart ailment that condemned him to die sooner rather than later (but, you ask, aren’t we all so condemned? – no matter!).

Mr. Bennett is not to blame. He did exactly what the American orthodoxy of death-fright tells us is the thing to do: He used up resources that should have gone, say, to children and mothers so that he could cling a little while longer to the ruined vestiges of health. He will continue to use resources for years to come, as having a pig heart in your chest requires constant tending and worry.

Perhaps he had read Tecumseh’s dying words and ignored them like every true death-fearing American must: “Be not like those who...when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

Or perhaps he recalled Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “Many too many…hang on their branches much too long. I wish a storm would come and shake all this rottenness and worm-eatenness from the tree! I wish preachers of speedy death would come! They would be the fitting storm and shakers of the trees of life!”

No shakers of the trees of life in these here United States – that was the stuff of “primitives” like Tecumseh who had a dignified relationship with death.

Take the fear of death and mix it with the profit motive and the frantic race of the tech messianists and tech saviorists, and you have the recipe for a mad scramble of weeping and praying for a little more time by just about everybody who can scramble and weep and pray. A nation of cowards bends with eyes wide at every mention of whatever the tinkerers mindlessly conceive as a technological fix for mortality – made all the more mindless because mortality, as we all know, has no fix.

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I am reminded of Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm’s combative 1984 comments on the “duty to die,” delivered to a meeting of the Colorado Health Lawyers Association. “We've got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that,” said Lamm, “and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.” Lamm was the subject of hysterical reproach, but he later wrote in a letter to the New York Times – which had fanned the hysteria – that he “was essentially raising a general statement about the human condition.”

The human what? Oh right – that we are the only animals conscious of death. Better to not talk about that.

No, let’s breed more genetically-altered pigs, that they may grow hearts for humans to use. Think of the long-term benefits: Once the heart is harvested and implanted, the recipient can eat from the donor pig a hunk of bacon. Hundreds of years from now, as historians look back on this age of miracles, they will recall that one of our seminal discoveries was that a pig-heart planted in a man is immune to bacon’s effects on the arteries.

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Alex Ebert, the musician, observed in a recent Substack piece that our avoidance of death has a strong parallel in the behavior of cancer cells. Cancer cells flourish because they resist the fundamental self-regulating mechanism in multicellular organisms, the process of apoptosis or programmed cell death. (Nietzsche would enjoy apoptosis, which in the original Greek meant the “shaking of leaves” from trees at the end of the perennial life cycle.) By programming cell death, a healthy organism is able to modulate cell growth in “a continually occurring, tightly regulated process that maintains the homeostatic cellular balance in a normal animal.”

Hi, we're cancer cells -- be like us!

Hi, we're cancer cells -- be like us!

Ebert notes that instead of “integrating death for the good of the whole,” cancer cells “destroy the whole. The cancer cell refuses to integrate death.” The analogy with Homo sapiens technologicus and the ecological crisis we’ve created hardly needs elaboration: Our advancing machines allow us to believe that avoidance of death is the proper path, that we are not only exceptional but exemptional, which produces warped relations with earth, relegated now to a mere assemblage of resources to be exploited for the growth of the master species – whose overshoot strains the biological carrying capacity of the planet, which leads then to collapsing earth systems. That collapse is otherwise known as the destruction of the whole.

What strikes Ebert in this line of argument is that since roughly the dawn of industrialization “existential initiations” – by which he means death initiations – “have gone conspicuously missing from culture.” “From the Aboriginal Walkabout to the Native American Vision Quest to the Senegalese Kore to the Grecian Eleusinian Mysteries, existential initiations or ‘death initiations’ were a near-ubiquitous feature of the cultures of antiquity,” he writes. “Part of becoming an adult or a realized person. Facing the void…Celebrating the beauty of transience. Integrating death.” The kind of ritual that Tecumseh knew well.

For Homo sapiens as god-on-earth, however, there can be no such integration. We honor instead the pigman’s heart transplant, another grand gesture in the denial of death – and we do so increasingly at the peril of our species. 

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