Monthly Archives: September 2013

Good Death and its correlation to cultural adequacy

Last week, in class we discussed an important quote from Kearl’s article on the social stratification of death that speaks about “the ability  of a society to allocate as many good deaths as possible to its members as a measure of its cultural adequacy…[and]..allow individuals to die in character, at their own pace, and in their own style.” (Kearl, 122)  Societies that can efficiently meet the health and material needs of their citizens are more likely to see higher life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates.  Developing countries are more likely to see deaths that Kearl constitutes as bad such as infant deaths and a lack of longevity in age.  According to the world fact book and a news article in the UK, the top ranking countries with high levels of infant mortality and lower life expectancy’s belong to the developing world.

I’ve heard of children in hospitals in Ethiopia with simple respiratory problems that could have been successfully treated had they been admitted into western hospitals that are more sanitary, better in quality of medical technology, and have greater number of doctors. Their health depreciated due to exposure of TB from other patients in the same crowded hospital with one doctor to too many patients.   This inability to have the necessary resources to sustain lives of citizens is an enormous problematic issue in developing nations that pays a heavy price in greater outcomes of “bad death”.

I came across an interesting article on CNN that asks the question of why is the United States, on of the most powerful countries, seeing earlier deaths than its other powerful peers. There are high rates of death due to cardiovascular related diseases that shorten life expectancy.The article before in the UK news ranked the US # 51 in life expectancy following behind many powerful and less powerful countries in Europe.

The issue at hand is not about the ability of the country to allocate necessary resources but rather issues with lifestyle decisions.    According to the CNN article, there are holes within the healthcare system but that alone is not the reason for the lag in longevity. There are greater problems with the lifestyle choices that Americans make in their calorie intakes, food choices, and safety choices such as buckling a seatbelt.  This suggests that good deaths can be measured by looking at the adequacy of a culture’s lifestyle practices.











Chemical Weapons and Mass Killing in Syria

For the past few weeks, we have watched history in the making.  After the August 21st attack outside of Damascus, in which it has become clear that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons, President Obama spoke of the impetus for the U.S. to militarily intervene in Syria.  Though the “Syrian Crisis” now seems to be on the wane and President Obama has modified his approach, the crisis raised serious questions about the nature and means of death.

Syria has been locked in a deadly civil war for over two years.  More than 100,000 people have died and millions have become refugees.  Yet, it was not until last month that President Obama warned the Assad regime not to cross a “red line,” a metaphorical humanitarian boundary.  The question is, do the means through which a regime murders its people matter?  Is there something fundamentally unthinkable about the use of chemical weapons?  According to a Huffington Post article (See below), not more than 500 casualties were observed from the chemical attacks.  Therefore, is this adequate justification for military intervention?

Without launching a debate on politics or U.S. foreign policy, I would like to discuss the implications of chemical weapons.  They seem to represent monstrous mass killing, not seen since the trench warfare of the first world war.  But they also hold a moral weight.  The argument appears to be that death is not just death, rather, the means matter.  There is something intrinsically horrific about extermination via gas.  President Obama used this idea, when he described children writhing in pain from chemical gas attacks.

The real question, then, is whether the means of death can be compared.  Are specific methods, such as chemical gas, absolutely immoral?  Do they justify U.S. retaliation via airstrike, which would presumably result in much larger civilian casualties, or can we accept that death is death, measurable in scale, but whose means do not matter?  

Killing in the Name of Honor

Honor killings have been defined as the homicide of a family member, typically a woman, due to the belief that the victim has brought dishonor or shame to the family. This dishonor is usually brought upon the family due to rumors involving the woman having an affair or a relationship with a man, who does not meet the family standards. These honor killings are predominant in regions of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Often, these honor killings go unreported and never reach the public eye.

In a recent article in The Jerusalem Report, a young woman was a victim of an honor killing, due to rumors that she was having a relationship with a Muslim man, something her Christian family did not deem appropriate. Due to these accusations, the woman was stabbed and killed by her cousin’s brother. The victim’s cousin, Sarah, reflects on the moment she figured out what had happened to her cousin and discusses the constant outbreaks of honor killings throughout Egypt that made her want to come out and tell her story. The link to the article can be found here:

Death is always viewed as a solemn event in any culture; however, it is more tragic to hear that a family member would kill their own. What is even more shocking is when the death is the result of a mere rumor. It makes you question how far people are willing to go in the name of honor and how people in these societies belittle the value of a human life, or more specifically, the value of a woman’s life. This article brings up the debate of when a cultural practice or ritual is no longer ethical and if it should still be tolerated. Would it be considered ethnocentric for Westerners to say that these killings are inhumane and should be stopped, or do the men in these cultures have the right to kill members of their family in the name of honor because it’s simply the way their society works?


We are all born to die.

We mentioned in class the other day how “dying young” can be considered a “bad death”. However, I came to thinking about our current young culture of YOLO (Thank you Drake). “You only live once” has perfused through so much of our culture, especially for young populations, that death is a far off thing. Right now, people feel they’re invincible, living on extremes and partaking in behavior that contributes to a slow and invisible death (the booze and buzz for example). The typical college scene thrives off of this image of do-whatever-you-want because, hey, what do you have to lose (besides your one life)?

I was listening to Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die”, and I thought it summed up this idea in an interesting way. The lyrics:

“Come on take a walk on the wild side
Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain
You like your girls insane…
Choose your last words,
This is the last time
Cause you and I
We were born to die”

Scene from “Born to Die” Music Video

In an interview Lana says, “When I was young I was overwhelmed by thoughts of my own mortality, but I also found fleeting moments of happiness in the arms of my lover and friends. This track and the record are about these two worlds–death and love–coming together.”

Our culture is so obsessed with death, but in a variety of ways apparent in our social media. The underlying theme I see, especially in music, is that regardless of how or when you die, death is universal. We are all born in this world and at some point we all leave it. It almost is like we are born to die, for death is inescapable for everyone. Why not go all out then and “live like you’re dying”?