Robert Wright: Given the fact that you’re not looking forward to an afterlife, well… maybe the best approach is to just not think about death. But if you do think about it, is there a way you console yourself in the face of it?
David Frum: When you’re younger, it seems a much more terrifying prospect than it does when you’re older. I think we do see it coming and we accept it.
My consolation in my final hours, I hope, will be that I won’t have left anything unsaid. I won’t have left any of the people that I love in any doubt that I love them. That, to the extent of my ability, I’ve made provision for them. That they’ll be secure after I’m gone…
There’s something kind of megalomaniacal about wanting more, wanting our actions to have eternal consequence. I mean, I suppose that’s literally true — if you have a baby, and the baby has a baby, and so on, then yes, your action has an eternal consequence. But we ourselves are going to be forgotten so soon, and those of us who aren’t forgotten are going to be so misunderstood that they might be happier being forgotten.
There are a lot of things that are remembered for ill or even for derision. Whoever invented the Phlogiston theory, he’s remembered — and his work is held up to mockery in science classes from now and for a long time to come.
We look at history and remember the people who left behind misery. Genghis Khan remains a celebrity to this day. But how many people know the name of the man who proved how cholera was caused? How many remember the dozens of obscure civil engineers who put in safe and reliable water piping so we wouldn’t have it anymore?
Most of that desire for remembrance, it usually ends up pretty badly.
An exchange from Frum and Wright’s interview last month in Wright’s MeaningofLife.tv series. You can pick up Frum’s newest Why Romney Lost or Wright’s expansive book The Evolution of God.
So, I think the answer is a resounding not much. Though not exactly wrong, the approach is in many ways an exercise in managing expectations.
Though I disagree with a good bit of Frum’s outlook, I thoroughly enjoyed this interview, as I do almost all of Robert Wright’s conversations, especially those on his new series MeaningofLife.tv. It’s a program devoted to the big questions, with guests who, like Frum, are leaders in their fields though not professionally or at least chiefly concerned with issues of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.
This combination makes for an informal, direct exchange, where intelligent people can make dinner table points instead of polishing well-worn soundbites. As you’ll see in the Frum interview, this is a man who’s thought a lot about these things, though I’m not sure he’s ever been asked a question like “Are you religious?” on camera.
His answer, by the way, is an interesting one. “I’m religious, but I’m not spiritual,” Frum replies, echoing a common though unacknowledged thread in modern reform Judaism. It’s the reversal of that well-worn yawn “I’m spiritual, but I’m…” Well, I can’t even bring myself to type it.
If you want to hear more of Frum, I recommend watching his appearance on Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher, which features a very worthwhile back and forth about why middle class America is falling to pieces.
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