“Throughout history death has always been the solution to many of life’s problems…”

I always hold my breath when I see a phrase like “throughout history” in a student paper. So often what follows is a trip back to Yore (as Phoebe named it in one Friends episode), when paper dolls lurched through a landscape of generalizations and stereotypes in conformity with some modern notion.

This little paragraph made me hold my breath for more reasons than that, though. Death as an end to a problem is a common notion, but as a solution to life’s problems is somewhat bizarre—unless the death removes something that was preventing someone else from solving a problem, as is so often the case in murder mysteries.

Well, let’s take a deep breath and finish the paragraph:

“Throughout history death has always been the solution to many of life’s problems. Simply because it is ingrained in human nature, death has solved issues such as hunger, insanity, and even betrayal.”

Say what?

Death is “ingrained in human nature”? Inherent in the human condition, perhaps, or inevitable for all living creatures; but “ingrained in human nature” would seem more applicable to something like the survival instinct, or, for the more highly-evolved, greed, lust, jealousy (optimistic people please insert more-positive drives here).

Moving along, we see death as the solution for hunger. I suppose a starving person could end his hunger by dying. From another perspective, I suppose where the food supply is low the death of a few potential diners would mean more for the survivors. And for those poor people snowed in in the Donner Pass, or afloat in a lifeboat from the whaler Essex, the death of a companion directly equates to a solution for the hunger of everybody else.

A solution for insanity? How, except insofar as a deceased madman is also no longer insane (as far as we earthbound spirits know)?

Betrayal? I guess the death of the betrayer at the hands of the betrayed, also known as “revenge,” might qualify; but that doesn’t so much solve the betrayal as give its victim some payback.

I really don’t know (or maybe just don’t want to know) what this student meant. He doesn’t mention crime as one of the things death is “a solution” for; but since another quotation on the next page of my Book of Horrors says “The state of Texas is known for its recurring death sentences” (recurring to the same person, I wonder?), maybe that is what he was writing about. The case that was the context for the latter statement had to do with a father who killed his son to “save” him from drugs; maybe the former statement also contemplated the father as someone trying to “solve” the problem of drug use by giving his son a dose of death….

Moreover, my student isn’t saying death is a solution for instances of hunger, insanity, betrayal, or perhaps crime; he says it will solve the issues themselves. Okay, then: the death of all life on earth will end the issue of hunger. It will end all terrestrial issues, for that matter. As the end of life, death isn’t just a solution to “many of life’s problems”: it solves them all, in one fell swoop. But there won’t be anyone around, except possibly God, to enjoy this problem-free, issue-free state, so what good is death in that sense?

Anyway, if the student is thinking about instances of these problems rather than the problems themselves (as I like to think he is), I’d be inclined to search diligently for a solution more humane, and more constructive, than death.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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