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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Robert Nozick and Aldous Huxley on death, and the passing of Ivor Dent

In his book, “Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations,” the late Robert Nozick, Harvard professor and author of a definitive and important libertarian classic, “Anarchy, State, And Utopia,” wrote this about his ailing father:

"Mingled with concern for my father is the thought that he is blazing a trail for me.”

I don’t have a copy of the book at my office, from which to quote, but Nozick goes on to argue that people don’t give much thought to their own mortality until a parent dies, the assumption being that death will respect a natural queue. Parents die before their children. That’s nature’s way.

Having lost my own father last year, it suddenly occurred to me, as Nozick predicted it would, that I’m getting closer to the front of death’s line. Despite how this may read, it’s not a morose realization, just a mature and realistic one from a man in his thirties.

In fact, it is remarkable how irrelevant death – at least one's own looming death – is to daily life. “Brave New World” author Aldous Huxley wrote that “...the knowledge that every ambition is doomed to frustration at the hands of a skeleton [has] never prevented the majority of human beings from behaving as though death were no more than an unfounded rumor.”

Death, for me, is no longer an unfounded rumour. I no longer enjoy that blissful ignorance. But other than the almost unimportant personal realization that I'm next in line, I’m unchanged by the death of my father; except that I now take the time to read death notices. It now seems important...or at least more important to note the passing of a biographical life.

This brings me to today’s frustrated victim of time and decay, a man who leaves behind tearful friends and family who perhaps have the same unspoken fear that a trail to death’s door has been blazed for them.

In a statement to the media, Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason expressed his sorrow and condolences to the family of former Edmonton mayor Ivor Dent, who recently passed away:

“It is with great sadness that our party mourns the recent passing of Ivor Dent,” Mason said.  “As a member of the Order of Canada, first president of the Alberta NDP, and former mayor of this great city, Ivor worked tirelessly to protect the interests of his community and the principles of social democracy. He will be greatly missed.”

If Dent were still alive, and I had the opportunity, I’d lend him my copy of “Anarchy, State and Utopia” or even “Brave New World” to see if I might convince him that centralized political authority is dangerous. But he’s not. So I too will simply express my condolences to his family and friends and go on examining my own life.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on March 31, 2009 | Permalink


Matthew: Only you could somehow link Ivor Dent and Aldous Huxley.
It showed up on a Google news search and brought me to this site.
Hope all's well with you.

Posted by: kerry diotte | 2009-03-31 7:30:51 PM

Hah. I'll take that as compliment, Kerry.

I'm great. I trust your doing well.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-03-31 7:43:18 PM

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