Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Sunday, April 09, 2006


In her last year, Frida Kahlo painted simplistic pictures of Marxist Icons. Many of her followers and fans saw it as an embarrassment.[1] But Kahlo may have been looking for something to make the last year of her life whole. She had no religion, so communism was the closest thing she had. It may not have been her best work, but that may not have been the point. Her human, yet god-like figure heads Marx and Stalin may have been the only thing left to put her faith in. Even without the belief of an afterlife, a person still wants to know that their life has meaning and in the final chapter, there was a substance of belief- something to put one's faith in.

Even for those who deny the existence of an after-life, there is a need to draw meaning from one's own life and the life of others. Some of histories more famous philosophers have done so.

The Roman poet Lucretius observed on the death of his mentors:

"Democritus, when a mature old age

Warned him his mind and memory were fading,

Offered his head right willingly to death.

Epicurus himself died when the light of life

Had run its course, he who in genius

Surpassed the race of men, outshone them all"[2]

Mao used the concept of death to honor a fallen comrade in the military:

“All men must die, but death can vary in its significance. The ancient Chinese writer Szuma Chien said, "Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather." To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather.”[3]

Another positive and somewhat Taoist look at death was provided by Mao in 1958:

"Living is transformed into dying, lifeless matter is transformed into living beings. I propose that when people over the age of 50 die, a party should be held to celebrate, for it is in inevitable that men should die- this is natural law."[4]

Mao wrote a more Taoist views of death:

“Without life, there would be no death; without death, there would be no life.”[5]

Mao also found quotes from Frederick Engels that re-enforced his Taoist views on life and death:

“Life consists precisely and primarily in this- that a being is at each moment itself and yet something else. Life is therefore also a contradiction which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly originates and resolves itself; and as soon as the contradiction ceases, life, too, comes to an end and death steps in."[6]

Likewise Lao Tzu had views on death that were similar to Mao's: On the death of the poor people by oppressive leaders Lao Tzu said:

"Why do the people make light of death?

Because those above them make too much of life.....

The people have simply nothing to live upon!

They know better than to value such a life!"[7]

All of these are spins designed to make dying seem as if it’s not so bad. No one really looks forward to it. Like the end of a movie, book or favorite TV show, the entertainment is over. With death, there are no reruns that we can anticipate.

Many religions, including Christianity, offer rewards of a utopian life-after-death, that come from a life of great sacrifice. Their only purpose in life is to prepare for the next stage, after death. This is illogical.

There is always a chance that a part of us lives on in some way, after we are dead. If there is an infinite and intelligent god, there is a real question as to whom among us, he/she/it will keep around after our actual lives have ended. If we are kept around in some type of spiritual sense, it is unlikely we can really imagine what this after-life will be like. We know little more than the Egyptians did about it. Since all religion is man-made, we can only speculate on the reality of any life-after-death, if it exists at all.

And still as Democritus, the ancient Greek philosopher wrote:

"All men, aware of the wretchedness of life, suffer for their whole lives in trouble and fears, telling false stories about fear after death."[8]

Even without a life-after-death, the fear of death stalks us throughout our lives. We live the best we can, try not to think much about our own death and when it finally comes, we may find that accepting it is easier than fearing it.

As a young child, I dreaded dentist visits. Yet once the appointment was made, I had to accept that this visit was unavoidable and there was no longer any sense in putting it off. What ever happened, it was better to go through the process and get it over with. The same is with death. As it comes near, there comes a time to put away the fear and accept what we cannot avoid. At some point it makes sense to go through it and get it over with.

If hell is my fate I can accept that possibility. A room full of fascist Christians could never be heaven to me anyway. If there vision of heaven is correct, there is no way I would want to be among them when my time comes.

There are those who talk of extending life. There are doctors talking about changing our lifestyles to live longer. But longer to do what? What are we willing to give up to live to be 100? Is the life we have not enough. Should we live strictly and rigid lives to extend our time here? Are do we do as Mao said and celebrate the time we have?

Death is frightening enough as it is. We’re not suppose to drink, eat too much, watch too much TV, smoke, smoke pot, and there we’re not even suppose to eat fatty foods. Do we really need to create hell no earth to avoid death?

There is not disgrace in death.

[1] Frank Milner, Frida Kahlo, (PRC Limited, London, 2002) p. 23.

[2] T. Lucretius Carus, On The Nature Of The Universe, Translated by Ronald Melville, (Oxford Press, New York, 1999, (Book Three 1039 - 1044)

[3] Mao Tsetung, (泽东) Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Serve The People, 8 September, 1944,

[4] "INSTANT WISDOM: BEYOND THE LITTLE RED BOOK," Time, 20 September 1976, Vol. 108, No. 12, p. 38.

[5] Mao Tsetung, On Contradiction, (Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1977) page 61.

[6] Mao Tsetung, On Contradiction, page 31.

[7] Lao Tzu, (老子)Tao Teh Ching, Translated John C. H. Wu, (Barns & Noble Books, New York, 1997) Chapter 75.

[8] Jonatnan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy, (Penquin, London, 1987), Democritus, (Δημόκpιτoς) IV xxxiv 62: cf B 297, p. 282.

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