Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Denis de Rougemont

My introduction to the work of this Swiss theologian was during my senior year at UCLA. I was an English honors student, requiring a senior thesis. I chose a trilogy of book-length poems by E. A. Robinson, his Arthurian cycle. In my research I read de Rougemont's Love In the Western World, which informed my thesis considerably. I went on to read other books of his, including Love Declared: Essays on the Myths of Love and The Devil's Share.

The latter, a very thin book, really has stuck with me. In it, de Rougemont laments that humans in the western world were making an unprecedented experiment in the elimination of risks before they fall due, driven by a growing capitalist insurance field. Facing and conquering risks, rather than eliminating them, had its place in the human equation, he argued. We are wrong to favor easy short-term solutions over facing long-term issues.

This, in my view, is exactly what has happened in medicine. Technology has given us miracles -- we have two bionic examples in this house! But we are farther than ever from facing Death with regard to its meaning, its uses, its proper place in the human condition. We favor quantity over quality. Certainly my quality of life as a kid driving through orange groves on a bus ride from Pasadena to Santa Anita race track reflects a better quality of life than the freeway drive today! Progress has polluted the planet. And we call this PROGRESS!?

We still hide and disregard the aged. We don't make passing easier unless, in some states, they get a terminal illness. We give them no real choices with regard to passing. Instead we do everything we can to prolong life, without even considering the possibility that some old folks may be perfectly happy to pass peacefully -- right now!

The elimination of risks before they fall due can have dire consequences, de Rougemont warned over half a century ago. I think he was right.

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