Tuesday, September 12, 2006

We Are All Going to Die

On my first trip to Paris, it was the sign on the Metro doors that struck me. It was something like, 'There is danger of death'. How true, I thought, how universally, eternally true. These days, of course, we go out of our way to pretend this is not, in fact, true. The architects Skidmore Owings and Merrill, for example, have been bragging about the way they have made their new Freedom Tower, now going up on Ground Zero in New York, impossible to knock over by crashing a plane into it. In spite of the fact that such an incident did happen twice five years ago, this still sounds somewhat surreal - as if they had decided to protect the building from an attack by 20 foot killer bees. But it is the sort of thing SOM had to say because every time a novel way of dying appears, everybody runs around trying to stamp it out. We also have these new alert levels designed to tell us the likelihood of a terrorist attack. In the US, it is called the Homeland Security Advisory System and it has five levels running from low to severe. That word 'advisory' strikes me as dangerously non-committal. Once 'advised', do we just mutter anxiously to ourselves at 'low' and run around screaming with paper bags on our heads at 'severe'? There are many other more imminent risks than terrorism. There is always danger of death. Being ready from moment to moment to die seems to me to be the essence of the life well lived. Lives in the present climate of fear and litigation are not being lived well.

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