Getting Into Death

Happy New Year! 

And what better way could there be to kick off 2024 than to write about death? You may recall that in November I described how a heightened awareness of mortality that set in during my mid-40s led me to change my approach to reading, making me more focused and systematic in my choices. But that was just scratching the surface: the truth is, contemplating my final voyage across the river Styx with Charon has proven to be useful in many other areas. In fact, the more I apply the death filter, the easier it becomes to make quick decisions about what to spend my time on, and to ignore all manner of bothersome nonsense. 

As the new year gets underway, I encourage you to do the same. To demonstrate just how handy the death filter can be, I have compiled a few examples of it in action below.

Effective Altruism

I’m not sure when I first heard this embarrassingly clunky term, but I didn’t realize exactly how uninterested I was in it until a year or so back when I was asked to write an article about an argument between some philosophers on the Internet. One of these wise sages was an Effective Altruist, and although I attempted to muster some interest in his writings, it all seemed like warmed over utilitarianism to me. Now it’s possible there was a little more to it than that but I found the idea that our era was privy to some deep moral wisdom that had eluded all previous generations so ridiculous that I declined to investigate the matter any further. 

Now, were I twenty years younger I might have had the patience to learn more about this fad so that I could know better how my fellow mortals were wasting their time. But at this stage in life I have more valuable things to do, such as mowing the grass, and so I declined the commission. I remained vigorously uninterested when crypto bro Sam Bankman-Fried wound up in court and the media started reporting that some of his crimes were inspired by his commitment to Effective Altruism. My suspicion was that it was all a post hoc rationalization for things he would have done anyway, and so via a combination of Occam’s Razor and the death filter I once again spared myself from unnecessary boredom. 

I will confess, however, that when OpenAI nearly self-destructed because an Effective Altruist on the board was worried that their probabilistic word-generator might develop super intelligence and wipe out humanity (or something along those lines) I was briefly tempted to take a closer look. Perhaps Effective Altruism was less superfluous than it seemed, and was actually a wacky cult — like Theosophy, for instance. But Theosophy is more fun: Madame Blavatsky had a baboon, and even then I still wouldn’t read her writings. Perhaps if I had 200 years to live, but to judge by the lifespan of my grandparents I only have between 15 and 30 left to go — so thanks but no thanks. 

Christopher Nolan films

It’s fairly obvious that this is not a golden age for the arts, and it’s painfully obvious that this is the case when it comes to cinema. Yes, superhero films have long outstayed their welcome, but the arthouse isn’t much better, as demonstrated by the fact that Christopher Nolan is supposed to be the great auteur of his generation…

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