San Francisco, CA - Events Local News Groups Contact
Is Our Fear of Death Destroying the Planet?
By Chris Agnos /

There is a reason that despite the overwhelming evidence that our exponential, growth-based economic system is destroying the very foundations of life on the planet that change has still been hard to come by. The reason is not because of human greed. Greed, too, is a symptom. It’s not because of a competitive human nature. Humans are actually soft-wired for empathy. It’s not even due to some global conspiracy to rule the world. People just aren’t that capable. The reason we cannot “wake up” to the unsustainable nature of our way of life may be traced to our awareness of our finite life and the linear concept of time that it creates.

As far as we know, human beings are the only animals that are aware that they will die someday. This knowledge could be considered either a curse or a blessing and it changes the way people view time. Knowing that, barring an unexpected injury or illness, you will live around eighty years creates a linear concept of time. We think of our lives in terms of our past, our present, and our future.

Many people are not only burdened by events in their past but are also preoccupied with their future, leaving little time to give attention to the present moment. The preoccupation with the future is mostly due to a fear of death (even though it may be a secondary or tertiary reason). For example, people buy all kinds of insurance such as life, health, car, accident, fire, hurricane – some people even bought rapture insurance – as ways to protect them from unforeseen events (that could harm or kill). How many times have you decided not to swim in the ocean for fear of a shark attack or not to travel to a foreign country because of stories of safety issues?

This fear also influences the desire and drive for “financial security.”  But what does financial security really mean and, perhaps more importantly, how do you know once you have achieved it? A recent poll queried a group of individuals with an average net worth of $25 million to ask if they felt they had achieved financial security. A majority of them said that they had not and that they would only achieve it if they could, on average, increase their wealth by 20 percent. Even those with modest means feel that financial security is only one bonus away.

Why does financial security remain so elusive regardless of the size of one’s bank account? Most people would probably define financial security in terms of having enough money to secure their livelihoods indefinitely given a wide array of potential hazards that one could face. The problem is that this list of hazards is nearly infinite. Once you’ve amassed enough money to insulate from some hazards, other potential hazards arise that require even more financial security. And so we attempt to earn even more money. The cycle is like an infinite loop in programming language – you don’t even know you’re in it. So what gives?

Money has been created in such a way so as to be completely decoupled from the principles that govern the physical world. Unlike anything in the natural world, money does not decay. It is as eternal as our ego’s desire to exist. Egyptian pharaohs were buried with their treasure so that they could have access to it in the afterlife.  Could it be that our design and pursuit of money was based on our longing to identify with something eternal? Perhaps if we could only accumulate enough of it, we could transcend death?

Of course we all know that absurdity of that line of thinking. But people strive for financial security nonetheless and the quest has devastating impacts to the world. Whether you are an investment banker, a daily stock trader or a blue-collar worker with a pension, everyone expects a return on their investment no matter if it is in the stock market, treasury bonds, or real estate. We expect our money to “grow.” And it is this expectation that fuels the desire for exponential growth of the economy. It is this expectation that creates the pressure for corporations to deliver a profit to their investors or shareholders. The expectation is always more.

Economic growth has always been destructive for the planet. Every empire that has ever existed can point to over-exploitation of resources as the root cause of their demise. The difference between empires of the past and those of today is that we are now exhausting the entire planet at once. Empires of the past could rise and fall and their impact would be limited to a small geographic region. This is no longer true. Today, we live in an exponential economic growth paradigm which sees no limits.

Our quest to secure access to future resources is causing the deterioration of those same resources. As we drill for more oil, mine for more metals, pollute more water, and convert more forests to ranches, we are eating through our natural capital – the very foundations of the earth’s capacity to support life. We are eroding the capability of the earth to meet our collective expectations.  Our salvation will come when we collectively understand that financial security, no matter how much one has, will never prevent our death. A little more money might insure us a little better, but no amount can insure us completely. Our death is inevitable.

Once our delusions of immortality have been cast aside, we can see the truth about money – that it is simply a claim to future resources. We expect that we will be able to trade the money we have saved and invested for goods and services in the future. When we invest money, we are placing value on future, on things that do not even exist yet. It is the ultimate expression of viewing time linearly. But how much is money worth if there is no clean air to breathe or clean water to drink? If there are no more bees to pollenate the crops, if ocean acidification collapses the ocean food chain, if hydraulic fracturing pollutes our water supply, then what good is money?

Accepting the knowledge of our finite life allows us to live with a different concept of time – one that focuses oneach moment. It also helps us to understand our connection to nature. Like everything else, our bodies are subject to the natural lifecycle of growth, maturation, and decay. The current culture of death denial not only attempts elevate humans above nature; it actually fuels a system that destroys nature as well. In the attempt to preserve our own life, we may actually destroy it.

What might an economy look like that instead of focusing on securing the future needs for some, it cared about meeting the current needs for all? What would happen if money was designed after nature in a way that it decayed over time? Perhaps instead of chasing the illusive reward of ever more money, we might focus on what is truly most important – things like clean water and nutritious food for our bodies, a healthy environment void of pollution and toxic chemicals, and sustainable ways of living on the planet. An abundant world is possible but only if we take yet another cue from nature by focusing on meeting the present needs of every human, animal, and plant on the planet. We must value life in all of its forms and create modes of living based on the principles of interconnectivity, empathy, and the love of life, allowing it to flourish in all of its diversity and beauty. If we begin to view each moment of our lives as the gift it truly is, we can finally shed this very real fear that holds us back from living our lives in a way that allows us to be present each and every moment.

4.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 11,542 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 5,910 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 3,009 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 2,754 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Mark Corske's Engines of Domination (2014)
60 min · 2,727 views today · Political power -- armed central authority, with states and war -- is it part of human nature? Is it necessary for human communities? Or is it a tool that ruling elites use to...
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 2,469 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 1,583 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 1,313 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,297 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 1,084 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 1,033 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 836 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 700 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 644 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 565 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 424 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 363 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Eckhart Tolle: Your Facebook Ego, That's Not Who You Are
2 min · 285 views today · “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past: the "little me" and its story. This...
Are You Lost in the World Like Me?
3 min · 262 views today · Animated film by Steve Cutts for 'Are You Lost In The World Like Me?', taken from These Systems Are Failing- the debut album from Moby & The Void Pacific Choir. 
The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism
Chris Hedges · 249 views today · College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Is Our Fear of Death Destroying the Planet?