“All…will be carried away”

The great advantage of hating absolutely everything in the universe — or so it seems to me — would be that dying would be an entirely positive event.

Stephen King wrote a very moving short story, which was in his collection Everything’s Eventual, called All That You Love Will Be Carried Away.  It’s about an aging, lonely traveling salesman, in a business that’s winding down, whose family is more or less gone, and who has a notebook with a collection of interesting graffiti — including the titular expression — that he has seen in various places across the country.  He’s in a motel room, and he’s trying to decide whether or not to kill himself with the pistol he’s brought along.  I won’t get into any more of the details of the story; it’s worth a read if you’re interested.  I just want to explore the notion expressed in the title.

It is, of course, true that all that you love will be carried away, sooner or later.  Either you’ll lose the things you love while you’re still alive, one by one, bit by bit, or any remaining ones will be lost when you die (though presumably you won’t notice that loss)*.  If we had some function curve plotting out happiness/misery on the y-axis compared to time on the x-axis, or love/hate on the y-axis, or whatever function of life you want to measure, and whatever you want to call positive or negative, the point is when you arrive at the instant of your death, the instantaneous value of all such life functions will immediately revert to zero…and presumably remain that way, unless the universe is cyclical, or time is eternal and you come into existence again and again ad infinitum or some such, but I’m not addressing that right now.

Most of us learned about positive and negative numbers in school, using the traditional number line, and a good many of us know about cartesian coordinates**.  There are positives and negatives on the y-axis just as on the x-axis.  The point is, it is possible to measure “functions of life” as being either positive or negative, and most people, I suspect, would agree on the general positivity and negativity of most of those functions.  I suspect most people would rate love as a positive and hate as a negative.  Certainly the feelings, the experiences, are positive and negative.  And since all functions would revert to zero in the y-axis when you die — according to the way I’m modeling this — then the more love you have, the more you lose when you die.  Conversely, the more hate you have, the more you gain when you die, since if you’re starting with a negative number, the movement to zero is mathematically positive.

It’s like a joke I used to make:  the one who dies with the most debt wins.  The elimination of detriment is a gain.

So, it’s true that all that you love will be carried away.  And so will all that to which you are indifferent, and all that which you hate.  But I think we can probably agree that to have the things one hates be carried away is a good thing.  In this sense, the statement that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all is pure bullshit***.  If one is full of love and joy and happiness at the time of one’s death, then one loses all of that.  But if one is utterly consumed by hate and disgust and pain and horror, then death is positive boon.

Of course, this all assumes that we’re measuring a life by the final y-value, which is always going to be zero…so all lives end up equal, even if they aren’t created equal.  There is true equity only in death.  Now, if one is going to measure a life by, say, the integral of these functions, the area under the curve of one’s happiness measured across one’s entire life (with, by convention any areas below the x-axis being negative areas), then the person who loves more and is more joyful and happier, etc., will have a much larger value overall integral sum.  That may be a legitimate way to measure a life.

But it doesn’t do the person any good once that person is dead.  And, of course, a person whose life is integrated to a strongly negative value is still better off reverting to zero.  And since you can’t, in any moment, experience the integral of your life’s happiness, except as memory — which is actually just a state of your brain in the present, not a true summation of the integral of your life — it’s not necessarily more correct or accurate to take the integral rather than the instantaneous value.

I’m not promoting any conclusion here, just exploring the idea, which is pertinent to me so much of the time, that if the universe and the people in it are, by and large, thoroughly disgusting and contemptible to you, you might be better off “getting rid of” the universe.  And I can only see one way to that that wouldn’t violate what I see as the rights of other people to decide such things for themselves as much as possible, even if there were another, more literal way to do it.

I speak for no one else, but for me, reversion to zero seems so tempting, so enticing, and so worthwhile, so much of the time, that I can’t easily express it.  Sleep isn’t even a close comparison; I don’t feel rested when I sleep.  It’s not even a partial reset, it’s just a temporary system failure which only gets resolved well enough that I can just barely continue functioning the next day, if I force myself, which I always, always do.  My mind is an old car that keeps breaking down at the end of each day, and overnight, just enough work is done on it to keep it rolling through the next day, until it breaks down again.  But it doesn’t function properly, and it’s not going anywhere, it’s just roaming around at random, returning to the same dismal place at the end of every day.  It’s exhausting.

This too, I guess, will be carried away.  I can hardly wait.


*I’m not interested in exploring any possibility of an afterlife here, unless someone out there has some new evidence or argument that such a thing could even in principle exist, which is one of the most poorly supported notions in the history of ideas.  Hint: if you think you have a convincing argument for an afterlife and it’s something that you’ve encountered anywhere else, ever, then it’s not convincing and odds are I already know about it.  Peddle your wares somewhere else; I’ve got all the self-delusion I can use here already.

**Apparently they ought really to be Fermatian coordinates, since Fermat came up with the idea about a decade before Descartes, but he wasn’t nearly so self-aggrandizing as the latter was.  “I think, therefore I am very, very smart and important and creative and brilliant and handsome…”

***99 and 44/100 percent pure, anyway.