What should I be thinking about now? How about death and dying, cultural discombobulation, misogyny, evolution, and pain management?

I told you last post that I would be giving up on my blog. That’s still the case. I’ll likely wrap it up by the end of this month at least in its current format, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped thinking or wanting to write. When my readership fell below fifty views after a post, I decided that maybe it wasn’t worth the hassle of thinking about writing every week. Of course, some people might argue that if I have only one reader that should be enough for me. There’s an argument that can be made both ways. Who knows, things change. 

So, what should I be thinking and writing about now? As I get ever closer to death, it’s hard not to think about death and dying. My sister-in-law who was a couple of years younger than me, died recently. It seems like someone in my immediate circle of friends and family is dying every month. Such is life when one gets to a certain age. Of course, it’s not only older people who die. A forty-nine year old doctor in my Family Clinic died recently of heart failure. However, it’s certainly true that most Canadians, in any case, die at an advanced age. That will be me for sure because I’m already most of the way there.

Lately I’ve been trying to create a metaphor for the dying process. I think I’ve come up with one that makes sense. It’s probably not new to me, either. It’s the image of a wall, maybe a stone wall that can be seen in the distance just beyond a large, open field. In our younger days, the wall is low and hardly visible. We only pay attention to it fleetingly, maybe when we visit someone in the hospital, when we leave a funeral or witness a fatal car crash. Our physical vulnerability is only too obvious at these times. The truth is that we would have a hard time living our lives if we did not ignore the wall most of the time. Some people actually convince themselves that the wall doesn’t even exist and that even if it did, we could walk right through it. The thing is the wall is always there. As we get older the wall gets more visible. It gets bigger, thicker and broader and we begin to see individual stones in it. It begins to draw our attention more frequently. We seem to be getting closer to it and in fact we are.

My wall is clearly visible to me now. It’s so big, I can’t see much beyond it. Earlier in my life I could see mountains on the other side of it. Not anymore. Now, the wall demands my attention. It will not allow me to turn away from it. In a sense it’s a beautiful, solid wall. It’s obvious that much care was taken in its construction spanning the whole evolutionary time on this planet. Everyone has to come to the wall. No one is allowed to pass through it.

The denial of the existence of this wall is the essence of Ernest Becker’s work. My early posts on this blog consist of an exposition of Becker’s work and his contribution to understanding the denial of death. His last book, one that he had no hand in publishing because he was dead, was rightly entitled Escape From Evil. The evil that Becker writes about is death and disease. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the power of denial in our lives because it’s a power that has determined so much of the death and destruction this planet has experienced with Homo sapiens at the centre of it.

Let’s now explore that denial a bit from a different perspective than I would have normally used. First up is how our social world seems to be coming apart at the seams with the war in the Ukraine, growing authoritarian at home and the pandemic that doesn’t seem to want to go away. I’m talking about the discombobulation of our social world and our reactions to it. Later I write about misogyny and evolution with a nod to Aristotle, the consummate misogynist and other philosophers of his time and ilk. But first, discombobulation.


This is my drawing of discombobulation. It’s my personal visual statement of my reaction to the Kurt Vonnegut world we live in today.

The word discombobulation is an old word from the 19th Century that shouldn’t be forgotten because it so expresses the sense that not much makes much sense anymore. The world really hasn’t ever made much sense if one considers humanity’s millennia-old legacy of war and brutality combined with a huge dose of goodwill and caring underlying much of human history. It seems as though every generation has to learn this truth on its own never learning from history. I’ve spent my whole adult life in a quest to unravel this discombobulation. I think I have things more or less worked out (with the help of a lot of people now dead who were much smarter than me), but I can’t seem to communicate that to enough other people for my knowledge to make much sense. At least I feel that way sometimes. I may be like the proverbial falling tree in the forest with no one around to hear it fall. What does it matter? Well, it does matter to me. Sometimes I think of my writing as a drop in the bucket of cultural commentary, but it’s still a contribution.

That said, it’s a contribution that will leave many people behind. Admittedly, reading my blog posts requires a modicum of literacy. I don’t speak to a Grade 8 audience. That in itself will limit the influence of my work. My personal intellectual voyage can never be yours, but we must learn from each other otherwise the discombobulation wins. Patently, there are many people (No, I haven’t done a survey although others have) who are incapable of hearing what I have to say because they have been captured by an ideology that is inherently contradictory in itself but still seems to speak to their individual lives somehow. I’m talking about people who deny that we are inherently social and dependent on each other not only in our families and other intimate relationships, but in a collective sense with people we don’t know personally but who, combined, hugely affect the world we live in.*

I’m referring here to people who see taxes and government as an infringement on their freedom, whatever that means. They have no idea themselves what ‘freedom’ means, and it’s almost embarrassing if you dare ask them what they mean by it because their answers are naive to the extreme and essentially childish. In other aspects of their lives they may be competent enough, but when it comes to thinking about their place in the world and their responsibility to others, they just have no idea, except to spout platitudes they have absorbed by watching too much Fox News or have been absorbed by concentrating on their belly buttons for too long. I’m no big fan of much of what government does, but I’m not willing to chuck out the baby with the bathwater either. 

Recently, Carolyn and I listened to a CBC Ideas podcast on The Authoritarian Personality. The people who fit this profile are the people I’m talking about. The Authoritarian Personality is an idea popularized after the Second World War by Theodore Adorno and others to try to explain why people are attracted to fascist leaders. The book is available to be borrowed for free at the Internet Archive but it’s been revived and republished with an introduction by Peter Gordon of the Frankfurt School and is available on Amazon in various formats, including as an eBook, but it ain’t cheap. The book was first published in 1969 but was in writing for some time before that while the research for it was being conducted in California. The book itself and the blazing controversy surrounding it can be seen at the Internet Archive by simply typing in The Authoritarian Personality in the search function and looking around. Some of the reactions to the book are a full example of discombobulation. In fact, I would argue that the book is itself a treatise on cultural discombobulation as are reactions to it. We live in a discombobulated world but there’s nothing new about that.

So, I’m thinking that this post is long enough. I have probably another 5 or 6 thousand words I want to get out of my system at the moment but I think I need to break those up into manageable chunks. Therefore, I’ll leave this post as it is but I’ll carry on writing about the other topics in the title of this post and present them to you as soon as I get them fleshed out with good references, etcetera. Besides, it’s six o’clock in the morning and I’ve been writing since two thirty. Yesterday I went back to the hospital to get back on my chemo regime. The dexamethasone I took yesterday won’t let me sleep anyway, so instead of fretting that I can’t sleep, I might as well write, but enough for tonight…it’s getting light out and the coffee beckons.


*This is a disparate group of people from grocery store clerks and managers, to cops, to delivery drivers, to municipal workers, librarians, veterinarians, road crews, mechanics, garbage (solid waste) collectors, baristas, Hydro crews, emergency personnel of all kinds, Hospital workers including medical doctors, nurses, technicians, etcetera. I mean anyone you come into contact with on a daily basis and who provides you with a service you depend on. Just think about it. You are massively dependent on others, even people in China and other Asian countries who make your T-shirts, jeans, phones and computers for you, and on the people who work on the planes and boats that get those products to you. How can anyone deny that? But they do because to recognize this fact they would have to accept that their individualism is contingent and not absolute. We are not free to do whatever we want. Let’s just get over that silly notion. I used to challenge my students to unplug their homes, and I mean in every way: cut off water, electricity, the internet, waste collection, everything. Do that for a few days and then let’s discuss how independent and ‘free’ you are.

6 thoughts on “What should I be thinking about now? How about death and dying, cultural discombobulation, misogyny, evolution, and pain management?

  1. Hi Roger, I have been reading your posts since Janice told me about them, November 10, 2019. I see now, that, sadly, I have missed years of your thought provoking (although some very sad posts.) I have printed all that came to me since then. I hope that is okay with you. I love how you write, As you know, I have grade 12; that’s it. But I think I mostly get what you are saying. I have sometimes needed to check my Canadian Pocket Dictionary; it helps, mostly. I have also saved your describing your garden, and the hard work you and Carolyn (maybe mostly Carolyn? 🙂 had to do to get it looking that way. I am so sorry this is happening to you. I think of you every day. Take good care of yourself. I know you are doing the best you can. PS I have your beautiful fern painting up where I can see it. PPS Rob is also reading your posts. Love you both, Eroca >


    1. Hi Eroca.
      You may only have a grade twelve education, but you are intelligent nonetheless. Intelligence and education don’t always correlate. I realize that many of my posts assume some knowledge of literature and history but I try to keep those references to a minimum. Then, of course, there are the technical references to myeloma, etcetera. I’m getting set to write about evolution and death. That post could get a bit technical too, but not overly so.
      It’s good to know that you read my posts. I’ve been a bit disappointed by the number of people I get reading my posts, but I have to realize that when people read my posts on Facebook I don’t always know about it.
      About the garden: Tilly the wonder dog thinks that all plants are made for her to lie on so a lot of the low flying plants are nothing but a mattress for her. That tends to leave the garden looking a little matted. Not the best look for a garden like this. Still, we hope to get it looking good this summer. I can’t do much physical labour, but I’m a really good supervisor (although Carolyn might not agree).
      Anyway, love all you Nanaimo people!
      Take care,


    1. Hi there. I checked out the website you suggested but I find nothing to relate to there. I have not had any near death experiences as they describe them on the website. All of our lives are ongoing near death experiences. That’s the way I see it.
      Besides, our brains are very complex organs and are super capable of fooling us, even to the extent of having us believe we’ve died and come back to life. I just don’t buy it. But thanks for the thought. I need to reply to comments in a more timely manner but I’ve had a rough go of it after my latest chemo treatment. I’ve not been motivated to do anything. That’s fine, as Carolyn keeps telling me.
      I don’t find the wall particularly distressing. Getting to it is a little trying, and I’m in no hurry to get there. My grandkids are here at the moment. I relish their company. That’s about as good as it gets on my way to the wall.
      Take care and walk by open windows.


  2. Hi Roger,
    Just a quick note to say how much I appreciate your writing. Thank-you.
    Definitely going to listen to the Authoritarian Personality podcast soon.
    I just spent 3 months in Florida caring for my Mom. She has been unbelievably gracious (and grateful) throughout the past few years, despite being on a health roller coaster and becoming less and less independent. It brings my own mortality clearly into focus. Of course, my eldest son’s sudden passing really brought into clear view how fragile and vulnerable and mortal we all are, and how everything can change in an instant. But watching my Mom age is all about a slow letting go. I admire her seeming acceptance of this, and her thankfulness goes a long way with her various caregivers, who all love her. I think I will be way more cranky and bitchy and demanding as I lose my ability to do things and care for myself. We shall see.

    It’s interesting that you perceive death as a stone wall. I don’t see that. Death to me is more like losing a sense of gravity, utter groundlessness, and having no way of returning. Like floating out into the scary and unknown vastness, with no way back. I am not a religious person, and I don’t believe this is connected to a notion of heaven. (Perhaps I am in denial.)

    Lately my work focus is largely around anti-racism. A couple of friends/colleagues and I are doing virtual training Canada-wide. My recent time in Florida, where teaching (even mentioning!) anti-racism and critical race theory in educational settings is being banned, makes me particularly interested in how/why people are drawn to fascist-like personalities. “Trump 2024” signs are commonplace on Florida lawns these days. It’s downright scary for racialized folx (and many others).

    That’s about all for now. I would love to connect with you and Carolyn in person. Perhaps as the weather improves we could have tea outdoors somewhere.
    In the meantime, please know that you (and your writing) are much appreciated.
    As my Mom would say, “Sending you healing vibes.”


    1. Hi Naomi. So pleased to read your comment. I can’t imagine being in Florida. It seems like a very polarized place these days. de Santis is doing everything he can to ensure that Democrats never get elected there even though they get close to fifty percent of the vote most of the time. It seems to me that the US is already split along geographic lines with rural states voting Republican and more urbanized states voting Democratic. The political system there is inherently anti-democratic with the Electoral College positioned to upset popular votes. It’s bizarre.
      Death. What is there new to say about death? Metaphors only work to a limited extent. Another friend just died recently. He died of a very rapid onset leukaemia. He is one of a long list of friends who have died recently. It seems as thought there’s a sniper out there somewhere just picking us off.
      It seems Covid is picking up steam again (to use an old railroading metaphor). Still, Carolyn and I would love to see you. We have a good sized deck that could accommodate us all with proper distancing. As it warms up, we need to make more concrete plans for a get-together.
      Cheers and thanks for the kudos.


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