Death Don’t Have No Mercy:
On the Metaphysics of Loss
and Why We Should Be
Grateful for Death
IAN DUCKLES and ERIC M. RUBENSTEIN
Despite the joyful abandon people associate with the Grateful Dead, the community has suffered the loss of numerous members, most famously of course Pig Pen and Jerry Garcia. Losing a loved one, even someone you don’t know personally, can be the occasion for great sadness, the celebration of their life, and also an opportunity for reflecting on life, death, and the meaning of everything in between. Thinking about death is hard. But it is important.
Most of us think that death is to be avoided at all costs and the worst thing that can happen to someone. If death is so bad, we should be able to explain what makes it so bad. Ask yourself the question: “What is so bad about death?” When some philosophers try to answer the question, they find there is no good answer. Strange as it seems, some philosophers think there are convincing reasons to see death not as bad, but actually as good. These people aren’t crazy. And they don’t have a death wish. This is a book about the Grateful Dead, after all. Is that name just a morbid joke? Forget the band’s intentions, and why they chose that name. Instead, consider whether it’s possible, in any sense, to understand death as good, something that we might, in some way, be grateful for. Is there any way at all one could view the death of Pig Pen or Jerry as a good thing? Admittedly it is hard to find a way to say yes. Does that mean that, as the song says, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away?” Or that we should hope to die before we get old?