You Just Can't Win

By Travis Lyle a.k.a DJ Hedmekanik
Death. Not your usual polite dinner-party conversation topic, but undoubtedly on our minds. Unavoidable and mysterious, it holds for each of us our own personal departure scenario. A study in Russia in 1989 found that among those Moscow buildings which were popular (if that is the word) as jump-off points in the middle of the Russian winter, those which placed objects such as fences and concrete blocks below saw a marked decrease in their use. Which goes to show that even in death, we are a vain species. Can’t have a mess, oh no, we must go good-looking into that good night. In the same vein, it is nowadays a well-known fact that we have a shortage of burial space the world over. Towns and cities, regardless of location or culture, are facing increasing demand for those finite spaces in which to inter the dearly departed. This is not, however, a problem in Tibet. The practice of sky burial has for untold centuries made burial space a non-issue, as well as provided an al fresco medical training facility.

Sky burial involves dissection on cliff edges and mountaintops, locations chosen for their appeal to birds of prey such as the Bearded Vulture, which is a summer visitor to the Drakensberg. The benefit to the medical profession is that trainee doctors are instructed in physiology and anatomy before the pious Buddhist is left to the raptors. You can say one thing for the Tibetans; they certainly aren’t conbcerned about having a good-looking corpse, but then perhaps they’ve not heard about living fast or dying young. And they’ll never have a shortage of burial space, unlike in South Africa, where so many insist on a patch of neatly clipped lawn. Which is rather self-important when you think about the shortage of space. The underlying factor which has of course created our shortages, of not only space but indeed many other things, is that we reproducing at an alarming rate.

In fact, ‘alarming’ is too gentle a spin to put on it. We are now so healthy that our life expectancy has on average doubled in half a millennium and those of us who make it to old age and are having children later is also increasing.
‘Dad, why are you so old?’
‘Um, because we’re a ruthlessly healthy global phenomenon, son.’
‘Dad, what’s a phelomemom?’
‘Biped primates with opposable thumbs, an insatiable curiosity and medical aid, son.’

The Anasazi of New Mexico bury their dead upright, in cliffside cavities. The Zulu and other Bantu tribes, sitting, with the knees drawn up. The Chinese they burn, baby, burn. All things considered burning does seem the better option, but when you consider global warming, that option now suddenly seems a bit vain too, as it is adding to pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.
‘Dad, why’s the air dirty over the city?’
‘Show some respect, boy. Some of that is Auntie Agatha.’

You just can’t win, can you?

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