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Thinking About Death: Life as a Crapshoot

Paul Grobstein
28 April 2006

Death becomes a more compelling subject as one gets older and confronts its imminence both in oneself and in others. A diagnosis of cancer in a person I am close to triggered the original version of this essay in October 2003.

Life is a crapshoot. And you can't change the rules, so there is no point whatsoever in complaining about either the rules or whatever consequences follow inevitably from them.

The first and most important consequence of recognizing this is that if you play long enough you're going to crap out. This is inescapable by the rules of the game, and so not worth complaining about when it happens, nor worrying about as a possibility. It isn't a possibility; its an inevitability.

The second point worth making is that what while you can't influence the outcome of the game you can influence how you and others feel about it when you do crap out. This suggests that it makes most sense to focus attention on how one is going to feel, and how others are going to feel, when one craps out ... rather than on trying to beat the game or regret the playing out of its rules.

Based on human experience to date, a particular strategy for placing one's bets before one craps outs seems to yield a higher probability of oneself and others feeling good when the inevitable crap out occurs.

What is the relative value of oneself feeling good in comparison to others feeling good? This turns out to be less of a problem that people sometimes think it is. Once one craps out, one is no longer a significant part of the calculation as oneself. All that remains is how others feel. One should play the game, and value one's own playing, primarily in terms of the contributions one can make to the pots of the players who will still be in the game when one craps out oneself. One can try and play it for one's own private sense of pleasure in opposition to the pleasure of others, but one then risks discovering, in the last moment, that one's own crap out makes the whole game at that point meaningless.

The inevitable personal crap out means one can't carry one's winnings with one, and so the only trustworthy sense of achievement must lie in the contributions one has made to the pots of others. They too will, of course, inevitably crap out, but each player can help assure, and take genuine and reliable pleasure and satisfaction in helping to assure, that future players start with bigger pots than they did themselves.

That seems to me not a bad way to relate to a crapshoot, and not a bad recipe for a quite a full and satisfying life, a recipe that can be counted on without any need to worry about either the inevitability of a crap out or the inevitable uncertainties of when the crap out will occur.


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