Suppose an anthropologist were asked, apart from the sound and fury of current politics, what were the signs of a dying culture, or a culture committing suicide? What might he respond, as following from human nature and from the terms of the question itself? What might he notice in our own?
Such a culture would be more preoccupied with death than with life; and this preoccupation might be manifest in a variety of ways. It would promote a right to die on your own terms, but no right to live, rather only a permission to live, provided that you possess certain qualities that people acknowledge as useful or as ushering you into the fold; and what these qualities are and how they shall be recognized will shift with political exigencies and sentiments. Life is no gift, but a mere thing, to be disposed of at will, like garbage. Nothing is sacred—not the body, not the soul, no place, no object, no name, no human persons, no history, no songs, no God.
Yet this will to die is neither brave nor generous. The bold young man who stands his ground in the field of battle is willing to die, not because he is weary of his life but because he is so full of life, and so moved by fellow feeling for his brothers in arms, that he can lay his life on the line. Soldiers who want to die have already lost. When an old or sick person says, “No more,” he gives his negative, as Chesterton said, to the whole universe. Mostly he runs toward death because he is afraid of suffering, which, in a dying culture, has lost its significance. Nothing is sacred. Such a person shudders before the great impersonal hospital-machines in which men are consigned to die; so he runs from the machine and leaps into the abyss, into nothingness.