When someone starts going on about how precious life is I start to feel a bit nauseous. I suppose it’s good to value and appreciate things yet I dislike talk of the preciousness of life. Once you stop being cavalier about life and instead start viewing it as something to be protected then you turn into a worrier. You start trying to optimize your time on earth. This seems to me a bad thing because personally I am usually doing something less than optimal. In fact trying to optimize anything, from who you marry to how you spend your time and money, strikes me as being a recipe for dissatisfaction.
Some people might say that valuing life and fretting about it are two distinct things but I think one tends to naturally lead to the other. After all, how can you really value something without being afraid of losing it?
I myself have become a worrier. My cavalier attitude deserted me the day I ruptured my knee ligaments and tore my cartilage during a game of football a quarter of a century ago. That ended my footballing days and along with it my easy-going attitude. Little by little a new way of thinking crept over me, incubated during long hours mulling over how I could avoid future injuries.
I started to think like an economist. I asked myself if all the travelling I was doing was really worth the low but frequent risk. Okay, the chances of it being my plane that plummeted to the ground from 29,000 feet, atomising me on impact, were slim, but not vanishingly so. Was the pleasure of seeing my friends in Spain and Germany really worth the danger of being killed en route? After all, what’s wrong with just safely sitting here and reading? Nothing bad can happen to me here.
Some people will say, ‘But you can’t live like that!’ but I could and did. My life’s ambition was not to become rich or famous but to remain alive and as long as possible. Of course this reduces the richness of life but at least you are alive.
Even so, thinking this way gradually wore me down. Trying to anticipate all possible dangers was exhausting. I also became a bit self-obsessed and small inconveniences looked like disasters to me. Just knowing I wouldn’t be able to avoid death forever depressed me. I felt like one of those middle aged parents who have just one single child late in life who they fuss over constantly, making sure nothing bad happens to them. I would rather be like an Afghan with ten children who feels, without actually saying so in so many words, that he can afford to lose one of them.
The kind of people I admire are those who are cavalier about things, especially themselves. People like rugby players, boxers, drinkers, smokers and stunt men. Also people who are cavalier about their self-image like Christopher and Peter Hitchens, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Ann Coulter. They don’t seem to care what others think of them and aren’t precious about themselves. These people take things lightly rather than banging on about the preciousness of life, especially their own. They squander life rather than hoarding it. I like that.