PSYC 3570 Unit 2 Chapter 3
A World Without Death
• Out individual and societal patterns of functioning are connected with death in one way or
• Birth control would have to be enforced.
• New laws because relationships between people would change. For example, there would be no
• Society would become very conservative and slow to change its ways.
• Economic structure of society would change as things like life insurance would not be needed.
Doctors may not make as much money because there wouldn’t be the fear of death, but there may
be an increase need for plastic surgeons.
• Moral beliefs and practices would change. For example, marriage rates may go down because you
would actually be married forever.
• Death might take on a different aspect. We might hire people to kill us or governments may
arrange war for the sole purpose of killing people.
• We would organize our lives differently.
• Be free from the fear of death.
• Personal relationships would extend indefinitely creating new opportunities and challenges.
• Our ideas about the purpose and meaning of life might change.
Basic Characteristics Of The Death System
• Personal challenges such as how serious is my health problem or what should I say to my
neighbours who lost her daughter take place within a dynamic society. We live and die as
individuals, but we are linked with others by language, expectations, customs, and needs.
• Thus our confrontations with death are systematically influenced by our participation in society
Components of the Death System
• The death system is made up of people, places, times, objects, and symbols.
• Most of us phase in and out of the death system as circumstances require, but some are core
• Funereal directors, people who work in life insurance, florists, lawyers, and retirement
communities are all core participants in the death system.
• Some not so obvious people associated with the death system include people who
deliver/sell/slaughter meat as all meat was once living.
• Healthcare professionals and the clergy are all part of the death system.
• Scientists who are designing lethal weapons and cloning are also part of the death system.
1 [Type text] [Type text] [Type text]
• Cemetery, funeral home, hospital, battlefields, or anywhere that someone died
• Death has times and occasions.
• Memorial day is a day set aside to honor those who have fallen in defense of the nation.
• In some tribal societies, some days are devoted to mourning to all those who have died in the
• The Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead has is similar to a public carnival, celebrating the
• Many societies have established an occasion when death is granted dominance over people’s
thoughts and feelings.
• Many people offer prayers for the dead on regular occasions.
• Hearse and death certificate
• Death notices have their own section in the newspaper
• Taxidermists turn animals into still life souvenirs
• Noose, gallows, and electric chair
• Not so obviously associated with death objects include automobiles, cigarettes, alcohol, and other
pharmaceuticals can all be viewed as instruments of death.
Symbols and Images
• Dark colours
• Closing the shutters, although this is a dying practice.
• Death symbols can tell us something about a culture’s attitudes towards death.
• Slow solemn music being played is different than playing a simple acoustic song.
• The words we use and refrain from reveal a lot about the nature of the culture’s death system.
• Increasingly terms like “She OD’d” or “He croaked” are being used instead of “passed on” or
“expired”. Both these types of terms create distance between the speaker and the reality of death.
• Healthcare professionals use the term “terminally ill” as opposed to “dying”.
Functions of the Death System
Warnings and Predictions
• All societies issue warnings and predications intended to stave off threats to life. These are based
off of folk customs, science, pseudoscience, organized religion, or individual revelation.
• Threats can either be accurate, imaginary, or exaggerated.
• Warnings we commonly see are “tornado watch” or “flash flood warnings”. There are also
announcements of possible hazards associated with goods and services.
• Warnings and predictions can be specific to individuals or to society as a whole.
• Some people may ignore warnings as they figure that there is nothing they can do when their time
2 PSYC 3570 Unit 2 Chapter 3
• In western society, healthcare professionals, firefighters, police, and researchers all strive to
• Controlling contagious diseases is an example of preventing death.
• Research is being done to prevent other causes of death and minimize hardships associated with
Caring for the Dying
• Happens when there is a shift from curing to comforting.
• Patients and their families may play an active part in the decision making.
• There are some physicians who believe in the “never say die” approach, so as long as there is any
chance of life, the physician should do all they can to preserve this.
• Other physicians believe themselves as nature’s assistant and accommodate their efforts to the
signs of impending or inexorable death.
Disposing of the Dead
• Task that all societies must perform.
• Not only are there disposal of physical remains but the funeral and memorial process tells much
about the overall stability and cohesiveness of a culture as well as what society makes of death.
The Amish Way of Life and Death
• The Amish maintain a familyoriented society that emphasizes religious values, a simple agrarian
lifestyle, separation from nonAmish world, and a strong doctrine of mutual assistance.
• The infirm and mentally ill are looked after in the community rather than in institutions.
• Dress the deceased in all white.
• Funeral is a home oriented event. A large room is cleared for the simple wooden coffin and
hundreds of people that will visit.
• The service is held in the house or barn.
• Neighbors dig the grave.
• Many of the doubts, tensions, and conflicts that have become common in the larger death system
seem to be absent from the Amish.
Social Consolidation After Death
• Death can challenge a society’s ability to survive.
• The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had the shortterm effect of bringing people together in grief,
compassion, and determination.
• Deaths of powerful people can also bring people together.
• One major function of the death system is to meet the challenged that individuals and the group
face after the loss of a member.
• Social consolidation after death is vital if the survivors are to continue as confident and
competent members of society.
Making Sense Of Death
• Some explanations of death are passed down from generation to generation in the form of
philosophical statements, poetry, and commentaries.
3 [Type text] [Type text] [Type text]
• Famous last words are attributed to heroes, leaders, and other celebrated people.
• Cohorts in military or schools of nursing or medicine: this is what we say, think, and do
• Statement such as “nobody lives forever” are not reasonable explanations, but they may reduce
• While observing those who were in the waiting room for those terminally sick it was observed
that the simple exchange of words was more comforting than silence because silence may
represent fear or that it death is unspeakable
o This mental and emotional activities helps keeps us going in a time of trying to make
sense of death
• People who have a sense of meaning and purpose cope more effectively with stress and loss
• Present in all death systems.
• Can be carried out in a number of ways including capital punishment, killing animals for
food/fur/feathers/other animal byproducts.
• For food, fur and feathers
• 2 forms of killing deserve special attention: warfare and sacrifice
War As A Function As Society
• Warfare has brought death to millions through many centuries and is often considered a natural
state of affairs.
• Ancient Greeks were following the examples of their gods.
• Thomas More published Utopia (1516) and affirmed the legitimacy of war and its attendant
taking of life: The Utopian must simply perform in a thoughtful and cost effective manner.
• Kant Perpetual peace (1795/1932) which stated that absolute peace was a necessity and this
could be achieved through international organization. However Clausewitz (1832/1984) was still
able to persuade many that war was necessary
• Einstein – most critical problem facing humanity was our propensity for violence.
• Freud – agreed with Einstein and said that an aggressive instinct did exist and was not likely
rooted in out nature. He suggested that we should experience and respect our common humanity.
• Putting a dump in the area of those who are already at greater risk of death because of
discrimination and poverty
A Deadly Species
• We have become a more deadly species are we become more civilized.
• An example of this is the invention of the standing army made it possible to wage war at anytime
and extend the duration.
Sacrifice: Killing for Life
• Blood sacrifice has been an integral part of many world societies.
• Human sacrifice can be seen in many ancient populations.
• Sacrifice was intended to persuade gods to look with favour upon their people.