Here in the United States in the start of the 21st century, we are significantly insulated from natural and man-made evils alike. Make no mistake: I do not mean to discount real suffering or to suggest that such insulation is a bad thing. Far to the contrary, it is wonderful to live in a time and place as historically prosperous and safe as ours. For all our debates about health care, for example, we modern Americans are justifiably confident that we will not meet our end in an epidemic of bubonic plague, our bodies consigned to a mass grave stacked — as one medieval Italian put it — “just as one makes lasagna with layers of pasta and cheese.”
But our insulation comes with side effects. It makes us unduly surprised and incapable of appropriate response when grave evils do befall us. We are fixated on asking how such an evil could happen to the detriment of more valuable questions.
As a potential remedy, I propose reviving memento mori, the practice of remembering death.