My Funeral

I attended a memorial service today, for someone I hardly knew. His family was wealthy and full of energy and passion and creativity. At the service folks wore nice clothes, and were pleasant and polite. Nice food was served in a scenic setting, beautiful music played, and idealistic speeches given, talking about family, dedication, caring, bonding, and intelligence. It was noted, for example, that he did the crossword puzzle daily, in ink.

Such services seem designed to affirm the shared far values of attendees, and to affirm the status of those who achieve such values. But the idea of service like the one I attended appeals less to me, since I put less weight on the values it affirmed. So what kind of service might better affirm the values I hold high, raising the status of people like me who most affirm those values?

Well one thing I value greatly is insight. So I’d like it if service attendees would each share an insight they’d had that day, or perhaps in the last week. Anything about themselves or the world around them they hadn’t quite understood as clearly before.

Another thing I value is honesty. So I’d like it to be clear to everyone that they need not say only nice things about the deceased. ¬†Finally, I value grand ambition, so I’d like folks to talk about how exactly they hope to have a huge impact on the world.

Of course mostly I hope to never die, or at least to put it off for as long as possible.

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  • Love this post, Robin. Slightly different, but related: I have often wondered (see here, for example) why more people do not try to leave more of a post-mortem imprint. For example, why are so many people satisfied to have their headstones say nothing more than their name and dates born and died? Why not leave books full of their accrued insights and wisdom?

  • I understand that the point of funerals is to help people grieve, and to affirm shared values, as you mention above, but my biggest wish for funerals is that more of them were held while people were still alive. They’re not too much different from comedy roasts.

  • In ritualizing something, we make it more acceptable. At this point, the acceptance of death has become so ingrained in most people that many, perhaps even the majority, would consider it bad to try and conquer it. This seems typically irrational — and is perhaps the greatest mass delusion of our time.

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  • Given you have some choice in when/ther you die I think your friends should take this opportunity to threaten you with a funeral full of dishonesty, unambition and lack of insight.

  • Yvain

    Dear friends – we are gathered here today to mourn the death of Professor Robin Hanson, who passed away after stabbing himself in the gut on the advice of a particularly trustworthy-looking rock. He was found by family members and rushed to the hospital, where he refused all medical care on the grounds that its effectiveness had not been established to his satisfaction. He departed this life at 11:08 on Thursday.

    His colleague and close friend, Professor Brian Caplan, would like to say a few words: “You’re all only here at this funeral to signal your compassion and prosocial tendencies to one another. If you were genuinely against Robin’s death, you would have donated time and money toward increasing the probability that he stayed alive. You’re all a bunch of hypocrites.”

    Thank you, Brian, for those kind words. This is truly a time of grief for us all, but we can rest assured that, according to the prediction market set up in his honor, there is a 38% chance Robin’s in a better place now, a 42% chance he’s in a worse place, and a 20% chance he’s in a place that satisfies his utility function to approximately the same degree.

    Professor Hanson is survived by his wife, his three children, his seven grandchildren, his frozen head, and nineteen billion uploaded copies of his brain.

    • Tyrrell McAllister

      Now, where did I put that upvote button?

    • kevin

      It should be “Bryan” with a “y”.

  • Lowrie Glasgow

    Never die……… long as it seems to be worth living.

  • noematic

    Funerals are rarely about the deceased. Consequently, your values are largely irrelevant to the exercise.

  • HonestAlbert

    Grand ambition is dishonesty.

    You cannot be honest and insightful and have grand ambition. If you look honestly at the world and have insight into yourself and the world around you then you will know that you are probably not one of the few rare individuals that can achieve anything grand. You are most likely just another everyday person who will be little known outside his circle of acquaintances.

    Insight and honesty lead to weltschmerz when you realize exactly how worthless and unimportant your life is.

    Grand ambition is dishonesty.

  • jil

    Sometimes at funerals I find the deceased completely different to the person I knew. The complaining, trudging little woman evidently loved to dance and kept everyone laughing. The sour. tight faced curmudgeon had an amazing sense of humor.

    I find also that often I learn something about the dead I wish I had known before so I could have talked to him about it.

    Obviously funerals should be held long before death so the person can either live up to the accolades or have more interesting conversations.

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