"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." ~ Blaise Pascal
David Holmes: A Capitalist's Eulogy
Column by B.R. Merrick.
Exclusive to STR
I was informed of David’s demise on Wednesday morning, December 15, 2010, just a few days before the same holiday that began my correspondence with this fascinating individual two years prior. It was my desire to get as much information as I could about David Lowden Holmes so that I could honor him the way he deserves. Sadly, David’s life is still a bit of a mystery, though both of the men whom I contacted provided a bit more light, and their care and concern for this man was greatly appreciated. Therefore, what follows is less of a traditional eulogy and more of a reminiscence of my own cyber-encounters with my friend.
In December 2008, I had just had an article published on this website called “An Anarchist’s Carol,” which David kindly but assertively took apart with his view of the Dickens classic. Part of his response to my article was the following:
“What people do not realize, however, is that to Dickens, Scrooge is a VILLAIN. A villain that represents what Dickens saw as the horrors of the Industrial Revolution. Scrooge IS the Industrial Revolution to Dickens. This is the premise of A Capitalist Carol. And that premise is utterly correct. Scrooge HAS to be deprogrammed. And without artificial, supernatural artifice – It is the artificial, supernatural God Concept that MUST be ‘taken out’.”
David’s take on the story is an important one. He was trying to view the story in its entirety, from Dickens’s conception and purpose, right down to the details of the central character’s life. I took the opposite tack in my article, content to focus on the character independent of the author’s intentions, as I feel that art is best approached for its individual value, and that sometimes, it is possible to glean far more from a work of art than what the artist may have originally planned upon. (I am prone to go into the movie theater knowing next to nothing about the story, just to see how well the filmmakers tell it.) Therefore, I am willing to stand behind my original article for what it says about Ebenezer Scrooge the Man, while simultaneously conceding the greater argument to my friend.
David was born on March 25th. I have no idea what year. He was terribly sick when he was writing me. I had no idea about that, either. I knew he had an appreciation for Mozart, but was also a Yes fan. He had cats, which reportedly followed him single file like sheep whenever he took them for a walk. Being a cat person myself, I could appreciate this little factoid. He had plenty of other factoids about cats. He was serious about his cat fancy.
After his passing, I discovered that he also enjoyed sailing, Corvettes, and the nemeses of cats: dogs. Regardless, now I won’t get David’s helpful e-mails anymore, due to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. No more e-discussions about classical music, no more feline-oriented cyber-conversations, no more Pythonisms, no more wrestling with religion. He is the first of two pen pals I am going to lose to cancer, the next (whom I call “Baby Bro” in our e-mails) in the coming years or months. The unpleasantness of what I will have to face in the future and the horror of what my other friend still has to go through were driven home by the announcement about David before Christmas.
To make matters worse (or better, depending on how you look at life), I no longer believe in an afterlife, due to the lack of proof. I have my suspicions, but acknowledgement of suspicion does not constitute proof. If it did, then pre-emptive war would be harder to argue against. Reincarnation sounds reassuring at this point, but only to an extent. In so many ways, reincarnation is a useless endeavor for any philosophical purpose. There is, however, part of this regenerative process that is indeed factual.
We all pass on at some point. When we do, the cells of the body are subject to mechanical and chemical decomposition, down to the molecular level. Our cells dissolve, yes, but the molecules that built us up become part of the earth, its air and its elements, to be consumed by other plants, animals, and people. From Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”:
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm
king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm
In this sense, we are all connected, and we all go on. It’s a rather disgusting thing to think about, but truth isn’t always pleasant. Still, a spark, if any, that encourages the cells to continue to communicate, to divide and subdivide, to pass on their programming, is continually sought for through philosophy and religion, and always elusive. We understand the brain better and better. Most answers seem to come from that organ, something in the hardwiring that told David’s cells to continue the important work of division and subdivision, right up to the moment that the brain could no longer communicate. The only proof we have is that David no longer is. But whether it’s for comfort or because some part of my logical mind is not satisfied, I can’t help but wonder if everything this man knew and all he left behind is now merely for the benefit of others.
What David left behind is A Capitalist Carol, read in his own voice, and most assuredly for our benefit. He lays out the greater implications in Dickens’ tale as he saw it. He wrote it in bold, Ayn Rand fashion, as a warning to the collective, about how it will always suffer when the individual is made to believe in that which is false. Collectives are, after all, merely loose categorizations of that which is far more rigid in definition: the individual. To sacrifice that which is proven factual to that which is merely subjective is to coerce against the truth, which is to be death-oriented.
Likewise, to focus all my attention on proof of afterlife so I can feel better about losing such a fine man as a correspondent is to ignore harsh reality, which requires careful attention at every level in order for life to go on. For instance, to focus all one’s attention on getting one’s affairs in order so that one is fit to “meet God,” as opposed to working at cancer research and actual prevention of this horrific scourge, is to do good men like David a disservice when it’s their time for treatment. You need to ask yourself why it is that the established medical community, regulated by government at virtually every turn, can think of nothing better but to throw chemotherapy at brilliant minds like David’s, when the track record of such treatment is so desultory. Can my logical mind make no connection between death-oriented government and a supposed life-oriented medical establishment’s inability to tackle this disease? I wonder, from time to time, who benefits the most from the awfulness of life being continually shrouded in mystery: religious and governmental leaders who promise hope and protection, or cancer sufferers?
Perhaps it’s a stretch to try to make a connection between one man’s passing and the evil nature of systems of coercion, but it’s a connection I think David would appreciate. He had a sense of humor, after all: He sent a group of us a link to a “Life of Brian” clip about recognizing individuality. David’s take was: “Out Fornicating Standing.” My humble response: “‘Fornicating’ is Blackadder-ish. This is Monty Python, so it’s ‘Out Intercoursing Standing.’” Therefore, I think David would appreciate me taking a swipe at his least favorite system of coercion when I’m supposed to be honoring his memory.
The death of someone you have grown to care about after you no longer believe in God brings about all sorts of conflicting, troublesome thoughts. There are the facts:
- My friend David is gone.
- His molecular structure will completely break down, and be recycled into the surrounding elements, encouraging future life.
- His memory, along with the many memes he created and dispensed, will be carried around in recordings on his webpage, photographs, writings, fingerprints, a gravestone, and the minds of those who knew him. This memory, along with David’s body, will fade with time.
- I’m not happy with the lack of e-mails from David lately.
And then there are the things I want to know, but can only speculate upon:
- It makes little sense to me to gain wisdom for six to eight decades in continuous fashion, and then simply stop.
- I am aware that some people’s individuality seems to vanish once their brains have been sufficiently damaged, but this was not the case for David. Proof of the lack of the soul as it is traditionally believed to be does not constitute the end of the debate over who, what, where, when, why, and how. Not for me.
- If we do indeed gain wisdom for six to eight decades and simply stop, should it matter so much to me to be taken in by faulty belief in an afterlife? If I stop, then so does regret, embarrassment, guilt, shame, confusion, fear, and pain. If, like an ancient Jewish philosopher, I have left behind writing that, millennia later, reads like a crazy man’s rant, so what?
- If there is no spark that encourages cell division and the constant taking in of oxygen, what, ultimately, did David accomplish?
That last one occupies my mind quite a lot, since setting aside Christian belief. Is it possible that humanity, through technological advancement and continual building up of Enlightenment principles, is evolving ethically? We live in a world with barbarism, yes, but doesn’t it seem to more and more people that you can go just about anywhere else on this planet where there are other people, and be safe?
Just take a look at the way that different colors of people are learning to relate to one another. Protestants and Catholics are no longer burning each other for heresy. Even most primitive peoples currently living their meager lives have come into contact with modernity to some extent. We have evolved so far that we even look at lesser creatures, many of which kill without conscience, and wonder whether or not they have “rights.”
Are we changing? Present difficulties with the state aside, are we moving further away from death-orientation, as a species, and evolving towards life? Are we actually working toward a humanity that will keep life for itself indefinitely, thousands or hundreds of thousands of years from now?
I think the case could successfully be made that humanity is evolving towards greater love, freedom, truth, peace, and perhaps even life of indefinite length. I think we are, on the whole, at least slightly less afraid of one another than we used to be. I’m not sure that David would agree, but I do know that he would approach my argument with his usual high level of respect and thoughtfulness. In doing so, he would teach me how to be, and it would improve my outlook.
If, in any of my speculation, I have touched upon some element of truth, of ultimate purpose, of greater meaning for the life of one individual, then I feel it’s safe to say that by touching my life, by communicating that which was exclusively his property until spoken, his ideas, David changed me for the better. Thinking of him led to my writing this, which I hope, in turn, will change someone else for the better. If all that we are –David, the reader, and I – is merely fodder for an ongoing evolutionary process, where brighter, happier, less-coerced, longer-living individuals will prosper long after we are totally gone, then let David’s passing and my resultant sadness do their necessary work. We, along with our work, will fade. Our molecules will move on to form new life. The process will start again, hopefully with more facts the next time around.
David, if you’re somewhere, I hope you were able to read this, and I hope you liked it.
(Anyone who knew David, or who wants more information, may contact Rick Mc at email@example.com.)