Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The American Way of Death, Amanda Richard

I thought Wikipedia did a good job of covering this book. 

The version I read was the original, published in 1963, As death is the most common of experiences, we have to look forward to -- for ourselves, our loved ones, our pets, etc. It is not surprising a in a capitalist society would have no shortage of providers seeking profit from this most certain of events. (Although close, even taxes MIGHT get a break if we suffered a near human extermination event). 

I was struck by the average cost of a funeral/burial in 1960 being $708. Looking at current cost, it appears to be "$9,995", bringing a smile to my face. How marketers love to leave that last penny (or 10th thereof with gas) on the table to avoid the round number! The book does a great job of detailing why that figure is outrageous given the value of a dollar in 1960. Obviously, it looks cheap to us. The jump from $6,560 to $10k no doubt has gotten a real boost from Bidenflation. 

Being a minor gold bug, I feel compelled to include. 

While I remain a confirmed capitalist, because I'd rather deal with the problems of unnecessary production and consumption, than scarcity, The book deals with the obvious problem of merchants maximizing profit while selling to the "rational consumer" at their most vulnerable time. It tends to make used car salesmen and politicians appear to be destined for sainthood by comparison. 

The sales techniques are predictable and despicable, but this IS our culture. Even we Christians have a very hard time to avoid kneeling at the altar of the dollar. Pride, greed, and lust are related temptations that we all fail to resist. This book points the finger of judgement at the undertaker, certainly with a good deal justification, but he IS meeting a demand, although one in which he has a major part in creating. 

If you have a passing interest, it is quite interesting to look at the process of embalming and why it is done (to display the corpse better, nothing about "sanitation"). The marketing and financial tricks are also entertaining (making big profits and tax benefits from cemetery land, making cremation more profitable, etc,)

Christianity has a lot to do with the need for "respect for the body", since we believe our bodies will rise and we will see God with our own eyes (Job 19:25-27). Certainly our body will be destroyed (as Job admits), but the doctrines. of the church strongly move us to "respect the transition" from our earthly to heavenly form. 

We love to deny death, but like all denials for truth, it is existentially costly. 

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