Factor of changes for Death in our culture and society
Factors associated with these changes in cultural death systems include:
Changes in social structure
The challenge of death is most extreme within small, primitive societies where famine, disease, or war could lead to the destruction of the entire group. As populations increased the need for greater social coordination and control gave rise to large bureaucratic structures. Within these, roles became more important than their replaceable occupants. This idea of being disposable and replaceable is, of course, a major assault on individuals' sense of dignity and esteem, making their deaths relatively insignificant events.
Changes in bonds between people.
Simon et al say that with the continuing secularization of social life and the "declining belief in an unquestionable logic to the events of life, including death...there is a declining possibility of sharing in powerful rituals that make real atttachment to collective identitites."
Urbanization brought a fundamental shift in the "social gravity" binding a people. For most of human history this force of social attraction entailed the intimate bonds between homogeneous residents of small communities. Here individuals knew one another as whole persons, and they grew old together. Here the death of one of the community's members could not be ignored for the loss was genuine. It had to be ritually marked by community-wide outpourings of grief in order to assist the stricken group to reestablish and reintegrate itself.
Nowadays this social gravity features the impersonal bonds linking heterogeneous and interdependent strangers within large urban areas. Interpersonal no longer are based on mutual affection but rather on the achievement of complementary goals. Total selves are irrelevant to most social interactions; we now interact toward most others solely on the basis of the roles that they play. Here the scope of grief is limited to the family and friends of the deceased, who are given but a few days off from work before being expected to return a social system usually unaffected by the death.
Changes in the conception of selfhood.
The contemporary self that faces death is considerably different from the selves of the past. Nineteenth century selfhood was, as was the case through most of the past and remains the norm in many cultures, more collectivist in orientation. Personal extinction did not hold the terror it currently does because the ultimate social unit--namely, one's tribe or clan--continued to survive despite the singular deaths of its members. As Roy Baumeister develops in The Meanings of Life (1991), with increasing individualism and value-relativism, the quest for identity and self- knowledge has become people's primary source of life meaning. This has made the self more vulnerable to death as death now takes away both life and what gives it value.
Changes in who dies
From youth to the elderly as the culture's death lepers. One has but to look at the demographics of developing societies to see where we once were. In civilization's earliest period, women's average life span may have been less than 28 years and infant mortality as high as 75 percent. The connection between death and childhood largely remained in this country through the eighteenth century. Nowadays, so relatively rare have childhood deaths become that the parental grief occasioned by stillbirths and miscarriages may be relatively equal to the parental grief of the past following the deaths of young children.
Indeed, death has become the province of the elderly, with nearly 80 percent of all deaths in this country occurring to individuals over 65 years of age. The assumption that citizens will live to see their biblical three score and ten years is reflected in a new statistic of the federal government: YPLL, "years of potential life lost" when people die before the age of 65. In many ways the American "problems" of old age are bound-up with the "problems" of dying. Gauging from their increasing segregation from other age groups, the elderly are our culture's "death lepers."
Changes in when we die
From premature to postmature deaths. While the death ethos of historical societies was shaped by the prevalence of unanticipated and premature deaths, death now typically occurs upon the conclusion of full, completed lives. Instead of dying with one's proverbial "boots on," death increasingly occurs among those already disengaged from the social mainstream. When death does occur prematurely, such as when a teenager is murdered or a young father dies in an auto accident, it most often occurs because of manmade (hence avoidable) causes.
Changes in how we die
From Sudden to Slow-motion Deaths. There have been profound changes in the very quality of death. Owing to innovations in public sanitation and medical technology, death now typically occurs in slow-motion due to degenerative diseases, often exhausting the resources and emotions of families. Because of our tendency to depersonalize those most likely to die, slow-motion deaths mean that individuals must now die a number of social mini-deaths before actually physiologically expiring.
For thoughts on role of microbes shaping course of history see Jared Diamond's "Why Did Human History Unfold Differently on Different Continents for the Last 13,000 Years?"
As human death is typically hidden from everyday life, to what extent are our death socializations and fears shaped by pornographic death in the mass mediums of television, cinema, and music?
In the evening news we are shown bodies lying on the streets of Sarajevo or Belfast. Almost direct, we saw in the very heart of NYC, the twin towers scrambling from the crash of two regular airliners hijacked by terrorists. Sports telecasts focus on crashes, accidents and injuries. US cable networks interrupt kidís channel to display images of people being being chased by cops. Even cartoons have been criticised for the frequent violent episodes.
Unlike the contacts with real death in the past, media deaths generally do no generate moral and social questions. Instead, according to media critics, we become desensitized to death. Publicized boxscores of holiday fatalities on the nation's roads and death counts from accidents, wars, or natural calamities become as meaningful as sports statistics. Easy claims then can be made that violence saturated media can result in real life violence.
In the case of the war in Vietnam, witnessing the violence of the war on their TV screens appears not to have resulted in an increase of violence in American society, but rather a strong reaction against it. Some researchers argue that screen violence may actually help people to release their aggression and anger in a harmless way. The Vietnam war case is not conclusive as there was many americans involved, much as in the the Twin Towers Tragedy (3T). Some research indicates that our reaction to the media is more complex than this. We each have different experience, understanding and attitudes, which effect the way we react to media violence.
Should we ban violence on media ?, no because when the purpose is to inform or educate, the violence may be evaluated quite differently than where the intention is clearly pure entertainment.
There will always be those within our society who are more vulnerable than others to the impact of disturbing, violent images. Children in particular do need protection from more extreme material as they are less able than adults to recognise the difference between real and pretended violence. It is therefore more likely that they will try to transfer the actions they see on the screen into real life.