Monday, October 06, 2014

The "Collective Afterlife"...

...and Collecting Ocracoke Island History & Stories.

I hope our readers will bear with me as I share some philosophical ruminations today.

I recently read a review of the book, Death and the Afterlife, by Samuel Scheffler. According to the reviewer, Scheffler "does not believe in any form of personal immortality," but he does understand that "the survival of people after our deaths matters greatly to us."

Scheffler asks his readers to imagine scenarios that would rob us of what he calls a "collective afterlife."  In one scenario, every person on Earth suddenly becomes infertile. Although everyone would continue to live to the end of his or her natural life, the human race would eventually die out. What would then matter to us?

I wondered what I would think about collecting and sharing island history and stories. If I learned today that at the end of one hundred and twenty-five years there would be no one left on the planet...and certainly from now on no one would have any real interest in Ocracoke Island history...would I abandon my island research? Of course. What would be the point? I write for future generations as much as for the present.

When I read books and articles of local history collected and written by departed islanders (Alice Rondthaler, Calvin O'Neal, Cecil Bragg, Walter Howard, and others) I often offer them a silent "thank you" for realizing that some of us living today would be grateful for what they saved and preserved during their lifetimes.

Of course, I understand that our sun will eventually burn out (about 5 billion years from now), and that the human race might drive itself to extinction, and that geologic changes in the coast might inundate Ocracoke Island. But those time spans are longer than my human lifetime, and I, like many humans, don't want to think too much about ultimate death, wholesale destruction, and complete annihilation.

So, I continue to collect and preserve Ocracoke Island stories and history. I suppose it's enough for me to think that several more generations, at least, may survive and benefit from my work. In my own way I am celebrating the "collective afterlife" even though I realize even that will not last forever.

In the meantime I am ordering Scheffler's book...and will be reading it between researching Ocracoke Island hsitory.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is about the Unionist North Carolina State Government established at Hatteras in 1861. You can read all about it here:


  1. Anonymous9:40 AM

    Dear me, I need to dust off my Joseph Campbell books and see if I can contribute some context for my Magpie Theory. JC said Follow your Bliss and some Star Trek dude said Make it so. But then all those tape cassettes of relatives telling stories .... or floppy discs (what does one do with those items now- a days-- oh it was recycled). Now, pencil and paper, I have those things , pencil and paper, but handwriting is an art being lost to the ages.....

  2. Anonymous6:33 PM

    I for one am glad that you write what you do. I have my own little printed collection of your 'history lessons'
    I have been traveling to Ocracoke and the outer banks for over 40 years. Most of the time no one even knows that I am there. I leave no footprint. I have made a few friends during my visits, Clinton Gaskill, Susan Barksdale, Corky, and about a 1/2 dozen others. I have seen Ocracoke more crowded and Silver Lake more hidden from view by commercial building. Yet, your daily writings are fresh and your island history is sharp and clear. It would be nice to know just how many readers visit this site. I imagine quite a few.
    We will probably never meet but THANK YOU for your interesting subjects, ideas, comments, photos and observations. NS

  3. Anonymous9:51 PM

    Anon 633: If the opportunity presents itself, make it a point to introduce yourself to Philip.Shake his hand, say hello, and--if you're lucky like I was--sit and listen in person as he elaborates on the sorts of things we're all grateful to glean from him here in this forum. In my case, I had occasion to hear Philip speak on the oyster dredge that was subsequently damaged in this year's hurricane (the name of the vessel escapes me at the moment). As personable, cordial, and casually welcoming in person as he is here, Philip is a wealth of knowledge and a pleasurable fellow with whom to chat.