ruin bars and the case for a purposeful afterlife

To be clear, I’m not exactly sure how this might work–I’ll leave that to scientists and entrepreneurs–but I have an idea. It begins with religion, hops around Budapest, and ends with a purposeful afterlife. As I write this post, I have our discussions of what happens when we abandon our cities or technology, how we treat historical sites, and what we do with our digital afterlives in mind, I’m attempting to reconcile those into one vision for our future.

Specifically, religion is trending down while agnosticism and ¬†atheism are trending up. But regardless of our beliefs, we’re ¬†human and, therefore, hardwired to search for purpose. That’s all well and good if we all live what we feel are meaningful lives, but what happens when something gets in the way and we realize we serve no greater purpose and are unable to achieve the full meaning we sought? Often, some sort of mid-life crisis that ends in pursuit of another meaning, nostalgia, or nihilism. I think that’s a waste.

Last semester, I studied in Prague. The city is steeped in history and handles it in a fairly standard manner; leaning into it, thriving off of tourism, and preserving and remembering both the good and the bad. But that also means it’s fairly hands-off. You can go into all the buildings, but most of the historical ones have exhibits and are roped off and often very solemn. And that’s appropriate. But, on a weekend trip to Budapest, I saw a different approach. There were still memorials and historical areas, but the buildings tended not to be museums or tourist traps. Instead, they still served their original functions or had undergone serious transformations. Common to the latter category were ruin bars, which are abandoned buildings (often Soviet or Nazi–aka from bad parts of their history) that have been decorated with people’s unwanted things and now function as markets by day, bars by night. If you think about the life stories of those buildings, they’re on their redemption tours, with no end in sight. They’re finding purpose (and a far better one) after their intended lives.

Ruin Bar from my iPhone

That got me thinking; what if we could do the same for humans? Obviously, we wouldn’t be altering our legacies, but what if we could have a concrete purpose in death, contribute to something greater than ourselves? As I said earlier, I don’t know how that would work. Maybe we should look into some less-palatable, environmentally-friendly ideas like composting ourselves. Then again, maybe the solution is something a little nicer like allowing public access (unless limited by ourselves or our families) to the entirety of our digital histories so that others might learn from or make use of the things we’ve done. Whatever the answer, I think giving everyone a guaranteed purposeful afterlife (or even the choice of many, so long as they aren’t wasteful) would greatly benefit all of society.

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