It’s built into our natures, into our biology, that we’re going to die, and with only enough exceptions to prove the rule, the rule that we won’t live more than a single century. One can argue without end about the meaning, the justice of this, but it’s the way things are.
Is it a good thing, or a bad thing? Well when one observes the very old, especially those whom we’ve confined to an asylum or home for the aged, one sees few, if any, for whom death will not be when it does come a blessing. So given what our bodies, if not in all cases our minds, have been reduced to, death is an excellent thing.
We accept this, we accept the biological, the animal rhythm of our lives, because we have to. We have no choice.
But when it comes to our creations, and especially our institutions, things are different. We seem to want to make sure that when they also have outlived their original purposes and usefulness that they, unlike us, not be allowed to die and disappear.
Why is this so? Why do we keep so many of our institutions on life support indefinitely? Is it because unlike our own mortality which is without our power to alter, the life of our institutions is within our power to preserve. And preservers we want to be?
For example, we ourselves may be long gone but the weekly Rotary Club gatherings where we used to sit about the lunch table with our fellows will still take place —perhaps like the activities of a church — thereby giving a kind of immortality to those of us who were once members?
A harmless example this one. But what about another of our creations, the public schools? They are close to completing their second century of existence and while clearly no longer, if they ever were, accomplishing their original purposes, still receive generous life support in the form of cash infusions from local, state, and national governments.
I got to thinking about this while reading a Bloomberg Business Week article, U.S. Postal Service Nears Collapse. The closest the article came to speaking of the death of the Post Office was in the several references to an impending “implosion.”
“I really believe that the USPS is going to get to a point where, regardless of what it does… it is going to implode.” This comment from R. Richard Geddes, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University.
Most of the article was about what might be done to save the service, or that which would have to be done in order to somehow enable a good number of the 31,871 post offices to stay open as well as a good number of the 571,566 full-time employees to go on working. Few in key positions seem ready to admit that our postal service has simply outlived its usefulness.
For most of us the U.S. Postal Service is primarily serving the business community. Junk mail, not first class stuff, not the letters that people used to write to one another, is what we mostly find in our mail boxes.
I have the same question as James I. Campbell Jr., a consultant in Potomac, Md., who advises foreign governments on postal policy issues.
Campbell notes, as we all do, that the postal service is now carrying more junk than first class mail, and that it might be best described as a government-run advertising mail delivery service. Campbell asks, “Does that make any sense?” And he answers, and I with him, “It doesn’t.”