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“Our basic human institutions - religion, matrimony, and burial, also law, language, literature, and whatever else relies on the transmission of legacy - are authored, always and from the very start, by those who cam before. The awareness of death that defines human nature is inseparable from - indeed, it arises from, our awareness that we are not self-authored, that we follow in the footsteps of the dead. . . .
Nonhuman species obey the law of vitality, but humanity in its distinctive features is through and through necrocratic. Whether we are conscious of it or not we do the will of the ancestors; their precedents are our law; we submit to their dictates, even when we rebel against them. Our diligence, hardihood, rectitude, and heroism, but also our folly, spite, rancor, and pathologies, are so many signatures of the dead on the contracts that seal our identities. We inherit their obsessions; assume their burdens; carry on their causes; promote their mentalities, ideologies, and very often their superstitions; and often we die trying to vindicate their humiliations.
Why this servitude? We have no choice. Only the dead can grant us legitimacy. Left to ourselves we all bastards.”


Robert Pogue Harrison
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