J. Robert King

Mortality and Toenails

Do you clip your toenails? I hope the answer is yes. The only people who say no are trying for the Guinness Book of World Records or are vampires.

Of course you cut your toenails. You don’t want them jutting from your sneakers or curling under your toes. You don’t want them going yellow with little mushrooms popping up beside.

So, you cut them. You willfully slice away a party of you that, three months ago was alive. You pare down your existence and shed part of you that once was useful but now no longer is.

All right, so cutting your toenails is a necessity, but it’s also like clicking the “Agree” button on the terms of service agreement for human life. By cutting your toenails, you recognize that you are made up of transcient cells that come and go. You recognize that you are a conglomeration of billions of smaller creatures, each with its own life span. By cutting your nails, you tacitly acknowledge that the oldest cells in you are seven years old and the youngest–including your toenails–are only months or days or weeks old.

By cutting your toenails, you unwittingly become president of the United Organs of Your Body.

So, what is your job? Are you trying to keep the most number of cells alive? If so, give up on that diet. And stop cutting your toenails.

Or, is your duty not to the individual cells but to the whole body, the collective? Are you trying to make sure that not just these cells, who can last for perhaps seven years, but whatever cells follow them, can survive? Are you after the health of the one, or the many?

Here’s the point. As much as I believe in radical individualism–as much as I myself am a radical individualist–I still cut my toenails.

It can’t just be for me. It’s got to be for all the cells that come after me. It’s got to be for the leviathan that we are part of.

So cut your toenails. Say goodbye to the dead part of you, and say hello to the cells that are yet to come.

September 20th, 2009
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3 Responses to “Mortality and Toenails”

  1. Colin Says:

    I’m trying to be a libertarian and/or CEO with my body. Any part that doesn’t provide an absolutely essential service is getting trimmed. So far, I’ve said goodbye to my toes, my legs, one kidney and one lung, the appendix, my gall bladder, and my liver.*

    *the liver didn’t submit a report on its duties, so we were left with the entirely reasonable assumption that it didn’t contribute anything of value to the overall body politic.

  2. admin Says:


    Say, if you’re not using that liver, could I have it?

  3. Colin Says:

    Well, sure. I mean, I don’t know why you’d want it. Dead weight, as far as I’m concerned.

    Especially now that it’s been on the outside for a few days.

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