- Jul 2022
as members of society, we tend to identify with one or another “immortality system” (as Becker calls it). That is, we identify with a religious group, or a political group, or engage in some kind of cultural activity, or adopt a certain culturally sanctioned viewpoint, that we invest with ultimate meaning, and to which we ascribe absolute and permanent truth. This inflates us with a sense of invulnerable righteousness. And then, we have to protect ourselves against the exposure of our absolute truth being just one more mortality-denying system among others, which we can only do by insisting that all other absolute truths are false. So we attack and degrade–preferably kill–the adherents of different mortality- denying-absolute-truth systems. So the Protestants kill the Catholics; the Muslims vilify the Christians and vice versa; upholders of the American way of life denounce Communists; the Communist Khmer Rouge slaughters all the intellectuals in Cambodia; the Spanish Inquisition tortures heretics; and all good students of the Enlightenment demonize religion as the source of all evil. The list could go on and on.
Once we give ourselves over absolutely to a cultural immortality belief system, that is when our complete identification can emerge a self-righteousness so powerful that any other mortality-denying system that claims to be the truth and therefore threatens ours, must be eliminated.
- Jun 2022
Maybe it’s time we talk about it?
Yes, long overdue!
Coming to terms with potential near term extinction of our species, and many others along with it, is a macro-level reflection of the personal and inescapable, existential crisis that all human, and other living beings have to contend with, our own personal, individual mortality. Our personal death can also be interpreted as an extinction event - all appearances are extinguished.
The self-created eco-crisis, with accelerating degradation of nature cannot help but touch a nerve because it is now becoming a daily reminder of our collective vulnerability, Mortality salience of this scale can create enormous amounts of anxiety. We can no longer hide from our mortality when the news is blaring large scale changes every few weeks. It leaves us feeling helpless...just like we are at the time of our own personal death.
In a world that is in denial of death, as pointed out by Ernest Becker in his 1973 Pulitzer-prize winning book of the same title, the signs of a climate system and biosphere in collapse is a frightening reminder of our own death.
Straying from the natural wonderment each human being is born with, we already condition ourselves to live with an existential dread as Becker pointed out:
"Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever."
Beckerian writer Glenn Hughes explores a way to authentically confront this dread, citing Socrates as an example. Three paragraphs from Hughes article point this out, citing Socrates as exemplary:
"Now Becker doesn’t always emphasize this second possibility of authentic faith. One can get the impression from much of his work that any affirmation of enduring meaning is simply a denial of death and the embrace of a lie. But I believe the view expressed in the fifth chapter of The Denial of Death is his more nuanced and genuine position. And I think it will be worthwhile to develop his idea of a courageous breaking away from culturally-supported immortality systems by looking back in history to a character who many people have thought of as an epitome of a self-realized person, someone who neither accepts his culture’s standardized hero-systems, nor fears death: the philosopher Socrates."
"Death is a mystery. Maybe it is annihilation. One simply can’t know otherwise. Socrates is psychologically open to his physical death and possible utter annihilation. But still this does not unnerve him. And if we pursue the question: why not?–we do not have to look far in Plato’s portrait of Socrates for some answers. Plato understood, and captured in his Dialogues, a crucial element in the shaping of Socrates’ character: his willingness to let the fact of death fully penetrate his consciousness. This experience of being fully open to death is so important to Socrates that he makes a point of using it to define his way of life, the life of a philosophos–a “lover of wisdom.” " "So we have come to the crucial point. The Socratic catharsis is a matter of letting death penetrate the self. It is the acceptance of the perishing of everything that will perish. In this acceptance a person imaginatively experiences the death of the body and the possibility of complete annihilation. This is “to ‘taste” death with the lips of your living body [so] that you … know emotionally that you are a creature who will die; “it is the passage into nothing” in which “a corner is turned within one.” And it is this very experience, and no other, that enables a person to act with genuine moral freedom and autonomy, guided by morals and not just attraction and impulses."