Ernest Becker 4: Nah, we don’t REALLY die, do we?
Alright, so Becker is keen on telling us that we are animals and our ‘animality’ must be considered in any analysis of what our place is on this planet. More than that he states that like all animals we want to continue to live. We crave life but know that it will end. But that just can’t be! We are such wonderful creatures, we’ve got these big brains and bodies that can give us such pleasure. Why we must be the most intelligent things in the universe! We can’t possibly die… Well, maybe, just maybe we don’t die. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Maybe our flesh and blood dies, but WE don’t. Yes, disease and death are the twin evils that we face, but maybe, just maybe, that’s just a part of what we are. Well…let’s let Becker speak now as gets to the point of his Introduction and of his book:
The reader has surely already seen the rub, and objected in his own mind that the symbolic denial of mortality is a figment of the imagination for flesh-and-blood organisms, that if man seeks to avoid evil and assure his eternal prosperity he is living a fantasy for which there is no scientific evidence so far. To which I would add that this would be all right if the fantasy were a harmless one. The fact is that self-transcendence via culture does not give man s simple and staightforward solution to the problem of death; the terror of death still rumbles underneath the cultural repression…What men have done is to shift the fear of death onto the higher level of cultural perpetuity; and this very triumph ushers in an ominous new problem. Since men must now hold for dear life onto the self-transcending meaning of the society in which they live, onto the immortality symbols which guarantee them indefinite duration of some kind, a new kind of instability and anxiety is created. And this anxiety is precisely what spills over into the affairs of men. In seeking to avoid evil [in the form of death and disease] man is responsible for bringing more evil in to the world than organisms could ever do merely be exercising their digestive tracts. It is man’s ingenuity, rather than his animal nature, that has given his fellow creatures such a bitter earthly fate. This is the main argument of my book…how man’s impossible hopes and desires have heaped evil in the world.
So there you have it. Some of you might consider this a little hyperbolic, but it’s nothing of the sort. Any casual student of history or anthropology will tell you that attempts by people to destroy others who threaten their immortality are the hallmark of our time on this planet. Just a hint to where we’re going with this from page 125 of EFE: Each society is a hero system which promises victory over evil and death.