Ernest Becker 2: Oh, Our Lovely Tummies
So, following yesterdays post, Becker argues that we are animals. Well, what else? I know, I know, we think of ourselves as humans not animals, but that’s not a distinction that makes much sense. Science has gone way beyond thinking of things on this planet as being exclusively plant, animal or mineral. It’s not as simple as that. However, for the moment, I hope you’ll accept my argument (and Becker’s) that we aren’t rocks or minerals or grapefruit. No, we are animals. We share genes with grapefruit and we need some minerals to survive, but we aren’t plants or minerals in any obvious sense. That’s Becker’s opening argument: we’re animals. We behave very much in animal ways although we also very much deny it with all of our best efforts. We have a lot in common with most animals, more with some than with others, of course. So carrying on from where we left off in the last post Becker writes:
Beyond the toothsome joy of consuming other organisms is the warm contentment of simply continuing to exist – continuing to experience physical stimuli, to sense one’s inner pulsations and musculature, to delight in the pleasures that nerves transmit. Once the organism is satiated, this becomes its frantic all-consuming task, to hold onto life at any cost – and the costs can be catastrophic in the case of man…For man…this organismic craving takes the form of a search for “prosperity” – the universal ambition of human society…In man the search for appetitive satisfaction has become conscious: he is an organism that knows that he wants food and who knows what will happen if he doesn’t get it, or if he gets it and falls ill and fails to enjoy its benefits. Once we have an animal who recognizes that he needs prosperity, we also have one who realizes that anything that works against continued prosperity is bad. And so we understand how man has come, universally, to identify disease and death as the two principle evils of the human organismic condition. Disease defeats the joys of prosperity while one is alive, and death cuts prosperity off coldly.
Tomorrow we’ll see where Becker takes us from here. But from what he’s established in the first two or three pages of his book in a chapter called The Human Condition: Beyond Appetite and Ingenuity we know that for us humans, death is a final insult to an organism that is warm and feels so wonderful with a full stomach. We love our tummies. How could they possibly melt away into insignificance?