Escape 20: Why do we have to fight the death star?

Escape 20: Why do we have to fight the death star?

No, this post isn’t exactly about Star Wars, but that movie is such a brilliant commentary on a power mega-machine gone mad that it could easily serve as a basis for the discussion here. In many ways, movie makers have been more intuitively in tune with the insanity of the world today than most intellectuals and politicians, of course. Maybe after I finish this Becker marathon, I’ll turn to how movies and books have given us insights into our basis fears of life and death.

Chapter 8 in Becker’s EFE is called The Nature of Social Evil.  It’s a very dense chapter in which Becker can now get to the nitty-gritty.  He’s laid the groundwork and summarizes it in the first paragraph of the chapter, which I reproduce here in its entirety.

We have seen with Rank that the driving force behind evil in human affairs stems from man’s paradoxical nature: in the flesh and doomed with it, out of the flesh in the world of symbol and trying to continue on a heavenly flight.  The thing that makes man the most devastating animal that ever stuck his neck up into the sky is that the wants a stature and a destiny that is impossible for an animal; he wants an earth that is not an earth but a heaven, and the price for this kind of fantastic ambition is to make the earth an even more eager graveyard than it naturally is. 

 In the primitive world heroism and expiation were small time affairs.  Primitives weren’t capable technologically or ideationally to wreak havoc on the planet.  That’s changed now.  There is no comparing even the destructive power of an Aztec murderous ritual of thousands of victims with Hiroshima.  What can be said of a species that can pull off a Hiroshima and then (to make the point absolutely clear) a Nagasaki, a blood potlatch like the Nazi Holocaust or the Chinese Cultural Revolution under Mao?

Today we are agreed that the picture looks something like this: that once mankind got the means for large-scale manipulation of the world, the lust for power began to take devastating tolls…Masses of men were forged into obedient tools for really large-scale power operations directed by a powerful, exploitive class.  [in the process]… We see this in the degradation of tribal peoples today, when they hire themselves out for money to work monotonously in the mines. Primitive man could be transformed, in one small step, from a rich creator of meaning in a society of equals to a mechanical thing.

 It’s been ten or twelve thousand years in the making, but we’ve now unleashed this “colossus of power gone mad…” (p. 99)

…and with it began mankind’s real woes.  The new class society of conquerors and slaves right away had its own internal frictions; what better way to siphon them off than by directing the energies of the masses outward toward an ‘alien’ enemy?..this was the start of large-scale scapegoating that has consumed such mountains of lives down through history and continues to do so today, right up to Viet Nam and Bangladesh [and Rwanda, Eritria, Cambodia, East Timor, Iraq, Syria, etc.]: what better way to forge a nation into a unity, to take everyone’s eyes off the frightening state of domestic affairs, than by focusing on a heroic foreign cause? 

 …even if it has to be contrived, as in George Bush’s Iraqi ‘war’, probably the most blatantly contrived invasion of a country since Hitler invaded Poland. (

Keeping up the lie for the sake of power takes its toll although people like Dick Cheney have no regrets because they are willing to make the sacrifice for domestic peace and future profits for oil producers.  This goes back a long way, way before Bush, of course, but as Becker notes:

Once you start an arms race, you are consumed by it.  This is the tragic fatality of power, that it leads to a fundamental distortion of the reality of man’s relationship with nature – and so can undermine his own well-being. 

How can this be?  Tomorrow we tackle the role of sacrifice in all of this.  We’ve had a taste of it in previous blogs.  Now for the main course.

 Let me tell you again that there is no substitute for reading Becker’s Denial of Death or Escape From Evil if you want to understand his thought in its richness and wholeness.  I must say, though, that his message is not in the least upbeat.  This is scary stuff and it requires a certain degree of courage and detachment to wrestle with it.  I know it nearly drove me crazy, but it seems so familiar to me now, comforting in a way.  And let me say here and now that I do have an immortality-ideology and at the end of this Becker marathon I’ll tell you exactly what it is.  But for now, let’s carry on with the task at hand.  

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