Escape 22: The Science of Man after Hitler


Escape 22: The Science of Man after Hitler

I have lingered on guilt, sacrifice, heroism, and immortality because they are the key concepts for the science of man in society that is emerging on our time. 

 Sociology has largely ignored this kind of analysis because it’s been caught up with it’s own immortality-project, it’s own definition of itself as a structural or constructionist endeavour.  History, evolution and process are not welcome in its parlour.  In my younger days I thought that if I wrote interesting and relevant material I would be taken seriously.  I was a bit naïve.  Sociologists could ignore Hitler or Mao as aberrations.  Becker mentions two sociologists who bucked the trend, Kenneth Burke and Hugh Dalziel Duncan.  I don’t know their work.  It was never on the curriculum when I studied at university.  Although Burke died it 1995 he was born in 1897 so his work could easily have been on the menu of any number of courses.  Becker does point out though that their work is pretty much contained within Rank’s, so I don’t feel so bad not having read them.  I have read many of Rank’s books, Art and Artist being one of my favourites.

The point here is that the old-time religious immortality-ideologies, the thousands that have existed and the many that still do can promise immortality.  The body is the source of all evil and temptation.  It’s where the Devil resides.  If you can stay in the realm of the symbolic you stand a chance of heroic eternal life, but if you succumb to the pleasures of the flesh, you die just as all flesh dies.  Spirit, if you can believe in it, lives on eternally.  That has got to be the most difficult thing for people who still believe in a supernatural world.  It’s bound to be a different supernatural world than many others so who’s supernatural world is the right one?  Doubt creeps in and that brings on guilt and the need to expiate that guilt.  One way out is to strike out at other immortality-projects, destroy them.  They all, potentially, have a role to play in the expiation of guilt and in the concretization of belief in the one and only real way to heaven.  But what happens in a world where the secular rules, where science and technology cannot promise any kind of sacred absolution?  Then, as Becker points out, the nation, the race or ‘the people’ become god, the transcendent immortality-project that keeps people in the same kind of grip that ancient religions did and modern religions still do.  It’s ridiculous, but it worked for Hitler and it worked for Mao.  Both had no transcendent god to offer the people, only a vision of the people themselves as the vehicle for apotheosis.  Hitler promised the German people a heroic victory over death as represented by the Jewish people.  Mao had the great revolution and the glorious future into which his believers would march in all their glory.

In this cosmology it is the people themselves who carry the ‘immortal revolutionary substance’; God, then, ‘is none other than the masses of the Chinese people.’

 Man still gropes for transcendence, but now this is not necessarily nature and God, but the SS or the CIA; the only thing that remains constant is that the individual still gives himself with the same humble trembling as the primitive to his totemic ancestor.  The stake is identical – immortality power – and the unit of motivation is still the single individual and his fears and hopes. 

The kind of effervescence that the promise of immortality brings is evident in events from music festivals to victory celebrations to protest marches.  We don’t often have the kind of real opportunity to feel alive alongside thousands of others in a common cause where the stakes are high.  We have our substitutes on professional hockey, football, soccer, cricket, the Olympics.  These can get our blood pressure up; they can get that collective effervescence (as Durkheim described it) going in a ritual bloodletting and victorious battle.  How often have I heard someone say, “Yeah, we kicked the shit out of the Oilers last night.”  Meaning that the Canucks defeated the Oilers.  The ‘we’ there is completely out of place in this sentence given the reality of the competition, but that doesn’t matter, it’s us against them, and it’s our immortality that’s at stake.

2 thoughts on “Escape 22: The Science of Man after Hitler

  1. Roger, I was completely overwhelmed by the pace of your postings from Becker’s Book Escape from Evil when you posted them. I was going through some personal issues that had to be dealt with at the time. I just read this section this evening while under no pressure. The part that I don’t see as what Christianity (at least not Protestant Christianity) teaches is the concept that the physical body is “where the devil dwells” and the spirit is our “pure component” if we really do have a spirit. Protestant teaching is somewhat different on this subject. The body is said to be “the temple” of the “Holy Spirit” which when a person chooses to follow Christ and his teachings and to believe the Bible as the actual “word of God” in the sense of being the foundation on which the Christian’s believe is based, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within the individual human being and to guide the spirit of that person to do what Christ would have him or her do. It is not at all wacky or spooky or crazy. The Holy Spirit is the agent through which God communicates to our spirits which is not exactly the same as the soul, which consists of the mind and emotions.

    The body was given to us by God through which was can be instruments of God, for example when we write, or paint, or do anything in this life that is good and beneficial to ourselves and others, our bodies are the instruments used. God through the Holy Spirit can influence how we use our bodies – either for good or for evil. Of course, when we become ill, our bodies become less useful, but our minds can still be of value.

    I won’t go on and on, but I just wanted to make the point that I have never understood the body to be a “tool of the devil” unless our minds permit them to become that. Our minds can cause our bodies to do evil things and our mouths to say nasty, cruel things, which is considered a sin by Jesus, because it hurts another human being or animal. It’s a large topic, but think you get the general idea.

    1. We’ve had a version of this discussion before and it strikes me that you have a minority version of Christianity. What Becker is arguing based on overwhelming Biblical evidence starting with the story of Adam and Eve is that the body is the source of life, to be certain, but also the source of death. Only the spirit lives on after death in the Christian ethos. That’s why so much emphasis is placed on denying the temptations of the flesh, the source of death and counter-emphasis placed on the soul or spirit as the repository of immortality. It’s true, however, that denial of the flesh is not just a Christian idea, it’s pretty much universal. “Sin” is often defined as denial of spirit and indulgence in pleasures of the flesh. I suppose it’s all in how the Bible is interpreted, but your version, which you describe as the Protestant version, is a gentler, more humane one than Becker saw as the norm. But, like I said, universal cultural forms of death denial are generally based on the idea that immortality is gained by denying the flesh and exalting the spirit. When I have some time, I’ll go back and re-read Becker with this idea specifically in mind…

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