Escape 17: Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology

You don’t need promises of heaven with dancing girls to get promises of immortality. Lots of money is just fine thanks.

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Escape 17: Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology

That’s the title of Chapter 6 of Escape from Evil.  We all take money for granted, it’s such a common feature of our lives.  It’s funny how we think about money.  Technically, money is a social relationship.  It doesn’t refer to the stuff we carry around in our wallets.  Coins are technically called specie and the folding plastic (used to be paper) things are banknotes.  They are actually the physical representation of money.  So they’re kind of like a metaphor.  Chapter 6 is Norman O. Brown’s chapter.  Otto Rank and Brown share a unifying principle in their work, the universal urge to immortality.  It underlies everything they write about.

In a pre-scientific world a person could get some kind of immortality by leaving behind children.  That’s not entirely satisfactory because for men it’s never certain that your children are really your own. …

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Escape 16: Promises, empty promises of immortality!

I’ll let this one speak for itself except to say that Becker is more about the institutional, cultural dimensions of death denial and immortality projects than he is about the individual’s experience with death and death denial. Elisabeth Kubler Ross is all about how we as individuals deal with death. You might want to Google her name if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Escape 16: Promises, empty promises of immortality.

A group that doesn’t promise its members immortality doesn’t exist for long.  Of course promises of immortality in a secular society are hard to figure out, but we manage.  If your group has power and its proven it over and over again by military action and by delivering prosperity to most of its members then you’d be crazy to cross it.  We get locked into group ideologies precisely because our group delivers on its promises of prosperity.  We resent dissenters, we think protesters are fools and ingrates.  Not only that,

[man] accepts the social limitations on his appetites because the group gives expression to the most important appetite of all, the hunger for the continuation of life. (p. 65)

We’ve given over our power to the state sometimes reluctantly, sometimes gleefully but we do it because of the power we feel and see…

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Escape 15: If your adversary wins the argument about truth, you die.

It’s your group(s), nations, economic systems, cultures etc., that promise you prosperity and the defeat of evil. In our case, evil is poverty, the inability to drown yourself in commodities, material things, the very currency of capitalism. Be good, support your corporations, your banks and your governments that do so by proxy for you and you’ll live the good life. Fail to do that and your life will be a living hell. Just ask the poor, the homeless and the sick. By the way, the second to last paragraph in this post, the one that starts “Unlike Freud”, the next name should read Rank and not Rand.

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Escape 15: If your adversary wins the argument about truth, you die.

Half way through this exercise.  Becker is in my blood, it seems, not because of him as a person.  He is not my Christ.  What he does do for me is summarize and synthesize ideas that I slowly came to accept over 40 years of scholarship.  Actually by 1975 only a year after Becker’s death I was already ‘predisposed’ to accept his arguments having spent many hours reading the ethologists, Emile Durkheim, the Bible (2 versions), as many ethnographies as I could get my hands on, Thorstein Veblen, Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Will Durant and scores of others.  The idea of an immortality-project that became the centre of people’s lives and embodied all of their hopes for eternal life, I had already intuited but not articulated as such.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as I read…

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Escape 13: “…men fashion unfreedom as a bribe for self-perpetuation.”

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Escape 13:  “…men fashion unfreedom as a bribe for self-perpetuation.”

 So, this is my 13th post looking at Ernest Becker’s last book Escape From Evil (EFE) published posthumously in 1975.  I’m taking a different tack from now on in these posts.  First of all, I’m changing the titles so that they always start with Escape, rather than Ernest Becker. I’ll start with a short quote from Becker’s EFE then put that quote into perspective and elaborate.  So far I’ve used sometimes long quotes from Becker so as to let Becker speak for himself.  As I said before, there’s no substitute for reading Becker himself, but this will hopefully tweak your interest in the subject of Becker’s work which can be summarized in this quote:

Each society is a hero system which promises victory over evil and death. [EFE 125]

Of course that promise is empty, always…

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Ernest Becker 12: Guilty as charged!

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Ernest Becker 12: Guilty as charged!

To understand the primitive mind you must understand guilt. Understanding the nature of primitive economics demands that we know what guilt is.  Guilt is not a weakness as Nietzsche and Freud thought.  Brown seems to have picked up from them this same perspective on it.  Becker, however, argues that guilt is not a weakness and to understand it this way means that an understanding of primitive economics must remain elusive.  Guilt arises because there are so many binds in life. One of these binds is that of a child who inevitably loves the people who provide her with nourishment and life but who can also frustrate her in the things she wants or doesn’t want [as we witnessed shopping this morning].  Love can quickly turn to hatred and ‘destructive impulses’ and it can be hard on the ears too.  This is one kind of…

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Ernest Becker 11: Bartering with the gods: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Posting two posts today from the archives reviewing Becker’s book Escape From Evil. All about guilt writ large.

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Bartering with the gods: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

So, the forces of nature are pretty scary and can be downright devastating, mean and nasty killers.  What does a primitive to do in the face of such capriciousness?  Well, it’s always better to have something tangible to deal with so instead of thinking about the ‘forces of nature’ early humans created immortality projects that usually incorporated a god, or at least some kind of entity that served as a stand-in for those anonymous forces.  The forces of nature, gods, were obviously the source of life but they could just as easily be the source of death.  So a two pronged approach was required.  Gods had to be thanked for the bounty they provided, but they also had to be appeased in case they got pissed off at something humans were doing.  Humans were in debt to the gods…

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Ernest Becker 10: In debt to the gods, now and then.

We’re not quite half way through EFE yet, and, as I note in this post, he seems to be getting more impatient to get his point across. As I say, there is no substitute for reading Becker himself.

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Ernest Becker 10: In debt to the gods, now and then.

So, the title of chapter 2 of EFE is: Economics as Expiation and Power. I’m going to have some difficulty summarizing Becker’s thought now because as we go along in this book it seems that Becker is feeling a sort of urgency to get his ideas out and on paper.  He’s less inclined in this chapter and in subsequent ones to elaborate or beat around the bush.  He still uses examples a lot but I tend to leave those out here because they are not necessary to the story; but do they ever help in understanding Becker.  More important, almost every sentence is quotable. So, I say again, there is no substitute for reading Becker himself.  His two most important works in my mind are Denial of Death and Escape from Evil.  His earlier works are fine…

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Ernest Becker 9: Morality is Fundamentally a Matter of Power

Yes, more Becker. Morality is also a huge topic for Emile Durkheim, the first person to actually hold a university position as a sociologist. He called sociology the science of morality. That’s the topic of another post on this blog.

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Ernest Becker 9: Morality is Fundamentally a Matter of Power

I know that I’m dealing with Becker in these posts but there was a sociologist, the first bone fide European sociologist, Emile Durkheim (1857-1917), who considered sociology the science of morality.  Morality is not what most people think it is.  It’s not some abstract universal condition that has no relationship to reality.  No, morality is fundamentally rooted in political power.  This is not the place for it (I don’t think) but sometime it would be nice for you to challenge me to prove this by announcing what you think are moral precepts and defying me to show how they are connected to the material, real world.  It would be especially fun if you think that morality lies exclusively in the realm of ideas.

In any case, I digress.  Morality underlies all of his work, but now back to Becker and…

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Ernest Becker 8: The Logic of Sacrifice

Yesterday, I posted a note on one my own denial project. keeping busy. I have others, some idiosyncratic and some cultural that I share with you and just about everybody else in our world. I’m not exceptional nor am I immune from immortality-projects like nationalism and money. Sacrifice is the subject of this blog post. We’re constantly asked to make sacrifices to ensure the flow of prosperity. What’s that all about? Read on.

Roger Albert - Always a Sociologist: Now Living With Myeloma

Ernest Becker 8: The Logic of Sacrifice

 How many times have we heard our government tell us that we have to make sacrifices now so that we can have prosperity in the future.  Sacrifice usually means putting off gratification now for pleasure and prosperity later.  Becker, along with his special ‘informants’ like Hocart, understood the nature of sacrifice.  In EFE Becker dedicates part of Chapter 1 to sacrifice.  It’s critical to his whole argument.  He writes:

 At the centre of the primitive technics of nature stands the act of sacrifice, which reveals the essence of the whole science of ritual.  In a way, we might see it as the atomic physics of the primitive world view…If he does things [performs the ritual ceremony] exactly as prescribed, as the gods did them in the beginning of time, then he gets control over the earth and creation.  He can put vigor…

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Ernest Becker 6: Today, will the Broncos hang their heads in shame?

More Becker. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Ernest Becker 6: Today, will the Broncos hang their heads in shame?

Following from yesterday’s post, primitive ritual is a tool used for the production of life.  [We get to the Seahawks and Broncos at the end of this post!] The Mayans and especially the Aztec were quite capable of ritually sacrificing scores of human beings to ensure future prosperity.  In this post I explore with Becker the consequences of our search for immortality and the means by which we pursue that search.  They vary in time and space, of course, but their aim is always the same: ensure prosperity and the good life.  Defeat anything or anyone that threatens it.

We have a great deal of faith in our way of controlling life, via science and especially engineering and technology.  So when our technology fails us, our faith is shaken.  When a plane crashes or a pipeline ruptures or…

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