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 Becker and his muses, Norman O. Brown and Otto Rank, I felt that I found my way home. Of course, the irony hasn’t escaped me that this could very well be my own immortality-project, but I’m OK with that. We as humans can’t exist alone, as individuals. We need company, meaningful company and we gather life from it. We get stronger with every association we make so it’s not surprising that we hunt down every ‘like’ we can get on Facebook. We need others to share our project because there’s strength in numbers. As Becker writes:
Each person nourishes his immortality in the ideology of self-perpetuation to which he gives his allegiance; this gives his life the only abiding significance it can have. No wonder men go into a rage over fine points of belief: if your adversary wins the argument about truth, you die. Your immortality system has been shown to be fallible, your life fallible. History, then, can be seen as a succession of ideologies that console for death.
In this sense all cultures are sacred. Becker does not subscribe to the common idea that cultures contain sacred and profane elements. For him, all culture is sacred because it promises victory over death and disease. So, now we get to the critical point: it’s the group and the group alone that confers immortality. There is no immortality outside of the group’s promise of it. Furthermore, the power of the group can only be released with the proper ritual executed to perfection. The group can demand from us countless practices, ideas, behaviours, scarifications, tattoos, lip plugs, genuflections, tips-of-the-hat, and what have you because in the end these things will get us immortality. Not doing them or not doing them properly voids the contract and we die.
Unlike Freud, Rand argued that all taboos, morals, customs, and laws represent a self-limitation of man so that he could transcend his condition, get more life by denying life. As he paradoxically put it, men seek to preserve their immortality rather than their lives.
That’s all for today. This is a short one but I’ve been at this keyboard for many hours today and I’ve had enough. Tomorrow is a new day and a new post.