The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker (Part 2)

The Failures of Heroism

The Spell Cast by Persons – The Nexus of Unfreedom. Men must hide from the truth. Men have followed leaders who seemed larger than life. Men worship power. There seems to be some fascination over those who have power. Do famous people have a halo around them? Some men respect their doctors so much that they think they are larger than life. Hypnosis is certainly possible. We all fear not being in full control of ourselves. Ferenczi admitted that we in our innermost soul, we are still children and we remain so throughout life. We all still feel the need to be subject to someone, just like how we were subject to our parents when we were younger. Freud performed a lot of research on group psychology. He tried to understand why men were so sheeplike when they functioned in groups. They fell under the sheep of their leader. He has an extreme passion for authority and wants to govern by unrestricted force. People like being in groups because it makes them feel safe. They feel safe in the group, but all this is an illusion. Every man feels like an omnipotent hero. Erich Fromm believed in narcissism. There were problems with Freud’s theory too. The leader had some traits which enabled him to hold the group together. He allowed the followers to express forbidden impulses and secret wishes. He wipes out fear in people. People think they engage in illegal activities as a group. Men likes to crave illusion. People use the leader to fulfil their own needs and urges. People use the leaders as almost as an excuse. Being in a group helps man take on individual responsibility. The leader takes the responsibility for all evil acts committed. To Freud, humans have a sexual instinct. Transference is a problem of courage. Transference could be seen as a fetish control. It literally means the need for man to exert complete control over external circumstances. Man will project all of his human qualities on an object. However, if he loses the object, he fears that he might lose himself. You can even make your own body that object. Transference is a form of narrow control that anchors our own problems. Some see transference as a fear of life. The Universe has overwhelming power but we can endow certain persons with it. The transference object becomes an obsession for the person. The more you fear death, the more you see the need for transference objects. Some people see transference as the fear of death. Now, you need the transference figure to assure your immortality and carry on you causa-sui project. It will provide shelter on your life. People want heroes for their own immortalization. When the object dies, people start to panic. Men always strives to be good. All organisms strive to feel good about themselves. The feeling is even stronger in Man. However, what is ‘right’ is not straightforward. Man feels tremblingly small and impotent in the face of transcendent nature. Rank understood the human condition really well. Transference is almost a universal passion. To Rank, Man worshipped God because of an outgrowth of life-longing and the need for meaning. This is the duality of man. Men want to be associated with values that endure. There is a school of thought where people use transference as an urge to higher heroism.

Man is a trembling animal who pulls the world down around his shoulders as he clutches for protection and support and tries to affirm in a cowardly way his feeble powers. – Ernest Becker

Transference heroics gives man precisely what he needs: a certain degree of sharply defined individuality, a definite point of reference for his practice of goodness, and all within a certain secure level of safety and control. – Ernest Becker

If all people are more or less alike, why do we burn with such all-consuming passions for some of them? – Ernest Becker

If Man gives in to his natural feeling of cosmic dependence, the desire to be part of something bigger, it puts him at peace and at oneness, gives him a sense of self-expansion in a larger beyond, and so heightens his being, giving him truly a feeling of transcendent value. – Ernest Becker

How do I realize my distinctive gifts, make my own contribution to the world through my own self-expansion? – Ernest Becker

Individuation means that the human creature has to oppose itself to the rest of nature. It crates precisely the isolation that one can’t stand – and yet needs in order to develop distinctively. It creates the difference that becomes such a burden; it accents the smallness of oneself and the sticking-outness at the same time. – Ernest Becker

Otto Rank and the Closure of Psychoanalysis on Kierkegaard. Creature consciousness is absorbed in culture. Back in the day, men was happy to serve God. Christianity made heroes of everyone. Christianity took creature consciousness and made it the condition for his cosmic heroism. For men without religion, they had to find a love object. Salvation is transference beatification. Love is the highest form of striving. Modern man is dependent on the love partner. In a relationship, we accept the other person’s body and things can joined in unity. Death is seen as the twin brother of sex. Sex ensures that the creature created will eventually die. Resistance to sex seems like a resistance to fatality. A child, will reach a stage where he will be curious about how he got his body. The body is something to triumph over. Personality is ultimately destroyed by sex. Is it good to lose yourself in another person? How can a human be a god-like thing to everything else? We expect perfection from our loved ones, but sometimes they disappoint. We feel diminished by their weaknesses. We elevate our love partner to God status because we want redemption. We need to admit our creatureliness and helplessness. Having guilt free sex might not be good too. It is defeating to want too little from your partner. Cosmic heroism must transcend human relationships. However, doing so might affect one’s quality of life and one’s individuality. Most people live based on societal norms. Women often get married, but are not happy because she sacrifices her individual personality. However, there is an aspect of self-surrender in it too. The problem with individuation is that one separates from the herd. This is the creative guy. The creative person must fashion his own idea of existence. His work is his form of ‘heroism’. However, how can one justify his own heroism? No one has a right to play God. However, the artist knows that how he is judged by others still matters and still needs to obtain meaning from outside. No matter how great his work is, he knows he pales in comparison to the transcending majesty of nature. The only way out of this is that one has to give one’s life as a gift to the powers out there. Your creative work on its own cannot provide a source of salvation. Rank wanted man to live beyond the limits set for himself. One should reach for religion. Rank thought that Man needed a religious ideology.

The idea of himself as a special cosmic hero with special gifts for the Universe. He doesn’t want to be a mere fornicating animal like any other – this is not a truly human meaning, a truly distinctive contribution to world life. – Ernest Becker

The Present Outcome of Psychoanalysis. Rank wrote about neurosis. It sums out the problems of human life. Freud could reduce insights to a few fundamental theories. The first aspect of neurosis is the trouble of the truth of existence. Everyone has their own stylistic reaction to life. It is also historical in nature. As a human, to protect ourselves, we have to shut off outside experience. This is known was ‘partialization’. Men are built more like creatures than Gods. Men thinks about the small problems instead of the big ones like life and death. Hence, men sort of refuses reality, or the ‘refusal of reality’. When the world is too much for people, neurosis sets in. Neurosis is universal in nature. Some people make their loved one their all. His ‘safe’ environment has failed him. Guilt often results due to an unused life. This is when we have potential, but failed to live according to our potential. Do not narrow-down the world too much. Some people get stuck in the narrowness. If you feel vulnerable, it is because you are not big enough to face the fears of the Universe. Some people’s fears are hysterical and have no explanation. However, they don’t know what the problem is. In order to avoid death, the person narrows down on his world. This results in isolation. Another type of neurosis, is when a person has too vivid imagination. This is a total problem. If you cannot narrow down the world, the world might seem too confusing. Some individuals cannot separate and some cannot unite. One needs to find a balance between the two. One reason for such behaviour is when one has poor social skills. When this happens, you will feel your life is a total problem. This person withdraws from the world and becomes a narcissist. A neurotic lives symbolically, not biologically. The artist is the most neurotic of all. Everyone is neurotic to some extent. The artist is better than the neurotic because he can produce works that represent his symbolic view of the world. Some level of objective creativity is a must. The neurotic tends to criticize himself too much. The artist glorifies himself because he has the talent to do so. Talent is circumstantial. The author can understand why people like to work hard at their jobs as the alternative to that is natural desperation and madness. What can keep Man from going mad? In reality, people have all sorts of personalities. Is the average man one to be emulated? It seems like our Creator has no grand plans for Mankind. People are living an illusion. On what level of illusion does one live? Man needs a new reality. Cultural heroism is important for men. Cultural play tends to vary with society and history. Men needs other acts to find heroism and not just simply raising kids. He needs revolutions and wars. Modern man is left to his own resources. He has to justify himself. Science still can’t explain the soul. To Rank, psychology was a negative sort of ideology. Psychology tries to identify what’s wrong with a person when he is unhappy. However, sometimes the cause of happiness is because of one’s relationship with the world. Hence, psychology has limited understanding of humans. Psychology tends to focus on circumstantial guilt. Psychologists in the modern age now represent the new God. The Merger of Sin and Neurosis. Both Kierkegaard and Rank reached similar conclusions on psychoanalysis. They both had the ‘theology’ world-view. Man must translate his meaningfulness on a larger level. However, justifying your own heroism is bound to fail. Neurosis is a strive for self-achieved immortality. The cure for neurosis is to change your world-view. One needs to plunge into world experiences and then try to attain meaning from it. To Goethe, men didn’t know what proper experiences were. Religion needs to be supported by external and compelling activities, not just a belief in God. What is the best foolishness to live under? The best one is the one that provides the most dignity and freedom. Religion removes our responsibilities. We can make free decisions. We can rely on powers that support and do not oppose us. Religion also allows one to explore their individual heroic personality. Also, it gives hope because it is largely unknown. It relieves the absurdity of earthly life. To Rank, Christianity ranks as an ideal. Is there a cost for failure to reach transcendence? Can an individual affirm and accept himself from himself? A creative person is too full of himself and of the world. One needs to ask important questions like what world view? What powers? For what heroism?

Generally speaking, we call neurotic any life style that beings to constrict too much, that prevents free forward momentum, new choices, and growth that a person may want and need. – Ernest Becker

To live is to engage in experience at least partly on the terms of the experience itself. One has to stick his neck out in the action without any guarantees about satisfaction or safety. – Ernest Becker

In sin and neurosis man fetishizes himself on something narrow at hand and pretends that the whole meaning and miraculousness of creation is limited to that, that he can get his beatification from that. – Ernest Becker

A General View of Mental Illness. Humans fear isolated forms of human existence. Mental illness is very complex and varied. I will try to simplify the concepts for the layman. Is there even a general theory of mental illness? Mental illness is essentially denial of creatureliness. People who have depression are afraid of life. Fear of life leads to excessive fear of death. Depressed people fear to move and do anything. Do not live simply to meet the demands of others. Men do not have the power to rely on. People hunger for immortality in their own small family circle. Transference is the use of an object for self-perpetuation. If you cannot fight or flee from your problems, you will enter a state of depression. People who are depressed want others to care for him and take care of him. There is a sense of guilt in this. Failure to have a useful social role can lead to depression. Menopause reawakens the horrors of our body. Nature is the real ‘castrator’. Once both the bodily and the cultural projects fail, one is a failure. Some form of heroism is needed. One cannot simply rely on object-embeddedness. One has to be a hero in some way. Schizophrenia is another sort of mental illness. He is a realist. He fears life and its demands and lives in mistrust of himself. We have a good theory of what schizophrenia is about. The symbolic and bodily self are completely disintegrated. He is not securely rooted in his body. As a result, he needs to hyper-magnify his world to achieve transcendence. Hence, he seems very contrived. He is open to his own anxieties. His body, to him, is a mass of stench and decay and will betray him. A normal person will use his body with confidence. He doesn’t have an ego response. Perversions are not marginal. Freud was interested in studying about perversions. To him, the fetish is a substitute of a woman. Man can find dualism strange and cannot accept impermanence of the body. Children are shamed of their bodies when they soil themselves. Death and decay are themes of obsession. Children are indeed bothered by their bodies. This is especially so if he has seen traumatic things. Their kids will grow up weaker in their body confidence. Low-esteem is a serious problem too. Wanting to sexualize is an expression of individualism. This also explains fetishism. Our body is standard, but the self is personalized. How can one reconcile this? Perversions are in essence a striving for freedom. Freud thought that the fetish object represented the mother’s ‘penis’. People with fetishism treat their bodies with a halo, like a personal thing. Some people have fetishes with shoes. Feet are ugly while shoes are beautiful. Fetishes can be charms too. Clothing has massive impact on people. Perversions are a form of private religion. Sadism and masochism might seem natural. When you rape someone, you show you can manipulate and dominate another person. It provides intensity in the place of emptiness. Masochism is a way of taking pain and transmuting them into pleasure. Rank thought that Mankind could not get rid of thoughts of masochism and sadism. Mental illness are seen as failed heroics. They all have the power of courage.

All living organisms are condemned to perversity, to the narrowness of being mere fragments of a larger totality that overwhelms them, which they cannot understand or truly cope with – yet must still live and struggle in. – Ernest Becker

The more you shrink back from the difficulties and the darings of life, the more you naturally come to feel inept, the lower is your self-evaluation. It is ineluctable. – Ernest Becker

One must pay with life and consent daily to die, to give oneself up to the risks and dangers of the world, allow oneself to be engulfed and used up. Otherwise, one ends up as though dead in trying to avoid life and death. – Ernest Becker

If you can’t be a hero within a communal ideology, then you must be a nagging, whining failure in your family. – Ernest Becker

The body is definitely the hurdle for man, the decaying drag of the species on the inner freedom and purity of his self. – Ernest Becker

Retrospect and Conclusion: The Dilemmas of Heroism

Psychology and Religion: What is the Heroic Individual? We tend to follow other person’s ideas. We find idols in our lives. We try to convert our people to our idea. The artist tries to create his meaning and he must be sustained by them. Kierkegaard thought man had to live in faith and give meaning of life to his Creator. This is the knight of faith. One needs to find what is needed to live. Man cannot get rid of his nature. The enemy is repression, the denial of death. Men sets limits for himself because this a truly human existence. Therefore, our culture or superego sets such limits. Even if you can postpone death, people might still fear dying prematurely. What kind of Gods would people in a Utopia worship? There are certainly limits to psychotherapy. One cannot have it all his own way. One must draw back in some areas and pay the penalty in some form or another. Psychotherapy does have its uses. Psychology is useless, because it helps to cure weaknesses, but it does not promise immortality. Hence, that is why psychotherapy does have use. Psychology is not a new belief system. The author believes that the fusion of psychology and religion is logical. There are also limits to human nature. There is no way to transcend the human condition. Social movements are mere fancy. Is therapeutic revolution a viable concept? Utopian societies tend to deaden human sensitivity and deny humans of heroism. There are a lot of things about creation and life which we do not understand. All we can do is speak to the life force.

A creature who takes more of the world into himself and develops new forms of courage and endurance. – Ernest Becker

Whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false. – Ernest Becker

Whatever is achieved must be achieved from within the subjective energies of creatures, without deadening, with the full exercise of passion, of vision, of pain, of fear, and of sorrow. – Ernest Becker



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