• darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Currently, I am reading Ernest Becker's "The Denial of Death", which explains the psychoanalytic position that (roughly):

    1.) humans are hopelessly narcissistic

    2.) death is the ultimate threat to the ego

    3.) heroism is the ultimate triumph of the ego

    4.) therefore, one of the prime motivators of human activity is that of heroism.

    Becker explains that heroism has been elevated into cult-status while fear and weakness has been looked down upon, simply because the former actively opposes our deepest fear (death, the dissolution of the ego), and the latter reminds us of it.

    Now, we can't have everyone being heroes, otherwise we get self-declared Ubermensches vying for power and glory at the expense of all the other heroes that aren't able to be as glorious as they are. These heroes are chillingly scary (Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, etc).

    And so the average Joe goes about his daily life, not doing anything quite extraordinary or particularly worthy of recognition but enough to make him feel as though he is a hero: perhaps he racks up an extra zero in his bank account. Perhaps he buys a new car. Perhaps he publishes a book. Anything that will last, that will extend beyond his lifetime, anything that will make him a hero.

    Religions are a great example, according to Becker, of our denial of death and our worship of the hero. Christianity fought against the various other mystery religions at the time, who all exhibited demigods who passed into the realm of the dead and came back. Jesus was an existential hero!

    Buddhism and Hinduism are characterized by Becker to be negative reinforcement techniques; essentially, the practitioners are said to trick themselves, to "pretend" they don't want something (eternal life) when they actually really do. I'm not entirely sure if I agree with this assessment, but I'd be willing to discuss this further.

    I'm still reading the book, but have found it to be quite interesting. Perhaps this will cause an equally interesting discussion.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    Jesus was an existential hero!darthbarracuda

    He doesn't represent the triumph of the ego, though. It's rather more the opposite. He's an anti-hero, in that he does and says the opposite of what the Jews had expected of the Messiah, who had expected a great king like David; a strong man more or less in the mold of the men you mention in the parenthesis above.

    essentially, the practitioners are said to trick themselves, to "pretend" they don't want something (eternal life) when they actually really do.darthbarracuda

    I don't get this impression at all and I wonder why he does. The Buddhist and the Hindu already feels trapped in eternal life, called samsara: the cycle of birth, death, rebirth, and redeath. Eternal life is therefore precisely what they want to escape from.

    Even in the case of Christianity, the "eternal life" longed for is of an utterly different kind from the character of life experienced now (that's why it's called a "New" Earth). The Christian does not wish merely to perpetuate one's ego and its desires into eternity, for this would be the wish to perpetuate one's sin and God-forsakeness into eternity. Rather, the goal is to empty oneself of self and in its place be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    Haven't read the book, so can't really say too much about his theory. The theory you are presenting, however, is open to fairly sharp criticism.

    1.) humans are hopelessly narcissisticdarthbarracuda

    Did Becker declare that humans are hopelessly narcissistic, or is that your spin? Are humans hopelessly narcissistic? I don't think so. Most people (out of the 7 billion plus) do not have the option to fulfill many narcissistic fantasies. Most people will be lucky to make it to the grave reasonably old. A lot of people aren't successful in this endeavor.

    Most people, parents, working people, etc. forego the pleasures of narcissistic gratification to fulfill the needs and wishes of spouses, children, employers, communities, etc. When they get done doing that at the end of the day, they are tired and go to bed and sleep soundly.

    2.) death is the ultimate threat to the egodarthbarracuda

    Yes. Indisputable.

    3.) heroism is the ultimate triumph of the egodarthbarracuda

    I'm assuming this is straight out of Becker. I disagree. Per #1, the kind of heroism that most people in the world engage in is a heroism of thankless labor, or alternatively, not very well paid labor. I'm not suggesting that their lives are, end to end, one misery after another, but for Christ's sake, look at what real people actually do: they work rather hard to hold life together, to make the center hold, to keep things from falling apart. Most people do not have the opportunity to be heroes (if "heroism" actually means something).

    4.) therefore, one of the prime motivators of human activity is that of heroism.darthbarracuda

    It doesn't follow. It's absurd to say that "one of the prime motivators of human activity is that of heroism". It's reductionistic -- it tries to boil human behavior down to one simple syrup: heroism. The theory is itself is a kind of second rate heroism. "That's it! It's what makes the world go round! I'm a hero! I'm a genius genius! I've discovered the basic mainspring of civilization that nobody had previously noticed! I am the greatest! Gloria to me!" Becker says.

    All theories that reduce human behavior to one thing are probably wrong. Humans, like al creatures, are thrust into the world. We, more that most species, have to figure out how to exist in the world. This involves a wide range of strategies. People pursue multiple goals, driven by diverse motivations. Life is complicated.

    Christianity fought against the various other mystery religions at the time, who all exhibited demigods who passed into the realm of the dead and came back. Jesus was an existential hero!darthbarracuda

    I don't wish to be rude, but would you kindly name the mystery religions with whom Christianity was allegedly completing, and reveal something about the lives of their demigods.

    If Jesus wanted to be a hero, he would have taken Satan up on temptation offered in the desert. He would have accepted the offer of power and glory that Satan was offering. If Jesus had wanted to be a hero, he would not have deflected the disciples when they became overly enthusiastic about Jesus' power (like, he would say after a miracle, "tell no one about this"). Jesus wouldn't have said, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good." Finally, if he wanted to be a hero, he could have tried a little harder to avoid getting crucified. (Obviously God Incarnate didn't need to mess around with human heroism, since once he died he would resume his residence in heaven as the all powerful judge.)
  • Pneumenon
    374
    I think that there's truth in what Becker has to say (I have "The Birth And Death of Meaning," but haven't read "The Denial of Death"). Heroism really is linked to eternal life through remembrance.

    However, I wonder how well Becker's ideas cash out in practice. The general impression I get is that he has a lot of valuable things to say about what humans think is important and why, but I think that you can only take that so far in terms of explaining the behavior of individual humans.

    Also, am I identical to my ego? It sounds like a tautology, but there are lots of niggling philosophical doubts there. "Not that which says I, but that which is I." Or perhaps, "You are not what you think you are." Is your ego just a (faulty?) mental representation of yourself to yourself? Suddenly, Kierkegaard is knocking at the door.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    He doesn't represent the triumph of the ego, though. It's rather more the opposite. He's an anti-hero, in that he does and says the opposite of what the Jews had expected of the Messiah, who had expected a great king like David; a strong man more or less in the mold of the men you mention in the parenthesis above.Thorongil

    You misunderstand the point here. He was, is a legendary hero character who went into the realm of the dead and returned. The ultimate triumph, the defeat of annihilation (which is the ultimate fear according to Becker).

    I don't get this impression at all and I wonder why he does. The Buddhist and the Hindu already feels trapped in eternal life, called samsara: the cycle of birth, death, rebirth, and redeath. Eternal life is therefore precisely what they want to escape from.Thorongil

    I think the rational, conscious level of the human can come to such a conclusion as the Buddhists and the Hindus did. But the irrational, subconscious side is always fearful of death. Death is always repressed.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Did Becker declare that humans are hopelessly narcissistic, or is that your spin?Bitter Crank

    Becker literally did say that humans are "hopelessly narcissistic". These are not my words.

    Most people, parents, working people, etc. forego the pleasures of narcissistic gratification to fulfill the needs and wishes of spouses, children, employers, communities, etc. When they get done doing that at the end of the day, they are tired and go to bed and sleep soundly.Bitter Crank

    Such activity guarantees the sustainability of something after an agent's death.

    When Becker says humans are narcissistic, I don't think he means that we are inevitably selfish pricks. He means that every single action we do is processed in the first-person perspective. Things in the environment around an agent are seen as tools or nutrients for the person, for the self. The self is one of those ever-present phenomenons that we are so fearful to letting go of (death).

    It's reductionistic -- it tries to boil human behavior down to one simple syrup: heroism.Bitter Crank

    Becker is theorizing that one of the major motivators of human action is heroism, not the only one.

    I don't wish to be rude, but would you kindly name the mystery religions with whom Christianity was allegedly completing, and reveal something about the lives of their demigods.Bitter Crank

    Not necessarily at the exact same time, but the fact that there were widespread religions and cults surrounding gods that went into the underworld and returned. Orpheus, Herakles, Jesus, Mithras, Gilgamesh, etc all went into the underworld or had experiences that made them face death and survive and become immortal (except Gilgamesh I believe).
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    However, I wonder how well Becker's ideas cash out in practice. The general impression I get is that he has a lot of valuable things to say about what humans think is important and why, but I think that you can only take that so far in terms of explaining the behavior of individual humans.Pneumenon

    I definitely have by doubts about psychoanalysis. There is a broad literature criticizing it. However, much of what Becker has to say rings very true, to me at least. It's at least worthy of philosophical discussion.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    The ultimate triumph, the defeat of annihilationdarthbarracuda

    But the whole narrative of Jesus is meant to show the annihilation of the ego. If the ego is destroyed, what then is death? Nothing. The fear of death is contingent upon the perceived inability to perpetuate one's ego into the future. If one gives up the ego and trusts in God completely, death is no longer something to fear.

    But the irrational, subconscious side is always fearful of death. Death is always repressed.darthbarracuda

    Well, sure, if we're speaking about the instinctual fear of death, which has an evolutionary basis (carcasses carry disease, for example), then there's no getting rid of that. We are biologically determined to fear death. However, as you say, I still think one can utterly banish this fear from one's mind, such that however one's body may react, one cannot be internally disturbed.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    But the whole narrative of Jesus is meant to show the annihilation of the ego. If the ego is destroyed, what then is death? Nothing. The fear of death is contingent upon the perceived inability to perpetuate one's ego into the future. If one gives up the ego and trusts in God completely, death is no longer something to fear.Thorongil

    I don't know where you are getting this idea that Jesus' story is to show the annihilation of the ego. Clearly, Jesus is portrayed to have risen from the grave, as an entity with an ego.

    Well, sure, if we're speaking about the instinctual fear of death, which has an evolutionary basis (carcasses carry disease, for example), then there's no getting rid of that. We are biologically determined to fear death. However, as you say, I still think one can utterly banish this fear from one's mind, such that however one's body may react, one cannot be internally disturbed.Thorongil

    Is it that you are not bothered by death, or rather that you have repressed the image of death and built up a tolerance to your impeding doom?
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    I don't know where you are getting this idea that Jesus' story is to show the annihilation of the ego. Clearly, Jesus is portrayed to have risen from the grave, as an entity with an ego.darthbarracuda

    I'm talking about the empirical ego, that bundle of vain impulses, desires, fantasies, etc that people mistake for and cling to as their true selves (if indeed there is such a thing). The abolition of this ego, or at the very least its aggrandizement, is what Jesus is constantly imploring his followers to commit through both his words and his deeds. If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn and give him the other. If someone employs you to walk a mile, walk two miles, etc. Finally, Jesus conquers death not so much by physically dying (though he does do that and come back to life) but by showing us how to die to the world. This is why he says, "if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself [emphasis added] and take up his cross and follow me." He has defeated physical death, so one ought not be concerned with that. What we should really fear is not dying, in the sense of dying to the world. So again, it's completely the opposite of what you (or the author) suggested.

    Is it that you are not bothered by death, or rather that you have repressed the image of death and built up a tolerance to your impeding doom?darthbarracuda

    This entirely depends on what is entailed by "repression."
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Finally, Jesus conquers death not so much by physically dying (though he does do that and come back to life) but by showing us how to die to the world.Thorongil

    I'm not so sure about this analysis. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. He had some nice things to say, but after he died his followers needed an image, a token, to hold on to. Thus the resurrection, and the creation of Jesus as a subconscious existential hero. He symbolizes hope, a future, in the face of annihilation, because of his resurrection.

    If Jesus' philosophy was so bent on the elimination of the ego, then why did his followers believe that he continued after death, that is ego continued?

    This entirely depends on what is entailed by "repression."Thorongil

    That is, acting despite the fact.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    Not necessarily at the exact same time, but the fact that there were widespread religions and cults surrounding gods that went into the underworld and returned. Orpheus, Herakles, Jesus, Mithras, Gilgamesh, etc all went into the underworld or had experiences that made them face death and survive and become immortal (except Gilgamesh I believe).darthbarracuda

    Mithraism seems like the most competitive of the bunch. The Gilgamesh epic was as remote from Jesus as Jesus is from you (about 2000 years BC). Orpheus, I think (wouldn't swear on it) is fairly far back in Greek legend. There was an Orpheic mystery cult. Herakles is a character in a play by Euripides (and Homer). Which Heracles are you thinking of?

    We don't know a lot about any of the mystery cults, like the mystery religion centered around Eleusis, and the two goddesses Demeter and Persephone. In the Eleusinian cult drugs of some sort were used to achieve ecstatic states, probably ergot (a mold that grows on rye). Ergot produces... guess what: lysergic acid.

    Christianity was unique, however, in welding the Jewish prophetic and moral tradition to itself, and for it's missionary activity, and Gospel. The Roman gods, mystery cults, old Greek cults, Egyptian cults, and so on didn't provide an avenue to a new life through Christ-like behavior. I'm not knocking them, but they were quite different than Christianity. Plus, Judaism and Christianity were rigidly monotheistic. (the trinity is not three gods. It's a monstrosity which was created to solve one problem and left another one in its wake).

    This is a tangent, I realize, but it bugged me.

    Thus the resurrection, and the creation of Jesus as a subconscious existential hero. He symbolizes hope, a future, in the face of annihilation, because of his resurrection.darthbarracuda

    I don't know why Jesus would be a "subconscious" hero; I think he's very much a hero of the conscious, decision making, mind.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.darthbarracuda

    This is one thesis to be sure. But it strikes me that there are about as many Jesuses as there are modern biographies of the man (assuming he existed), which is now a veritable cottage industry. He simply couldn't be all of what he is imputed to be by these biographies at once. Whatever he was historically, it can't ever be established with any certainty. History is not a science and so we are only left with the probabilistic weighing of evidence, of which we are left with only a pittance in the present case. So, was he some rural Galilean preacher rambling on about the end of the world? Who knows! But who cares! Much more interesting is the character of Jesus in the narrative of the Gospels and the New Testament as a whole. Here we have a man who is no mere prophet but someone claiming to be divine and the fulfillment of Israel and the world. And his words and deeds, as well as Paul's, are rife with the language of self-denial.

    In one way, I agree with you about Jesus being an "apocalyptic" figure, for the word "apocalypse" simply means "unveiling," not the literal end of the physical world. Perhaps a world does end in what Jesus unveils, but it is the world of the ego. What he unveils within us and in the world is sin in all its forms and the means to overcome it through self denial and trust in him.

    If Jesus' philosophy was so bent on the elimination of the ego, then why did his followers believe that he continued after death, that is ego continued?darthbarracuda

    This assumes that Jesus had an ego in the sense that I gave to it above. Christians would probably say that he did not. This is why he is the perfect exemplar or archetype for how to live in order to be saved.

    That is, acting despite the fact.darthbarracuda

    You mean acting in such a way that I don't believe I will die? No, I don't do that. I am fully aware that I will die and meditate on death quite frequently (as do the aforementioned Hindus and Buddhists). However, I don't fear it thereby. In fact, I probably look forward to it more than I ever fear it. And if I do fear it, it is more in the sense that I find it uncanny and curious, akin to the feeling one gets after reading a profound but disturbing work of literature, for example.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    Interesting topic. My first thoughts. There are two types of hero:

    1) Those that seek it, which I think may be, at least in part, about legacy. (Christ, et al)
    2) Those who must confront circumstances and react to them in ways that can
    be described as heroic:
    a) person who runs into house on fire to save a child,
    b)The person who jumps on a grenade in the foxhole reacts reflexively, not thoughtfully.


    But perhaps this is too simple. Our ideas about what constitutes a hero have changed
    significantly over the last century, in my opinion. Think about movies (modern
    fairy tales) John Wayne, versus Clint Eastwood roles as 'hero'. Michael in the Godfather,
    movies. The modern hero is complex. Consider Winston Churchill.
  • ssu
    1.5k
    Interesting topic. My first thoughts. There are two types of hero:

    1) Those that seek it, which I think may be, at least in part, about legacy. (Christ, et al)
    2) Those who must confront circumstances and react to them in ways that can
    be described as heroic:
    a) person who runs into house on fire to save a child,
    b)The person who jumps on a grenade in the foxhole reacts reflexively, not thoughtfully.
    Cavacava
    Well, I assumed heroism had something to do with an act of altruism from the part who is a hero. A hero saves somebody else, like the prince the princess or the damsel in distress, but doesn't do this in order to get merit for himself. If something is quite common, it is that you simply don't have someone seeking to be a hero. The hero isn't someone who brags about what he has done.

    First, I find Becker's idea about just who is a hero is incredibly shallow and simply plainly put, stupid. For Becker the hero seems to be basically the fool who gives up his or her life for some imaginary higher cause. And that this "heroism" is made up by the society to counter the natural fear of death. For me, heroism isn't just about facing death. Someone who does something important for others can be a hero. Scientists who have made the World a better place and heck, even smart philosophers that have wisdom in their writings are heroes to me. Yet with their actions they haven't put their life to risk at all. So what gives? They aren't the correct heroes for Becker?

    Hence perhaps I'm stupid, but I don't understand at all darthbarracudas' OP about Ernest Becker's deduction of "how is heroism is the ultimate triumph of the ego". And l find Beckers argument simply puzzling.

    Seems that Becker was simply relating religious martyrs to be these "heroes". That's the part where religion really makes it clear that's OK, don't fear death during this situation. Or something. Both Christianity and Islam have similar ideas about this person who loses his or her life in "defending" the true faith. You get to Heaven, with or without the virgins. Still very confusing.

    Becker looks to be someone who you would find in especially in the 70's. And reading what Wiki has to say about Becker, which may all be total nonsense, is even more of the same:

    Becker argues that a basic duality in human life exists between the physical world of objects and a symbolic world of human meaning. Thus, since humanity has a dualistic nature consisting of a physical self and a symbolic self, we are able to transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism, by focusing our attention mainly on our symbolic selves. This symbolic self-focus takes the form of an individual's "immortality project" (or causa sui), which is essentially a symbolic belief-system that ensures oneself is believed superior to physical reality.

    and furthermore...

    Becker argues that the arbitrariness of human-invented immortality projects makes them naturally prone to conflict. When one immortality project conflicts with another, it is essentially an accusation of 'wrongness of life', and so sets the context for both aggressive and defensive behavior. Both parties will want to "prove" their belief-system is superior, a better way of life. Thus these immortality projects are considered a fundamental driver of human conflict, such as in wars, bigotry, genocide, and racism.
    Oooh...how terrible is our ideas of heroism. How bad. Part of a fundamental driver to wars, bigotry, genocide and racism. All that we have learned to be good is actually bad.

    Yeah, turn on, tune in, drop out. Or whatever...
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    "Well, I assumed heroism had something to do with an act of altruism from the part who is a hero. A hero saves somebody else, like the prince the princess or the damsel in distress, but doesn't do this in order to get merit for himself. If something is quite common, it is that you simply don't have someone seeking to be a hero. The hero isn't someone who brags about what he has done."


    The prince always ends up with the damsel...reward enough!

    Actually, very difficult topic, I think.
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    I think heroism is being muddled with bravery/courage. A hero is a type in a narrative. I remember Shakespeare's Troilus & Cressida, where Hector and Achilles are represented as rather shallow moronic heroes, strutting about battlefields. What do they know of life's travails?

    I'm also amazed that db said that it was rational not to be afraid. I don't think heroes and rationality mix well, although virtue is indeed something to be rational about.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    When Becker says humans are narcissistic, I don't think he means that we are inevitably selfish pricks.darthbarracuda

    Well, some people are dead ringers for "inevitably selfish pricks", as they repeatedly demonstrate. SOBs. Trying to steal my inestimable glory, they are.

    He means that every single action we do is processed in the first-person perspective. Things in the environment around an agent are seen as tools or nutrients for the person, for the self. The self is one of those ever-present phenomenons that we are so fearful to letting go of (death).darthbarracuda

    What about all those mirror neurons one hears so much about these days?

    Becker can think what he wants; I just don't agree with him that we are quite as narcissistic (in the way you used it, not that we are all selfish pricks).
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    There are several heroes in the Middle Earth Trilogy. To my way of thinking, heroes have to be mortals--their lives must be subject to loss. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel are not mortal. Elves are not mortal. Hobbits, dwarves, and men are mortal. Only those three are potentially heroes.

    Aragorn and Frodo are the two great heroes in LOTR, and of the two, Frodo is the greater hero. What elevates their heroism from minor to great is their struggles aim, duration, and intensity. Aragorn endured a lifetime of lonely hardship in service to Sauron's containment and defeat. Frodo, whose peril in relation to his potential gain, was the most disproportionate, had his role thrust upon him. He was "meant" to bear the ring into what might be everlasting suffering, and his fate didn't include a guarantee of success. Further, there was no great reward promised. Aragorn had the reward of marriage and rule of the united kingdoms if he succeeded.

    There are numerous minor heroes: Arwen for one. Arwen did not serve in battle, but she surrendered immortality in order to marry the man she loved, Aragorn. (Take that, Edward VIII, you ain't got nothing on Arwen -- you abdicated your figurehead throne for a two-time loser, Wallace Simpson. It isn't like you saved England from the Huns, or something.)

    Samwise, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, and Boromir are all minor heroes. Sam is in between great and minor hero. He shared Frodo's trials most intimately, and he had chosen to go with Frodo. Even though it wasn't his fate to complete the task, he helped Frodo all the way to the end. The remaining mortals all advanced the cause of the Ring bearer (even if Boromir caved in to temptation, he did recover his senses after he failed.) There are several characters from the Mark who are minor heroes, too. Not that they weren't brave, but the plot didn't give them the role of Great Hero.

    All of the heroes feared death and had to resist the terrors of death nearby.

    Can the LOTR be said to model heroism for human beings in the 20th or 21st century?

    First, in Tolkien's view, heroism is not a flight from death, not a triumph of the ego. It's the triumph of sacrifice over ego, and the offer of death for victory. The military and the Church both look at heroism the same way: Military heroes and religious martyrs give up their lives (and not by blowing themselves up in a concert hall). Saints spend their lives devoted to the homeless, the hungry, the dying, the sorrowing, the imprisoned; they give up the comfortable lives they could have led. Soldiers get medals -- often posthumously -- for leading the charge against the enemy, or for selflessly covering a grenade with their body and dying, but saving their comrades.

    As for the glory of heroism enduring beyond death, many people perform acts of heroism and are forgotten, or are never named because the witnesses are dead. The hero didn't first calculate, "Let's see, how many people are going to notice this magnanimous sacrifice on my part? It has to be at least 300, or it's just not worth it." Or, there is evidence of people saving others, even though their efforts would be lost to history, as far as they knew. (Nobody reported it, it was surmised from the evidence.)
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    So, was he some rural Galilean preacher rambling on about the end of the world? Who knows! But who cares!Thorongil

    I am not arguing about the historical background of Jesus: I am presenting the case originally presented by Becker that Jesus is one of many figures (often religious in nature) that are existential heroes in that they face death and survive and act as an icon for followers to attach themselves to and to seek reassurance in the face of annihilation. Regardless of what he taught, the heroic figurehead is present in Jesus and is, according to Becker, helpful for the subconscious to soothe the fear of death.

    I think that we can definitely try to mitigate the conscious occurrences of fear of death; we have been attempting to do so for thousands of years. But Becker is arguing that much, if not all, of culture is derived from the subconscious fear of death, and that no matter what kind of facade we put up, no matter how hard we try to pretend we don't care about death, the fear is always there. It's a constant awareness of the train approaching, of our inevitable demise, and all culture is a distraction from this truth.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Someone who does something important for others can be a hero. Scientists who have made the World a better place and heck, even smart philosophers that have wisdom in their writings are heroes to me. Yet with their actions they haven't put their life to risk at all. So what gives? They aren't the correct heroes for Becker?ssu

    One could ask why the world is such a way (culture) that we consider scientists heroes and writers heroes. Perhaps they take away pain and suffering. Perhaps they give us entertainment. It's all a game, a facade to push away the thought of death.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    A hero is a type in a narrative.mcdoodle

    Exactly. The hero that Becker is referring to is a psychological narrative (a la culture) that society has constructed. Those who cannot conform to the narrative (the homeless, the destitute, the mentally insane, the un-conformers, the ones who "see through the bullshit") are cast out because they threaten the balance and transparency of the heroic narrative. Progress, progress, progress! Achieve, achieve, achieve! Conquer, conquer, conquer! Hero, hero, hero!...until you finally die.

    There seems to be a reason why so many people are so resistant to exposing themselves to death and looking it straight in the face. No, instead, we have to have a heroic narrative behind it. Sometimes it's a knight in shining armor facing a dragon. Other times it's a young man on the hero's journey, accompanied by inspiring dramatic music. Never do we see the reality of death unless it is for shock value. We never enjoy watching people die in real life, but we sure do like watching people face death and survive while others perish around them.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    What about all those mirror neurons one hears so much about these days?Bitter Crank

    As far as I know, mirror neurons are meant to help an organism fit into a group of other organisms. "When in Rome", so to speak.

    . To my way of thinking, heroes have to be mortals--their lives must be subject to loss.Bitter Crank

    Yes, exactly. There must be a trial. There must be a triumph.

    First, in Tolkien's view, heroism is not a flight from death, not a triumph of the ego. It's the triumph of sacrifice over ego, and the offer of death for victory. The military and the Church both look at heroism the same way: Military heroes and religious martyrs give up their lives (and not by blowing themselves up in a concert hall). Saints spend their lives devoted to the homeless, the hungry, the dying, the sorrowing, the imprisoned; they give up the comfortable lives they could have led. Soldiers get medals -- often posthumously -- for leading the charge against the enemy, or for selflessly covering a grenade with their body and dying, but saving their comrades.Bitter Crank

    I believe Becker would respond that these individuals have found something that they want to survive after their death. It doesn't need to be a calculated endeavor. It just needs to be enough.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    To get a better understanding of Becker and Terror Management Theory (TMT), read this short snippet from a book.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    So Darth, how are you doing with your ever-present terrified fear of death these days?

    "It's getting late, so I'll take a crack at the text at the link provided in the morning.

    If, that is, I live through the night. I might be dead by morning. Oh my god, how can I sleep knowing that I might die at any minute?" Screams, runs howling into the night, accidentally falls off a bridge and dies in the Mississippi River. "See, you just never know. Well, it's all over now. I'm dead. Fortunately, the dead are able to see the futures of the living. I now know when you, Darth, are going to die. And how, where, and when. Surely you want a hint or two, to relieve your desperate fears of dying? I could tell you, of course, but then... OK. I'll give you a hint. Yes. You're definitely going to die. That's the good news. The bad news is that long before you die, you will grow tired of Terror Management Theory. You will, however, fall in love with 583 additional crackpot theories and abandon them in due time.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Doing quite fine, thank you. The link provided gives some examples of the future in the face of TMT, such as stronger psychological walls and a more compassionate, liberal, accepting worldview.

    For example, religious fundamentalists that were exposed to thoughts of death and then subjected to religious literature that advocated violence were highly likely to advocate suicidal bombings, while religious fundamentalists that were exposed to thoughts of death and then subjected to religious literature advocating compassion and acceptance were far more likely to reject suicidal bombings and go for the peaceful route.

    It's actually quite beautiful to think about, everyone working together. I'm sick of this "us vs them" bullshit.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    Did you go to Ash Wednesday services? Where the priest dips his forefinger in a mixture of oil and ashes (burnt palm leaves from the previous years Palm Sunday service) and pronounces the momento mori over you: "Mortal man, remember you will die; from ashes you have come and unto ashes you will return..." as he makes a large black gross on your forehead. You know, Christians are reminded rather regularly that death is their guaranteed destiny, and at the same time, they are reminded of the possibility of salvation. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything. A time to be born, a time to live, and a time to die. It just doesn't frighten me. Sorry.

    I am totally unafraid of dying. (I just don't want to be there when it happens.)
  • ssu
    1.5k
    One could ask why the world is such a way (culture) that we consider scientists heroes and writers heroes. Perhaps they take away pain and suffering. Perhaps they give us entertainment. It's all a game, a facade to push away the thought of death.darthbarracuda
    They, heroes, give us an example of what a single person can do with his and her life, how they can effect lives of others in a positive way. That's what heroes give: an incredible example that your average person wouldn't perform. Hence we look upon "heroes" as role-models, people that gives us examples.

    It's not just about defying death, even if death is logically the biggest risk we can face.

    It's telling that here some referred to Tolkien. Because that in my view "Lord of the Rings" is a very 20th Century version about heroism, especially with the idea that the small peacefull Hobbits being the biggest heroes of them all. Quite fitting from a writer that had experienced WW1.

    Tolkien.jpg

    Hence just what is heroism and just what makes a hero is something related to the times. I would argue that even Becker's ideas do also tell something of the times when they were made and just why it became so popular that we are talking about it even today.
  • TheMadFool
    3.8k
    A real hero has no need for fame or recognition. To him there are things more important than the celebration of victory, things far worse than defeat. A true hero does his deeds out of a clear conscience for the benefit of others and then disappears from view as if he never existed. The anonymous donor to a charity is more heroic than Jesus or other well known heroes.

    The true hero is invisible.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Currently, I am reading Ernest Becker's "The Denial of Death", which explains the psychoanalytic position that (roughly):darthbarracuda
    Oh absolutely great book! I'll get back to you! :)
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    1.) humans are hopelessly narcissisticdarthbarracuda
    Not hopelessly. Even Becker leaves the Kierkegaardian alternative of the knight of faith.

    2.) death is the ultimate threat to the egodarthbarracuda
    Yes.

    3.) heroism is the ultimate triumph of the egodarthbarracuda
    In the way Becker understands it yes - I argue, as some have excellently done in this thread, namely @Bitter Crank that this is an incorrect understanding of real heroism.

    4.) therefore, one of the prime motivators of human activity is that of heroism.darthbarracuda
    No, the prime motivator of human (selfish) activity is the denial of death, WHATEVER form that may take, including but not limited to heroism.

    Napoleondarthbarracuda
    I quite like this guy.

    He doesn't represent the triumph of the ego, though. It's rather more the opposite. He's an anti-hero, in that he does and says the opposite of what the Jews had expected of the Messiah, who had expected a great king like David; a strong man more or less in the mold of the men you mention in the parenthesis above.Thorongil
    (y) However, @Thorongil- unlike he is currently portrayed by religion, neither does Jesus represent humiliation. Rather he stands for dignity, courage, and faith - he ultimately triumphs, EVEN in the flesh according to the Biblical story.

    Even in the case of Christianity, the "eternal life" longed for is of an utterly different kind from the character of life experienced now (that's why it's called a "New" Earth). The Christian does not wish merely to perpetuate one's ego and its desires into eternity, for this would be the wish to perpetuate one's sin and God-forsakeness into eternity. Rather, the goal is to empty oneself of self and in its place be filled with the Holy Spirit.Thorongil
    Indeed. The life to come is an entirely different life than this one, and can only be spoken of allegorically.

    Did Becker declare that humans are hopelessly narcissistic, or is that your spin?Bitter Crank
    No, he didn't declare it in the context Darthy puts it in. Rather he meant to say that our denial of death is manifested via the constructs of the ego.

    If Jesus wanted to be a hero, he would have taken Satan up on temptation offered in the desert. He would have accepted the offer of power and glory that Satan was offering. If Jesus had wanted to be a hero, he would not have deflected the disciples when they became overly enthusiastic about Jesus' power (like, he would say after a miracle, "tell no one about this"). Jesus wouldn't have said, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good." Finally, if he wanted to be a hero, he could have tried a little harder to avoid getting crucified. (Obviously God Incarnate didn't need to mess around with human heroism, since once he died he would resume his residence in heaven as the all powerful judge.)Bitter Crank
    Ok - BUT Jesus was a hero - because ultimately he refused Satan's offer, and STILL gained dominion over the Earth, and much more.

    Also, am I identical to my ego? It sounds like a tautology, but there are lots of niggling philosophical doubts there. "Not that which says I, but that which is I." Or perhaps, "You are not what you think you are." Is your ego just a (faulty?) mental representation of yourself to yourself? Suddenly, Kierkegaard is knocking at the door.Pneumenon
    Yep. Becker is big on Kierkegaard. The knight of faith is his prototype of the ubermensch - the man who accepts the finitude of death without denial - and yet, absurdly has faith, despite the facts.

    But the whole narrative of Jesus is meant to show the annihilation of the ego. If the ego is destroyed, what then is death? Nothing. The fear of death is contingent upon the perceived inability to perpetuate one's ego into the future. If one gives up the ego and trusts in God completely, death is no longer something to fear.Thorongil
    I am more nuanced than this. The self is not a self-causing substance - its cause lies outside of itself. For this reason, the man who truly loves himself, must necessarily love that which gave rise to him - the whole world in its entirety. The self simply is the product of the world, and it is sustained in being by the whole world. In fact, no self can be concieved otherwise, pace Spinoza.

    Well, sure, if we're speaking about the instinctual fear of death, which has an evolutionary basis (carcasses carry disease, for example), then there's no getting rid of that. We are biologically determined to fear death. However, as you say, I still think one can utterly banish this fear from one's mind, such that however one's body may react, one cannot be internally disturbed.Thorongil
    I agree with you - nowadays I feel afraid in situations when I am put in immediate danger. But even this fear does not control me - somewhere underlying this there is a peace that is left undisturbed - somewhere deep inside I feel and know that I am eternal as Spinoza put it.

    I'm talking about the empirical ego, that bundle of vain impulses, desires, fantasies, etc that people mistake for and cling to as their true selves (if indeed there is such a thing). The abolition of this ego, or at the very least its aggrandizement, is what Jesus is constantly imploring his followers to commit through both his words and his deeds. If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn and give him the other. If someone employs you to walk a mile, walk two miles, etc. Finally, Jesus conquers death not so much by physically dying (though he does do that and come back to life) but by showing us how to die to the world. This is why he says, "if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself [emphasis added] and take up his cross and follow me." He has defeated physical death, so one ought not be concerned with that. What we should really fear is not dying, in the sense of dying to the world. So again, it's completely the opposite of what you (or the author) suggested.Thorongil
    I agree, and I would add the speech of Socrates to the words of Jesus:

    "You are wrong, sir, if you think that a man who is any good at all should take into account the risk of life or death; he should look to this only in his actions: whether what he does is right or wrong, whether he is acting like a good or a bad man [...] death is something I couldn't care less about, but my whole concern is not to do anything unjust or impious [...] It is not difficult to avoid death, gentlemen; IT IS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT TO AVOID WICKEDNESS, FOR IT RUNS FASTER THAN DEATH [...] But sure that if you kill the sort of man I say I am, you will not harm me more than yourselves [...] you are wrong if you believe that by killing people you will prevent anyone from reproaching you for not living in the right way [...] You too must be of good hope as regards death, gentlemen of the jury, and keep this one truth in mind, A GOOD MAN CANNOT BE HARMED EITHER IN LIFE OR IN DEATH" - Parts of Socrates defence speech in front of the court before he was executed in Athens

    If Jesus' philosophy was so bent on the elimination of the ego, then why did his followers believe that he continued after death, that is ego continued?darthbarracuda
    It's not the ego that continued, but rather the individuality, the self. There is a difference there. The ego is the self that is unaware of itself - the self that percieves itself as a self-caused and self-sustaining substance. The self, on the other hand, is the ego rid of illusions - that which perceives itself as the EFFECT of the WORLD, which is its CAUSE and SUSTAINER - and therefore the world and God are closer to the self than the self itself is - they are its root cause.

    There are several heroes in the Middle Earth Trilogy. To my way of thinking, heroes have to be mortals--their lives must be subject to loss. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel are not mortal. Elves are not mortal. Hobbits, dwarves, and men are mortal. Only those three are potentially heroes.

    Aragorn and Frodo are the two great heroes in LOTR, and of the two, Frodo is the greater hero. What elevates their heroism from minor to great is their struggles aim, duration, and intensity. Aragorn endured a lifetime of lonely hardship in service to Sauron's containment and defeat. Frodo, whose peril in relation to his potential gain, was the most disproportionate, had his role thrust upon him. He was "meant" to bear the ring into what might be everlasting suffering, and his fate didn't include a guarantee of success. Further, there was no great reward promised. Aragorn had the reward of marriage and rule of the united kingdoms if he succeeded.

    There are numerous minor heroes: Arwen for one. Arwen did not serve in battle, but she surrendered immortality in order to marry the man she loved, Aragorn. (Take that, Edward VIII, you ain't got nothing on Arwen -- you abdicated your figurehead throne for a two-time loser, Wallace Simpson. It isn't like you saved England from the Huns, or something.)

    Samwise, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, and Boromir are all minor heroes. Sam is in between great and minor hero. He shared Frodo's trials most intimately, and he had chosen to go with Frodo. Even though it wasn't his fate to complete the task, he helped Frodo all the way to the end. The remaining mortals all advanced the cause of the Ring bearer (even if Boromir caved in to temptation, he did recover his senses after he failed.) There are several characters from the Mark who are minor heroes, too. Not that they weren't brave, but the plot didn't give them the role of Great Hero.

    All of the heroes feared death and had to resist the terrors of death nearby.

    Can the LOTR be said to model heroism for human beings in the 20th or 21st century?

    First, in Tolkien's view, heroism is not a flight from death, not a triumph of the ego. It's the triumph of sacrifice over ego, and the offer of death for victory. The military and the Church both look at heroism the same way: Military heroes and religious martyrs give up their lives (and not by blowing themselves up in a concert hall). Saints spend their lives devoted to the homeless, the hungry, the dying, the sorrowing, the imprisoned; they give up the comfortable lives they could have led. Soldiers get medals -- often posthumously -- for leading the charge against the enemy, or for selflessly covering a grenade with their body and dying, but saving their comrades.

    As for the glory of heroism enduring beyond death, many people perform acts of heroism and are forgotten, or are never named because the witnesses are dead. The hero didn't first calculate, "Let's see, how many people are going to notice this magnanimous sacrifice on my part? It has to be at least 300, or it's just not worth it." Or, there is evidence of people saving others, even though their efforts would be lost to history, as far as they knew. (Nobody reported it, it was surmised from the evidence.)
    Bitter Crank
    EXCELLENT post! :D
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