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strangefate

Tower of Iron Will

All who enter the Tower regain 100 sanity points.

Currently reading

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die
Randall Munroe, James Foreman, K. Sekelsky, Camron Miller, John Chernega, David Michael Wharton, K.M. Lawrence, Jeffrey C. Wells, Vera Brosgol, Kit Yona, J. Jack Unrau, Jeff Stautz, Aaron Diaz, Matthew Bennardo, Yahtzee Croshaw, Douglas J. Lane, Brian Quinlan, Kate Beaton

How to Cope with the Inevitable

The Denial of Death - Ernest Becker, Sam Keen, Daniel Goleman

An unfortunate side effect of a species survival strategy based on a big brain is that humans are capable of understanding that at some point in the future our individual consciousness will come to an end. If that thought does not frighten you then you are not thinking about it hard enough. If you think about your own death too much you descend into neurosis, therefore it is necessary to repress the fear of death. Normally when psychologists talk about repression it is as a negative thing, but Becker makes it clear that failing to repress the fear of death makes it impossible to live.

 

So how do you repress the idea of death? You can anesthetize yourself with the trivial. Becker refers to individuals who can lead an unexamined life absorbed by sports and entertainment as Philistines. You can join your culture's immortality project, whether that means building the worker's state like a good Communist or sacrificing yourself for God like a good Christian. You can try to achieve your own unique work of genius that will leave a legacy for all time, and while many people try to follow the heroic path only a few geniuses are born in any generation.

 

It seems that as civilization grows more complex it becomes harder to justify your own existence enough to face death without fear. At one time if you married, raised your children, built a successful farm or trade, participated in your local religion, and fought if your country went to war, then you could face death with equanimity. Now people can do all those things and still feel like a failure or a fraud because they achieve their true dream of becoming a famous actor or musician or author. Every neurotic is at heart a failed artist.

 

Kierkegaard argued that the only escape from the fear of death is placing your faith in the divine. Freud rejected the consolations of religion as delusion, but did not really offer a substitute other than self knowledge. Becker points out the irony that whether you follow religion or psychology in either case you are putting your faith in someone else's ideas to show you a path away from fear and dread. Whether you confess your sins to a priest or to a therapist, it amounts to the same behavior of seeking justification and forgiveness.

 

Individuals who cannot repress their fear of death ultimately retreat from life. They have no ground of safety and any action could result in humiliating failure or actual annihilation. I personally find my comfort in the teaching of stoicism. It is irrational to fear something you cannot change. Allowing yourself to be consumed by fear of the end results in you being too afraid to start. Not exactly a rousing banner to follow into battle, but we all make do with what we have.