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Denial of Death

The human response to the hopelessness of mortality is complex. It can be viewed as a cultural form of grief, with its various stages. It is, after all, the loss of one’s own life that is mourned in advance. First, there is denial. I suspect this is why people are inclined to believe they have immortal souls and will be resurrected even in their bodies. It’s why the first half of life is an upward curve, as though there were no end in sight. And why people try to accumulate millions of dollars, when hundreds might do, and seek every form of excess—especially sex, status, wealth and power. It’s why we worship youthfulness and the perfection and beauty of the body, which is biologically little more than a tube for digestion. It’s why murder and suicide are important as ways of taking charge of death, why war is a spiteful strategy to beat the Grim Reaper to the punch. This is the denial of death, of which Ernest Becker wrote so eloquently and insightfully. The knowledge of mortality—and not sexuality, as Freud had thought—is the primary motive of the “repression” upon which culture is built. We symbolic creatures have only the mythical life and world we (collectively) invent to mollify the sting of death. It is the story told at the campfire to dispel terror of the dark, where devouring beasts may lurk in wait; it is equally the voyage to other planets, terraforming, and the conquest of the dark of space. The story itself is the ideal world it posits. The campfire, as creative invention just as much as light, is the answer to the darkness.

RELATED TAGS: [fear of mortality, denial of death, stages of grieving/grief, resurrection of the body, worship of youth(fullness), mastering/mastery of death, grim reaper, Ernest Becker, bargaining/negotiating/denial stage of grief, masculine idealism, bargaining with death/the grim reaper, artificial/prosthetic body, symbolic creature/animal, sting of death/mortality, mythical realm, terraforming, conquest of space, ideal world]

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