Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Security

Security or insecurity, that is the question. Whether it is nobler, or more functional, in the long run, to secure oneself against the many dangers we face in this world, or to face our essential, our existential insecurity, to face it head on, and arm ourselves instead with a knowledge that we CAN face it, and survive, even if we die.

I've been reading The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker. Becker is a great fan of Kierkegaard, an unhappy soul if ever there was one. And he had a great deal of rational support for his unhappiness, reasons that Becker also embraces. The greatest of these is an assessment of our external reality, most importantly the inevitability of death.

Oooo, why would anyone want to spend a lot of time thinking about THAT! I mean, it's so MORBID!

Well, sure, but it is also inevitable, right?

Well, if it is so damn inevitable, there's no point in thinking about it. Is there!

The problem, as Becker sees it, is that we actually spend a lot of our time and energy AVOIDING thinking about it, that, in fact, almost the whole of our character, all the "I'm the kind of person who..." ideas we have about ourselves, is designed to deny, to ourselves, the inevitably of death.

Well, isn't that better than moping around going "Woe is me, woe is me, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die..."?

And Becker argues that even this, even depression, neurosis, psychosis are defenses against fully accepting the inevitability of our deaths, the understanding that when our bodies cease to function, our selves, our "immortal souls," will simply cease, the way a light bulb ceases to glow when you shut off the electricity.


It really is a terrible fate, and one that humanity has spent countless hours working to deny. Immortal souls, reincarnation, higher powers...any means by which some part or essence of ourselves will pass beyond the cessation of our bodily functioning into some PERMANENT, if vastly different state of existence. It is a great comfort, I'm sure.

At least it is a comfort to ourselves. Of course, when another person challenges our chosen system of belief, or worse, tells us we are WRONG, we are likely to get a bit upset. And not surprisingly. After all, if I am WRONG, then maybe I don't actually HAVE an immortal soul, and I'm going to have to face the reality of my death. Well fuck you, bub, how do you like looking down the barrel of my gun? At least I know that when YOU die, your immortal soul is going straight to hell. And everyone knows that even an eternity in hell is better than simply ceasing to exist.

But how can you really do it? How could you ever let go of all your stuff, all the material goods that secure you, all the things that you do to secure the stuff that secures you, all the ideas about who you are and what you are like, to stand naked in the face of death? It is, as Kierkegaard and Becker agree, our greatest anxiety, the one that can't be alleviated by any amount of money, or stuff, or therapy. You would simply have to live with it, know it, be it, all the time. Even Jesus didn't ask that much when he said "give up all your worldly goods and follow me."

I wish I had some answers.

I do know that no one ever learned to face fear by denying it. I have let go of a lot of my stuff, let go of "home," of a regular job and income. I do get scared sometimes, get anxious about whether I'll have a place to go next, whether I'll have something to do with my time. Small fears, to be sure, and easily resolved if I would only "get a job!"

 But I have a job: I'm learning to live with anxiety. I still can't do it for very long. I still need rest periods, weeks and months at some organic farm where I've never been before.

And is it going to work? Will I ever learn enough to be able to face death without denial? Damned if I know. Probably better if I just settle down, get a job, a nice income, some consumer goods, do my part to expliot the third world and contribute to global warming...yeah, that would be better.

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