Becker, Ernest (1973). The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press.
Upon reading Professor Ernest Becker’s book, the Denial of Death, I had an urge to write a book review of it. But how does one do justice to a book that essentially provided thorough review and critique of psychoanalysis, from Freud to Adler, Jung, Fromm, Horney, Rank, and other notable psychoanalysts? No, it is not possible to just do a mere review of this book. What I am going to do is begin wherever I can and write my thoughts on the book.
Let me begin by talking about his understanding of the human personality. He seems to believe that each human child, generally, during his first three years on planet earth has experienced his body and society long enough to have adapted to them. Something in the human child, what it is, we do not know, but whatever it is, it is intelligent adapts to the human environment.
Upon birth in the human body, life in it attempts to adapt to the exigencies of life in that specific body and society. Alfred Adler, who I thought was a better psychoanalyst than Sigmund Freud, and Otto Rank said that the human child experiences life in body as traumatic, depowering, and confusing.
In body the child feels powerless and helpless. He must depend on his parents, especially his mother to survive. Adler said that the human child feels inferior and compensates with pursuit of imaginary sense of powerfulness and superiority. Herein begins neurosis.
The neurotic, who is every human child in degrees, attempts to make sense of his depowering and senseless world. Neurosis is less poignant in healthy, normal children but exaggerated in neurotic children for those inherited a more problematic body that makes them feel living in body extremely problematic, hence they struggle for impossible power to make them feel efficacious.
Becker takes an existential approach to the formation of the self; he is well read on Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Frederic Nietzsche, Karl Jasper, Martin Heidegger, Rollo May, Reginald D. Laing, Abraham Maslow and the other acclaimed existential philosophers, psychologists, and writers.
The human child, from his empirical, phenomenological experience, posits a sense of self, the self-concept during his first five years on earth. The self-concept has a self-image. Once you posit a self-concept something in you, what we do not know, translates it to a self-image, a self in pictorial form. Each of us has a self-concept and a self-self-image.
Each human child, if you prefer to go the behaviorist path (see BF. Skinner, Watson, Pavlov, and the other psychologists who would like to believe that behavior is learned and not innate), from the moment of his birth in the human body (perhaps before he was even born, while in his mother’s womb), behaves in such a manner, made possible by his body and social milieu, that he adapts to his world.
Personality is generally defined as the individual’s habitual pattern of behaving in his effort to adapt to his physical and social world.
By the time a child begins school at age six, generally, a pattern of behavior is discernable in him. For our present purposes, every human child learns a pattern of behaving, a pattern that everything in his physical and social life positively reinforces as what enables him to survive given his body and society (I have a biosocial approach to psychology).
Look inside you. What do you see? You see that you have a sense of self. To be a human being is to have a sense of self, a self apart from other selves. Each of us has a separated self-concept, self-image, and personality.
Where did that sense of self come from? I do not know, and you probably do not know; what I do know is that I do not recall having a sense of self until between age three and five; I suspect that the same applies to all people.
Building on psychoanalysis, Becker would like us to accept that the sense of self we have is made up in this lifetime, that it does not preexist the human birth, what Otto Rank called the birth of tragedy; the exigencies of our situation, the nature of our bodies and its problems and social upbringing dispose us to, in George Kelly’s terms, construct self-concepts. The self-concept, the self-image, the human personality is formulation by each child on how he plans to live in this world.
Because the self-concept is not innate and real it is defended; defense makes it seem real in the defending individual’s eyes.
Psychoanalysts talked about ego defense mechanisms; they are repression, suppression, denial, displacement, projection, rationalization, sublimation, reaction-formation, minimization, fantasy, avoidance, fear, anger, pride, shame, guilt and so on (if you do not understand them, please google them, and read them up); we employ them to defend our self-constructs.
The human child, and, later, the human adult posits a self-concept that for some reasons he thinks would enable him to adapt to the exigencies of his world and then uses the ego defenses to defend them; if he defends them, they seem real to him, even though they were merely conjured out from his living in body and society.
Over time, each of us comes to think that he is the self-concept that he defends. Defenses are kind of like armor with which we protect our fragile sense of selves.
A CASE IN POINT
Let me illustrate this analysis with information from the self that I know most, my life. I was born with serious medical issues, including Cytochrome C Oxidase Deficiency, Spondylolysis, Mitral valve prolapse and Hypersensitivity to heat and fragrances (I faint if I am in newly painted houses or around women who wear heavy perfumes, and from smell from electronic devices).
As a child I was always feeling like my life was threatened, and that I was about to die. In Adlerian language, I had organ inferiority and the impersonal exigencies of life on earth made my body traumatized and about to die out.
We came to liv e in body and to earth to live in body, so I did not want to die. The life force in me invented a self-concept, self-image, and personality.
In Karen Horney’s psychoanalytic terms, I posited an idealized self, a powerful self that were I to become it I would cope with all the constant threats to my life. Both Adler and Horney would say that from about age three onwards I had rejected my problematic body and is pursuing a mind invented ideal self, a false self, but a self that gave me a sense that it enables me to survive my traumatized body. Thus, from childhood on I pursued a superior self, a powerful self. In the language of Karen Horney and Alfred Adler’s psychoanalysis, I was a neurotic child.
A neurotic child or adult is not trying to live as his true self, whatever that is, but as his ideal, superior self. The ideal, superior self is not real, it is made up, invented, yet one desires it.
Because the ideal self, the superior self, the neurotic self is not real one feels fear and anxiety from the prospect of not being it.
At play with other children, I was acutely aware of my weak body and my desire for my desired ideal, powerful psychological self. Other children’s behaviors easily reminded me that I am not the superior self that I wished to become. I easily misinterpreted what other people said or did as belittling, humiliating and demeaning my preferred ideal, superior self.
Since I desperately want to be that Ideal, superior self, I could not afford to see it destroyed by other people. Thus, by the time I began schooling at age six I had developed avoidant personality disorder (what ordinary folks call shyness). Here, the human child feels that as he is, he is not good enough; he feels that if other people come close to him that they would see that his self is not good enough. He wants to be good, superior, and powerful but that is not going to happen in society.
The shy child then withdraws from other children. In avoiding other children, and as an adult, in avoiding people he is not rejected hence not made fun of and not reminded that he is not good. In social isolation he retains an imaginary ideal, important, and powerful self.
The important and powerful self is false; it is just a desired self, not who one is. In social relationships if you collude with the neurotic child (by the way, we are talking about the smartest children in our world; I doubt that anyone without gifted IQ, that is, IQ of over 132 is neurotic) and see him as he wants to be, important, he gets along with you, but if you shame him, give him the impression that he is not perfect, he avoids you.
The neurotic child adds anger to his psychodynamics. If you did not see him as he wishes to be seen, important, he feels frustrated in his effort to seem important and he feels angry at you.
The neurotic child is full of fear and anxiety (from fear of not seeming his wished for idealized powerful self) and anger from frustration at those who treat him as if he is not the god he wants to seem.
Erich Fromm, in his seminal book, Man for his self, observed that neurosis is really a private religion, the neurotic wants to become God, a God that is so powerful that it enables him to deal with his problematic body and existence in general.
From garden variety neurosis (anxiety neurosis) we go to more serious neuroses. There are children who develop serious personality disorders (the American Psychiatric Association posits ten personality disorders; they are paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, narcissistic, histrionic, borderline, antisocial, avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive, and passive aggressive personality disorders; google them and read up on them).
Each personality disorder reflects the individual’s desired self and how it is defended. The narcissistic personality, such as Donald Trump, wishes to be special and important and does everything he does to get people to see him as incredibly special and feels angry if seen as not important; inside him, Trump feels totally worthless and restitutes with false, phony and sham sense of uber man, kind of like Nietzsche’s superman of racist fantasies (point a gun at him and pretend to pull the trigger and Trump would literally pee and poo in his pants, that is how cowardly narcissists are). He uses other people to acquire whatever makes him feel important; he seeks the known means of power, such as acquire money and power; he marries a beautiful woman if she makes his ego seem special, he is telling other men, see, I am married to a beautiful toy, she is my parlor trophy, but as soon as she becomes old and decrepit, he discards her and marries another beautiful thing; the narcissist does not love any one; he uses people for his goal of obtaining glory and dumps them when they are no longer useful to him.
The paranoid personality disordered person feels totally inferior and inadequate and pursues restitutory grandiose power and defends it; he sees other people as persecuting his false, big self and feels angry at them. His sense of persecution makes him feel powerful; in effect, he says, see, I am so powerful that all the people around me want to kill me; I am guarding my life, scanning my world looking for traitors who want to kill me.
I have written at length on the personality disorders, so, I am not going to rehash what I wrote elsewhere here; in sum, persons with personality disorder(s), aka neurotics, wish for ideal and powerful self and use the various ego defense mechanisms to defend their wished fantasy selves (by the way, I am talking about you, the reader; if you pay attention you might learn a thing or two about your psychodynamics).
In psychosis (mania, schizophrenia, delusion disorder and depression) the same psychodynamics is going on in the individual’s mind but in extraordinarily exaggerated level; as Harry Stark Sullivan said, we are all the same but manifest our sameness in slightly different forms.
The psychotic to be child confronts his powerless self and posits a false, powerful, and important self that is off the charts and tries to behave as if he is that grand self. He is not that grand self, so people ignore him.
From my clinical case load here are a few instances of psychoses. A twenty-year-old college student claims to be the Greek chief God, Zeus and that people do not acknowledge him as that God, so, he is angry at them (that is, symbolically, he is now an especially important and powerful self; diagnostically, he has schizophrenia, paranoid type); a thirty-something years old woman claims that she is Cleopatra, the alleged most beautiful woman in the ancient world, (symbolically, she is now the most beautiful woman on earth; this is a mask, veil, cover over her homely body; diagnostically she has bipolar affective disorder, aka manic depression).
All psychoses are attempts to be as if one is ones desired important and powerful self, a self that one is not.
EXISTENTIAL NEUROSIS AND PSYCHOSIS
Becker brilliantly points out that what we call our character, personality is made up ideas of who we wish to be that we employ the ego defense mechanisms to defend. He then added existential philosophy to his analysis.
If you recall from reading, say, Jean Paul Sartre or Albert Camus, you know that existentialist thinkers posit that we live utterly meaningless and pointless existence. We are absurd animals.
We are animals who ought to live like cattle but somehow nature gave us the ability to think and understand our world. We are gods in animal bodies.
Since our bodies would die, decay and smell like shit, we are gods in shit, literally; we are those gods that live in feces.
What kind of gods live in feces but false gods? We are false gods! Here, then, is the paradox of man, the bundle of contradictions called human beings; he is an animal and, as such, nothing, but he possesses a mind that thinks as if he were the gods, whatever those are? Are we gods?
Becker was a typical agnostic professor; he would like us to think that there is no such thing as gods, and that there is no life after death, that he is certain of (although they could exist?). We are nothing. Beginning with Nicolas Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo, Christian Huygens, Isaac Newton, Tycho Brahe, the Western man, as Nietzsche said, has killed God. God is dead and we live in a godless universe.
We emerged from the void during the big bang explosion that allegedly occurred 13.8 billion years ago and upon death we return to that void, to nothingness.
Becker argues that we are afraid of removing our made-up neurotic and or psychotic self-concepts, self-images, and personalities, and their defenses, because, false as they are, at least, they give us the impression that we have worth and importance. If we let go of all ego defenses, Becker suggests that what would confront us is void, oblivion, finitude. And that is unbearable! So, to tolerate our absurd existence we must pretend to be who we are not, important creatures.
Look at the queen of England or the Roman Catholic Pope or the President of the United States of America (or any other symbol of human importance). They are important persons, are they not? Then visualize them dead with worms eating their bodies and suddenly you turn away in disgust!
There are aspects of us we turn away from, what Becker considers our true self. We like to focus on the superficial aspects of us, such as the beautiful female body that you, a man, want to have sex with; when she dies you close your nose for you cannot bear the awful odor oozing from her hitherto beautiful body!
According to Becker, if we did not turn away from our existential reality and embraced it, we would be totally psychotic.
Human beings are semi-insane because they constructed false selves that make their dreadful existence tolerable and pretend to be those fantasies they want to become; they would become totally psychotic if they were to let go of their false selves for, they would realize that they do not have any existential worth. The value of the human body is less than 98 cents, Becker said!
If I let go of all my ego defenses, and the false big self they defend, and make to seem real to me, I would realize that my sense of self is make belief and experience total panic, existential anxiety, and become psychotic. This is what Becker says.
Every psychotherapist knows that what people call their selves are fictions, false, insane selves but he lets them have them for the alternative is nothingness.
A CURSORY LOOK AT ORIENTAL RELIGIONS
Is it true that if we let go of our false, neurotic and or psychotic selves and the defenses that maintain them, we would confront existential void and panic?
Question: who is confronting that void? Who is experiencing that dread, that fear and anxiety and depression from having lost the self that existentialists talk a lot about?
Who, Dr. Becker, experiences all the gory states that you, a wordsmith (he won the Pulitzer award for his book, the denial of death), that you so excellently talked about? You are an excellent writer, there is no doubt about that, but what you did not answer is who is the self that feels fear of nothingness. If there is no self, nothingness would not scare one.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, and other Oriental religions encourage people to give up their conscious selves, their sense of who they are, for those are, as Becker noted, false. What western existentialists dread, nothingness, oriental religionists welcome!
Orientals practice meditation to get rid of the neurotic and psychotic false self. They say that if we can accept the inner void that we are afraid of that we would know who is doing the fearing.
Atman, a part of Brahman, a son of God, separated from Brahman, God and went to sleep and dreams that he is Ahankara, individuated ego in body; in truth he is jivatman, a part of God and in God is eternal, permanent, and changeless.
The son of God deludes his self with his ego self-concept, self-image, and human personality. He deludes his self with the belief that he lives in body, space, and time. If he has the courage to let go of these illusions, he will not die out, but, instead, he will awaken from the dream of forgetting his real self, Atman and pretending to be ahankara, ego.
Thus, instead of the dread of nothingness that existentialists tell us await us when we let go of our neurotic and psychotic selves, when we let go of our conscious ego selves, Hinduism tell us that we shall first emerge in a place of light forms (astral world) and ultimately experience formless Bramaloca, heaven, the state of one shared self, God and all his sons in a formless self.
Oriental religions ask us to give up our false, separated egos and our attachment to bodies, space and time and promise us a spiritual world of light forms (astral world) and formless world (heaven).
Are Oriental religions correct? If I said yes and you have not experienced union with God, who is telling who lies? One should only accept what one has experienced.
Let me just say that the existential nothingness that Sartre, Camus, and Jasper and Heidegger told us is not the only possible outcome of letting go of the false self.
The alternative of spiritual selves could be true? We ought to go find out whether they are true and do so through the scientific method, not through some religious superstitions and their razmataz belief structures.
I do not accept anything on faith and belief; I accept only what I can verify; I accept the scientific method (see Karl Popper on the scientific method).
NORMALCY, NEUROSIS AND PSYCHOSIS
I wish to be rich and work for it = normalcy
I wish to be rich but merely dream about it = neurosis
I wish to be fantastically wealthy but satisfy myself by having it in my mind only=psychosis
ON THE LIBERATION OF WOMEN
Contemporary western white women seek total freedom from male defined society; they say that they are struggling against patriarchy.
Their freedom calls for them to have sex with men and women, have polyamorous sexual relationships and not allow their selves to be limited sexually by limiting their sexuality to just one man or woman. Indeed, some of them seek the freedom to have sex with their dogs and other animals; who are you to tell them what to do with their bodies? Back off, man; let the sisters live their lives as they see fit!
The white female ego state defends her desire for freedom with the ego defense mechanism, so she is not free! In desiring neurotic freedom, she has become what men say women are, total animals. Men say that women enjoy sex; in organism women seem to be in sex paradise.
Afraid of women returning to animality, primitive societies cut off women’s clitoris to limit women from enjoying sex too much and be animal; they had to repress their sexuality to make them human beings and be able to raise children.
Contemporary white women want freedom; they reject motherhood and just want to have a circle of men and women to have six with, when the mood grabs them; they have returned to pure animal state of being and these days seem like true bitches that men dread that they are in nature.
The worth that they are seeking in fighting social restrictions has returned them to what men see them as, disgusting animals who only enjoy their bodies but do not think.
Can you point out a true female philosopher? One is talking of the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Leibniz, Descartes, Pascal, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hobbes, Locke, David Hume, Berkeley, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Hegel Kant, William James, Henri Bergson, Gautama Buddha, Shankara. Are they found among the great scientists, such as Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Huygens, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Dalton, Boyle, Thomas Young, James Clark Maxwell, J.J Thompson, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Ernest Rutherford, Neils Bohr, Louis Broglie, Werner Heisenberg, Emil Schrodinger, Paul Dirac, George Lemaitre, Edwin Hobble, John Wheeler, Murray Gel-Mann and so on?
Nevertheless, women should be left to do their thing for the alternative is to remove their character armor, their ego defenses, and return them to awareness of nothingness. In nothingness they would panic and become psychotic; as it is, already, many of them are on anti-anxiety, anti-depression, or anti mania medications. So let them be. Life is too absurd that we must allow people to live it according to their conception of that absurdity.
PERSONALITIES ARE LIES
Our characters, self-concepts, self-images, personalities are personas, masks, lies; they are masks we put on and present to each other as who we are but under the masks, we are something different. We are not what we think that we are; what we think that we are, are man-made, nonexistent selves that we collude with each other to have to prevent us from having the awareness of our nothingness.
We fear nonbeing, annihilation; death of the self holds people in terror.
Becker died in 1974 of cancer. It is said that he died a heroic death, that is, that he accepted his finitude without fear and did not beg life to live for the sake of living.
If one is sick, one should obtain medical treatment but if living is worse than being a vegetable one should embrace death with dignity, die rather than live as groveling slaves. This is kind of heroic attitude to death.
I do not know what lies at the end of the tunnel; if I die and that is the end of me, that is fine with me; after all, when I was born on earth, I did not know what I was getting into. I accept darkness, finitude and have hope of another form of living. In the meantime, I accept that to live well I must totally accept me, my body and self, whatever that is, and accept other people’s bodies and selves and love all of us. In love I feel fine and live-in relative peace and happiness.
THE WEST TAKES THE TREE FOR THE FOREST; IT TALKS MAINLY ABOUT PSYCHOLOGICAL PROCESSES AND IGNORE THE BODY THAT PRODUCED THEM AND OR CONCENTRATE ON GIVING PEOPLE PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS THAT DO NOT CURE ANYONE
Western mental health professionals (psychiatrists and psychologists) are correct in noticing that something is going on in the human body that produced the psychological processes called the human mind, thinking, self-concept, self-image, and personality.
The state of the body that a child inherited forces the life force in him to come up with either adaptive or maladaptive self-concept and personality.
Those with relatively healthy bodies generally fashion what we call normal individual psychologies. They are still insane, but they are as insane as other members of their groups, so they seem well adjusted.
Those with extraordinary medical and biological issues, mostly still unknown issues, exaggerate what normal folks do and pursue fantastic superior and powerful selves.
The neurotic child completely identifies with his wished-for self-view; neurotic folks like Adolf Hitler felt totally superior to all people.
In young adulthood, I considered what is called normal persons mere animals. I wished that I could transform normal folks to the ideal selves I prefer them to be; I wanted to use Africans for a heroic struggle, such as the struggle to unify Africa; if half of all Africans died in that struggle, I said good for them, they died engaged in heroic efforts; ordinarily, they live in fear, cowering and permitting Arabs and white folks to enslave them, or screw them as second-class citizens. They are better off dead than alive as slaves.
As for white folks, I saw them as subhuman beings because they enslaved people and in the present exploit people; to me, only non-human beings could do such dastardly things.
I am a social democrat; I mix capitalism and socialism and want to use them to help all people but those who live only for themselves, such as white American capitalists, I felt were subhuman beings and a plague unto mankind, and ought to be eliminated. I wanted them purged from the surface of the earth.
Alas, white folks understand science and technology, what I desire, so, I said to me, for now, let them be permitted to hang around but when the rest of the world has caught up with scientific culture, we shall eliminate them; they have given us too much unnecessary pain with their infantile racism.
The point that I am making is that some people think in a certain manner that were they to have the opportunity to implement them they would do what Hitler did (on the right) and Stalin did (on the left). Such persons had medical and biological issues that led them to totally reject their bodies and seek ideal selves that are not in bodies, selves that transcend bodies, light selves, formless selves; they detest self in body (I used to see people as animals because they engage in sex; to me a fully functioning person must transcend body and live only in his mind, as the gods allegedly do).
The West, having identified body as the source of self-rejection and the flight into mind as the determiner of neurosis and or psychosis, embark on treating these people with either what they call talk-based psychotherapy that dwells only on mental processes or in giving medications to them; the medications deal with the central and peripheral nervous systems but those are not necessarily the cause of mental disorders.
Yes, if you are afraid your body elicits adrenalin and other excitatory neurochemicals and if you are given any of the anti-anxiety medications, they will calm your body and mind down. But what is it in your body that makes you prone to fear?
Deluded persons generally have medical issues that make them feel weak and they try to solve their weakness by seeking false, grandiose selves and then live to defend those false selves and accusing other people of trying to kill them (kill their false selves that do not exist, belief that folks want to kill them make their false big selves seem real to them).
In mania and schizophrenia folks are doing what deluded persons do, posit a false, grand self, believe that it is who one is and behave as such hence behave in the irrational manner of the manic or schizophrenic.
I have at several places written on some of the medical issues that underly most personality disorders and mental disorders, but they are not stuff that psychiatry treat folks for, although psychiatry may have ancillary utility.
If you are given anti mania medications, they may calm your over excited body down, but have not eliminated the medical issues that led the child to deny his body and latch onto a false, grand self.
If you treat schizophrenics with neuroleptic medications, they calm them down but have not addressed their medical issues that led them to feel totally powerless and flee into false big selves.
If you treat depressed people with anti-depressant medications, you have not treated what is in their bodies that make them feel that life is not worth living and that then generated the shortage of serotonin in their brains.
I am saying that the West is treating secondary symptoms of mental disorders, whether at the talk-based psychotherapy or at the medication based medicinal treatment level. Western mental health professionals do not know what caused mental disorders and do not treat them; they are pretended healers but do not know what healing is.
Healing must correct the bodily issues that make children feel utterly powerless, and then correct the self-structure produced in such children that make them feel their lives traumatized and fear death hence their existential struggles to survive with grandiose, false selves.
Oriental religions are closer to useful therapy. If you give up your self-concept, self-image and personality and have no self in you, you live peacefully, you flow with life, not defending some man-made self-structure that is not true.
The real self is undifferentiated life, it is one life that contains infinite units of life in it, all in formless unified state.
Freud talked a lot about Id, ego, and superego. Where exactly are those three forces in our minds that are supposedly at war with each other? Where are the Id instincts of sex and aggression that needs to be checked by the superego, internalized social norms, and where is the referee, the ego balancing the wildness of the id and the severe strictures of the superego?
Where is the oedipal complex in the mind, where is evidence that boys want to have sex with their mothers?
Boys do have interests in seeing female genitals; I remember when we were about eight years old and were trying to see the genitals of the girls in our class. This is probably because those genitals are hidden and because people came into the world from those holes between women’s legs; the vagina represents the mystery of our being; where did we come from, if you look at it objectively, it is from holes between women’s legs, so the search for our origin morphs to looking at the vagina. This probably accounts for the hold of pornography over men, they want to see where they came from, the vagina.
Nevertheless, I do not understand the obsession with sex what preoccupied Freud’s mind (apparently, he had obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, he was an anxiety neurotic). His concepts like anality, orality are useful ways of explaining certain developmental issues; some people are obsessed with rules, and desire perfection; some people seem to want to eat everything in their world, their orality seem an attempt to incorporate the external world into their selves, to make their incomplete selves seem complete?
Alfred Adler, at least, was a descriptive social scientist. He described his own medically induced sense of powerlessness and inferiority; many of us had similar issues and can identify with what the man was saying, we can easily accept Adler’s reductionism that our desire for power is rooted in our sense of powerlessness (there is no evidence for that correlation).
Carl Jung, from childhood, was obsessed with spiritual matters and, therefore, it is not an accident that he tried to inject spirituality into his Analytic Psychoanalysis. The concept of collective unconscious mind smacks of saying that there is a part of us where all the experience of mankind is reposed, such as the Hindu concept of Akashic records.
I believe that Freud was a great myth maker in the mode of his fellow Jewish prophets but not really a psychologist. However, he did introduce the concept of unconscious mind into psychology.
A lot of things are in our unconscious minds. How, for example, does our mind dream, where does it get the information it uses to construct dreams other than from what is reposed into our unconscious minds?
Man remains a mystery to his self; you are a mystery to me. I do not pretend to understand me or other people. We are unknown beings to be studied and plumbed; it will probably take us thousands of years to really develop a science of self that fully accounts for our self.
Western academics are generally cowards; they do not talk about real issues in their society. Their society is capitalist, meaning that a few has all the wealth and the many are poor. This is an outrage. But western society has always been an outrage; in Europe Kings and Aristocrats lived well and the masses lived dirt poor and folks accepted that as right; in modern American society folks accept the super-rich and accept the homeless; indeed, if you talk about helping the poor their stupid economists suddenly come out swinging, telling us about the cost of providing people with publicly paid education at all levels and publicly paid health care for all people and making wages fair for all workers, but they ignore the unnecessarily enormous amount of money spent on the military industrial complex.
Western academics tolerate social inequality instead of coming out and decrying it as unjust. Instead, they escape into writing tomes explicating rubbish.
American psychoanalysts concentrated on talking about Sigmund Freud’s nonsense of id, ego and superego, transference relationships etc. knowing that those do not change anything in society; they would rather talk about those rubbish instead of talking about Alfred Adler that came right out and said that serving society is correlated with mental health; the neurotic lives a self-centered life; if he is taught to serve social interests he would be healed, Adler said.
If Adler prevailed in the West, American society would be a mixed capitalist and socialist society and social democracy, but America wants to maintain its oppressive capitalist society, so it rewarded psychologists who ignored useful Adler and talked about diversionary Freud.
Ernest Becker talked mostly about Freud. Much of his book is really trivia for he was talking what has no ability to change the individual and society but seemed erudite. His society probably funded him to talk that mountain of rubbish he presented to the readers eyes; they even gave him a Pulitzer prize for writing the book, but the question is: can it change people and society? The answer is unequivocal no.
American academia rewards professors who write what maintains the capitalist economic system; Becker did his best in that direction. He was not a radical writer; whereas his writing is erudite it is still rubbish.
Can you change America’s academia and prevent it from writing rubbish? I do not think so; if you want to have a job in academia and want to be financially rewarded you must write the heaps of garbage that American professors spill out every year; these people are maintaining the oppressive society that employ them.
No wonder that Marxist revolutionaries want to kill bourgeois intellectuals, for they understand their roles in maintaining unjust economic systems.
There is no hope for American academia, especially in the social sciences and humanities; the physical sciences and engineering are relatively useful for what they write about can be applied to the real world to improve people’s lives, especially to improve the lives of the bourgeois class, hence those fund them.
Ernest Becker’s book, the denial of death, talked about the threat of death to our existence hence we fear it and deny its reality. In denying death we manage to believe that we live forever.
He provided us with useful psychoanalytic efforts to understand our fear of death, especially as articulated by Otto Rank, Norman Brown, and Erich Fromm.
The book is a tour du force of who is who in psychoanalysis and existential psychology. It showed appreciation that our bodies are literally feces and that they make us feel like we are feces; but to live we cannot accept that negative self-assessment, so, we deny it with the various fancy titles that people give themselves.
Our perception is that as bodies we are worthless; the denial of that worthlessness and the struggle to make our lives in body seem to have worth is what our lives are all about. We are shit trying to seem to have worth.
The struggle to have body-based worth is what human beings do; Becker said it with literary finesse (he often used crude language like shit). I thank him for his efforts.
But he did not solve our existential dilemma; where did we come from, what happens when we die; are we merely the 64 elements that compose our bodies (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, potassium, phosphor copper, iron and so forth), and, upon death, those elements decay to protons, neutrons and electrons and those decay to quarks and light.
So, what exactly are we; are we light disguised as flesh? And if light, what kind of light, spiritual or physical light? Is light what religionists call spirit, aka God?
Becker skirted around the surface with his admirable scholarship and erudition but did not have the metaphysical thinking to answer the questions he raised. I believe that he was a smart man, I raise my hat for him.
The entire physical universe seems designed to enable animal creatures that live in bodies to exist, to contemplate their nature and the nature of the universe itself. If the universe was designed for people to live in bodies (see astrophysics concept of anthropic accidents that seem designed to produce people), the designer of the universe must be totally insane to take all the trouble to produce people who live and die. What is the point in people living in body? I do not get it. There probably is a purpose to this apparent purposeless universe we live in.
I have done writings that might be useful for those interested in a spiritual science, which I think is the answer that psychoanalysis and psychology in general could not give us. Explore my writings.
May 5, 2021
Becker, Ernest (1973). The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press.