Tag Archives: Ernest Becker

On Showing Off

….After witnessing the behaviors of the indigenous people, the government was appalled at the ritual of Potlatch. They saw the ritualistic act of giving away nearly all of one’s hard-earned possessions as a sign that the indigenous people were ‘unstable’. Under the encouragement of the Indian Reserve Allotment Commission; the Indian Reserve Commission; and the Church, this behavior was deemed possibly as a destabilizing force in the nation because it was so dramatically opposed to the values of the ideal “Christian capitalist society”…..  [Wikipedia]

Ever since her triumphant return to the Plutocratic Corporate States of America [PCSA] Mrs. N. has been intrigued by something she was told and something she observed while touring through The Netherlands, which was a lot like touring Holland.

People in The Netherlands don’t put bumper stickers on their cars.  Announcing on your automobile what university you or your children attend, what political party you support, or, what your particular religious affiliations are is considered to be a form of showing off that is culturally unacceptable in polite society.  It isn’t done.  They are against showing off.  Imagine that.

On the flight home to Utopia Mrs. N. could not help but wonder why The Netherlands did not place very high on the list of countries that are the “ENEMIES of FREEDOM”?  North Korea has a crazy leader, nuclear weapons and tortures and starves its people into obedient submission.  They are on the list.  Iran, since its Islamic Revolution, refuses to permit international corporations to loot their natural resources with impunity.  They are on the list.  Granted, both North Korea and Iran have earned a place on any decent capitalists list of bad actors… but, none of them dare to hold the Goddess of corporate consumerism up to ridicule!  None of them DARE to even hint that showing off, the very foundation of American Exceptionalism, and the driving force behind the most powerful economic engine ever constructed by man is… rude, or…culturally unacceptable in polite society.  

Why the citizens of the Plutocratic Corporate States of America [PCSA] haven’t bombed the Dutch (who don’t amount to much) back to the Stone Age for their insults to our way of life remains an enigma.

[On the other hand]… In his book Escape from Evil, Ernest Becker describes modern consumerism as a second rate religion.  He goes on to say… “today we are living with a grotesque spectacle of unrestrained material production, perhaps the greatest and most pervasive evil to have emerged in all of history.”


OK, so what are we supposed to do if we can’t show off?  Just how are we supposed to feel, WHAT are we supposed to feel about a person we observe talking into their I-phone 5… when we have an I-phone 7?  How much are we capable of appreciating a kitchen with formica countertops and a white stove (that isn’t gas)?  Above ground pools?  How do we begin?  Are they “good” in the sense that children can get wet and laugh and make good memories in them, all on a hot summer day, or, are they bad in the sense that they detract from the appearance of neighborhoods with in-ground pools, forcing the passer-by to experience vague feelings of embarrassment for someone, or, a whole family, that they have never even met?    What’s worse, a snob, or, a phony?

Culture gives us our reasons for doing stuff.  It tells us what is valuable and what isn’t.  It tells us exactly what REAL is and WHY it is.  Provided one understands a culture one can, if one is careful, disagree with some of the aspects and ideas promoted by a particular culture without getting oneself tortured, killed or, otherwise inconvenienced.  You have to be careful.  But, it can be done.

The Dutch continue to walk the Earth…  after all

Mrs. N. is of the opinion today that one of the most curious things about homo sapiens in the Age of Consumerism is their extreme passivity.

Billions live in want and filth, short pathetic lives that make those of us in the West want to look away… change the subject.  Two and a half billion people will live their entire lives without ever seeing a flush toilet.  On the other hand, just about all of them will get to see TV.  On the TV will probably be re-runs of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and definitely will be commercials that will be centered on someone showing off and bragging about something THEY have that YOU don’t.  In the case of the billions and billions that don’t have Jack-Shit…. That would be just about everything under the sun.

What strikes Old Mrs. N. as curious is how this nonsense manages to perpetuate itself.  I understand greed.  What I don’t understand is what “makes” those in need and those who want “feel” like it’s somehow their duty to accept the status quo, ignore the utter unfairness, and actually look up to and treat with respect those who flagrantly parade and display the fact that they have ever so much more than they could ever need, or use.

Is that innate?

Are we hard wired to kiss ass when we are confronted by a bird with more feathers in its tail than we have?  Is it as simple as that?  Does that little quirk of a possible neurological left over from another time and place hand the keys to the Kingdom over to the graceless Plutocrats among us?  Can they sleep tight and secure knowing that the masses are hardwired for kowtowing…. and not throat slitting and bloody murder at the thought of the greedy laughing and eating cake while the less fortunate suffer and starve?

Or, is it culture that, universally, somehow, teaches us all that “IF” a person has more “THEN” that person not only must deserve more, but, should have power over those with less?

Is it some of both?

It’s gray and dripping here in Dixie and I’m wondering how it will start.  If it will start.  I’m wondering what idea, what group, what person will prove to be the catalyst that starts the chain reaction that transforms the greedy among us into the repulsive that are no longer tolerated in our midst..  Who will begin to Judge and when and how will the Judging take place?  What will it take?…  How bad does it have to get before the phrase… “Tis better to give than receive” .. is considered to be more than something dumb to put on a… bumper sticker?

Such a transformation will be hideous and painful and it may never work for long, if it works at all.  We just may not be up to the task.  Inequality, needless suffering and pain may just be our lot as humans… pathetically squishy experiments in sentience that we are…  Or, maybe there is a kid out there right now dragging a sharp key along the side of a new foreign car that costs more money than he will ever earn in ten years… and he has a toothache, and no money for the dentist.

He is hungry.  He is hungry a lot.  He is dirty too, most of the time, but, he has this thing with putting words together.  And his eyes have this special “something” that you really can’t explain that makes you feel good as you listen to his words flow out in a way that makes you feel inside that he is nothing but right about everything he says.

I would advise him to lay low.  I would advise him to quietly build an army of like thinkers as fast as he can.  I would tell him that drawing attention to himself would be deadly too early on…

Who am I kidding?  If I were honest I would tell him that he is already dead if history is any judge of what is to come.  The Plutocrats have their hounds out perpetually sniffing all around for the likes of troublemakers such as he.  It will be a miracle if he lasts the year.

Given enough time they say that anything can happen.

Given enough time they say it has to.

The question is, how much time have we got?

Kiss, kiss

Mrs. N.




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Mrs. N. had no intention what so ever of writing anything more here until her triumphant return from her visit to various dystopian European countries that, although they may have magnificent gardens, happy populations, and 21st century mass transportation systems…. are, my government informs me, misguided Hell Holes of Socialism tottering on the brink of collapse.  All that changed this morning.

As the sun rose I armed myself with rake, bucket and weed puller and headed out to crawl around my extensive perennial beds intent upon ridding them of weeds.  Engaging in active meditation if you will.  All was better than well as I noticed that so very many of my favorite perennials had self seeded themselves in dozens and dozens of new places, as if by some magical intention.  I was busy happily crawling around from shrub to shrub, plant to plant, popping out dandelions, stray grasses and weeds, picking up the odd fallen magnolia leaf when I came upon it.

There was no mistaking what happened here.  It was clearly cold blooded murder of an entire family of children.  Lives, barely begun, snuffed out by some evil heartless fiend who cared not for the suffering his actions had wrought.  I asked myself… “Who could have done this?… Who could have so little regard for the lives of others?…  I had no answers, only theories.  It could have been the evil serpent, the black snake who I permit to live unmolested in my giant mulch pile of magnolia leaves.  (Am I to blame?)  It could have been the raccoon who, so different from you or I, prefers to venture forth at night, wearing his mask, and praying with his little hands to what Gods I know not.  (Should I have shot him as my neighbors do?)  I don’t think I will ever know the answers to any of these questions, but, even if I did, it would do nothing to bring back the tender little lives that were ended so abruptly, and so brutally.

I thought about the endless news coverage of the bombing in Boston and its aftermath.  Hour after hour, day after day of coverage of every angle, every nit picking detail of everything and everybody involved.  Interview after interview, witness after witness, expert after expert…. and it made me ill to think that such a promising species should end up so hideously deranged.  This morning it was all talk of the Death Penalty.  Yesterday it was all talk of ending the quest to write a decent set of laws to deal with immigrants because, after all, the Boston bombers were immigrants.  The day before that it was all talk of the defeat of legislation to make firearms less easily available to the mentally ill and to people with criminal records.  Earlier today I read that two studies now point to a rather dramatic increase in autism in mothers who consumed drugs like Prozac to “balance” their “unbalanced” brain chemicals.  Who could have possibly guessed that taking drugs to alter the functioning of your brain could fuck up the developing brain of your unborn child?

Sometimes, times like this, times when there doesn’t seem to be any corner of sanity to crawl into with my blanket to suck my thumb and mumble to myself…  things oddly start to clear.  I find myself laughing at something stupid, and rejoice, in my heart, that I am somehow, or, some way, wired to appreciate the stupid (rather than ballet, or, liver pate).   That I cannot only see that it’s all the game of black and white, but, understand that for either side to win would be truly monstrous.   For either side to win would ruin it all.   For either side to win would be the end.

Before I came in from the garden today I decided to do a little patching of some bare spots in the lawn.  Anyone who follows my musings here knows full well the “problems” I had last year with moles turning my manicured lawn into swiss cheese.   Rather than poison, trap or otherwise end their little lives last year through murder I turned for council to the one place that has never failed me.

I watched The Godfather once again and, as usual the way to move forward became instantly clear.  It was after Sonny was hit at the causeway and it fell to Tom Hagen to tell his Godfather what everyone else seemed to already know.  He informed him that his oldest son had been murdered.  Upon hearing the terrible news Don Corleone said this…

“I want no inquiries made. I want no acts of vengeance. I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the Five Families. This war stops now.”

Instantly I knew what to do.  I left the moles in peace and met with the shrubs, flowers, trees, insects and birds… and a grand peace was made between us all.   This spring all the moles are gone.  It was when I was spreading some nice soil around the bare spots left by the mole tunnels and raking in some grass seed that it came to me.  I realized that I was getting out of the country just at the right time.  That I was removing myself from the endless blather of the talking heads on television who will continue to go on and on about the Boston Bombing until…. the natural end comes to the story.

What will the natural end be?”  you ask….

Remember the coverage of the police firing hundreds and hundreds of rounds of bullets into the fishing boat the fugitive 19 year old brother had taken refuge in, in some guys back yard?  You will know that the end has arrived when you hear on television that the owner of the boat has shown up at the police station with this question.

“Hey… Who the fuck is gunna pay for all the fucking holes in my boat?”

At the beginning of Chapter One of “The Denial of Death” Ernest Becker writes…

 “In times such as ours there is great pressure to come up with concepts that help men understand their dilemma; there is an urge toward vital ideas, toward a simplification of needless intellectual complexity.  Sometimes this makes for big lies that resolve tensions and make it easy for action to move forward with just the rationalizations that people need.  But it also makes for the slow disengagement of truths that help men get a grip on what is happening to them, that tell them where their problems really are.”

Kiss, kiss

Mrs. N.


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Mrs. N. (goes on tour)

Mrs. N. is busy packing her suitcase for her upcoming European tour.  In a little over a week it’s off to The Netherlands for the Spring Tulip Festival and a visit to Keukenhof Park, the worlds largest flower garden.  Anyone who has read anything on this blog knows full well how Mrs. N. feels about her flowers.  If we have time, since we are in the area anyway, we will try to make a short visit to Holland.

Mrs. N. chose to begin her “Tour of the Absurd” in The Netherlands because it was the home of “Tulip Mania”.  Back in 1637,  a single tulip bulb sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.  You have to wonder what they were thinking.  It is generally considered to be the first recorded speculative bubble.  The Dutch, it appears, had never heard the phrase… “What goes up must come down.”  They have that in common with Wall Street Bankers.

The people of The Netherlands are known to be an unfriendly people.  They are also known for their “Coffee Shops” that openly sell dozens of different kinds of marijuana, hashish and hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Mrs. N. is having a very hard time understanding how a population of people could simultaneously be unfriendly AND be enjoying the benefits of inhabiting what should be a perpetual Woodstock.  Something is amiss.  Even the popular phrase… (“You know what they say about the Dutch… they don’t amount to much.”)  doesn’t explain this curious phenomena.  Mrs. N. intends to get to the bottom of this no matter how many “Coffee Shops” she has to visit, or, how long the research takes.

From there it will be off to Heidelberg, Germany to visit the childhood home of the greatest epistemologist of all time.

René Descartes in an early example of the internalist approach to justification wrote, because the only method by which we perceive the external world is through our senses, and that, because the senses are not infallible, we should not consider our concept of knowledge to be infallible.   Sergeant Hans Schultz, going one critical step further, fully recognized the fallibility of our senses and stated the obvious.  He is widely considered today to be the Father of the Anti-evolutionary Psychology Movement.  It is also believed that Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Denial of Death” was but the culmination of work originally begun by Hans Schultz.  Both men were known to be avid bowlers.

After paying our respects to the work and memory of Professor Schultz it will be on to Dusseldorf and the Neanderthal Museum.  Neanderthals had something called an occipital bun.  An occipital bun is a prominent bulge, or projection, of the occipital bone at the back of the skull. Occipital buns are important in scientific descriptions of classic Neanderthal crania.

When Mrs. N. was a teenager she knew a person with an occipital bun.  He, lets call him Rudy, was 18 years old while the rest of us were younger.  18 was the magic age for purchasing beer and hard liquor in New York State.  New York State was 3 miles away at the time.   Rudy, occipital bun and all, became a very valuable person in spite of his curiously shaped head.  Indeed children can be cruel to those who don’t quite fit in, and jokes like… “Hey, do you have to get an estimate before you get a haircut?” must have stung.   But, that’s life when you come into the world with a head that looks like a watermelon, I guess.  Unfortunately for Rudy the rest of us eventually turned 18 too and he found himself in the same position the tulip speculators did when the market went bust.  My visit to the Neanderthal Museum in Dusseldorf will be a way of paying my respects to an unfortunate individual who provided me and my teenage comrades with beer and hard liquor during our formative years.  I was thoroughly snookered on alcohol he procured for us the night I met my mate of going on 45 years.  If it were not for the liquid courage he provided I might never have made that first move that resulted in a wonderful marriage.  In return for his kindness he was made fun of.  There was no justice.  No one was equal then.  No one is equal today.  No one will be equal tomorrow.

Rousseau tells us…  “The one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most adroit, or the most eloquent became the most highly considered; and that was the first step toward inequality…. Social imbalances occur because of differences in personal merit and the recognition of that merit by others.”

Immanual Kant wrote…  “From the crooked wood of which man is made, nothing quite straight can be built.”…

Sigmund Freud wrote…  “The tragedy of evolution is that it created a limited animal with unlimited horizons.”…

There remain a few days before my departure.  Should any of my readers have suggestions with regard to my itinerary, please feel free to comment.  …And NO, I won’t bring you back any seeds.

Because I don’t want to end up here

Kiss, kiss

Mrs. N.




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Human Sacrifice [And other things that make you scratch your head]

…”People were crowded five deep at the tiny counter of a gun shop near Atlanta, where a pastor from Knoxville, Tenn., was among the customers who showed up in person after the store’s Web site halted sales because of low inventory. Emptying gun cases and bare shelves gave a picked-over feel to gun stores in many states. High-capacity magazines, which some state and federal officials want to ban or restrict, were selling briskly across the country: one Iowa dealer said that 30-round magazines were fetching five times what they sold for just weeks ago.”  [Front page New York Times 1/12/13]

“Gun dealers and buyers alike said that the rapid growth in gun sales — which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election and soared after the Dec. 14 shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., prompted him to call for new gun laws — shows little sign of abating.”

1. Obama was elected again.  He is a Black man, so, quite naturally, white people think he is going to take away their guns.

2. Five and six year old children were turned into Swiss Cheese by a mentally ill kid whose mother feared the government, owned lots of guns, and taught him how to shoot.

[These] are the two primary reasons we are given for the Bonanza in gun sales.  The first one involves President Obama.  But, Obama didn’t try to take guns away from white people last time he was elected president.  To the contrary, he signed laws into being permitting hand guns to be carried in places they were never permitted before.   Yet, when he was elected for a second term, BINGO, gun sales went through the roof again.  He is the first black person to be elected President.  He is the only person elected President whose election caused gun sales to skyrocket.  There is, of course, NO connection.

The second reason, or occurrence, that prompted gun sales to go ballistic is the massacre of helpless little children in Newtown, Connecticut.   It was the latest in a long and horrible list of occasions where a crazy person armed themselves and killed as many people as they could.

As shocking as what I am about to tell you is, I assure you that it is true.

The American people divided themselves into two diametrically opposed camps on the issue of gun control.  (It’s true!)

I am not a gun owner myself.  I do not understand people who think the answer to Americas epidemic of gun deaths is more guns.  I would very much like to understand this.  People who think more guns are the answer don’t understand me.  I see this as yet one more curious example of American culture unraveling.

Don’t ask me why, but, all this killing and death got me thinking about human sacrifice.  It got me thinking about how the Romans so enjoyed watching other people killed in horrible ways…. How so many, many cultures practiced human sacrifice… How so many religions are rooted in it!

I wondered… If the Roman games, complete with children being ripped apart and eaten by wild animals, were presented today…. How many Americans would go?  How different are we than they were, psychologically?  Assuming that they loved their children every bit as much as we love ours… what, do you suppose, they “got out” of watching the bloody spectacles in the arena? Why were they so popular?  Why were ANY human sacrifices throughout history popular spectator events?  What was/is it about witnessing the death of others that so fascinates… so moves… so deeply motivates and effects people to this day and in so many different ways?

What does the sacrifice of others do for me?

They are dead and I’m not and in that there is power.  In that is the temporary end of fear because, for the moment, another has lost and I have won.  For the moment I can rest and breathe easy.  For the moment I can feel stronger.  The fear in the herd abates because the lion has chosen his victim and made the kill.  The traffic backs up for miles along the highway as cars creep past the overturned, smoking wreck.

..”The longer people looked at the death of someone else, the more pleasure they could have in sensing the security and the good fortune of their own survival.”  [Elias Canetti “Crowds and Power”]

…”The continual grinding sacrifice of animal and human life in the arenas (on TV) was all of a piece with the repressions of a society that was dedicated to war and that lived in the teeth of death.  It was the perfect pastime to work off the anxieties and show the ultimate personal control of death.  The more death you saw unfold before your eyes, the more you thrust your thumbs downward, the more you bought off your own life.”.. [Ernest Becker “Escape From Evil]

Then, of course, there is the hunting enthusiast who doesn’t need the meat, but, so deeply enjoys the hunt and the kill.

Gregory Zilboorg the Russian psychoanalyst, sociologist and historian (and pretty goofy looking guy) writes…

..”Sadism naturally absorbs the fear of death because by actively manipulating and hating [see: Liberals, Obama]  we keep our organism absorbed in the outside world; this keeps self-reflection and the fear of death in a state of low tension.  We feel we are masters of life and death when we hold the fate of others in our hands.  As long as we can continue shooting, we think more of killing than of being killed.”… 

As long as we can continue shooting, we think more of killing than of being killed.

As long as we can continue shooting, we think more of killing than of being killed.

The Aztecs did it like this.

We do it in a thousand ways, from video games to live CNN broadcasts of cruse missiles blowing up apartment buildings full of women and children in Baghdad.  We did it with napalm, cluster bombs and Agent Orange.  We do it with gas, lethal injections and the electric chair.  We do it with drones.  We do it with land mines.  We did it to hundreds of thousands of CHILDREN in Iraq and you expect us to get all bent out of shape for a handful of children in Connecticut and give up our guns?

As a wise gangster once said….. “When killers stop killing they get killed.”

We have been a Nation of Killers since the first white man’s foot hit the beach.

Kiss, kiss

Mrs. N.


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What is man but the animal who steadfastly refuses to believe he is an animal?

I read with interest the other day that both “postpartum depression” and the “Mid-Life Crises” are psychological conditions that only exist in modern “Western” cultures.  Can you imagine my surprise?  All along I assumed, as I was informed by our health care professionals and their allies down at the pharmaceutical research laboratories, that they both were simply one more example of that seemingly ubiquitous condition commonly known as “a chemical imbalance”.

The picture you see above is, if we are to be honest with each other, the TRUE depiction of what it means to be an American.  The Great Seal of The United States of America badly needs updating.  It is wildly inaccurate.

Capitalism and Consumer Culture have not increased human happiness.  There, I have said it.  What we are left to determine is not what we want, but, what we “are”.  What we want is determined and taught to us by culture and, as we all should understand, culture is the pack of lies we, collectively, agree to pretend are truths.  What we are… are animals.

Wilhelm Reich astutely observed that “all human belief has essentially the same message, namely that we are something other than animals”.  That helps us understand what Ernest Becker said in The Denial of Death:  “No mistake- the turd is mankind’s greatest threat.”

…”Our beliefs attempt to distort the apparent truth, which is that nothing makes sense, nothing rhymes, and that we are all rushing toward the the soon to be forgotten compost heap.”…

So, what can I offer you?  How can I help the unhappy toward greater happiness?  In truth…. nothing.  My life makes no more sense and is of no more value or consequence than yours, or, the next guys.  But, I can give you this to contemplate.  The following is an excerpt from the journal  of one Captain James Cook, written in 1770, upon his first meeting with the local inhabitants of a primitive land that would come to be known as Australia.

…”They appear to be in reality far more happier than we Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them.  They live in tranquillity which is not disturbed by the inequality of condition; the Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life, they covet not magnificent houses, household-stuff etc., they live in a warm and fine climate and enjoy a very wholesome air, so that they have very little need of clothing….. In short they seem to set no value upon anything we gave them….

“There were several early accounts of the Natives themselves who were baffled by the obvious unhappiness of the European arrivals.  They did not dance, sing, or celebrate.  They laughed very little unless they were intoxicated.  They had no magic.  No miracles.  The Australian Aborigines, who lacked any signs of pathological anxiety when they were first encountered, were struck by the perpetual agitation of the Europeans, their dumbness about the happiness contained in nature.”  (from, “In Search of Happiness” understanding an endangered state of mind)

We were never cast out of any Eden.  We were just tricked into believing there was something better.  We “made up” all that apple & snake bullshit just to cover up the fact that we, of our own free will, chose to be such greedy assholes.




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Our Island of Dr. Moreau (or) “Are we not men?”

Catching up: Family writes about recovery and God after devastating crash 

Sayer of the Law: [about Moreau] His is the hand that makes. His is the hand that hurts. His is the hand that heals. His is the House of Pain. His is the House of Pain. His is the House of Pain. He who breaks the law shall be punished back to the House of Pain.

This is a piece about madness.  It is also a case study on what it means to be human.  The link above and the tragic story it relates prompted me to write it.  I am not the first to notice that madness, for humans, is our primary defense against truly going insane.  Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank and Ernest Becker after them wrote of mankind’s necessity to “create” a universe that they “could” safely inhabit.  It is why we have religion and probably always will.  It is about the nonsense we must swallow to make sense of a universe that is uncaring and senseless with regard to human suffering.  It is about the price of the ticket out of the House of Pain our minds must pay if we are to rejoin the world of men and go on living when death would be easier.  It is an example of the culturally sanctioned madness that saves us today at the expense of tomorrow.

We are not supposed to notice this phenomena.  We are meant to read tragic stories like the one above and say something like, “Isn’t that wonderful”… “How uplifting” or “I’m so happy for them”… but, I can’t.  My mind, for better or worse, simply doesn’t work like that.  I live in a cause and effect universe that has no place for supernaturalism.  Love, compassion and empathy YES, but the religious supernaturalism that gives man license to claim to communicate with, or, know, what some mythological father in the sky thinks, wants or dictates…. NO!

Is it cold for me to mock these people and all those who would dissociate themselves from a painful reality through the culturally sanctioned madness we know as religion?  I suppose it is.  Is it wrong for me to notice that this little madness, soothing as it surely is for the individual, is the primary tool of the unscrupulous monsters who use it to accumulate wealth, power and the ability to dictate to us all who God is displeased with and who the world would be better off without?  I don’t think so.  I rather think that morphine is helpful when we experience acute pain, but, ruinous as a steady diet.  As a consequence I must despise those who peddle it to children for profit in the hope of addicting them for life.  I must condemn all those, regardless of their own addictions, who would teach children that they were created imperfect, but, demanded to BE perfect by a God who DEMANDS, on pain of eternal suffering, that they both love AND fear Him.  That is, after all, the very definition of sadomasochism.

I will never, ever, forget the morning I heard Jerry Falwell say, on national television, that the reason God permitted the carnage of September 11, 2001 was America’s “toleration” of gays, lesbians, the ACLU and atheists.  I will never forget or forgive any politician who claims “God is on our side” as our nation is, again, taken to war.  I read last night that more veterans of the Vietnam War have committed suicide than died in the war.  But surely, as I was told at the time, God was on our side.

Who am I do doubt the revealed truth, graciously delivered to us all by the Religious Right and pious men like Rick Santorum, that abortion is murder and the Bible clearly says… Thou shall NOT kill?  What right do I have to notice that fully half of Christian America’s annual budget goes to the military for doing, or, preparing to do just that?

In totalitarian dictatorships questioning the powers that be is a crime and citizens are watched constantly.  Actions that are not permitted are a crime.  Thoughts that are not “pure” are a crime.  Citizens who do not think, act and speak in ways that are sanctioned by the authority are punished, sometimes for the rest of their lives.   Isn’t it strange to realize that compared to Christians, Muslims, Mormons and the rest….. They have it easy.  Their torture ends when they stop breathing.

So that’s my story.  Think of me what you will, it’s of no consequence to me.  We all have choices to make and make them we must if we are not to abdicate our sentience.  That is not to say, or imply, that abdication of reason is not entirely human.  It is, and more is the pity for that.  As it stands in America today we are all free to sing “Amazing Grace”.  How long some of us will remain free to sing “Imagine” is another question entirely.


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Terror Management Theory

Terror management theory is based heavily on the writings of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, and in particular his book The Denial of Death, for which he won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize.  According to TMT, humans, having evolved a unique capacity for complex thought, can think in terms of time, in terms of symbols, and can hold themselves as the object of their attention and most importantly, meaningfully, contemplate our own life and mortality.  We know that we exist and that, one day, we will not exist.

According to the theory (TMT), this knowledge is highly problematic to the extent that humans also possess a basic animal-based desire for self-preservation.  To resolve this conflict and manage the intense fear associated with knowledge of death, individuals participate in and defend  complex belief systems that define socially valued behaviors.

Terror Management Theory (TMT) was proposed in 1986 by social psychologists Jeff GreenbergTom Pyszczynski, and Sheldon Solomon.  It was initiated by two relatively simple questions:

1. Why do people have such a great need to feel good about themselves?

2. Why do people have so much trouble getting along with those different from themselves?

The theory proposes that humans are motivated to quell the potential for terror inherent in the human awareness of vulnerability and mortality by investing in cultural belief systems (or world views) that imbue life with meaning, and the individuals who subscribe to them with significance (or self-esteem).

Given the cultural relativity of our beliefs and values and the fact that we live in multicultural societies, it is inevitable that we encounter others with different belief systems and values.  According to TMT, individuals with different belief systems pose serious threats to the validity of our own worldview.   The mere existence of people who believe differently than we do undermines the importance of our own belief structure and increases our anxiety,  while it simultaneously decreases our own self-esteem. People are prone to respond to such threats with some form of psychological defense, often by ridiculing, derogating, attacking, or minimizing the worldview threat. By engaging in worldview defense in this manner, one can re-exert the superiority of his or her worldview.  To date, over 300 studies conducted in over a dozen countries have explored the ramifications of this phenomena.    http://www.tmt.missouri.edu/publications.html

Do you have that so far?  OK, here is where it really starts to get interesting.  The basic meat of TMT, known as the “mortality salience hypothesis,” states that reminders of mortality will cause an individual to invest in and defend their cultural belief system, leading that person to respond favorably to others who support his or her worldview and negatively to those who threaten it.  TMT posits that humans ingeniously, but quite unconsciously, solved this existential dilemma of death by developing cultural world views: humanly constructed beliefs about reality shared by individuals in a group that serve to “manage” the potentially paralyzing terror.

…”A large body of evidence shows that momentarily making death salient, typically by asking people to think about themselves dying, intensifies people’s strivings to protect and bolster aspects of their world views, and to bolster their self-esteem. The most common finding is that MS increases positive reactions to those who share cherished aspects of one’s cultural worldview, and negative reactions toward those who violate cherished cultural values or are merely different.”…

Now for Rodney King’s question:  “Can’t we just get along?”  The answer is essentially yes, BUT, not in a multicultural society and definitely not if we are continually exposed to media reminding us of death.  The constant anxiety increasing 24/7 cavalcade of human disaster and death served up by media must, according to TMT, serve to both strengthen “our” view of reality and, as a psychological means of defense, cause us to ridicule and attack competing world views with an intensity and ferocity directly proportional to the level of mortality salience we are exposed to.  In point of fact, the level of mortality salience we are exposed to is unprecedented.

Now, you may never have heard of TMT and you may be asking yourself, “OK Mrs. N, so what, what’s the big deal?” Well, Mrs. N is going to tell you.  Politicians and others seeking power and control over populations of humans have employed TMT since it was first discovered.  A case can certainly be made that the handlers of George Bush the Younger managed his re-election (much to the shock of the rest of the world) by scientifically clever, subconscious, anxiety enhancement through the use of concepts and phrases like “The War on Terror”, “mushroom clouds” and daily reminders of the color our levels of alert (anxiety) were declared to be.  Divide and conquer is both an old and highly effective concept.

Understanding TMT and the fact that it doesn’t deal in logic, facts or truths, but subconscious anxiety reduction or enhancement, the American political scene today comes into clearer focus.  Quite simply, when it comes to motivating humans, truth takes a back seat to anxiety manipulation.  A bold faced and blatant lie that is generally recognized to be a lie will, according to TMT, be more effective than the truth if it increases mortality salience.

Muslims are terrorists… terrorists kill people…  Barrack Obama is a Muslim.

Foreigners are dangerous…  Barrack Obama isn’t an American

I assume you can see where I am going and it is my hope that a better understanding of TMT will enhance your enjoyment of the avalanche of bull-shit and balderdash that the upcoming political season will offer us all.  When you hear an obvious untruth, understand how subconsciously it succeeds.  When you are tempted to defend your “reality view” and ridicule and attack people who do not share it…. Understand your subconscious need to do so.

Understand that NO ONE really “knows” reality, but, being sentient creatures adrift in an incomprehensible universe and incapable of contemplating a universe without “us” in it… we are condemned to at least attempt to reduce our existential anxiety.  Unfortunately, hate of the “other” does that and we are subconsciously HIGHLY prone to manipulation.

All we can do is….. Be aware of it.


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