Friday, June 14, 2019

suicide, according to Ernest Becker

Learn to embrace death, because like it or not, she's going to embrace you.

Ernest Becker wrote the Pulitzer-winning The Denial of Death back in the 1970s. A disciple of Otto Rank, Becker put forth the idea that human beings anchor their self-esteem and self-worth in the notion that they are the heroes of their respective stories. Man is both a physical and a symbolic (or symbol-generating) being, thus inhabiting both a physical/fallen and a symbolic/heroic world. Depression and suicide are what await the man who ceases to believe he is the hero of his own story, who sees himself as temporary, mortal, fallible, and frail. What point is there in living life if one can no longer touch the immortal realm?

Man's life is normally lived in denial of death; this denial is, according to Becker, the basic impulse for why humans create civilization: so they don't have to stare straight down the tunnel at impending death, but can instead be distracted by the sideshows of life in all of its social complexity. When we're being social, or engaged in heroic endeavors, we can forget the deathward plunge that awaits us all. But we never completely forget: memento mori is always somewhere in the backs of our minds, causing us to question our purpose, the very value of being alive. Strange to realize that, within each of us, the skull—the death's head—already resides, and it will wait years or decades, if necessary, to manifest itself. For some weak souls, this prospect is too much: mortality is too much, and if one believes oneself to be the agonized protagonist in a theater of pain and horror, then suicide does seem to be the best option.

But that's not you. Remember that you're the hero of your own personal adventure. Never lose that thought. Live according to my high school's awesome Latin motto—esse non videri: being, not seeming. It's better actually to be a hero than merely to seem a hero. And even if being a hero is merely a reaction to the prospect of death, there's still much good that can come from a heroic approach to life.

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