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Author Topic: The Denial of Death  (Read 3275 times)

Sefiru

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The Denial of Death
« on: July 31, 2019, 07:11:38 pm »
While reading something else (which I will also post about eventually) I came across a reference to this, which is apparently an influential work of philosophy which I have never heard of. (To be fair, my knowledge of 20th century philosophy is almost zero, so.)

According to the short version I got, the thesis of this work is that all human civilization is the product of the fear of death and seeking immortality of identity.

On the face of it, ascribing a single root cause to something as large and complex as all of civilization seems overly simplistic. Is it just me? I'm pretty sure there are other factors at work.

Does fear of death influence society? How much, and in a positive or negative way?

ehbowen

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2019, 01:59:24 am »


According to the short version I got, the thesis of this work is that all human civilization is the product of the fear of death and seeking immortality of identity.

Well, My Humble Opinion is that Heaven is very civilized and that its citizens have no fear of death whatsoever. Your Mileage May Vary, of course.

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RandallS

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2019, 07:57:29 am »
According to the short version I got, the thesis of this work is that all human civilization is the product of the fear of death and seeking immortality of identity.

That's what I remember from reading Becker's The Denial of Death many years ago. Like most such ideas, I think it has some merit, while making the same mistake most do: trying  to assign a single "cause" for the "effect" of human behavior (in this case building civilization). Sure, one of the reasons people build (civilization, art, etc.) is to ensure they have some type of immortality, but it is hardly the only reason.
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Darkhawk

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2019, 12:38:18 pm »
Does fear of death influence society? How much, and in a positive or negative way?

I would say it influences culture, but complexly.

I really wish I could remember which of my many Egypt books I read like fifteen years ago it was that talked about a sort of matrix of attitudes towards death that cultures have - two axes, one of which was something about (I don't remember the terms, which is one of the reasons I wish I had the book handy) whether or not one hides evidence of mortality and death, culturally speaking, and avoids the topic, and whether or not one thinks death is a positive or negative phenomenon.  (My shoddy memory is making this more simplistic than it should be.)

In any case the book notes that modern Western culture is both death-denying and death-fearing, creating an unhealthy dynamic by which all signs of mortality must be concealed and death and grief are removed from the cultural matrix as entirely as is possible for most people, and contrasted it with Egypt, in which death is also treated as a Great Enemy but in which the phenomenon is wholly integrated with the society.
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Sefiru

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2019, 08:49:47 pm »
(My shoddy memory is making this more simplistic than it should be.)

The way these things work, you may well remember the reference next tuesday at 3 am  ;) )

Quote
In any case the book notes that modern Western culture is both death-denying and death-fearing, creating an unhealthy dynamic by which all signs of mortality must be concealed and death and grief are removed from the cultural matrix as entirely as is possible for most people, and contrasted it with Egypt, in which death is also treated as a Great Enemy but in which the phenomenon is wholly integrated with the society.

This bears further thinking on ... at the moment I can only consider it in terms of festivals; Halloween isn't even primarily about death, and it's the best we've got; compared to things like the Day of the Dead in Mexico or Obon in japan. (I wonder how a cultural practice of ancestor worship relates to perception of death ...?)

Darkhawk

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2019, 03:20:11 pm »
The way these things work, you may well remember the reference next tuesday at 3 am  ;) )

Given I've been trying to remember it for SEVERAL YEARS that would be VERY NICE.

Quote
This bears further thinking on ... at the moment I can only consider it in terms of festivals; Halloween isn't even primarily about death, and it's the best we've got; compared to things like the Day of the Dead in Mexico or Obon in japan. (I wonder how a cultural practice of ancestor worship relates to perception of death ...?)

Not just ancestor worship, though that's part of it; there's also the whole 'move death out of the home'.  People moving into nursing homes, hospices, wakes held in funeral homes, etc.  In the United States one of the big factors here was the Civil War, actually (which was one of the major factors in the start of the Spiritualist movement for the same reason): for the first time, people went away and died far away, but also often in horrible ways that didn't leave a body for people to grieve over.  You get a whole lot of spike in ghost stories there.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Sefiru

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #6 on: August 06, 2019, 07:01:11 pm »
Given I've been trying to remember it for SEVERAL YEARS that would be VERY NICE.

Did some Googling. Could it have been this? (found via this post on the same topic)

Darkhawk

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #7 on: August 08, 2019, 12:28:41 pm »
Did some Googling. Could it have been this? (found via this post on the same topic)

I don't own that one, so nope!  I wanna say it's in, like, Red Land, Black Land but I am pretty sure I reread and didn't find it so I am at <helpless shrug> about it all.  I wish the stuff I read early on came with footnotes.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

arete

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2019, 10:55:03 am »
While reading something else (which I will also post about eventually) I came across a reference to this, which is apparently an influential work of philosophy which I have never heard of. (To be fair, my knowledge of 20th century philosophy is almost zero, so.)

According to the short version I got, the thesis of this work is that all human civilization is the product of the fear of death and seeking immortality of identity.

On the face of it, ascribing a single root cause to something as large and complex as all of civilization seems overly simplistic. Is it just me? I'm pretty sure there are other factors at work.

Does fear of death influence society? How much, and in a positive or negative way?
In Greece old people who are closer to death fill the christian churches. So I say yes, fear of death influences people.
I pray that religious animosity will end.

Anon100

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2019, 11:19:28 am »

According to the short version I got, the thesis of this work is that all human civilization is the product of the fear of death and seeking immortality of identity.

On the face of it, ascribing a single root cause to something as large and complex as all of civilization seems overly simplistic. Is it just me? I'm pretty sure there are other factors at work.

Does fear of death influence society? How much, and in a positive or negative way?

I'm not sure that it does fully. Yes, the fear of death has shaped societies but mostly through individuals of power ( the pyramids are a great example but, while the great and powerful were concerned with this and built a whole industry, from slaves up, on it, that doesn't mean that the ordinary joe working along the Nile would have felt the same ).

I'm not sure how much the bedrock of any society ( the serfs/peasants/slaves or in modern days the farmers/fishermen/people keeping the utilities and roads running ) is focussed on defeating death so much as surviving day to day or reaching a dream or ( most of all ) looking after their family.. Yes, children can be seen as a way of living on but I think it's more a case of love and responsibility and hope than it is fear. At least in the best way it comes out.

But thats just my feelings

Morag

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2019, 03:15:54 pm »
In Greece old people who are closer to death fill the christian churches. So I say yes, fear of death influences people.

Loneliness is a real problem for the elderly (especially when they're abandoned by their families, which is more common than you might think). Organized religion offers infrastructure and community -- people to have coffee with, conversation once a week, a promise that someone will give a crap if you disappear. It's not fear of death, it's a human desire to not be alone.

It's something pagan religions could stand to learn a bit about, actually. How to build a functioning community that doesn't 100% ride on one overworked, overburdened organizer.
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Sefiru

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2019, 08:22:36 pm »
( the pyramids are a great example but, while the great and powerful were concerned with this and built a whole industry, from slaves up, on it, that doesn't mean that the ordinary joe working along the Nile would have felt the same ).

I'm not sure if I would say the pyramids were motivated by *fear* of death; I mean, they weren't intended to prevent death so much as reflect the power of the kings in the afterlife.

I guess it could be argued that belief in an afterlife is itself based on a fear of death, but eh. Stuff's complicated.

Anon100

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Re: The Denial of Death
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2019, 03:54:46 am »
I'm not sure if I would say the pyramids were motivated by *fear* of death; I mean, they weren't intended to prevent death so much as reflect the power of the kings in the afterlife.

I guess it could be argued that belief in an afterlife is itself based on a fear of death, but eh. Stuff's complicated.

Good point. I think fear was the wrong word to use there.
Better way I could have put it is - I think most people working or living directly off the land would have to deal with death every day. I'd imagine if you have to kill your food, work fields where hawks are hunting mice, deal with illness and death in your family personally etc. you get used to it being just another part of life's landscape. Not something to fear or hope for but something to understand, deal with and work out the best way to travel through when it gets to that point

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