If the human obsession with achievement is a subconscious attempt to deny–and transcend–mortality, what impact does it have on our beliefs, philosophies and societies?
“In his 1973 book, The Denial of Death, the American cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker argued that mankind’s obsession for achievement in life is a subconscious attempt to transcend mortality” (J.P. O’Malley, The Independent). Becker’s contention is that that some of our greatest achievements in art, architecture and science as well as heroic deeds arise from a motivation, largely unconscious, to create symbolic immortalities which will outlast our brief lifetimes (Kenneth Vos, Caledonian Record).
The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive. ― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
Intimations of mortality: Previews of the end
Larry Green (left), with members of the Academia Panel at the Simon Fraser University
conference The End of Life: Dying, Suicide, Death on November 3, 2016
Larry Green, a practicing psychotherapist and an adjunct professor at City University Canada in Vancouver, spoke about the “precursors to experiences at the end of life” in a presentation called Imitations of mortality: Previews of the end at the Simon Fraser University conference The End of Life: Dying, Suicide, Death, in November 2016.
Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level. ― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
Dr. Green drew on the work of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death in his presentation. In that work Becker points out that we defend against the fear of our demise through immortality projects. This can involve both procreation and creation (art, writing, building, etc.) More commonly, however, is the tendency to identify with an in group’s ideology or religion as a bulwark guaranteeing one’s existential security.
The terror that we might feel when the meanings with which we identify are undermined or attacked is a precursor to what we may experience as we approach our end. Consequently, those occasions when our meanings are under threat, are opportunities to rehearse our own death with hopefully greater and greater equanimity.
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— VIMentalHealth (@VIMentalHealth) June 26, 2017
About Dr. Larry Green
Larry Green is currently an adjunct professor at City University Canada in Vancouver where he teaches in the Counselling Psychology Graduate Program. He received a Ph.D. from SFU in the Philosophy of Education Program. Green’s dissertation focused on the relationship between the reflective mind and the pre-reflective self. Additionally, he has been a practicing psychotherapist for over 44 years where he assists his clients to bring their hearts and minds together.
The End of Life: Dying, Suicide, Death
Dr. Samir Gandesha, director of SFU’s Institute for the Humanities,
moderated a panel discussion with academics as part of The End of Life: Dying, Suicide, Death
Simon Fraser University’s Institute for the Humanities hosted a conference in November 2016 called The End of Life: Dying, Suicide, Death. The conference was intended to provide space for pondering the complex and agonizing decisions regarding the end of life. Space for such conversations is especially needed given the 2015 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada declaring that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes upon Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the introduction of Bill C-14 which has resulted in debate about who, when and in what circumstances an individual may make such a decision.
Speakers included academics, graduate students and practitioners who spoke from their own particular perspectives: legal, ethical, medical, and spiritual or religious. The presentations also drew upon insights from literature and art, some of humanity’s most treasured resources.