tacoma artist

The role of death in life, 8 by JW Harrington

“We humans are, however, not psychologically equipped to fully acquire such equanimity without an enduring sense of significance that extends beyond our own individual existence.  In The Broken Connection: On Death and the Continuity of Life, Robert Jay Lifton described five core modes of death transcendence:

“Biosocial:  by passing on one’s genes, history, values, and possessions, or by identification with an ancestral line or ethnic or national identity that perseveres indefinitely.”

“Theological: faith in a soul and the possibility of literal immortality;  or a more symbolic sense of spiritual connection to an ongoing life force.”

“Creative:  contributing to future generations through innovations and teaching in art, science, and technology.”

“Natural: identifying with all life, nature, or even the universe.”  [One recognizes that one is a tiny part of something that will endure.]

“Finally, experiential transcendence is characterized by a sense of timelessness accompanies by a heightened sense of awe and wonder…. such experiential states are most fulfilling when they occur in the context of one of the other four modes: playing with your children, engaging in spiritual rituals, throwing yourself into creative activity, being immersed in the natural world.”

-- Sheldon Solomon et al. (2015).  The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, pp. 221-2

The role of death in life, 7 by JW Harrington

For the Greek Epicurus and the Roman Lucretius, living with our knowledge of mortality requires that “we become aware of our fear of death, then recognize that it is irrational to be afraid of death.  Dead people are devoid of all sensations, just as we all were before we were conceived.  No one is terrified of the time before they were born, so why fret about death, since it is precisely the same insensate state that prevailed for eons before our time?”

-- Sheldon Solomon et al. (2015).  The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, p. 216

The role of death in life, 6 by JW Harrington

“Many suicides, rather ironically, result from the horror of mortality itself.  Why bother to go on living when death will get you anyway?  ‘The majority of suicides,’ wrote the great Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, ‘would not take their lives if they had the assurance that they would never die on this earth.  The self-slayer kills himself because he will not wait for death.’  Dostoyevsky came to a similar conclusion in The Possessed, in which the character Pyotr Stepanovich explained his impending suicide: ‘I wish to deprive myself of life…because I don’t want to have the fear of death.’”

-- Sheldon Solomon et al. (2015).  The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, pp. 201-2

The role of death in life, 5 by JW Harrington

“People also gain a sense of symbolic immortality from feeling that they are part of a heroic cause or nation that will endure indefinitely….  Moreover, according to the great German sociologist Max Weber, charismatic leaders … often emerge during periods of historical upheaval.  In The Denial of Death, [cultural anthropologist Ernest] Becker provided a potent psychoanalytical account of why people find charismatic leaders so alluring in troubled times and, more important, why and how particular individuals are able to capitalize on this proclivity to rise to power and alter the course of history.

“…when people are plagued with economic woes and civil unrest to the point where the cultural scheme of things no longer seems to provide [a constancy that shelters them from the terror of mortality], they will look elsewhere to fulfill that need.

“Under such conditions, people’s allegiance may shift to an individual who exhibits an ‘unconflicted’ personality – in the sense of appearing supremely bold and self-confident – and offers a grand vision that affords a renewed prospect of being a valuable part of something noble and enduring.”

-- Sheldon Solomon et al. (2015).  The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, pp. 116-7