Several Chimesfreedom posts have touched on the theories of sociologist Ernest Becker. Among other things, Becker’s book Denial of Death has inspired artists including Woody Allen and writer Don DeLillo. I also own a documentary about Becker’s theories, so wanted to point out this interesting film Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality (2003) for anyone who might be interested.
In a superficial nutshell, Ernest Becker wrote about how humans are unique creatures because our intelligence gives us an understanding of something inevitable and horrible. One day we — and everyone we know — will die. This knowledge is so disturbing, Becker reasoned, that we subconsciously suppress this knowledge on a daily basis. In so doing, we subconsciously use other ideas to help us suppress our fears. Thus, we seek out things that help us feel immortal to buy the idea that we may one day die. For example, we root for sports teams because our attachment to a team that will survive and triumph makes us feel connected to something eternal.
But these attachments can have bad effects too. If I have a belief that helps me deal with my subconscious fear of death, your belief that is inconsistent with mine may make me feel threatened. As a result, our subconscious fear of death can make us hostile to people with different views from us. Interestingly, a number of scientists have been exploring these theories and are seeing results of how they affect our every day lives, influencing everything from voting to wars.
Anyway, that is my attempt to summarize some of the ideas in a couple of paragraphs, but the film Flight from Death does a better job of explaining it. In the film, a number of writers, philosophers, and Terror Management Theory scientists discuss the way that our subconscious fear of death can impact our lives. Some of the commentators in the film include Sam Keen, Robert Jay Lifton, Irvin Yalom, Merlyn Mowrey, Sheldon Solomon, and Daniel Liechty. It is one of the rare documentaries that can change the way you look at your life.
The film is narrated by Gabriel Byrne, and while the film is no longer available on YouTube, you may find some clips there, such as this 10-minute clip (or watch the whole film on Amazon).
What do you think of Flight from Death? Leave your two cents in the comments.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)