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Sunday, April 29, 2012


Terror management? Coping and defense mechanisms? Upsides and downsides? Really.
If this is the state of psychoanalysis' assessments of the ramifications of the fear of death,perhaps we are all better off saying a few Our Fathers and Hail Marys. But,I'm being facetious, of course.
All of us must, sooner or later, face our own mortality. And there is no prescription for this showdown, because there is no universally tested and proven way to do this. I do not care who you are or how strongly you profess your faith, it is all academic when you lie on your death bed.

Is all of this a/the reason for the amorality of modern civilizations and the disregard for life in general? It just might be---don't you think?

Sorry if I confused. No prescription was was intended, Dave, but there are patterns of coping and defending that work better for some people and ways that work poorly for others.

For example, an element of defensive denial of death may be in play when people take up cigarette smoking or when people engage in a variety of highly risky behaviors of the sort we see more often in adolescents. The denial supports maladaptive behavior by keeping anxiety about death at bay.

On the other hand, when one finds oneself in a dangerous situation and remains in control, like the pilot who keeps her wits about her as she sets a plane down in a river during an emergency, we can see an adaptive side of defensive suppression of a death anxiety. We wouldn't want the pilot in such a moment to be swamped and disabled by fear.

As for your larger question about the social implications of death anxiety, I believe that death anxiety gives rise to destructive behavior and creative acts, as well. That's a discussion beyond what I can address right now in a comment.

I'd recommend Ernest Becker's Denial of Death, and a number of books by Robert Langs, searchable under death anxiety, and this provocative exploration that addresses psychoanalysis and religion. Like anything challenging, no single book or person has it all sewed up, but these authors offer some stimulating opportunities to think more deeply about how we navigate life given the darker pressures associated with abstract awareness of our own mortality.

"like the pilot who keeps her wits about her as she sets a plane down in a river during an emergency"


I am female and I know training, bravery, wit, and all sorts of fine qualities are not gender limited... Sully was a HE.

Always using "she" is no different than always using "he". Either is fine with me, but it hasn't been that long we witnessed a "he" doing exactly what you describe.

It is condescending to use "she" in that description, even though I know you do not mean it to be so.

I realize I'm over-reacting to this, but since my kids started having kids, I've been reading a lot of baby/parenting sites and have come to the conclusion that there must be no little boys being born anymore since all articles refer to all babies/children as "she".

So first I worry about my 3 grandsons... and then I worry about my 3 granddaughters... because I worry that there won't be very many men around when they grow up.

I also realize I'm nitpicking on this gender thing because I don't want to talk about anxiety and death.

Donna, In relation to death anxiety, I think you point to a possible undercurrent element of 'man-slaughter,' or at least the perception of murder, in our cultural wrestling with personal pronouns. Well no doubt this is possible, more so in some individuals than others.In the case of the former, the historical exclusion of women in many endeavors might arouse retaliatory feelings.

I try to rotate he and she, but sometimes use singular they, in part, perhaps, trying to avert fantasied retaliatory strikes.

I was listening to an informal debate earlier in the week between two Swedes. They were arguing about recent efforts to substitute a new word "hen" (singular "they") for han (he) and hon (she).

An interesting discussion of the Swedish enterprise and deliberate efforts to change language is here.

I have read Becker, Doc. A great mind, taken too soon. ESCAPE FROM EVIL was also instructive, for me anyway. If we cancel out prescriptive-ness, I certainly agree with you regarding coping mechanisms. "To everything, there is a season...and a time for every purpose under heaven." Many of us cope with the vicissitudes of life by internalizing such time-worn platitudes.

It does not work for me anymore. You'll have that---sometimes.


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