The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

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Summary
  1. Becker believes that human civilization is an elaborate defense mechanism that helps people cope with their mortality. People desire to create or become part of something which they feel is eternal as opposed to their physical body that will one day die which convinces people that their lives have meaning and a purpose. Becker extensively discusses mental illness and essentially believes that it is caused by these people’s inability to create a strong enough “hero project” and are therefore being consistently reminded of their mortality and insignificance. Becker also believes that traditional “hero systems,” such as religion, are no longer convincing in today’s age of reason. Becker hopes that the gradual realization of humanity’s innate motivations (death) can help bring about a better world.
Key Takeaways
  1. Becker has 4 truths
    1. The world is terrifying
    2. Basic motivation of human behavior is to curve anxiety
    3. Death so overwhelming we keep it in subconscious. Life escapes us while we stay and feel safe
    4. Paradoxical effect of when we try to destroy evil we often bring more evil into the world. Desire for best causes the worst
  2. People are extremely worried about making their mark and leaving their legacy. Being mindful of this fact will help you make better decisions
  3. The world is a stage for heroism and this heroism is driven by narcissism. Man cannot help but be selfish and deep down we think we are immortal
  4. A very important question to figure out for yourself is, “How conscious am I of my inclination to be a hero?”
  5. Unclear if fear of death is part of human nature or nurture
  6. Man is a duality – he is a “God” in nature in that he can speculate about atoms and infinity but at the end of the day he will end up as food for worms and disappear forever. If man truly faced up to this situation he would literally go mad
  7. Jonah Complex – people are afraid to live up their full potential. We are too weak an organism for these greatness moments to last too long. Nearly everyone lacks the strength to open oneself up to the totality of life
  8. To see the world as it truly is is terrifying and causes anxiety
  9. In order to become a “self,” the self must first be broken. Realize you are worm food and face that anxiety and then you an begin to live
  10. Man in a tough position because strives for 2 contradictory things – being unique amongst nature but at the same time wanting to meld and connect with it
  11. The artist and the madman are both trapped by their own fabrications. Artists often turn psychotic
  12. Guilt arises out of unused life
  13. Schizophrenics have the appropriate rational reaction – crippling fear of life but this is the most self defeating type of reaction
  14. Man can live for eternity by living now to the fullest. Do not let people who do not live in the now poison your view
 
What I got out of it
  1. A somewhat dark and disturbing book but its aim to make you aware of people’s main motivation to cheat (or at least put off thinking about) death contains a powerful message. By being aware that humans are terrified of death and often hellbent on finding a way to make their legacy immortal, Becker argues that one can better understand oneself and others.
  2. Made me look at the mentally ill in a completely different and more sympathetic light
  3. I would highly recommend this book and is one that I will refer back to in the future

Buy The Denial of Death here

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