ernest becker (5)

Fearosis: Ernest Becker's Theory of Health

As a fearologist, also practicing feariatry (and fearanalysis)--all part of the philosophy and psychology of fear(ism) and fearlessness, it behooves me to take seriously any writer's work that probes deeply into the "human condition" (or "human situation" as Aldous Huxley called it [1]) and search for roots to the human problem--human predicament--to human contradictions--and, ultimately to theorize (at least) a way beyond those great problems and limitations, if not pathologies--onward to 'better' thinking about who and what we are and how to achieve as Ernest Becker named it--"Health as an Ideal" (even if, it is impossible to achieve under world and environmental conditions) [2]. For recent discussion of Becker & Education (theorizing) go to: https://fearlessnessmovement.ning.com/blog/educators-engaging-ernest-becker-s-philosophy-terror-and-its-role

I won't go into the finer details and complexities of Ernest Becker's particular offering (following somewhat Kierkegaard, then Otto Rank) of a theory of health (and illhealth--that is, neurosis) but I want to let readers themselves scan the couple pages I pulled from Becker's (1973) Pulitzer Prize winning book on the human condition and the nature and role of fear (of death) as fundamental. Yet, in these couple pages with my years of going back over and marking and commenting many times, you'll have a sense that Becker's theory of neurosis is based on a "natural" philosophical, theological and psychological approach--where he does not want to make "neurosis" (in his definition, at least) 'bad' or 'wrong' per se--but rather he seems to construct neurosis as based in three problems (largely, but not entirely, beyond the will-control of human beings and their society's functions): (1) the problem of character-formation, (2) the problem of reality vs. illusion and (3) historical [environmental] circumstance. In these two pages there is enough richness to follow and dwell with to keep a theorist like me busy for years. What did come out of this reading this morning is a new fear(ology) term for the way Becker (rather uniquely) defines and makes meaning to "neurosis" in the largest sense--which, I so appreciate the way he does this. The new term is fearosis

Although, I would perhaps be inclined to be offering (in initial stages) a theory for fearosis which no one has yet done on the planet (using this word fearosis)--it behooves me to acknowledge the insight of B. Maria Kumar, in fact, who first coined the term and it has been published in Fisher (2020): 

fearosis- (BMK) the pathological state of chronic excess fear at the base of neurosis and/or psychosis (p. 13). [3]

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 You'll see in my notes at various times, I have both embraced the Beckerian theory and critiqued it for some serious flaws, and, yet, I acknowledge I am not at all a Beckerian scholar, so my critiques still need to be studied and critiqued themselves. I welcome others to do so. I am convinced however, that Becker's work offers immense value to our current world dilemmas--our wicked problems and the need for new solutions that are more than band-aids. He is after solutions that come from deep analysis of not only individuals but of culture itself [4]. I have often claimed in my work that how he talks about culture in general, even at times naturalizing it and that that is just the way culture is--it is neurotic--and humans are neurotic and always will be (more or less)--he is talking about the "culture of fear" (dominated by fearism-t) and, yet, I believe he has limitations of seeing this himself--now, perhaps, that limitation on his part is due to him dying so early in his career at 50 and in 1974--as his own historical context of the early 1970s was just the beginning of a slowly increasing exacerbation of the predicaments and crises that humanity was going to have to face in the 1980s- through to 21st century. Becker just didn't have the near 50 years more (as I have had) to see where the culture of fear dynamic was going to grow--and thus, fearosis was going to grow in unbelievable proportions. 

Okay, I'll leave this here for now. 

Notes: 

1. Huxley, A. (1977). The human situation. Lectures at Santa Barbara, 1959. Harper & Row. 

2. Becker, E. (1973/97). The denial of death. Free Press/Simon & Schuster, p. 198.

3. Fisher, R. M. (2020). New fear vocabulary. International Journal of Fear Studies, 1(2), 10-14.

4. I think on of Becker's most powerful indictments (analyses) is of culture itself as a buffering defense mechanism to terror, to vulnerability, to hyper-awarenss of this animal-human that can perceive and imagine the future so intimately and (often accurately)--especially, in the psychological sense of imagining one's own final demise (death)--if not one's suffering and those of the one's we love. Becker's cultural thesis presents a case, of a culture (dynamic) that really is essential to contextualize how humans behave. He calls it above in the passage the "cultural project" which is formed by several forces (fearosis included) and which is unique somewhat too due to various cultural and historical settings--yet, he is onto a universal understanding (a kind of socioculturalanalysis) and I appreciate it. I think he's quite accurate. The "cultural project" has many other dimensions and terms used by Becker (and Rank) of which particularly of interest is "Immortality Project" (which I have recently written a technical paper on, soon to be available). I go further in my recent thought to revisioning what culture is as Immortality Transference Formation (ITF)--as a foundational psycho-cultural unit of evolution itself in the Cultural and Spiritual domains of existence. 

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Ernest Becker, cultural anthropologist, 1924-74. Won a Pulitzer Prize at the end of his life for his book The Denial of Death. 

I have recently been studying his work and writing about his important thinking for today, especially his contribution to Fear Studies, and specifically to terror management as an extreme existentialist form of fear management. 

The following Tech. Paper No. 99 I devoted to analyzing a bit of what Ernest Becker's work has to do with Education as a field and as a reality of socialization, and then summarized the ways various educators (not that there are many) have engaged Becker's work and what potential biases there are in their ways of interpreting his work. I then propose some alternatives and encourage a good deal more study of Becker for learning and teaching, curriculum development and for handling the kind of terrifying world that is here and coming as cascading global crises are inevitable. His work has much to offer us. 

See Tech. Paper No. 99:  "Ernest Becker's Educational Legacy: A Critical Reflection". https://prism.ucalgary.ca/handle/1880/112381

See also Tech. Paper No. 108: "A Review of "Immortality Project" Concept: Mis-interpretation by Terror Management Theory" https://prism.ucalgary.ca/handle/1880/112499?show=full 

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Dr. Sheldon Solomon, social experimental psychologist (re: Terror Management Theory = TMT)... is one of several very important researchers on "mortal terror" (i.e., fear of death) as the universal ("proven") core of all malignant human behaviors individually and collectively--at least, that's what has been suggested by TMT research and the existential philosophy behind it for the last 40 years or so (thanks to writing of the late Ernest Becker). I have followed this work off and on and found it very insightful and yet to be truly tapped in 'Fear' Studies ... 

I recommend going to this video talk on the dim future of humanity ahead (unless we solve the Fear Problem): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuJhD5TkX-0

Note: I agree with much (not all) of TMT... much of the basis of TMT is supported, I'd argue in the philosophy of fearlessness (Fisher) and philosophy of fearism (Subba) and philosophy of fear (Eneyo) and others... I agree with TMT in its depiction and theory (supported by a good deal of cross-cultural evidence) that "culture" is a fear management strategy overall. In my Fear Management Systems Theory (Fisher, 2010), I give this more differentiation based on v-memes (worldviews) theories in Spiral Dynamics integral (theory).  

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Over a year and half ago I sent a copy of these notes on working philosophical premises to Desh Subba, although he has not responded, I think they are still worth more inquiry, whomever is interested. I'm sure if I thought more about these today, I'd add more new ones, but this is lots for starters. As a serious scholar and proponent of the philosophy of fearism since late 2014, I wish to see more philosophy and less rhetoric, opinions, and such... as this philosophy is going to need a good deal of rigorous thought before it will be accepted seriously by an real philosophers or graduate courses today in higher education, and in the future. The aim I have is to make philosophy of fearism justifiable through testing it empirically, as well as arguing it rationally. The high gold standard in this I have witnessed over the years in watching Ernest Becker's existential philosophy be eventually translated into social psychology (i.e., terror management theory) and 'proven' that his philosophy has some valid truths that are very important to our world today.

PHILOSOPHY OF FEARISM: 9 Premises (version 1.0)

R. Michael Fisher, Aug. 18, 2015

[Note: none of these premises are fixed in stone; I chose them to build common ground in each of our diverse understandings of fearism and its philosophy; they are presented here only as working ideas to be changed and grown as we gain input from various sources/research, experience and good critiques.]

A philosophy of fearism has the basic agenda of raising conscious awareness of the nature and role of fear in our lives and helping us to understand it better, in order to improve the quality (happiness) in our lives along a path to potential “fearless” existence. To do so, claims are made, often with premises that are not yet fully examined—this is the underlying purpose of this philosophical exercise. Volumes could be written on any one or a few of the premises, and sub-sections, as well as the interconnectivity of all of them together. Other premises and sub-sections also exist and can be added, but this is at least a start of examining a core of them more closely.

 

Premise 1Fear actually is the predominant motivator of the foundational aspects of human existence/behavior.

              1a. Should we not therefore build a philosophy (e.g., fearism[1]) around the predominant (if not, the greatest) motivator?

                         1a (i). What if Love is the predominant motivator? How do we know?

                                    What implications do the Love vs. Fear dynamics portend?

              1b. Humans are always, more or less, for better or worse, managing fear(s)

              1c. If 1, 1a, 1b are true, then, what kind of fear management/education (and socialization and governance) is best suited to these truths?

 

Premise 2Humanity, in general, is experiencing a precipice of extreme fear at this time in history, of which it is thought to be a most serious crisis that cannot be put off analysis without grave danger to our species and the planet’s ecosystems.

              2a. What reliable and diverse (cross-disciplinary) sources can we accrue in order to reasonably invoke the crisis of the current Fear Problem, without panic?

Premise 3The current state of knowledge about fear is inadequate to the demands of the Fear Problem, and this has caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering

 

             3a.  Philosophy of fearism is the best way to remedy this crisis and better than alternative philosophies, myths, religions and other ways of trying to manage

                    the Fear Problem—in that sense, how can we justify a “dephilosophy” agenda within the current philosophy of fearism critique?

              3b.  Contradictions in our society’s general knowledge of fear need to be revealed and arguments (based on the philosophy of fearism) made that

                    respond to them and “correct” them if possible  

              3c. Where is the philosophy of fearism most weak, philosophically? and/or scientifically?

              3d. How can a philosophy of fearism self-reflexively “correct” itself in order to avoid becoming an ideology (embedded in ideologism)?

 

Premise 4A philosophy of fearism is unique (and important) because it recognizes the Fear Problem not merely as an individual psychological problem, but as

 central to evolution itself and developmental conceptualizations of human nature, the human condition and human potential.

 

            4a. As with some other perspectives, a philosophy of fearism accepts there is no one and only right definition or meaning of fear, but it is multiple and will

                 likely always be such.

             4b. What is a substantive ontology of fear that is useful to, and consistent with the defining and making meaning of fear within a philosophy of fearism agenda?

             4c. What is a rigorous epistemology of fear consistent with the philosophy of fearism agenda?

             4d. What is a rigorous axiology of fear consistent with the philosophy of fearism agenda?

                         4d(i).  How do we know whether fear is positive or negative in value?

             4e. the dialectical nature of fear and fearlessness ought to be understood within the evolution of the global concept of a “spirit of fearlessness” and the world’s

                  Fearlessness Movement(s)[2]

 

 Premise 5The critical determining unit (expression) of “fear-based” brings forth the ethical axis upon which the philosophy of fearism rests in terms of usefulness

for discernment of quality, if not liberation.

               5a. Is there a way to accurately discern and evaluate “fear-based” feeling, thinking, acting? If so, how? What practical applications as well?

 

Premise 6Fear evolves (develops) “naturally” towards Fearless (i.e., a telos), at the level of individuals, groups, and entire eras of history

 

             6a. We are currently (globally) in a peak of an “Extreme Fear Age”

             6b. Is a philosophy of fearism a ‘natural’ response to the Extreme Fear Age?

             6c. Is there a precedent for what we are going through in history, that may be useful to us as a global community?

                       6d. Is the East or West more matured (evolved) generally, to best assist us through this "Extreme Fear Age" (a la Subba)? Why?

             6e. Are the less developed nations less fear-full than the developed nations? And Why? And, what implications does this have for world developmental theories                  and practices?

 

Premise 7: The evolution of consciousness, like fear, is moving toward a "Fearless Age" and Society (a la Subba)—not that it will occur all at the same time in the same  

places but it is at least probably, expectable, but not totally inevitable.

 

            7a. On what substantive, and diverse grounds, can such a positive claim of telos be defended by a philosophy of fearism?

            7b. And on those same grounds, what arguments can be utilized to counteract the predominant discourses that suggest no such movement or telos exists?

 

Premise 8: The greatest fear is humanly created, in the mind, and thus, the greatest corrective to fear is humanly created, in the mind.

 

            8a. On what substantive, and diverse grounds, can such a claim be made?

            8b. And on those same grounds, what alternative arguments could also be put forward that are different but complementary to a philosophy of fearism?

            8c. What alternative arguments would go against (and/or modify) Premise 8?

 

Premise 9: The philosophy of fearism (as currently articulated) is adequate to being called a legitimate, new, and essential philosophy to the betterment of

humankind and the earth ecosystems.

             9a. What arguments are for this and what arguments are against accepting this



[1] Through out these premises, as building a defense for this philosophy, I am using Desh Subba’s (2014) version of a philosophy of fearism (sometimes, he refers to as a theory of fearism)—this, is an exercise intended to ferret out the thinking and support for claims he has made, of which I mostly agree but realize they need at times to be filled-out in creating a better convincing defense. My own theory of fearism-t is not included here.

[2] This is particularly (if not uniquely) important to Fisher’s philosophy of fearism conception based on the groundwork of his research on a philosophy of fearlessness.

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