otto rank (2)

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:

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]



 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. 


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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