Fear of Dying
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Fear of Dying
Comments by Stephen Kaufman - 13 Dec 2004
I can't respond fully to Dena's objections to Girardian theory. I point people instead to my essay series at Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence.
Hopefully, I have done a decent job articulating the views of Girard and his students. That we are mimetic, I think, is beyond dispute. We learn language and socialization in childhood via mimesis, and education is a mimetic exercise. Girard's important observation is that our desires are mimetic, though we are unaware of this. We like to think that we control what we want, rather than that we blindly mimic other's desires. Girard then went on to claim that, when we fail to have our desires satisfied, we become embittered and this leads to resentments that can fracture communities. Girard proposes that we resolve this problem by finding scapegoats, who we blame for our angry feelings and resentments. Just as desire is mimetic, so to is the process of accusation, such that a crowd may quickly regard a single person or group of people as responsible for evil-doing and deserving of punishment.
Regarding self-esteem, this is not a Girardian idea. It was developed by Ernest Becker (who himself was heavily indebted to Otto Rank), and I have tried to unify Becker's thought with that of Girard.
Regarding Dena's point "I don't accept the survival of self-esteem as a cause of fear of dying," my point (discussed in the most recent essay) was that self-esteem is critical to gaining a sense of mastery over death. Loss of self-esteem tends to promote fear of death.
Mike has raised doubts about fear of death. Becker said that we generally don't recognize the fear, because it is suppressed by denial mechanisms.
Becker's theories have gained support from several lines of analysis, including:
1) Explanation of otherwise bizarre and incomprehensible human behavior,
2) Dream analysis, and 3) experimental Terror Management Theory
(see essay #27).
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