Last time we began a discussion of Ernest Becker’s thoughts on authentic heroism  which begins with accepting the fact of human limitations. We continue now.

With the correct attitude towards life we see “The most one can achieve is a certain relaxedness, an openness to experience that makes him less of a driven burden on others.” Becker warns us:  “If men lean too much on God they don’t accomplish what they have to in this world on their own powers. In order to do anything one must first be a man, apart from everything else,” but also notes that “the urge to cosmic heroism …is sacred and mysterious and not to be neatly ordered and rationalized by science and secularism.”

Becker looks to the example of Paul Tillich’s ‘New Being’ with “the courage to be himself…to face up to the eternal contradictions of the real world… absorb the maximum amount of nonbeing … the problematic in life… His daily life then becomes truly a duty of cosmic proportions… his courage to face the anxiety of meaninglessness becomes true cosmic heroism…the task of conscious beings at the height of their evolutionary destiny is to meet and vanquish this new emergent obstacle to all sentient life.” Authentic heroism depends on “hopeful action,” and “living the truth of creation.” We must also understand that “the fear of death is not the only motive of life; heroic transcendence, victory over evil for mankind, as a whole for unborn generations, consecration of one’s existence to higher meanings – these motives are just as vital and they are what give the human animal his nobility even in the face of his animal fears.”

When we examine nature we see an eternal truth: “in this world each organism lives to be consumed by its own energies; and those that are consumed with the most relentlessness, and burn with the brightest flame seem to service the purposes of nature best, so far as accomplishing anything on this planet is concerned.” And “in one’s own person, he tries to achieve what creative powers of emergent Being have themselves so far achieved with lower forms of life: the overcoming of that which would negate life.” The New Being “takes more of the world into himself and develops new forms of courage and endurance.” In short, “taking life seriously means something such as this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false.”

I will refrain from attempting to summarize Becker’s thoughts, rather suggest you reread the outtakes above or better yet read Chapter 11 of The Denial of Death.


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