Sunday, March 7, 2010

Convergence - Fear of Death Syndrome

Our human psychological makeup includes the fear of death and reactions to that fear.

That fear causes behavioral reactions which, from time to time, become irrational or paranoid, leading to various forms of antisocial behavior.

Included in that behavior is the formation of world views, together with social grouping with others who likewise hold that particular world view:
One of the most destructive and perplexing problems facing contemporary society is the pervasive tendency of people to respond with hostility and disdain toward those who are different from themselves. This tendency to reject those who are different is well-documented in the literature on prejudice (e.g., Tajfel, 1982), the similarity-attraction relationship (for a review, see Byrne, 1971), and reactions to deviance (e.g., Miller & Anderson, 1979; Schachter, 1951). A common notion in much of the theorizing concerning these effects is that people prefer similar others over dissimilar others because of the consensual validation of one's own beliefs and attitudes provided by similar others (e.g., Byrne, 1971;Festinger, 1954; Tajfel, 1982). The research reported in this article was concerned with the psychological basis of this need for consensual validation.
Put simply, people's beliefs about reality provide a buffer against the anxiety that results from living in a largely uncontrollable, perilous universe, where the only certainty is death.
Thus, as Byrne (1971) and others have suggested, attraction to similar others can be explained as resulting from the consensual validation of beliefs that such others provide. From a terror management perspective, then, positive reactions to similar others and negative reactions to dissimilar others occur partly because of the impact such individuals have on faith in one's worldview.
(The Effects of Mortality Salience on Reactions to Those Who Threaten or Bolster the Cultural Worldview, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1990, Vol. 58, No. 2, 308-318, PDF, italics added).

A recent post on this blog concerns behavioral studies of State Sponsored Crimes Against Democracy, in the context of 9/11.

In that post we saw that behavioral scientists are studying why "The ellipses of due diligence riddling the official account of the 9/11 incidents" continue to be ignored by scholars of policy and public administration.

We can add the main stream media (MSM) to the study, in the sense that they have a world view and they also try to protect it.

People who have a different world view (e.g. "Truthers") from the government or the MSM world view, are seen as a threat and a discomfort to the extent that the comfort against the fear of death is disturbed.

One comforting, yet intoxicating world view is that our nation is good and therefore can do no wrong against the public. Clearly, the Truthers threaten the official world view of the government and of the press.

My car, my family, my church, my city, my state, my government, and my country, are actually extensions of our very selves in this world view sense.

Those who threaten the comfort zone provided by our world view are seen as being hostile toward us, which engenders hostility back toward them.

The phenomenon converges with other threats, so it has also been seen in the global warming / global climate change "debates" or dialogues:
A recent paper by the biologist Janis L Dickinson, published in the journal Ecology and Society, proposes that constant news and discussion about global warming makes it difficult for people to repress thoughts of death, and that they might respond to the terrifying prospect of climate breakdown in ways that strengthen their character armour but diminish our chances of survival. There is already experimental evidence suggesting that some people respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. Dickinson proposes that growing evidence of climate change might boost this tendency, as well as raising antagonism towards scientists and environmentalists. Our message, after all, presents a lethal threat to the central immortality project of Western society: perpetual economic growth, supported by an ideology of entitlement and exceptionalism.
(Monbiot, italics added). The opposite ends of this spectrum are quite far apart, going from "global warming is the greatest hoax of all time" to "we are all going to die" rhetoric.

A more effective exercise, which would diminish these negative effects, would be to master the fear of death in a non-confrontational way, realizing that we are all in this together.


  1. Agreed to all, but realize, when you're talking about mastering (or even effectively coping with) the fear of death, you're talking about the most primal fear of all, and the one western societies, with their utter glorification of the individual, is least prepared to deal with of ALL societies.

    That's why terrorism is used so effective against such societies; terrorists are essentially saying I will sacrifice my life in this world gladly to terrorize you, as I have no doubt about my place in the next. Most Americans (in particular) have no such faith in theirs, as getting their rewards in THIS world seems to be their primary focus. Even for devout Christians, there has to be some inherent anxiety involved when you believe in a wrathful and vengeful god who may just decide you didn't cut the mustard after all and send you to an eternity of damnation.

    Think about it, if a simple interpretation of "an eye for an eye" were so effective, why don't we see any US or Isreali suicide bombers pop up to counter terrorist threats with their own? You'd probably hear a lot of high minded rhetoric to the effect of "that would just be sinking to their level," but in fact, killing masses of people through the use of aerial bombing, missiles, and/or drone attacks is a PERFECT illustration of this priciple.

    We're perfectly willing to kill indiscriminately just as much as the "terrorists" are, we just know that by using our advanced technologies we can avoid any risk to ourselves in the process. While suicide bombings are inherently "courageous" (for lack of a better word) in the sense that they demand that the bomber put his life on the line as the cost for his destructive deed, US style aerial high tech warfare is inherently "cowardly," as it makes no such demands on the part of the agressor.

    I've pointed that fact out in several internet forums before, and the usual response is "so what, we win that way." The US will fold easily (actually, we'd resort to the nuclear option and simply take everyone out and hope for the best) if ever seriously threatened militarily, as the people do not have the courage of their convictions, and their fear of death is uncontrollable.

    Its notable that the recent "attacks" by Stack and Bedell seemed to be simple rage attacks (although it now seems at least possible that Bedell was actually set up for propaganda purposes), as opposed to principled political terror attacks.

  2. disaffected,

    Reminds me of a joke.

    A preacher was giving a fiery sermon, interrupted now and again with the question "who wants to go to heaven", exclaimed with immediacy and fervour.

    Eventually the preacher got very worked up and as sweat formed on his brow he asked everyone to stand up right now if you want to go to heaven.

    The preacher was surprised and mystified by a young man sitting in the first row who was the only church member who did not stand.

    He abruptly stopped the sermon to address the young man directly. "Son, don't you want to go to heaven?" the perplexed preacher asked.

    "Yes preacher", the young man replied, "it is just that I thought you were getting up a load to go right now".

  3. You're "we're all in this together" observation was especially noteworthy as well, as the idea of "rugged American individualism" and especially western style capitalism run DIRECTLY counter to that idea. Soviet Communism and American Capitalism were just flip sides of the same poison pill IMO, especially as they were both adopted as virtual religions by their proponents.

    Hard to imagine what might be next, as it could range from tribalism (my bet for the short term at least) to complete centralized totalitarianism (might possibly get a toe hold once again in the long run). As the weather forecasters say, just too many variables to predict for now.

    I think for sure however, that we're already witnessing the early stages of breakup for the American empire. It's too bad it has to end this way, but we have obviously lost our way.

  4. disaffected,

    "we're already witnessing the early stages of breakup for the American empire"

    Sad but true. I wanted the U.S. to go on up from its apex into leading the world out of the death spiral caused to a large extent by the fear of death.

    If we as a world, as the human species, had worked together led by the U.S. or U.N. toward neutralizing our damage to the earth so it could heal, that would have set the stage for "the age of reality".

    A time when we all found our place in this cosmos, on this planet, and in our individual nations, from which place we addressed the universe around us as cosmic adults.

    As it turns out and as you observed several times over the past month, it does not look good for my hoped-for world view at this time.

  5. The governments of the world seem to be like people who suck their thumbs in adulthood for some reason.

    Perhaps they could not stop the habit of thumbsucking just as they cannot stop the march toward war with other nations and war with the earth.