The Birth and Death of Meaning Quotes

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The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man by Ernest Becker
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The Birth and Death of Meaning Quotes Showing 1-11 of 11
“We have become victims of our own art. We touch people on the outsides of their bodies, and they us, but we cannot get to their insides and cannot reveal our insides to them. This is one of the great tragedies of our interiority-it is utterly personal and unrevealable. Often we want to say something unusually intimate to a spouse, a parent, a friend, communicate something of how we are really feeling about a sunset, who we really feel we are-only to fall strangely and miserably flat. Once in a great while we succeed, sometimes more with one person, less or never with others. But the occasional break-through only proves the rule. You reach out with a disclosure, fail, and fall back bitterly into yourself.”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“Try repeating “man is an animal" a few times, just to notice how unconvincing it sounds. There seems to be no way to get this idea into our heads, except by long rumination over the facts of evolution or perhaps by exposure to a primitive tribe or by being raised on a farm. Primitives sometimes see little difference between themselves and the animals around them. Karl von den Steinen was told by a Xingu that the only difference between them and the monkey was that they monkeys lacked the bow and arrow. And Jules Henry observed on the Kningang that dogs are not considered pets, like some of the other animals, but are on a level of emotional equality, like a relative. But in our own Western culture we have, for the most part, set a great distance between ourselves and the rest of nature, and language helps us to do this. Thus we say that a sheep “drops" its lamb, but a woman “gives birth"—it’s much more noble. Yet we have the right to make such distinctions because we assign the meaning to the world by naming names of things; we inhabit a different sphere and we capitalize naturally on the privilege.”
Becker Ernest, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“The world of human aspiration is largely fictitious and if we do not understand this we understand nothing about man.”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“And so we see the paradox that evolution has handed us. If man is the only animal whose consciousness of self gives him an unusual dignity in the animal kingdom, he also pays a tragic price for it. The fact that the child has to identify -first- means that his very first identity is a social product. His habitation of his own body is built from the outside in; not from the inside out. He doesn't unfold into the world, the world unfolds into him. As the child responds to the vocal symbols learned from his object, he often gives the pathetic impression of being a true social puppet, jerked by alien symbols and sounds. What sensitive parent does not have his satisfaction tinged with sadness as the child repeats with such vital earnestness the little symbols that are taught him?”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“As we will see from these pages man is mostly innocent, really potentially good, even naturally noble; and as we will stress, society is responsible, largely, for shaping people, for giving them opportunities for unfolding more freely and more unafraid. But this unfolding is confused and complicated by man’s basic animal fears: by his deep and indelible anxieties about his own impotence and death, and his fear of being overwhelmed and sucked up into the world and into others. All this gives his life a quality of drivenness, of underlying desperation, an obsession with the meaning of it and with his own significance as a creature. And this is what drives him to try to make his mark on the world, to try to twist it and turn it to his own designs, to bury over the rumbling anxieties; and this usually means that he tries to twist and turn others, make his mark on them, use them to justify his own problematic life. As Rank put it so bluntly: Man creates “out of freedom a prison.” This means everyman, in any society, from the most “primitive” to the most “civilized,” no matter what the child training programs or economic system.”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“We come into contact with people only with our exteriors—physically and externally; yet each of us walks about with a great wealth of interior life, a private and secret self. We are, in reality, somewhat split in two, the self and the body; the one hidden, the other open. The child learns very quickly to cultivate this private self
because it puts a barrier between him and the demands of the world. He learns he can keep secrets—at first an excruciating, intolerable burden: it seems that the outer world has every right to penetrate into his self and that the parents could automatically do so if they wished—they always seem to know just what he is thinking and feeling. But then he discovers that he can lie and not be found out: it is a
great and liberating moment, this anxious first lie—it represents the staking out of his claim to an integral inner self, free from the prying eyes of the world. By the time we grow up we become masters at dissimulation, at cultivating a self that the world cannot probe. But we pay a price. After years of turning people away,
of protecting our inner self, of cultivating it by living in a different world, of furnishing this world with our fantasies and dreams—we find that we are hopelessly separated from everyone else. We have become victims of our own art. We touch people on the outsides of their bodies, and they us, but we cannot get at their insides and cannot reveal our insides to them. This is one of the great tragedies of our interiority—it is utterly personal and unrevealable. Often we want to say something unusually intimate to a spouse, a parent, a friend, communicate
something of how we are really feeling about a sunset, who we really feel we are—only to fall strangely and miserably flat. Once in a great while we succeed, sometimes more with one person, less or never with others. But the occasional breakthrough only proves the rule. You reach out with a disclosure, fail, and fall back bitterly into yourself. We emit huge globs of love to our parents and spouses, and the glob slithers away in exchanges of words that are somehow beside the point of what we are trying to say. People seem to keep bumping up against each other with their exteriors and falling away from each other. The cartoonist Jules Feiffer is the modern master of this aspect of the human tragedy. Take even the sexual act—the most intimate merger given to organisms. For most people, even for their entire lives, it is simply a joining of exteriors. The insides melt only in the moment of orgasm, but even this is brief, and a melting is not a communication. It is a physical overcoming of separateness, not a symbolic revelation and justification of one’s interior. Many people pursue sex precisely because it is a mystique of the overcoming of the separateness of the inner world; and they go from one partner to another because they can never quite achieve “it.” So the endless interrogations: “What are you thinking about right now—me? Do you feel what I feel? Do you love me?”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“One of the reasons that youth and their elders don’t understand one another is that they live in “ different worlds”: the youth are striving to deal with one another in terms of their insides, the elders have long since lost the magic of the chumship. Especially today, the exterior or public aspect of the adult world, its jobs and rewards, no longer seem meaningful or vital to the college youth; the youth try to prolong the adolescent art of communicating on the basis of internal feelings; they may even try to break through the carapace of their own parents, try to get the insides to come out.”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“As the great William James put it almost 80 years ago: A man’s “Me” is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his mind, but his clothes and house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, his yacht and his bank-account (1892, p. 44). In other words, the human animal can be symbolically located wherever he feels a part of him really exists or belongs. This is important for an understanding of the bitter fighting between social classes for social status: an individual’s house in a posh neighborhood can be more a part of his self-image than his own arm—his life-pulse can be inseparable from it.”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“If the frustrations are not surrounded by anxiety, fear of life, insecure love and support, then the child progresses easily and naturally to the new challenges of a symbolic, social way of life. The child that we call, typically, autistic or schizophrenic, is the one who has not been able to feel this secure sense of support to his body; and so he does not make a confident transition from the biological to the social world. The “lever” of”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“It is this that makes people so willing ’to follow brash, strong-looking demagogues with tight jaws and loud voices: those who focus their measured words and their sharpened eyes in the intensity of hate, and so seem most capable of cleansing the world of the vague, the weak, the uncertain, the evil. Ah, to give oneself over to their direction—what calm, what relief.”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
“Unlike the baboon who gluts himself only on food, man nourishes himself mostly on self-esteem. It”
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man