The Birth and Death of Meaning [ePub]

by Ernest Becker

After reading "The Birth and Death of Meaning" along with "The Denial of Death", Ernest Becker quickly became one of my personal heroes. Who else would have had the guts to write something so penetrating, so frightening, so threatening to the mechanisms we use every day to cope with life? Becker makes shockingly clear the fictitious nature of human meaning and the contrived nature of social game: if you've ever wondered why the mentally ill are so neglected as a minority and generally spurned even by so called "activists" for racial acceptance, etc, you won't wonder after reading this book. For all that Becker is gentle, not some arrogant nihilistic jerk. There is no typical existentialist self pity here, no "nausea", simply a tough recognition of the way things actually are and a few relative ideas as to how we should deal with them. This is what differentiates Becker from the postmodernists and others who delight in impotence: he is open to solution, to creative play and even religious answers (of an unconventional kind, of course.) His insight and intellect are so powerful as to be scary, and one wonders how such a man dealt with the trivialities of everyday life knowing that they are part of a gigantic charade of illusory meaning. He makes it clear that man is a social animal, and that we are built from the outside in rather than the other way around. His theory of the "urge toward cosmic heroism" fits perfectly into actual concrete everyday life, where anyone and everyone is eager to stand out in some way as cultural heroes. Like Nietzsche, perhaps even better, Becker illustrates the way in which we deceive ourselves and deliberately confuse the cultural game with underlying material reality. He offers four levels of possible solution, the first of which he warns can lead to narcissism and mandess, the second and third being religious in an abstract and metaphysical way. Becker is not, like so many sociologists, drunk on his own lucidity or on a power trip: he is telling us to relax, because the question of relevance is very much up in the air. Authenticity is his message. I would recommend this book as it is easily one of the most important philosophical awakenings that are on the bookshelf, but I would qualify that statement by also recommending it be taken in small doses.

17.10.2011

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