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Death is my co-pilot

Well, at least my fear of death is…

Well, at least according to the late great interdisciplinarian philosopher Ernest Becker.

Yes, according to Becker, it is this death anxiety of mine – and of yours too so you might want to pay attention – that really drives much of my life’s behavior.

I guess I should have titled this entry, “Death is my pilot,” or better yet, “I am Death’s co-pilot.”

It seems that this mostly unrealized, or at least unacknowledged fear of our eventual turn into worm food is fed mostly by our desire for immortality, which then feeds into our pursuit of it by other and any means possible: by our offspring, by our profession, by whatever means that allows us to achieve some sense of our being being realized long after the worms that fed upon us have passed.

But few of us are able to achieve even this, this immortality by other or any means possible because of our fear of life itself, by our not having the courage to engage it, life, to the magnitude required for us to transcend our mortality by other and any means possible.

From Becker’s monumental book The Denial of Death, one which I cannot recommend highly enough:

Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with. The lower animals are, of course, spared this painful contradiction, as they lack a symbolic identity and the self-consciousness that goes with it. They merely act and move reflexively as they are driven by their instincts. If they pause at all, it is only a physical pause; inside they are anonymous, and even their faces have no name. They live in a world without time, pulsating, as it were, in a state of dumb being. This is what has made it so simple to shoot down whole herds of buffalo or elephants. The animals don’t know that death is happening and continue grazing placidly while others drop alongside them. The knowledge of death is reflective and conceptual, and animals are spared it. They live and they disappear with the same thoughtlessness: a few minutes of fear, a few seconds of anguish, and it is over. But to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days—that’s something else.

Yeah…

Actually, this whole death anxiety thing is something of a theme of my soon to be finished work in progress.

But that is not what prompted this entry today.

What prompted it was the PsyPost article New psychology research indicates hatred toward collective entities inspires meaning in life.

Heck of a lede, no? I hardly have to quote from the article because the author seems to have crammed the gist of it into the title.

But reading the article, we find that its title is actually as much a mouthful as is the title of the study upon which the article is based: Hate and meaning in life: How collective, but not personal, hate quells threat and spurs meaning in life.

Now, I haven’t actually read the study – I don’t feel like shelling out the $35.00 it would take to do so.

But I kind of want to because I would like to know if Becker is referenced in the study seeing that he was telling us pretty much the same thing way back in the Swingin’ Seventies.

However, according to Becker, this hate (as manifested by racism, sexism, homophobia… you get the picture) that brings us together in collective and harmonious accord is driven by, you guessed it, our collective fear of death.

It was this theory – that our fear of death feeds our hate – that led a mixed group of researchers and huge Becker disciples to put it to the test/studies to see if it could be proved.

Which it could, at least according to them, and which led them to develop the Terror Management Theory (I wish I could come up with such a cool-sounding theory) and which they discuss in detail in their fantastic book The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life.

In one early [Terror Management Theory] study assessing the [Mortality Salience] hypothesis, Greenberg et al. (1990)[4] had Christian participants evaluate other Christian and Jewish students that were similar demographically, but differed in their religious affiliation. After being reminded of their death (experimental MS induction), Christian participants evaluated fellow Christians more positively, and Jewish participants more negatively, relative to the control condition.[26] Conversely, bolstering self-esteem in these scenarios leads to less worldview defense and derogation of dissimilar others.

Wikipedia

Must be legit because even the National Institutes of Health published a death anxiety study called Terror Management Theory and the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Well, they also published a study called Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, so… there’s that.

Anyway, long story short…

We all should be doing those memento mori meditations like the Stoics and other ancient smarties told us we should be doing long ago and then, hey, we would have absolutely nothing to fear…

Don’t look down on death, but welcome it. It too is one of the things required by nature. Like youth and old age. Like growth and maturity. Like a new set of teeth, a beard, the first gray hair. Like sex and pregnancy and childbirth. Like all the other physical changes at each stage of life, our dissolution is no different.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Except, maybe, fear itself.

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If it’s Ungeziefer why not just call it Ungeziefer?!

Okay, admittedly, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer so please take my perplexity for what it’s worth…

About a plug nickel, that’s what.

But anyway, I know it’s easy for a one-language knuklehead like me to complain, but if in “The Metamorphosis” Kafka writes that when Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams to find himself changed into an Ungeziefer, which translates into English as vermin, then why don’t translators just use the word “vermin” (or, as it also can be translated, parasite or, if in a religious context, an animal unsuitable for sacrifice, or so the web tells me, whatever) when translating the work from German to English?

I don’t know, I guess I’ll never understand smart people.

But anyway, for any of you non-Formalists out there who have no problem looking outside the text for interpretation, you can find a bit more clarity — not complete, but a bit — on what Kafka meant by the Ungeziefer that Samsa metamorphosed into from the instructions he gave to his publisher about how he did not want any representation of the creature on the book cover:

Kafka had no intention of labeling Gregor as any specific thing, but instead was trying to convey Gregor’s disgust at his transformation. In his letter to his publisher of 25 October 1915, in which he discusses his concern about the cover illustration for the first edition, Kafka does use the term Insekt, though, saying: “The insect itself is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance.”

Wikipedia, and about a million other places on the web

And even within the text we find an affirmation of that bit of clarity when the charwoman refers to the Samsa vermin as an old dung beetle1.

So, what this all means to me is that any further classifying by a translator of Samsa the vermin beyond a generic insect is simply just the translator taking poetic license with the text, to put it nicely.

To put it un-nicely, maybe it is more likely that the translator is punching beyond their paygrade (huh?)

Or… maybe it’s just that they are trying desperately to stick out from the very large global pack of other admiring Kafka translators.

Looking at the tried and true translation of Willa and Edwin Muir, we find the sentence reading in respectfully as, “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”2

Nicely done, well within the limits of Kafka’s intent and desires I would say.

But when reading one of the newer translation of Kafka’s text by Michael Hofmann — which is what started this whole literary todo — his first sentence of “Metamorphosis” (not The Metamorphosis like it’s been referred to in English for close to a century now, but just Madison Avenue cool (or whatever the British equivalent is) Metamorphosis) reads presumptively as, “When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous cockroach (emphasis emphatically mine) in his bed.”3

A cockroach?!

No, not cool, Mr. Hofmann.

Not only do I the one-language knucklehead take umbrage with Hofmann overstepping his literary bounds, I’m sure none other than the great Mr. Nabokov would as well if he were, you know, still able to stand vertical and chase those little butterflies around.

But anyway, as I embark on a close reading of the relatively new Penguin collection of Kafka’s work as translated by Mr. Hofmann, let it be known that I have already been prejudiced against it, for whatever it’s worth…

Not much more than a plug nickel, that’s whatever.

But you already knew that.


1. FRANZ KAFKA, The Complete Stories, Schoken Books, 1971, p1274

2. Ibid, or something like that, p89

3. METAMORPHOSIS AND OTHER STORIES, Penguin Random House UK, 2007, p75

4. Yeah, it’s been several decades since I tried to correctly cite a source so cut me some slack, huh…

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Bereitschaftspotential Shmereitschaftspotential

As a wanna be Existential Absurdist who’s all in with team Existence Before Essence, my initial reaction to most universal-type questions, whether they be a priori, a posteriori, or somewhere in between is usually…

Meh.

I mean, such blathering existential debates to me are complete and absolute exercises in futility…

image courtesy of this

In other words, it’s absurd to think we can ever determine absolute answers to such squishy questions as what does it mean to be or are we living in the matrix of some alien simulation or what have you.

To me it’s the mystery of the how and why we exist that makes life… and death… so interesting, and which is why I couldn’t care less about such questions.

Usually.

The Atlantic posted an interesting article recently about how scientists have been in a decades-long effort to determine whether free will is a thing or not by monitoring our brain waves to pin down exactly when a decision is made. It appears, since discovered during research back in the Sixties, that there is some level of brain activity happening right before a decision is made, and which is referred to in a very nice yet severe German term of bereitschaftspotential, or in English, the readiness potential, and which to some was translated to prove that there is no free will.

But since we know most scientific studies are wrong, that old study from the Sixties has been disproved and the “free will” debate rages on; hence the purpose of the heretofore referenced Atlantic article, and hence the triggering of this here post by yours truly.

image courtesy of this

Whatever.

Who cares whether or not free will can or cannot be proven, right?

When it comes to waking up every morning and your most important decision is whether or not to put on a clean pair of underwear before you head out for another day of mind-numbing labor in order to fuel your mind-numbing existence, who cares whether you do so because you choose to or because some greater force has chosen for you to do so…

Either way you’re gonna have to drag your hopefully cleanly underweared bottom out of bed and head on out to work or whatever it is you do during the day to fill and fuel your existence so it just doesn’t matter…

Right?

Well, maybe it doesn’t necessarily matter whether free will exists or not, but according to this Atlantic article, it does matter whether or not you believe it does exist.

According to the article, those who do believe in free will are better, more productive workers.

Makes sense, right?

Right?

I mean, if you believe that only you are responsible for your actions, then the actions that you choose to take and make should have more meaning to you than ones would if you believe you’re doing nothing more than behaving like a puppet on a string.

And it isn’t just the workplace that is impacted. People who believe that free will is an illusion are less creative, more prone to conform, less grateful…

It appears, at least according to this article, that if we as a society were suddenly to collectively believe that life is pre-determined, then we are pretty much doomed.

Now, since we already know most studies are wrong, there’s a good chance the studies this second article is based upon are also wrong, which would mean then that maybe our entire social structure doesn’t dependent upon whether or not we believe we’re living in the matrix…

But my gut says it does.

And it’s going to be harder for me now to ignore those glitches in the alien matrix computer simulation machine…

And to be the steadfast and self-assured Absurdist that I once used to be.

Or at least the Absurdist that the alien matrix computer simulation machine once led me to believe that I used to be…

#believeinfreewillforgodssake


Featured image courtesy of the SCIENCEMAG.ORG article “Philosophers and neuroscientists join forces to see whether science can solve the mystery of free will”

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Love is the answer?

There’s a rather talkative pigheaded brute of a character in my WIP whose name is Rick, Happy, Henderson. Happy loves to philosophize and pontificate to…at?… his work partner about whatever the latest topic is he’s studying during night school as if he’s now a subject matter expert. He’s not of course and he always manages to maneuver whatever it is he’s rambling on about toward a general diatribe of how the weak with their Rule of Law and “societal norms” have managed to upend the universal natural order of might makes right, which, in the end, as he sees it, limits his ability to pick up chicks.

Continue reading Love is the answer?

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Transgender Community* Trumped by the Arc and Bent of Autocratic Politics

My fury throughout the whole last campaign to and through the election until now has never been much about politics.

Politics in this country, while they have been expanding outward toward the wacky fringes leaving the mostly moderate radicals (the rarity of moderates these days makes us rather radical) like myself quite lonely, have always, and hopefully will continue to, arc this way and that.

Because if our politics are not forever fluid and free to flow this way and that depending upon the tides of our national temperament, then it must mean that someone must have dammed up our river of democracy.

Metaphors… sigh.

Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve read my about page but there you will see in one sentence how I feel about politics and politicians…

To me, politics is simply acting for ugly people. Pretty actors go to Hollywood; ugly actors go to Washington DC.

Consequently, as our politics arc to and fro in this country, our politicians arc right along with them…only always just slightly behind the arc as they forever fail in their efforts to try to predict its toing and froing.

No, my fury for the most part has been directed solely at Trump and his bent towards authoritarianism; which means then that the more he contorts himself into a true to life autocrat, the more he is strengthening his power at the expense of my freedoms…

Continue reading Transgender Community* Trumped by the Arc and Bent of Autocratic Politics

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National Nervous Breakdown

Maybe it’s just because I’m off work recovering from cancer and have more time to pay attention to current events, but it seems to me that insane violent crimes are happening almost daily. Just this week, a doctor at Johns Hopkins hospital was shot by the son of a patient. The son ended up also shooting the patient, his mother, and then himself. The week before that, there was the Discovery building hostage situation, and several weeks before that there was the mother who drowned her children. I could go on and on with all the insanity that has been happening in the past year or two but this post has already depressed me enough so I won’t.

Instinctively, I want to say that it is the bad economy and the stress that it has been inflicting on our nation as a whole that is responsible for all these insane violent crimes; however, after a quick search of the topic, I’ve found that, according to the FBI, violent crime has actually been decreasing, even during the economic crisis.

I’m no expert, but after thinking about it for a bit, it seems to me that violent crimes—murders, rapes, assaults—which are tragic enough, are not the same as these insane violent crimes—shooting a doctor and then your mother in a hospital, taking hostages because you hate people for killing the earth, drowning your children and then making it look like an accident, or dressing up as Santa Claus and going on a killing rampage—so maybe the FBI statistics don’t really apply here. Maybe, but I really don’t know.

What I do know is that as long as we have a significant portion of our population raised and socialized in violent, abusive, poverty-ridden environments, then we’re going to continue to have a portion of our population suffering from the violent crimes that are committed as a result of this environment and socialization. And as long as these violent crimes are isolated to just a portion of our population, then the majority of the population will, unfortunately, be able to easily turn a blind eye to most of it.

But when the entire population is suffering under economic stress, debt, ineffectual national leaders, divisive, vindictive politics, perpetual war, nuclear brinkmanship, excessive military buildup, constant threat of terrorism, and an increasing feeling of no hope of change for the better, like it is now, then we all are going to suffer from it, no one is going to be able to turn a blind eye toward it, and, if things don’t change soon, the entire population will eventually have a national nervous breakdown from it.

Perhaps all of these insane violent crimes that have been happening recently are the first cracks in our national psyche.