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Branden defines self-esteem as:“a disposition [grounded in reality], to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life, and naturally worthy of happiness, fulfillment, success and achievement [as opposed to] fantasies of superiority and exaggerated notions of one’s accomplishments.”The “success and achievement” that Branden associates with self-esteem is not “grounded” in some objective “reality”, as he implies, but simply grounded in the social consensus one happens to live in or subscribe to i.e. in culturally relative and invented social reality. The self-esteem gotten from putting a spear through a fish’s head would be, according to Branden, more “grounded in reality” in a Tribal African culture than in say, American culture, where putting a rubber ball through a hoop would provide a self-esteem more “grounded in reality”. If I invent a game of speed counting blades of grass in various geometric patterns, I should, according to Branden, only “realistically” value my achievements in the game once the game has gained some popularity. If no one wants to play the game, then I can’t gain any self-esteem from it. It is only if others decide to value the game, and if I can then prove my proficiency in the game, that I can “realistically” gain self-esteem. Using this example, “false” self-esteem, according to Branden, would mean thinking that I was better (or worse) at the game than I really was.We have over 30 years of evidence coming from Terror Management Theory to show that when Homo sapiens gained self-awareness, s/he also gained an end-of self awareness: an awareness of his/her animal insignificance and finitude. This led to a crippling anxiety that in turn led to the creation of culture as we know it: to beliefs and activities that would provide individuals with the illusion of being persons of value in a world of meaning - usually by inflating the significance and meaning of tiny slivers of invented reality, so that we wouldn’t have to face the insignificance and meaninglessness of our place in the big scheme of things.The cultures that provided the best belief systems to counter our fear of animal insignificance and death were prehistoric, because they embraced an animistic spirituality that granted cosmic significance to each and every individual in the tribe.With the shift to civilization, we entered an era of materialism that increasingly relied on an (unequally distributed) earthly (as opposed to cosmic) self-esteem. Since the illusion of earthly significance is smaller than the illusion of cosmic significance, most individuals in civilization came to exist in a chronically deprived state of self-esteem. To quote Ernest Becker in 1973:“Our own everyday rituals today seem shallow precisely because they lack the cosmic connection. Instead of only using one's fellow man as a mirror to make one's face shine, the primitive used the whole cosmos. We can really only get inside primitive societies by seeing them as religious priesthoods with each person having a role to play in the generative rituals. We don't know what it means to contribute a dance, a chant, or a spell in a community dramatization of the forces of nature-unless we belong to an active religious community. Nor can we feel the immense sense of achievement that follows from such a ritual contribution: the ritualist has done nothing less than enable life to continue; he has contributed to sustaining and renewing the universe. If rituals generate and redistribute life power, then each person is a generator of life. That is how important a person could feel, within the ritualist view of nature, by occupying a ritual place in a community. Even the humblest person was a cosmic creator. The primitive feels the effect of his ability to generate life, he is ennobled by it, even though it may be an illusion. Primitive man set up his society as a stage, surrounded himself with actors to play different roles, invented gods to address the performance to, and then ran off one ritual drama after the other, raising himself to the stars and bringing the stars down into the affairs of men. He staged the dance of life, with himself at the center.”From this light, we can see that Branden’s emphasis on mindfulness, self-acceptance, assertiveness, responsibility, purpose, discipline, integrity etc are all basically attempts to make the best out of a bad situation; attempts to squeeze the maximum juice out of various impoverished social consensus schemes that lack the capacity to (in his words) “honor” the self-esteem that humans truly “want and need”.(As a small side note, I may add that Branden had a preference for libertarian capitalism that influenced his ideas of how to best achieve this goal.)So when Branden insists that we see ourselves as being deserving of love, or for example, recommends as an exercise that we state “I have a right to exist”, we have to realize how, in comparison to primitives who felt they had a right to “raise themselves to the stars”; this sounds more like a shy “I have a right to keep my neck above the water”.In fact the very existence of the book bespeaks a social lack - the impoverished self-esteem granting capacity of our culture.