When I was about 10 years old, I realized that I will be dead some day, everything seemed pointless after that, why live if you have to die?
I am trying to answer that question ever since.
Recently I watched a dialogue about the meaning crisis and the human condition in general, between cognitive scientist and psychologist John Vervaeke and Lex Fridman, in which Vervaeke mentioned off-handedly that mortality is problematic for humans.
After Fridman burst out into laughter about the casual statement of the obvious, Vervaeke explained that, he didn’t mean that someday, somehow each of us will die, but more to the point that death can occur at any time, and that our condition, as the only creature that is aware of its own consciousness can’t live with the constant awareness of that fact. So the obvious choice for us, in order to function individually and in society, is to suppress the thought of imminent death and live mostly in a mild state of neurosis to avoid the terror of the constant fear of death.
Vervaeke bases his thoughts on Ernest Beckers ‘The Denial of Death’ in which Becker describes the mechanisms which lead from a fear of death through denial to a fear of life, which in turn ends in conformism, loss of agency and succumbing to power.
The way to the full embrace of life and Individuation, using oneself up in the process, leads through the acceptance of death and the creatureliness of man, according to Becker.
It occurs to me that the binary nature of man finds its mirror image in all of human creations, always trying to resolve the Dichotomy into Oneness and Immortality, may it be in art, music, science or man’s greatest achievement - in love.
It’s the lost paradise we are trying to return to through our endless and longing efforts to become one and immortal through love, and we always end up dying alone.
This runs through society as well, through the echo of the human condition in consciousness vs creatureliness, the life of the mind vs the life of material wealth and power.
The path of history is strewn with powerless thinkers and mindless usurpers of power and only if we are successful in fusing the life of the mind with wealth and power we seem to get somewhere.
It is a truly Solomonic task and we have gotten a bit better at it over the past 300 years, the nightlong antagonistic struggle between the proverbial forces of Idealism vs Materialism here manifested as Israel vs the Angel of Edom at the Jabbok river has the defining conceptual outcome, the Angel hurts Israel, but is forced to bless him.
David Stern, NYC 03/13/2023