Birth and Death of Meaning by Ernest Becker

Birth and Death of Meaning by Ernest Becker

Author:Ernest Becker [Becker, Ernest]
Language: eng
Format: azw3
Tags: Nonfiction, Psychology, Self-Help
ISBN: 9781439118429
Publisher: Free Press
Published: 1962-08-01T00:00:00+00:00

The Six Common Human Problems

1. What is the relation of man to nature? That is, what are we supposed to get out of nature, and how do we relate to her and transact with her, in order to get what we need? This is the fundamental question of human life, of course, and it must be answered in order for man to survive physically. But the answers to it can vary greatly, far more than we routinely imagine. As the anthropologists have taught us, primitive life is characterized by a great mutuality with nature. Man takes what nature offers, but usually only what he needs. It is important to keep things in balance, lest the gods and spirits be offended. A major social duty is the ritual renewal of depleted nature. Nature is to be worshipped, or at least handled gently; animals are to be treated with mutuality and respect. South-African bee keepers supplicate the special variety of trees that are about to be chopped down to use as bee-hives, and make proper apologies and prayers to the spirit of the tree. “We are sorry for what we are about to do, but we need you in order to survive, and you have always served our ancestors with distinction.” Compare this attitude to our “power-saw mentality” which can in a few decades, and with sublime unconcern—not one second-thought—level hundreds of miles of thousand-year-old redwood trees. Second-thoughts about these matters are so rare in our society as to mark the one who gives them an odd-ball. I remember the mocking episode in John Huston’s great film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, when the three prospectors had mined enough gold, and were about to head back to civilization. The old man (Walter Huston) told them not to be in such a hurry, what about closing the mine. Closing the mine? they queried, incredulous. Why, yes, said the old prospector, we opened up the mountain and she gave us her gold, the least we can do is to close up her wounds. The two young men thought he was crazy.

In Western society nature came to be looked on as a grab bag to be treated with scorn, or at least limitless greed. Nature was physical, not spiritual; neutral and self-renewing. Man takes what he can get, and deserves what he gets. The Plains Indians would today still be living securely off the vast herds of buffalo, had not the White man destroyed them in one generation. We know these characteristics of modern man only too well these days, as we have come dangerously close to upsetting the balance of nature entirely, getting to the bottom of the grab bag and pushing a hole in it, so to speak, so we need not illustrate what everyone already laments. The only point I want to dwell on here is the great psychological difference that has occurred in modern man’s enjoyment of the things of nature. By treating nature as merely physical and one-dimensional, man also treats her products as mechanical things.


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