The intimations of it can and do spur throughout the day,
both subtle and explicit, often without our conscious awareness.
Every sensation of hunger, every concern about our health,
every passing siren of an ambulance, every tragic news story,
every photograph of our younger self,
or the sight of someone aged into their last,
the passing of dead trees in the midst of winter
that weird sensation waking up just following a nap or in between sleep states,
all remind us in various ways
that existence stands on a ground that can at any uncertain moment,
and certainly at some, be cracked open,
dropping us down into the abyss of non-existence forever.
Death is our lifelong opponent always taunting us in the background,
beating us up with each wrinkle, each grey hair,
each stiff neck,
and decaying function.
If we are lucky
and it is merciful enough to keep us around for a while.
Like a tree, its roots sprawl down underneath existence,
imperceptible to us on the surface,
void of the explicit expression of our life,
but yet, is completely intertwined with it.
Arguably nearly everything we do is,
in some sense, pressed up on by these roots,
our actions, our beliefs, our values, our goals, our life.
我们的行为 信仰 价值观 目标 生活
In his book, The Denial of Death,
20th century cultural anthropologist and writer
argued that death, and more precisely, our denial of death,
is the primary underpinning motivational force responsible for the majority of human behavior.
As humans, one of the fundamental things that set us apart and forward
amongst other earthly creatures is our unique ability to think conceptually.
Becker argued, however, that although this in fact does set us apart
and makes us feel as though we are special in some grand way.
It does not actually make us so.
“…Man is a worm and food for worms.
This is the paradox:
he is out of nature and hopelessly in it;
he is dual, up in the stars
and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body
that once belonged to a fish
and still carries the gill-marks to prove it.”
Becker wrote. Consequently, humanity finds itself with a unique conflict:
the juxtaposition of its awareness of itself and its condition.
a living thing born to die like all other living things,
and its lack of any reason or specialness to justify this awareness.
Man is given no other significance or consolation
for this burden he must bear.
“What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal?”
The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous.
It means to know that one is food for worms.
This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing,
to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings,
到有名字 有自我意识 有深刻的内心感受
an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression
and with all this yet to die.
It seems like a hoax…”
Whether we are aware of it or not,
according to Becker, this terror of death,
and more specifically, our denial of honestly responding to and accepting it
is at the core of almost everything we do.
And most of us are mostly unaware of it.
The conscious mind cannot square the circle of the approaching abyss;
it cannot make sense of the idea that this is its only serving of forever.
In its inept confusion over its finitude into infinite nothingness,
it fears it, it resists it,
it uses the same conceptual capacity that allows it to comprehend its death,
to contrive methods and explanations to try to deny it.
As Becker would refer to it,
the individual undertakes a causa sui project or heroism project
in an attempt to distract and deny against the implications of their mortality.
We create and engage in symbolic constructs, cultural activities, and beliefs
in an attempt to refuse our cosmic insignificance
and convince ourselves that we matter.
Becker suggested that people go about this a number of ways, depending on the person.
For some, it is through religion;
for others, it is through different means of cultural contribution and status
like fame, success in a career field or company,
or the creation of things considered significant by culture
All methods, in some way or another, attempt to eternalize the self,
either by a literal eternal afterlife or by the displacement of the self
through an eternalized legacy and significance in the world beyond one’s physical existence.
However, Becker essentially argued that ultimately all efforts toward this causa sui
or heroism or immortality project are futile and destined to fail.
With the belief of religious afterlives and solutions
increasingly being eclipsed by modern knowledge and understanding,
man finds himself unable to do anything ultimately significant or immortalizing
as the universe is revealed to be utterly chaotic and different and meaningless
Becker offered no consolation in the way of resolving humanity’s urge to heroism
in conflict with its plight of insignificant finitude,
because he did not believe there was any.
And so, what does one do from here, then?
For Becker, it is not purely hopeless.
What he offered, rather, was an alternative kind of heroism
characterized by a sort of honesty with one’s condition
living with an intense humility and positive resignation
to the awe and mystery and chaos of the universe
and our insignificant position within it.
This position, our absurdity, our victimization by our own death
can be transmuted in way that does not deny it, but rather, provides perspective.
Honest perspective that can reduce and numb one’s concerns over the petty and trivial.
Potentially deviating or extending beyond Becker slightly.
Perhaps the best one can do in the face of death
is to use it to put the life they have into perspective.
Perhaps we don’t think about it enough,
at least consciously, to properly make use of it,
to strengthen the muscle of our mind enough to handle its true, inevitable weight.
Perhaps to consider somewhat often and hard
that at some point none of this will matter and it will all be lost,
shines a proportionally bright light on what does matter right now.
When it comes to life and death, there are really only two certainties:
you will die, but you are alive now.
Whether you agree fully with Becker or not,
whether you believe in some afterlife or grand meaning,
this is all anyone can truly know for sure.
There is no telling if or what comes after death,
there is no telling when it will come for you,
but there is telling that you have life right now.
To enjoy fully this moment now as often as you can in as many ways as you can,
to fall in love with a person, a thing, a moment, yourself,
爱上一个人 一件事 一个片刻 你自己
to make the most of it all despite knowing that you will lose it all to nothing.
…is more than enough heroism.
What’s worse than to live a life knowing that one will die
is to live a life knowing that one will die
and not live as many moments as one can properly relishing in the fact that they have not yet.
At some point, you will do everything for the last time.
You will see your last sunset,
you will taste your last bite of food, you will laugh your last laugh,
you will see everyone you know a last time, you will do anything for a last time,
you will be you for the last time.
If there is nothing specific to be done, the only thing that truly matters
is that we do what matters to us while we can.
There is nothing else to do, nowhere else to go.
We must charge headlong into the absurdity
embrace the futility, and live hard for nothing in every moment.
One must be careful and mindful to not make the singularness of
their shot at existence a pressure to get it all right,
to do all the right things and think all the right thoughts and feel all the right feelings.
做正确的事 想正确的想法 感受正确的感觉
The point is quite the opposite; you will mostly do a lot of the wrong things,
think a lot of the wrong thoughts, and feel a lot of the wrong feelings,
but precisely because this is your one shot at life,
this must be ok.
You are driving blind through the most impossibly complex, strange maze
that you know ends in a head-on collision with a wall.
What use is getting more upset or guilty
about feeling upset or guilty in an existence that set you up?
Of course, this is far easier said than done,
but perhaps in true, deep contemplations of one’s mortality, at least on occasion,
this reminder can sometimes serve more as a sedative and not merely a stimulant.
The intimations of it can and do spur throughout the day,