Endless Curiosity

November 3, 2009

Fear of Death?

Filed under: Climate Change, Psychology — Alec @ 12:30 pm

Most people don’t want to die. Although they don’t mind so much if other people die, as long as they are “other“. We’ll spend trillions to prevent another terrorist attack, but have no problem killing the millions we have killed in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And we don’t mind that we’ve needlessly sent many more of our youth to their death than were killed in the 9/11 attack, because they volunteered, so that’s okay.

But that’s not my point here.

If you’ve been following the “debates” about climate change, you’ll know that people in the U.S. (and the U.K.) are becoming more skeptical about whether climate change is really happening, and if it is, whether humans are contributing to it. I say “debate” because the scientific evidence for climate change is almost as strong as the evidence for evolution, so the disagreements are based more on not wanting to believe than on any opposing scientific evidence.

Oh, wait. Whoops. That’s the same way with evolution. No opposing scientific evidence, just an unwillingness to accept that which we don’t want to believe.

George Monbiot has written an interesting piece where he speculates that the denial of climate change is related to a fear of death. As he puts it,

In 1973 the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker proposed that the fear of death drives us to protect ourselves with “vital lies” or “the armour of character”(10). We defend ourselves from the ultimate terror by engaging in immortality projects, which boost our self-esteem and grant us meaning that extends beyond death. Over 300 studies conducted in 15 countries appear to confirm Becker’s thesis(11). When people are confronted with images or words or questions that remind them of death they respond by shoring up their worldview, rejecting people and ideas that threaten it and increasing their striving for self-esteem(12).

Or, as Gary Marcus says in Kluge (p 145):

The more that’s on our mind, for example, the more likely we are to fall back on our primitive ancestral system. Bye-bye, prefrontal cortex, signature of the noble human mind; hello, animal instinct, short-sighted and reactive.”

Heaven help us. Or maybe not, if our desires for an easy life are any indication. I link now to one my pages about religion, about salvation through faith vs. salvation through works. Okay, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but I want people to read it.  🙂

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