Human Mortality Denial and Terror Management Theory
In The Denial of Death, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker argued that “the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.” Humans manage the terror of death by adhering to culturally constructed beliefs about reality that provide a sense that one is a person of value in a world of meaning, and thus eligible for either literal or symbolic immortality. The quest for immortality via death denial underlies some of humankind’s most noble achievements. However, it also engenders some of our most ignominious affectations, including: hostility and disdain for people with different beliefs; indifference to, or contempt for, the natural environment; and, the mindless pursuit of material possessions—which, if unchecked, may render humans the first form of life responsible for their own extinction. I will present an overview of these ideas and empirical work in support of them.