Sex role evolution, love, and neuroticism — an excerpt from Otto Rank’s “Beyond Psychology”

Today I’ll be transcribing a portion of Otto Rank’s book Beyond Psychology (1941), beginning on page 181:

Herein is anchored the true democratic ideology of Christianity, promising every man equality before God, that is, in his own self, whereas our political democracy, praiseworthy as it may be, always remains an unattainable ideal of the heavenly kingdom on earth. Interestingly enough, early Christianity proves to be more realistic in that respect than later periods of social planning. By proclaiming that man is not fundamentally bad, Christian doctrine simultaneously claimed that things were bad and had to be changed. While the Jew was constantly blaming himself for not meeting the ideal requirements of his God, the early Christians with Paul as their leader were keenly aware of the need for a change of order.

This change of order, which finally precipitated the collapse of the ancient world, was, however, brought about first by the change of the type of man through the new idea of love. This new ideology, purely conceived of as being loved by God with the meaning of accepting one’s own self as fundamentally good, was bound to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused in the course of time until we find it in our day thwarted and twisted in the neurotic type who is either fighting it willfully or giving in to it too “masochistically.” But, in one way or another, this genuine need of the human being to be loved became the strongest motive for the molding and building of personality-types. Yet, while the curse of the evil was overcome by being loved, meaning, being good, the trouble with this humanized love-ideology was that not being loved made the individual bad. In a word, the moral integrity of the personality became so utterly dependent upon the other person’s love that the individual either had to deny it willfully or submit to the insecurity of a personal God.

This humanization of the spiritual love-principle reached its climax in an era known as the Romantic period, which left its imprint on modern relationship in an ideology called Romanticism. This eighteenth century philosophy of love was prepared for in the Renaissance, which, as a cultural movement, evolved a new conception of love entirely original and quite different from that of the Middle Ages. While the ancients considered love a pleasure whereby human beauty was accepted as a mere aspect of nature’s beauty, for the Middle Ages it had been sin, and feminine beauty was looked upon as a temptation by man who no longer saw woman as a means of pleasure but as a cause of perdition. During the Renaissance, however, feminine beauty as its all-powerful stimulus became, together with a new conception of love, the object of philosophic speculation and the admitted source of poetic inspiration. In the synthesis, not entirely heathen and not fully Christian, which Renaissance culture represents, love was considered sensuous as well as spiritual, and woman was looked upon as fully equal to man, that is, endowed with gifts of mind as well as body. Contrary to the thought of the Middle Ages, love was no longer considered subordinate to virtue, or beauty denounced as a source of peril. In a word, the conception of original sin changed to the conception of original love. Love, that is to say, was appreciated not because it was a means of becoming good, but because it was good, which means not only pleasurable but beautiful, that is, part of nature.

In the Romantic period which flourished in Germany, this free philosophy of love could not be accepted. There it was not the beautiful woman who was appreciated and thus loved; it was woman as a group or class who became idealized. The leading intellects of that period, shaken in their fundamental selves by the repercussions of the French Revolution, saw in fully developed womanhood the perfect, that is, emotional expression of the true self. In a period of collectivistic ideologies glorifying folk-traditions, folk-lore and folk-art, woman became, so to speak, collectivized as the carrier of racial continuity. The challenge to love no longer appears epitomized in sheer beauty but in an abstract notion called the “beautiful soul.” Although this idea was taken over from Plato’s “Banquet,” the actual love-life of the poets in the Romantic period was anything but “platonic.” In fact, Wieland, to whom is credited the romantic conception of the “beautiful soul,” indulges in erotic phantasies bordering on the pornographic; whereas his English predecessors, the philosopher Shaftsbury and the novelist Richardson, had given the “beautiful soul” a moral connotation.1


[Corresponding footnote:] 1Schiller, in his famous poem, “Anmut und Wuerde” (1793), defined the beautiful soul as the perfect balance between moral feeling and physical emotion.


In his idealization of woman we recognize a reaction against her moralization brought about in the Middle Ages by the Church, which, in the obsession of witchcraft, had identified her with the evil symbol of mortality—sex. Through this about-face of romanticism man suddenly lifted woman into the role of representing the immortal soul-principle hitherto usurped by him. This role of the soul-bearer, in primitive conception, had been ascribed to her religiously in the soul-belief of totemism and socially in the institution of matriarchy. There, the man could still preserve his personal immortality in his belief of self-perpetuation, whereas in the romantic conception of the woman-soul he actually renounced his better self to her. She became the beautiful soul of the man, his eternal, immutable, immortal side as against the mutability and transitoriness of his individual self. This we saw struggling during that same period with the bad, condemned ego epitomized in the persecuting double.

Thus, in romantic love, the Christian love-ideology, as applying alike to both sexes, became divided up between the two sexes and thereby created a confusion under which we still labor in our sexual psychology. While during the Middle Ages man had made woman the symbol of evil, now by virtue of representing the beautiful soul she was supposed to make him good by allowing him to love her. This reversal of the moral evaluation had two far-reaching results. Through the collective ideology of the beautiful soul applied to her, the woman became, so to speak, “collective,” that is, promiscuous, as borne out by the not so “romantic” but highly sensual relationships among the leaders of the romantic movement, who may be said to have introduced the modern divorce vogue into our sex life. Secondly, this promiscuity, together with the freedom of emotional expression permitted her, gave women a decidedly masculine appearance, which basically was determined by her having been made the bearer of man’s soul-ideology.

As the woman was allowed so much freedom and encouraged to play the role of soul-saver for the man, he soon felt too dependent upon her; she threatened to dominate his whole life and even the hereafter. Thus in his eyes she became bad again. This change of attitude found expression in literary fashions and types, such as “The Fatal Woman,” or “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” which can be traced right to our own times in the writings of Oscar Wilde, André Gide and Gabriele D’Annunzio. In those man-made literary fashions which were instrumental in creating corresponding types in life, the woman not only appears unwomanly but hard and cruel in a masculine manner. Here we first meet the types of sadistic-masculine woman and masochistic-feminine man, who, although in their time they were accepted, indeed, highly estimated types, in our day have been diagnosed as “neurotic.” Their strange behavior started the first psychological speculations about the basic difference of the two sexes.1 Just as this difference, in view of nature’s bisexuality, does not imply any clear-cut distinction, so is there no sharp line to be drawn between sensual pleasure and pain as we find those sensations coupled in romantic sado-masochism. While this sexual terminology has actually been derived from two outspoken perverts, the psychological relation between pleasure and pain expresses a deep-rooted bond based on the duality of the life-principle itself. As sex naturally implies death in the surrender of the individual to the collective life-principle, we meet in romantic love a moralization of this very life-principle whereby man became submissive and created the picture of the fatal, cruel, in a word, sadistic woman. Side by side with this type, we encounter as a reaction to it, the satanic and diabolical man in the literature of the same period. This type is epitomized in the notorious Marquis de Sade and his “sadistic” writings, which influenced all modern writers up to the rank of such authors as Flaubert, Baudelaire and Swinburne.


[Corresponding footnote:] 1On this subject, one of the most famous scientists of that period, Wilhelm von Humboldt, wrote an essay, “Ueber den Geschlechtsunterschied,” 1795.


For the “beyond” of psychology it is particularly important to realize the order in which those types surviving in our sexual psychology appear in romantic literature: first, the masochistic man in bondage to the merciless woman, and only afterwards the sadistic man in an attempt to liberate himself from this self-imposed submission. The sadistic type, the creation of a decadent male, has produced another artifice of our psychological wax-cabinet—the masochistic woman. This invention followed when the man had again to divest the woman of the masculine characteristics he had bestowed on her. By making her “masochistic,” that is, completely submissive to him, he had to picture and thus make her womanly in an extreme fashion. True, this submissiveness is her basic self, but submitting to nature, not to the man. Such natural “sacrifice,” in fully accepting her biological role, is different from the woman’s artificially “sacrificing herself” for the man, which she can do only in true “masochistic” fashion. This sacrificial tendency, which might be conceived of as an exaggerated form of Agape, is deeply rooted in woman’s nature and not just a masochistic perversion in the sense of our psychology. As long as it satisfies the individual’s desire for happiness, we have no right to stigmatize it as “neurotic” or “perverse” just because we are not capable of understanding its vital significance. The Christian martyr can be as little explained by being labeled “masochistic” as, for example, can the Japanese soldier for whom sacrifice and self-sacrifice represents one of the highest virtues. The Freudian concept of “self-punishment,” derived from his masochistic interpretation of sacrificial tendencies, has been erroneously explained as the neurotic’s perversion to gain pleasure from pain. The pleasure derived from suffering has to be ascribed to the triumph of the individual will over pain, which thus ceases to be inflicted and becomes self-willed.

The masochistic submissiveness of modern woman reveals itself in the light of those moralistic ideologies as less neurotic than the narrowing psychoanalytic viewpoint makes it appear. Basically, such submissive attitude is an essential part of woman’s biological nature; its exaggeration and subsequent exploitation, however, is man-made and betrays the influence of man’s ideologies on woman “psychology.” Not a few women act masochistically, i.e. as if they derived pleasure from pain, for two admitted reasons: first, from a desire to give the man they love pleasure, if he is insecure enough to need their masochism to boost his ego; secondly, in order to be changed, that is, to be made submissive to their own nature, which has been distorted by masculine ideologies. Those classical cases of masochism which have been described not only in fiction but even in textbooks, belong to the same kind of romantic literature which produced the original type. In reality, those women were “masochistic” only once in their lives, i.e., in relation to one person; at other times they can be quite will-ful and resistive. Their “masochism” represents a period in their lives when they permit themselves to submit to one particular person so completely that only their volition to do so makes it possible. In this sense, their “masochism” becomes a will-ful, instead of a natural, acceptance of their feminine submissiveness. It is here, in this area of non-acceptance of the self, where the neuroticism of this type lies, and not in masochism, which merely represents an attempt to counteract its original selfish nature. The only justification I can see in labeling the masochistic woman “neurotic,” is in the unreality of the type itself.

All our neurotic terminology and ideology, in fact, originated from the unreality of personality behaviour and patterns, the reality of which has been lost. For example, the outstanding women of the Romantic epoch, which produced this type, were not considered neurotic but just strong personalities, at least, stronger than woman had formerly been allowed to be; sufficiently strong, at any rate, to scare the man into his sadistic psychology. This sado-masochistic ideology of the male, which still confuses psychoanalysts, sprang from an attempt on the part of the romantic type to extricate himself from his own conflict between dominance and surrender. The solution he found by dividing the two kinds of love—represented in Eros and Agape—between the two sexes led to our sexual psychology created from man’s need to justify himself and uphold his age-old prejudices.

The first prejudice, namely, that the sexual act is necessarily pleasurable, is obviously contradicted by nature herself. We have only to look at the animal kingdom to be convinced that as a rule it is a painful struggle, to be avoided, if possible; one which the human being had to idealize in order to accept it at all. Closely related to this widespread illusion is another assumption taken too much for granted, that every human being wants to live as long as possible, or for that matter wants to live at all. To risk death, or even to seek it, is not necessarily an unbiological gesture. There are people who want to die, without justifiably being diagnosed as “suicidal.” Especially when death comes suddenly and painlessly, it need not represent an escape but can be real deliverance, particularly when one’s life has been fulfilled or is to be fulfilled by dying. Last, but not least, is the prejudice which includes all others, namely, that everyone’s happiness is the same. For this assumption causes us to designate as “neurotic” any other whose ideas of happiness do not coincide with ours. Herein lies the greatest sin of psychology: that it sets up absolute standards derived from a rational interpretation of one prevailing type by which to judge not only our fellow men but also to interpret personalities and behaviour of the past.

In the realm of our own discussion we have only to take one of the greatest saints, Catherine of Siena, in order to illustrate the difference between psychological reality and unreality. In spite of her amazing asceticism, we could not call her “masochistic,” nor, despite her single-handed fight against the mighty Pope, could she be classified as a megalomaniac. In his recent study of Catherine, Joh. Jorgensen points out that her vast assumption of authority is the very reverse of egotism, springing as it does from complete self-surrender. The core of Catherine’s teaching is the need for absolute renunciation of self: it is St. Francis’ doctrine of poverty under a transcendental aspect. Here again is shown how man’s and woman’s nature and behaviour differ—even where saintliness is concerned. Being a woman, Catherine was able to completely identify her will with the will of the Church, which, representing the Bride of Christ, made Catherine the same through the mystical marriage. Thus she could become the conscience of Christendom, not because she was so presumptuous as to aspire to it but because she had emptied herself so completely of self-will that she felt the divine conscience working through her.

Experiences like this, and others in the past, could manifest themselves as powerful realities just because they were spiritually real. Not that these personalities were “neurotic,” but that they had, besides their neurosis, something else which enabled them to be creative in spite of it; in truth, they experienced really in themselves what we may only allow to remain a shadow or sham experience, that is, a neurotic one. In other words, it is not what the individual experiences, but how he does it, which makes our true conception of neurosis independent of any content, i.e., a matter of attitude. In this sense, the woman is not neurotic because she is “masochistic,” but is neurotic, one might almost say, because she is not really submissive and wants to make believe that she is.

The same holds good for the masculine counterpart, sadism, which we characterized as a self-assertive reaction against the presumable dominance of the woman. From a human study of the Marquis de Sade, the father of sadism, it clearly follows that it is not an original perversion exaggerated to pathological proportions by a neurotic personality. It is no sexual problem at all, in fact, but a problem of the man’s ego, thwarted by his hatred of women and mankind in general. He was as full of hate for the whole world as Catherine was full of love for God, but with both of them it was a real experience. The “psychology” of de Sade can only be understood from his fundamental hatred, which means it is at bottom a moral problem of good and evil, not merely a sexual aberration. As a matter of fact, the problem of love itself cannot be fully comprehended without the phenomenon of hatred. The simple observation that love so frequently changes into hatred when the individual feels disappointed or hurt indicates a deep-seated relation between the two emotions. Of course, love does not simply “change” into hatred, but both are manifestations of two opposite life-forces: the tendencies toward unification and separation respectively, that is, toward likeness and difference. This explains why hatred appears not infrequently as the result of a heightened love-emotion which carries the individual too far away from his own self to an over-identification with the other.

[All emphasis his. Footnotes omitted except the two cited.]

Stopping on page 190.

This whole book has provided a great deal of food for thought stretching back through human history. I hope to transcribe further portions of it going forward.

Otto Rank was an Austrian psychoanalyst who, for a couple decades, had been a close friend of Sigmund Freud before branching off to go his own unique way in trying to make sense out of human life.

Prostitution: You don’t have to like it, but it’s still not going anywhere.

Why are prostitutes noteworthy all unto themselves? What really differentiates them from the rest of the herd?

I keep getting into occasional disputes with people, mostly online, about the topic of prostitution and their desire to eradicate it. For the record, I personally support decriminalization and am not much of a fan of legalized schemes, not unless they somehow operated in conjunction with a decriminalized scheme that allowed independents to do what they do without being subject to police harassment and arrest. That’s a pretty radical attitude, I’m sure, and it’s been my stance for over a decade now, as a former independent escort (2003-2009).

Now, what I find mildly amusing is how many folks out here view prostitutes as the worst of the worst, as people needing to be intervened on more and more, as if prostitution is going away anytime soon. I’m full of sneers on this topic, because I see it as perfect hypocrisy that so many folks concern themselves with what others do even (especially) when it doesn’t directly affect them.

People say exchanging sex for money is a crime. But I ask what if a person is exchanging sex for access to resources and money from one individual? Do we not call that a relationship or marriage? That’s not to belittle marriage, seeing as how it can also involve child-rearing and love, but it needn’t involve those things is the point here. What if a person exchanges sex for money from 2 people or 3 people or 5 people on an ongoing, exclusive basis? Is that still somehow a crime needing to be punished by society? I’m asking where is the defining line.

People say a prostitute has multiple clients. Okay, she might. She doesn’t have to though. But folks like to squall about how a prostitute seeing dozens if not hundreds of men is a major problem for all of society. To which I say: Do you feel the same way about people who sleep around with high numbers of partners without accepting money directly in exchange? It remains perfectly legal to go to a bar or a club and to pick up a new sexual partner every night. You can even go out and trade sex in exchange for dinners, drinks, gifts, a place to stay, to enhance one’s professional connections, etc., and who can make a legal argument against that? Some may try to make an ethical argument against it, but that’s outside of the scope of criminality, which is what sex workers are being forced to contend with.

I find it irritatingly bizarre how people refuse to comprehend how blurred the lines are when it comes to human sexuality. Humans exchange sex, according to supply and demand, for all sorts of perks and benefits. Sometimes it’s simply for attention, but it can also be utilized to secure one’s place in an ongoing arrangement that indeed does involve money but is not exchanged transactionally in a tit-for-tat way. Yet people have little to say about that. But is it not prostitution essentially? If I chose to marry a man for money and granted him exclusive access to me sexually, is that eerily similar to prostitution? In fact, what would be the real difference?

If a woman chooses to see a handful of men fairly regularly and exchange sex for money, an agreement all involved are on board with, why is this deemed a crime? Or is it only a criminal concern in the minds of most when the individual takes it to the streets? Well, either way, in the eyes of the Law both are viewed as prostitution and cops indeed do waste time and resources going after under-the-radar escorts who arguably don’t pose a big problem for the rest of society.

I’ve always found that irritating and just this morning conducted a search online and found a blog of some vigilante from a city I used to work and live in who posts up information he dug up on the local working girls, claiming we’re destroying families and marriages and that we’re disease-ridden.

Can’t speak for the rest of you, but I was STD tested FAR more than ANY CIVILIAN I EVER MET. Period. And I never contracted an STD from a client, nor spread one. Why? Because condom use is the norm in that industry, for one, and because I wasn’t jumping in bed with just anybody and everybody who waved money in my face. Imagine that. There are screening requirements in order to stay safe and to reduce the chances of dealing with drug-addicted and/or dangerous men. BUT…on the topic of STDS…

Anyone can go out and contract an STD, no money need be involved. Of the two men I’ve known who contracted HIV, both did so in their personal lives. One was a gay man, one was hetero. Neither case involved them paying a prostitute (though one did in fact involve a personal relationship with a, come to find out, knowingly infected street-walker — pisses me off to no end — tragic fucking case). Of the females I’ve known who’ve contracted STDs, none were prostitutes. They met men at bars and slept with them for free. The one time I contracted an STI (one and only, in 2008. luck has been on my side there) was from a jerk (truly turned out to be the case) I casually met at a bar, wearing a suit (vouched for by the bartender even — and I had been going in to that wine bar from time to time for a few years by then, bringing clients even), who readily acknowledged and claimed to appreciate upfront that I stated I would go with him to listen to music but wasn’t interested that evening in sex. Tough titty said the kitty…  Not a good memory of a randomly met guy I seemed to jibe with while out at a bar. Luckily Trichomoniasis is easily and quickly curable and I was treated ASAP through Planned Parenthood.

I point that out since people love to blame escorts/prostitutes for STD transmission when it’s plain as day that people are spreading diseases just through sex alone, regardless of whether money is involved. And in fact, there are statistics that claim in the U.S. prostitutes have a 30% lower STD rate than the general population due to much stricter condom usage. That was reported in a book titled Prostitution: On Whores, Hustlers, and Johns by James E. Elias (Ph.D.), et al. (which included a forward written by former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders). So put that in your pipe and smoke it.  [Update: Been years since I read that book. Need to find a used copy and quote the actual stats mentioned. Will eventually do so, or someone else can post up the relevant portion of the book if they have access to a copy. I’m going on personal recollection here, having read the book back in 2003. Would like to quote it accurately and thoroughly and will do so and make mention of it here.]

As for wrecking family values… What family values? A man who wants to remain a family man and not part with his money or engage in sex with someone outside of his marriage is free to do so. No one is forcing him to go visit a sex worker. Hell, I’m on board with the notion that people who agree to be exclusive with one another probably ought to uphold those vows. But how do you stop them? By removing all temptations?  lol  Good luck with that. Plenty of people engage in affairs that, once again, have nothing to do with exchanging money directly for sex. So what can be done about that? Should all women be put on lock-down and made to wear burkas and not allowed outside of the house without a male family member escorting her?  tongue_out

It seems to me when it comes to so-called “family values” that the only people capable of maintaining such values are those who willfully do so. Can’t force it. Can’t legally sanction it (beyond what’s already on the books relating to divorce law in some states). People possess a measure of free will to decide how to conduct themselves, right or wrong, so if we’re going to talk about the problems our society faces it would help to place responsibility on all involved rather than to see it simply as these poor men being taken advantage of by advertisements on the internet luring them into driving to hotels and parting with their money. As if they don’t possess choice. As if they aren’t grown men capable of comprehending the risks they take, not only with their bodily health but also the well-being of their marriages. So give credit where it’s due.

I’m damned tired of human beings and all the excuses we drum up for why this class of people deserves to be vilified while that class over there is nothing but a bunch of helpless victims of circumstance because they happen to be men with families. And I’m damned tired of people acting like everybody else’s sex lives is somehow their business. Look, if you don’t agree with prostitution, fine, but this dream of eradicating it isn’t realistic. Sex can be and is exchanged for all sorts of things and always has been. Always. Look back through history, especially getting back to primitive relations. None of this is new. The only thing new in the equation today is the capitalist economy, which does add a special type of burden since we’re all in need of money and yet not all are constituted equally. Supply and demand. You don’t have to like it, and in some ways I don’t even like it, but it is what it is.

To regulate the sex of sex workers would require the regulation of sex for ALL CITIZENS. And since that is impossible, all we’re left with is this cat-and-mouse game. Some play it for years and are never caught. Thanks to the internet it’s much more easy for sex workers to conceal what they’re up to, and since it keeps the activity off the streets and confined to apartments and hotels it’s not exactly presenting a public nuisance. And yet some folks can’t be content with that either. Why? I guess some folks seek out something to hunt down and track and expose to the light. Why? I’m of the assumption that they take great issue with humanity at its core, that they can’t stand the “dirty underbelly” of human nature and economics, and some I think just want to feel like better humans than others. Well, have at it, assholes. You still won’t ever win. There’s too much demand and too many people to try to keep up with.

This is indeed more unwinnable than the drug war.

But you can’t convince people of anything when they’re convinced they’re morally in the right.

I’ve tired of humans in a major way throughout this whole learning and living process. I’ve tired of so many of your laws and your drive to micromanage one another and your righteous indignation in the face of something that truly isn’t your business. There’s plenty in this life I don’t like either, but who cares? Nobody. So I went about earning a living and taking care of myself in a way I knew how, and I still don’t regret it, though I don’t necessarily recommend it either. Everything comes with tradeoffs and life isn’t peachy for plenty of people. Isn’t so simple and sweet and innocent. I’m sorry, folks, but life is complicated, and we can’t live up in a society together without transgressing on one another’s ideas of how society should rightly function.

Hell, I took supreme issue with the corporate bailouts and saw that as a far worse crime than any prostitute could manage. But do others see it that way? Apparently not. Yet they want me to care about their feelings when it comes to my getting by in this world? Get the fuck out of here with that.

Here we stand, a herd of cat-like individuals doing our own things, pissing each other off non-stop. Some like to imagine if they keep fighting “the good fight” they’ll eventually triumph over that which they deem to be “bad,” but in reality it’s going to go on and on and on. Because that’s how humans operate. Criminalize something and you wind up with a game of whack-a-mole. Try to legalize something and you’ll still find outliers who say “fuck your scheme, it’s not for me.” Always. I see no way around that.

These thoughts were generated this morning thanks to a fairly brief exchange with a user who goes by the screenname “MRAsExposed” on Divinity33372’s latest video’s comment section:  [I noticed since posting this that MRAsExposed deleted at least one of his/her comments on that thread, for the record. Namely the last one where he or she told me to not reply to him/her again.]

But it’s the same argument I’ve had with people for years. Nothing really new. No minds wind up changed. Just is what it is, and on and on it goes. I don’t claim to have the answers, just observing life unfolding…

On heroism and seeking meaning in life (an excerpt from Ernest Becker’s book “Escape From Evil”)

Another excerpt from Ernest Becker’s book Escape From Evil (1975), beginning on page 149:

So we see that as an organism man is fated to perpetuate himself and as a conscious organism he is fated to identify evil as the threat to that perpetuation. In the same way, he is driven to individuate himself as an organism, to develop his own peculiar talents and personality. And what, then, would be the highest development and use of those talents? To contribute to the struggle against evil, of course. In other words, man is fated, as William James saw, to consider this earth as a theater for heroism, and his life as a vehicle for heroic acts which aim precisely to transcend evil. Each person wants to have his life make a difference in the life of mankind, contribute in some way toward securing and furthering that life, make it in some ways less vulnerable, more durable. To be a true hero is to triumph over disease, want, death. One knows that his life has had vital human meaning if it has been able to bring real benefits to the life of mankind. And so men have always honored their heroes, especially in religion, medicine, science, diplomacy, and war. Here is where heroism has been most easily identifiable. From Constantine and Christ to Churchill and De Gaulle, men have called their heroes “saviors” in the literal sense: those who have delivered them from the evil of the termination of life, either of their own immediate lives or of the duration of their people. Even more, by his own death the hero secures the lives of others, and so the greatest heroic sacrifice, as Frazer taught us, is the sacrifice of the god for his people. We see this in Oedipus at Colonus, in Christ, and today in the embalmed Lenin. The giants died to secure mankind; by their blood we are saved. It is almost pathetically logical how man the supremely vulnerable animal developed the cult of the heroic.

But if we add together the logic of the heroic with the necessary fetishization of evil, we get a formula that is no longer pathetic but terrifying. It explains almost all by itself why man, of all animals, has caused the most devastation on earth—the most real evil. He struggles extra hard to be immune to death because he alone is conscious of it; but by being able to identify and isolate evil arbitrarily, he is capable of lashing out in all directions against imagined dangers of this world. This means that in order to live he is capable of bringing a large part of the world down around his shoulders. History is just such a testimonial to the frightening costs of heroism. The hero is the one who can go out and get added powers by killing an enemy and taking his talismans or his scalp or eating his heart. He becomes a walking repository of accrued powers. Animals can only take in food for power; man can literally take in the trinkets and bodies of his whole world. Furthermore, the hero proves his power by winning in battle; he shows that he is favored by the gods. Also, he can appease the gods by offering to them the sacrifice of the stranger. The hero is, then, the one who accrues power by his acts, and who placates invisible powers by his expiations. He kills those who threaten his group, he incorporates their powers to further protect his group, he sacrifices others to gain immunity for his group. In a word, he becomes a savior through blood. From the head-hunting and charm-hunting of the primitives to the holocausts of Hitler, the dynamic is the same: the heroic victory over evil by a traffic in pure power. And the aim is the same: purity, goodness, righteousness—immunity. Hitler Youth were recruited on the basis of idealism; the nice boy next door is the one who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; the idealistic communist is the one who sided with Stalin against his former comrades: kill to protect the heroic revolution, to assure the victory over evil. As Dostoevsky saw, killing is sometimes distasteful, but the distaste is swallowed if it is necessary to true heroism: as one of the revolutionaries asked Pyotr Verhovensky in The Possessed, when they were about to kill one of their number, “Are other groups also doing this?” In other words, is it the socially heroic thing to do, or are we being arbitrary about identifying evil? Each person wants his life to be a marker for good as his group identifies it. Men work their programs of heroism according to the standard cultural scenarios, from Pontius Pilate through Eichmann and Calley. It is as Hegel long ago said: men cause evil out of good intentions, not out of wicked ones. Men cause evil by wanting heroically to triumph over it, because man is a frightened animal who tries to triumph, an animal who will not admit his own insignificance, that he cannot perpetuate himself and his group forever, that no one is invulnerable no matter how much of the blood of others is spilled to try to demonstrate it.

Another way of summing up this whole matter is to contrast Hegel’s view of evil out of good intentions with Freud’s view, which was very specifically focused on evil motives. Freud saw evil as a fatality for man, forever locked in the human breast. This is what gave Freud such a dim view of the future of man. Many eyes looked to a man of his greatness for a prophecy on human possibilities, but he refused to pose as the magician-seer and give men the false comfort of prediction. As he put it in a late writing:

I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation. . . .

This is a heavy confession by one of history’s greatest students of men; but I am citing it not for its honesty or humility, but because of the reason for its pathos. The future of man was problematic for Freud because of the instincts that have driven man and will supposedly always drive him. As he put it, right after the above admission and at the very end of his book:

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent [it] . . . will succeed in mastering . . . the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.

The most that men can seem to do is to put a veneer of civilization and reason over this instinct; but the problem of evil is “born afresh with every child,” as Freud wrote three years earlier, in 1927, and it takes the form of precise instinctual wishes—incest, lust for killing, cannibalism. This was man’s repugnant heritage, a heritage that he seems forever destined to work upon the world. Kant’s famous observation on man was now not merely a philosophical aphorism but a scientific judgment: “From the crooked wood of which man is made, nothing quite straight can be built.”

Yet today we know that Freud was wrong about evil. Man is a crooked wood all right, but not in the way that Freud thought. This is a crucial difference because it means that we do not have to follow Freud on the exact grounds of his feelings for the problematic of the human future. If, instead, we follow Rank and the general science of man, we get a quite different picture of the oldest “instinctual wishes.” Incest is an immortality motive, it symbolizes the idea of self-fertilization, as Jung has so well written—the defeat of biology and the fatality of species propagation. For the child in the family it may be an identity motive, a way of immediately becoming an individual and stepping out of the collective role of obedient child by breaking up the family ideology, as Rank so brilliantly argued. Historically, the brother-sister marriage of ancient kings like the Pharaohs must have been a way of preserving and increasing the precious mana power that the king possessed. Cannibalism, it is true, has often been motivated by sheer appetite for meat, the pleasures of incorporation of a purely sensual kind, quite free of any spiritual overtones. But as just noted, much of the time the motive is one of mana power. Which largely explains why cannibalism becomes uniformly repugnant to men when the spirit-power beliefs that sustained it are left behind; if it were a matter of instinctual appetite, it would be more tenacious. And as for the lust of killing, this too, we now know, is largely a psychological problem; it is not primarily a matter of the satisfaction of vicious animal aggression. We know that men often kill with appetite and excitement, as well as real dedication, but this is only logical for animals who are born hunters and who enjoy the feeling of maximizing their organismic powers at the expense of a trapped and helpless prey.

This much evolution and some million years of prehistory may have given us; but to talk about satisfying one’s appetites for purity and heroism with a certain relish and style is not to say that this relish is itself the motive for the appetite. Freud thought it was man’s appetite that undid him, but actually it is his animal limitation as we now understand it. The tragedy of evolution is that it created a limited animal with unlimited horizons. Man is the only animal that is not armed with the natural instinctive mechanisms or programming for shrinking his world down to a size that he can automatically act on. This means that men have to artificially and arbitrarily restrict their intake of experience and focus their output of decisive action. Men have to keep from going mad by biting off small pieces of reality which they can get some command over and some organismic satisfaction from. This means that their noblest passions are played out in the most narrow and unreflective ways, and this is what undoes them. From this point of view the main problematic for the future of man has to be expressed in the following paradox: Man is an animal who must fetishize in order to survive and to have “normal mental health.” But this shrinkage of vision that permits him to survive also at the same time prevents him from having the overall understanding he needs to plan for and control the effects of his shrinkage of experience. A paradox this bitter sends a chill through all reflective men. If Freud’s famous “fateful question for the human species” was not exactly the right one, the paradox is no less fateful. It seems that the experiment of man may well prove to be an evolutionary dead end, an impossible animal—one who, individually, needs for healthy action the very conduct that, on a general level, is destructive to him. It is maddeningly perverse. And even if we bring Freud’s views on evil into line with Hegel’s, there is no way of denying that Freud’s pessimism about the future is just as securely based as if man did actually have evil motives.

But it does influence the whole perspective on history, which I am sketching here. History and its incredible tragedy and drivenness then become a record of understandable folly. It is the career of a frightened animal who must lie in order to live—or, better, in order to live the distinctive style that his nature fits him for. The thing that feeds the great destructiveness of history is that men give their entire allegiance to their own group; and each group is a codified hero system. Which is another way of saying that societies are standardized systems of death denial; they give structure to the formulas for heroic transcendence. History can then be looked at as a succession of immortality ideologies. We can ask about any epoch, What are the social forms of heroism available? And we can take a sweep over history and see how these forms vary and how they animate each epoch. For primitive man, who practiced the ritual renewal of nature, each person could be a cosmic hero of a quite definite kind: he could contribute with his powers and observances to the replenishment of cosmic life. Gradually, as societies became more complex and differentiated into classes, cosmic heroism became the property of special classes like divine kings and the military, who were charged with the renewal of nature and the protection of the group by means of their own special powers. And so the situation developed where men could be heroic only by following orders. Men had given the mandate of power and expiation to their leader-heroes, and so salvation had to be mediated to them by these figures. In a primitive hunting band or a tribe the leader cannot compel anyone to go to war; in the kingship and the state the subjects have no choice. They now serve in warfare heroism for the divine king who provides his own power in victory and bathes the survivors in it. With the rise of money coinage one could be a money hero and privately protect himself and his offspring by the accumulation of visible gold-power. With Christianity something new came into the world: the heroism of renunciation of this world and the satisfactions of this life, which is why the pagans thought Christianity was crazy. It was a sort of antiheroism by an animal who denied life in order to deny evil. Buddhism did the same thing even more extremely, denying all possible worlds. In modern times, with the Enlightenment, began again a new paganism of the exploitation and enjoyment of earthly life, partly as a reaction against Christian renunciation of the world. Now a new type of productive and scientific hero came into prominence, and we are still living this today. More cars produced by Detroit, higher stock-market prices, more profits, more goods moving—all this equals more heroism. And with the French Revolution another type of modern hero was codified: the revolutionary hero who will bring an end to injustice and evil once and for all, by bringing into being a new utopian society perfect in its purity.


This is hardly a complete catalogue of culturally codified heroics, but it is a good representation of the ideologies that have taken such a toll of life; in each of the above examples masses of human lives have been piled up in order for the cultural transcendence to be achieved. And there is nothing “perverse” about it because it represents the expression of the fullest expansive life of the heroic animal. We can talk for a century about what causes human aggression; we can try to find the springs in animal instincts, or we can try to find them in bottled-up hatreds due to frustration or in some kind of miscarried experiences of early years, of poor child handling and training. All these would be true, but still trivial because men kill out of joy, in the experience of expansive transcendence over evil. This poses an immense problem for social theory, a problem that we have utterly failed to be clear about. If men kill out of heroic joy, in what direction do we program for improvements in human nature? What are we going to improve if men work evil out of the impulse to righteousness and goodness? What kind of child-rearing programs are we going to promote—with Fromm, Horney, et al.—in order to bring in the humanistic millennium, if men are aggressive in order to expand life, if aggression in the service of life is man’s highest creative act? If we were to be logical, these childhood programs would have to be something that eliminates joy and heroic self-expansion in order to be effective for peace. And how could we ever get controlled child-rearing programs without the most oppressive social regulation?

The cataloguing of maddening dilemmas such as these are, for utopian thought, could probably be continued to fill a whole book; let me add merely a few more. We know that to be human is to be neurotic in some ways and to some degrees; there is no way to become an adult without serious twisting of one’s perceptions of the world. Even more, it is not the especially twisted people who are the most dangerous: coprophiliacs are harmless, rapists do not do the damage to life that idealistic leaders do. Also, leaders are a function of the “normal” urges of the masses to some large extent; this means that even psychically crippled leaders are an expression of the widespread urge to heroic transcendence. Dr. Strangelove was surely a psychic cripple, but he was not an evil genius who moved everyone around him to his will; he was simply one clever computer in a vast idealistic program to guarantee the survival of the “free world.” Today we are living the grotesque spectacle of the poisoning of the earth by the nineteenth-century hero system of unrestrained material production. This is perhaps the greatest and most pervasive evil to have emerged in all of history, and it may even eventually defeat all of mankind. Still there are no “twisted” people whom we can hold responsible for this.

I know all this is more or less obvious, but it puts our discussion on the proper plane; it teaches us one great lesson—a pill that for modern man may be the bitterest of all to swallow—namely, that we seem to be unable to approach the problem of human evil from the side of psychology. Freud, who gave us the ideal of the psychological liberation of man, also gave us many glimpses of its limitations. I am not referring here to his cynicism about what men may accomplish because of the perversity of their natures, but rather to his admission that there is no dependable line between normal and abnormal in affairs of the human world. In the most characteristic human activity—love—we see the most distortion of reality. Talking about the distortions of transference-love, Freud says:

. . . it is to a high degree lacking in regard for reality, is less sensible, less concerned about consequences, more blind in its estimation of the person loved, than we are willing to admit of normal love.

And then he is forced to take most of this back, honest thinker that he is, by concluding that:

We should not forget, however, that it is precisely these departures from the norm that make up the essential element in the condition of being in love.

In other words, transference is the only ideality that man has. It was no news to Freud that the ability to love and to believe is a matter of susceptibility to illusion. He prided himself on being a stoical scientist who had transcended the props of illusion, yet he retained his faith in science—in psychoanalysis—as his particular hero system. Thus us the same as saying that all hero systems are based on illusion except one’s own, which is somehow in a special, privileged place, as if given in nature herself. Rank got right at the heart of Freud’s dilemma:

Just as he himself could so easily confess his agnosticism while he had created for himself a private religion, it seems that, even in his intellectual and rational achievements, he still had to express and assert his irrational needs by at least fighting for and about his rational ideas.

This is perfect. It means that Freud, too, was not exempt from the need to fit himself into a scheme of cosmic heroism, an immortality ideology that had to be taken on faith. This is why Rank saw the need to go “beyond psychology”: it cannot by itself substitute for a hero system unless it is—as it was for Freud—the hero system that guaranteed him immortality. This is the meaning of Rank’s critique of psychology as “self-deception.” It cannot contain the immortality urge characteristic of life. It is just another ideology “which is gradually trying to supplant religious and moral ideology,” but “is only partially qualified to do this, because it is a preponderantly negative and disintegrating ideology.” In other words, all that psychology has really accomplished is to make the inner life the subject matter of science, and in doing this it dissipated the idea of the soul. But it was the soul which once linked man’s inner life to a transcendent scheme of cosmic heroism. Now the individual is stuck with himself and with an inner life that he can only analyze away as a product of social conditioning. Psychological introspection took cosmic heroics and made them self-reflective and isolated. At best it gives the person a new self-acceptance—but this is not what man wants or needs: one cannot generate a self-created hero system unless he is mad. Only pure narcissistic megalomania can banish guilt.

It was on the point of guilt, as Rank saw, that Freud’s system of heroism fell down. He admonishes Freud with the didactic mocking of one who possesses a clearly superior conceptualization:

It is with his therapeutic attempt to remove the guilt by tracing it back “causally” to the individual’s experience in childhood that Freud steps in. How presumptuous, and at the same time, naive, is this idea of simply removing human guilt by explaining it causally as “neurotic.”

Exactly. Guilt is a reflection of the problem of acting in the universe; only partly is it connected to the accidents of one’s birth and early experience. Guilt, as the existentialists put it, is the guilt of being itself. It reflects the self-conscious animal’s bafflement at having emerged from nature, at sticking out too much without knowing what for, at not being able to securely place himself in an eternal meaning system. How presumptuous of psychology to claim to be able to handle a problem of these dimensions. As Progoff has so brilliantly summed up psychology after Freud, it all culminates once again in a recognition of the magnitude of the problem of cosmic heroism.

This is what Adler meant when he summed up in a simplified way a basic insight of his whole life’s work, “All neurosis is vanity.” Neurosis, in other words, reflects the incapacity of the individual to heroically transcend himself; when he tries in one way or another, it is plainly vain. We are back again to a famous fruit of Rank’s work too, his insight that neurosis “is at bottom always only incapacity for illusion.” But we are back to it with a vengeance and with the broadest possible contemporary understanding. Transference represents not only the necessary and inevitable, but the most creative distortion of reality. As Buber said, reality for man is something he must imagine, search out in the eyes of his fellows, with their gleam of passionate dedication. This is also what Jung intimates about the vitality of transference when he calls it “kinship libido.” This means that men join together their individual pulsations in a gamble toward something transcendent. Life imagines its own significance and strains to justify its beliefs. It is as though the life force itself needed illusion in order to further itself. Logically, then, the ideal creativity for man would strain toward the grandest illusion.

The Science of Man

Well, obviously, none of this has been unimpeachable to the critics over the years. Words like “irrationality,” “illusion,” “willful and heroic dedication”—these rub many people the wrong way. They have hardly helped make our world any better, especially in modern times. Erich Fromm, for example, impugned Rank’s whole system of thought by arguing how perfectly suited it was as a philosophy for fascists. The essay in which this was done was not an essay to bring any credit to Fromm as a thinker; but it was animated in part at least by the demonic crisis of the times, by Hitlerism, and in spite of its shabbiness it did convey a truth, the need to be wary of life-enhancing illusions.

It is precisely at this point that the science of man comes in. We know that Nazism was a viable hero system that lived the illusion of the defeat of evil on earth. We know the terrifying dynamic of victimage and scapegoating all across history, and we know what it means—the offering of the other’s body in order to buy off one’s own death, the sadistic formula par excellence: break the bones and spill the blood of the victim in the service of some “higher truth” that the sacrificers alone possess. To treat the body with the same scorn that God seems to treat it is to draw closer to Him. Well, we know these things only too well in our time. The problem is what to do with them. Men cannot abandon the heroic. If we say that the irrational or mythical is part of human groping for transcendence, we do not give it any blanket approval. But groups of men can do what they have always done—argue about heroism, assess the costs of it, show that it is self-defeating, a fantasy, a dangerous illusion and not one that is life-enhancing and ennobling. As Paul Pruyser so well put it, “The great question is: If illusions are needed, how can we have those that are capable of correction, and how can we have those that will not deteriorate into delusions?” If men live in myths and not absolutes, there is nothing we can do or say about that. But we can argue for nondestructive myths; this is the task of what would be a general science of society.

I have argued elsewhere that one very graphic way of looking at mental illness is to see it as the laying onto others of one’s own hyperfears of life and death. From this perspective we can also see that leaders of nations, citizens of so-called democracies, “normal men” are also doing the very same thing all the time: laying their power-expiation immunity trip onto everyone else. Today the whole world is already becoming uncomfortable with the repeated “war games” and hydrogen-bomb tests by nations on power trips, tests that lay their danger onto innocent and powerless neighbors. In a way it is the drama of the family and the Feifferian love affair writ large across the face of the planet, the “family” of nations. There are no particular leaders or special councils of elite to blame in all this, simply because most people identify with the symbols of power and agree to them. The nation offers immortality to all its members. Again, Erich Fromm was wrong to argue that psychically crippled people, what he calls “necrophilic characters,” do evil things by valuing death over life and so lay waste to life because it makes them uncomfortable. Life makes whole nations of normal people uncomfortable, and hence the serene accord and abandon with which men have defeated themselves all through history.

This is the great weakness, as we have now discovered, of Enlightenment rationalism, the easy hope that by the spread of reason men will stand up to their full size and renounce irrationality. The Enlightenment thinkers understood well the dangers of the mass mind, and they thought that by the spread of science and education all this could change. The great Russian sociologist Nikolai Mikhailovsky had already singled out the hero as the enemy of democracy, the one who causes others to yield their wills because of the safety he offers them. The thing that had to be done was to prevent society from turning the individual into a tool for the sake of social efficiency and safety. How could the infringement of individuality be overcome? Mikhailovsky answered in the same vein as modern humanist psychiatrists: by giving the individual the opportunity for harmonious development. At about the same time that other great Enlightenment man, Emerson, made his famous plea for self-reliance, for persons with full and independent insides so that they could have the stability to withstand herd enthusiasms and herd fears.

This whole tradition was brought up to date by Herbert Marcuse in a brilliant essay on the ideology of death. He argued that death has always been used by leaders and elites as an ideology to get the masses to conform and to yield up their autonomy. Leaders win allegiance to the cultural causa sui project because it protects against vulnerability. The polis, the state, god—all these are symbols of infallibility in which the masses willingly embed their fearful freedoms. There we have it: the culmination of the Enlightenment in a proper focus on the fundamental dynamics of mass slavishness. On the highest level of sophistication we know in detail what men fear and how they deny that fear. There is a single line from Emerson through Mikhailovsky up to Fromm and Marcuse.

But wait. We said that Enlightenment rationalism was too easy a creed, and so we would expect to see this weakness in all its thinkers, and Marcuse is no exception when he naively says:

. . . death [is] the ultimate cause of all anxiety, [and] sustains unfreedom. Man is not free as long as death has not become really “his own,” that is, as long as it has not been brought under his autonomy.

Alas, the fact is that men do not have any autonomy under which to bring things. This great and fundamental problem for the whole career of Enlightenment science was posed by Rank:

Whether the individual is at all in a position to grow beyond . . . [some kind of transference justification, some form of moral dependence] and to affirm and accept himself from himself cannot be said. Only in the creative type does this seem possible to some extent. . . .

But it can be said, and Rank says it: even the highest, most individuated creative type can only manage autonomy to some extent. The fact is that men cannot and do not stand on their own powers; therefore they cannot make death “their own.” Moral dependence—guilt—is a natural motive of the human condition and has to be absolved from something beyond oneself. One young revolutionary once admonished me in saying that “guilt is not a motive”; he never saw that his guilt was absorbed by submission to the revolutionary cell. The weakness of the Enlightenment, then, was that it did not understand human nature—and it apparently still does not. […]

[Bolded emphasis mine. Footnotes omitted.]

Stopping for now on page 162.

My last excerpt posted from this book by Ernest Becker:

Also conduct a search on here to find his other excerpts, including those from a previous book titled Denial of Death.

On why we create enemies and victims — an excerpt from the book “Escape From Evil”

Tonight I decided to read a portion of Ernest Becker’s book Escape From Evil (1975), and I will now transcribe that portion (since the audio quality didn’t turn out too good and I won’t claim to be great at reading aloud). Beginning on page 114 under the section titled “The Science of Man after Hitler”:

Burke recognized that guilt and expiation were fundamental categories of sociological explanation, and he proposed a simple formula: guilt must be canceled in society, and it is absolved by “victimage.” So universal and regular is the dynamic that Burke wondered “whether human society could possibly cohere without symbolic victims which the individual members of the group share in common.” He saw “the civic enactment of redemption through the sacrificial victim” as the center of man’s social motivation.32

Burke was led to the central idea of victimage and redemption through Greek tragedy and Christianity; he saw that this fundamentally religious notion is a basic characteristic of any social order. Again we are brought back to our initial point that all culture is in essence sacred—supernatural, as Rank put it. The miraculousness of creation is after all magnified in social life; it is contained in persons and given color, form, drama. The natural mystery of birth, growth, consciousness, and death is taken over by society; and as Duncan so well says, this interweaving of social form and natural terror becomes an inextricable mystification; the individual can only gape in awe and guilt.33 The religious guilt, then, is also a characteristic of so-called secular societies; and anyone who would lead a society must provide for some form of sacred absolution, regardless of the particular historical disguise that this absolution may wear. Otherwise society is not possible. In Burke’s generation it was above all Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini who understood this and acted on it.

If there is one thing that the tragic wars of our time have taught us, it is that the enemy has a ritual role to play, by means of which evil is redeemed. All “wars are conducted as ‘holy’ wars”34 in a double sense then—as a revelation of fate, a testing of divine favor, and as a means of purging evil from the world at the same time. This explains why we are dedicated to war precisely in its most horrifying aspects: it is a passion of human purgation. Nietzsche observed that “whoever is dissatisfied with himself is always ready to revenge himself therefore; we others will be his victims. . . .”35  But the irony is that men are always dissatisfied and guilty in small and large ways, and this is what drives them to a search for purity where all dissatisfaction can come to a head and be wiped away. Men try to qualify for eternalization by being clean and by cleansing the world around them of the evil, the dirty; in this way they show that they are on the side of purity, even if they themselves are impure. The striving for perfection reflects man’s effort to get some human grip on his eligibility for immortality. And he can only know if he is good if the authorities tell him so; this is why it is so vital for him emotionally to know whether he is liked or disliked, why he will do anything the group wants in order to meet its standards of “good”: his eternal life depends on it.36 Good and bad relate to strength and weakness, to self-perpetuation, to indefinite duration. And so we can understand that all ideology, as Rank said, is about one’s qualification for eternity; and so are all disputes about who really is dirty. The target of one’s righteous hatred is always called “dirt”; in our day the short-hairs call the long-hairs “filthy” and are called in turn “pigs.” Since everyone feels dissatisfied with himself (dirty), victimage is a universal human need. And the highest heroism is the stamping out of those who are tainted. The logic is terrifying. The psychoanalytic grouping of guilt, anality, and sadism is translatable in this way to the highest levels of human striving and to the age-old problem of good and evil.

From which we have to conclude that men have been the midwives of horror on this planet because this horror alone gave them peace of mind, made them “right” with the world. No wonder Nietzsche would talk about “the disease called man.”37 It seems perverse when we put it so blatantly, yet here is an animal who needs the spectacle of death in order to open himself to love. As Duncan put it:

. . . as we wound and kill our enemy in the field and slaughter his women and children in their homes, our love for each other deepens. We become comrades in arms; our hatred of each other is being purged in the sufferings of our enemy.38

And even more relentlessly:

We need to socialize in hate and death, as well as in joy and love. We do not know how to have friends without, at the same time, creating victims whom we must wound, torture, and kill. Our love rests on hate.39

If we talk again and shockingly about human baseness, it is not out of cynicism; it is only to better get some kind of factual purchase on our fate. We follow Freud in the belief that it is only illusions that we have to fear; and we follow Hardy—in our epigraph to this book—in holding that we have to take a full look at the worst in order to begin to get rid of illusion. Realism, even brutal, is not cynicism. As Duncan so passionately concluded his Nietzschean and Dostoevskian exposition of the terrifying dynamics of purity and love “. . . we cannot become humane until we understand our need to visit suffering and death on others . . . The sociology of our time must begin in [such an] anguished awareness . . .”40  It has already begun in the work of Burke, Duncan, Mumford, and Lifton; but its theoretical formulations were already plentifully contained in the neglected work of Rank. From the point of view of such a sociology, the great scientific problems of our time have been the successful and grand social cohesions, especially of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Burke and Duncan have amply described the religious horror drama of Germany under Hitler, where the dirty and evil Jews were purged from the world of Aryan purity by the Nazi priesthood.41  […]

Leaving off there and then picking back up on page 118:

It took Stalin’s purge trials to show us that the highest humanistic ideals of socialist revolutionaries also have to be played out in a religious drama of victimage and redemption—if one is to have a pure and cohesive socialist society at all.42 The Russians exiled religious expiation but could not exile their own human nature, and so they had to conjure up a secular caricature of religious expiation. And they are still doing it: the magician-priests who give absolution to the clean communist masses now wear the white coats of hospital psychiatrists who transform dirty dissident victims with the latest techniques of “secular” science. It is grotesque, but Burke had warned us to always watch for the “secular equivalents” of the theological formula of victimage and redemption; the scapegoat is not a ” ‘necessary illusion’ of savages, children, and the masses,”43 but now an achievement of the “most advanced” socialist society.

[Italicized emphases his. Bold mine.]

That’s what I decided to read aloud today, though I don’t know how well it will be understood without first reading his arguments and explanations leading up to that portion, but I thought it could stand alone on its own and at least perhaps entice others to consider reading the entire book for themselves. Click to read another excerpt posted from this book.

Thanks to the books of Ernest Becker and his frequent mentioning of the Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank, I recently decided to purchase one of the latter’s books titled Beyond Psychology and look forward to delving into it in due time.

For further reading on these and related subjects, you may want to look into Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death (considered a companion book to this one — see excerpts 1, 2, 3 and 4) and works produced by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (which I’ve also transcribed bits of on here and intend to do more in the future).

“Four Horsemen” film

Today’s documentary offering, “Four Horsemen”:

I do have several quibbles with the content of this film, but I listened to it and offer it up as food for thought for others. Plenty of parts I appreciated, but we each have to approach this kind of information critically. Often I find myself in agreement with the portrayal of problems but take issue with the proposed solutions (same held true with the last “Zeitgeist” film).

Sunday night ponderings in May on human domestication, estrogen, and the future

Domestication. It’s a topic I like talking about because it’s difficult to not see it unfolding around us. We’re becoming domesticated on a whole new level. Was just thinking about birthcontrolbirth control pills and the convenience in using them to regulate your cycle, plus certain brands reduce breakouts. Plenty of side effects accompany hormonal birth control options, and I would absolutely never recommend the progestogen-only varieties (like Depo Provera — yikes!), so it’s a trade-off. But for a lot of years birth control pills felt like a risk worth taking for the peace of mind they offered in avoiding unwanted pregnancy.

But when you really think about the concept of taking hormones to control fertility, improve the complexion, and regulate the cycle to become more predictable and convenient — that’s pure science. The latest in technology. Convenient, but with notable drawbacks, to our own bodies but also to our environments. Think of what happens to all those hormones regularly flushed down toilets, whether they are even capable of being properly filtered out in treatment plants. Some evidence suggests problems loom there. Think of how that might wind up affecting men in a round-about way. But then again, we’re exposed to so much estrogen in our environment already, as we’ve discovered with plastics and also soy (which is now in damn near everything on the super market shelves, including our pets’ foods). Estrogen everywhere. Due to this consideration alone I expect people of tomorrow to turn out a bit different than all who’ve come before. Hormones are powerfully influential on our development.


Just makes me wonder what tomorrow could bring. Suppose it’ll be interesting to see what this lifetime might unfold, much as I doubt it will remotely resemble what I’d like to see for us. My spirit is paleolithic, I think, having always felt obsolete. lol

We like to say that people direct their own lives, that we can take the reins for ourselves, do something different, try another way. But how? We’re deep in this labyrinth already, and it would take such radical action to retreat and head in different directions. But then again, it would be much easier for smaller groups to break away somehow if there were enough to do so around the same time. But that’s a pipe dream, right? People want this, on some level, because we can’t imagine anything different, and if we can it still doesn’t appear feasible. The floor has fallen out from underneath us and we’re clinging to the walls, trying to keep up with what appears to be the only game in town. It’s a stupid game with so many unfortunate consequences that will likely culminate in disastrous effect. But how does ONE, just one person, go against the grain? Without winding up much poorer, much unhappier, less understood by others? That’s the thing — those are the consequences. Might wind up treated as a leper. Probably will lose friends. Definitely will be criticized. How many people would willingly sign up for that? It looks like social suicide to someone who cares about that sort of thing.

Had a couple drinks and felt like pondering out loud. Reflecting on conversations with people, wondering if indeed there is anything of major impact one can do. And honestly, a part of me says it doesn’t matter. It’s not just about influencing others the way we’d like to. If the many are going to collectively steer this ship into a glacier, either through stupidity or genuine but misguided intentions, what can be done about it? Doesn’t mean we have to conform entirely and go along with their program. No. Because life itself is the journey, and living itself is the source of redemption. When I think deeply on these sort of topics where the individual is being pulled along by the collective-run-amok, I gain an appreciation for the stories that point toward a higher purpose than simply following the herd. And by higher purpose, I’m just saying having respect for something bigger and beyond our human experience. All of life is paradoxical and filled with mystery, and there’s more to it than just our drama. We humans may indeed fail in this experiment in living, who can say? But we as individuals don’t necessarily have to. We are our own persons underneath it all, and we possess enough will to buck back when it feels right. If nothing else, we’re driven by orneriness. LoL

So who can say what the future may hold? And who can say that the most important emphasis should be placed on trying to change the hearts and minds of others? Seems to me if we really want to impact others, we’d work on our own selves. I’m trying to, much as I fail and stumble. Can’t seem to knock off getting irritated while driving. Haven’t taken time to get to know the new neighbors. Too often grumbling, complaining. Because I worry so much. But at the end of the day, what am I so worried about? That people might suffer. But perhaps that’s what’s needed to turn our lives around. Life’s tough love is letting us see how we can create hell on earth if we aren’t mindful of what we’re doing.

By John Conway

“Future Humans” by John Conway

It’s a cruel lesson that breaks my heart to witness, but I suppose such is the way of nature, and divorced as our habitats may seem, the natural world remains the ultimate game-changer.

If we choose to go along with living as domesticated pets, though in less luxury and expected to work, we will suffer what that fate entails. Perhaps there can be no other way, not until our infrastructure crumbles due to a lack of resources, or until political and economic conditions deteriorate to the point where that dream gets snuffed. I don’t know.

Maybe people will find ways to pacify themselves going into this New Age, and perhaps people of tomorrow will figure out a way to strike a new balance that my feeble brain is unable to conceive of. But it won’t be my world by then, so that is for them to create. In my lifetime I’d like to imagine how we might live smarter, more in line with what’s natural to us as people who need one another, who value relationships and reciprocity, who want to care, who aren’t content in slavery, who aren’t content being taken advantage of by the few whose only work is to manipulate and exploit the rest.

Then I wonder how it’s possible to not feel disgruntled in the face of so much disillusionment.

The Birth of Humanity, an ongoing process — Ch. 3 excerpt from the book “The Sane Society”

Carrying on this evening transcribing where I left off in Chapter 3 (page 31) in Erich Fromm’s book The Sane Society (1955):

The animal is content if its physiological needs—its hunger, its thirst and its sexual needs—are satisfied. Inasmuch as man is also animal, these needs are likewise imperative and must be satisfied. But inasmuch as man is human, the satisfaction of these instinctual needs is not sufficient to make him happy; they are not even sufficient to make him sane. The archimedic point of the specifically human dynamism lies in this uniqueness of the human situation; the understanding of man’s psyche must be based on the analysis of man’s needs stemming from the conditions of his existence.

The problem, then, which the human race as well as each individual has to solve is that of being born. Physical birth, if we think of the individual, is by no means as decisive and singular an act as it appears to be. It is, indeed, an important change from intrauterine into extrauterine life; but in many respects the infant after birth is not different from the infant before birth; it cannot perceive things outside, cannot feed itself; it is completely dependent on the mother, and would perish without her help. Actually, the process of birth continues. The child begins to recognize outside objects, to react affectively, to grasp things and to coordinate his movements, to walk. But birth continues. The child learns to speak, it learns to know the use and function of things, it learns to relate itself to others, to avoid punishment and gain praise and liking. Slowly, the growing person learns to love, to develop reason, to look at the world objectively. He begins to develop his powers; to acquire a sense of identity, to overcome the seduction of his senses for the sake of an integrated life. Birth, then, in the conventional meaning of the word, is only the beginning of birth in the broader sense. The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born, when we die—although it is the tragic fate of most individuals to die before they are born.

From all we know about the evolution of the human race, the birth of man is to be understood in the same sense as the birth of the individual. When man had transcended a certain threshold of minimum instinctive adaptation, he ceased to be an animal; but he was as helpless and unequipped for human existence as the individual infant is at birth. The birth of man began with the first members of the species homo sapiens, and human history is nothing but the whole process of this birth. It has taken man hundreds of thousands of years to take the first steps into human life; he went through a narcissistic phase of magic omnipotent orientation, through totemism, nature worship, until he arrived at the beginnings of the formation of conscience, objectivity, brotherly love. In the last four thousand years of his history, he has developed visions of the fully born and fully awakened man, visions expressed in not too different ways by the great teachers of man in Egypt, China, India, Palestine, Greece and Mexico.

The fact that man’s birth is primarily a negative act, that of being thrown out of the original oneness with nature, that he cannot return to where came from, implies that the process of birth is by no means an easy one. Each step into his new human existence is frightening. It always means to give up a secure state, which was relatively known, for one which is new, which one has not yet mastered. Undoubtedly, if the infant could think at the moment of the severance of the umbilical cord, he would experience the fear of dying. A loving fate protects us from this first panic. But at any new step, at any new stage of our birth, we are afraid again. We are never free from two conflicting tendencies: one to emerge from the womb, from the animal form of existence into a more human existence, from bondage to freedom; another, to return to the womb, to nature, to certainty and security. In the history of the individual, and of the race, the progressive tendency has proven to be stronger, yet the phenomena of mental illness and the regression of the human race to positions apparently relinquished generations ago, show the intense struggle which accompanies each new act of birth.

Man’s Needs—as They Stem from the Conditions of His Existence

Man’s life is determined by the inescapable alternative between regression and progression, between return to animal existence and arrive at human existence. Any attempt to return is painful, it inevitably leads to suffering and mental sickness, to death either physiologically or mentally (insanity). Every step forward is frightening and painful too, until a certain point has been reached where fear and doubt have only minor proportions. Aside from the physiologically nourished cravings (hunger, thirst, sex), all essential human cravings are determined by this polarity. Man has to solve a problem, he can never rest in the given situation of a passive adaptation to nature. Even the most complete satisfaction of all his instinctive needs does not solve his human problem; his most intensive passions and needs are not those rooted in his body, but those rooted in the very peculiarity of his existence.

There lies also the key to humanistic psychoanalysis. Freud, searching for the basic force which motivates human passions and desires, believed he had found it in the libido. But powerful as the sexual drive and all its derivations are, they are by no means the most powerful forces within man and their frustration is not the cause of mental disturbance. The most powerful forces motivating man’s behavior stem from the condition of his existence, the “human situation.”

Man cannot live statically because his inner contradictions drive him to seek for an equilibrium, for a new harmony instead of the lost animal harmony with nature. After he has satisfied his animal needs, he is driven by his human needs. While his body tells him what to eat and what to avoid—his conscience ought to tell him which needs to cultivate and satisfy, and which needs to let wither and starve out. But hunger and appetite are functions of the body with which man is born—conscience, while potentially present, requires the guidance of men and principles which develop only during the growth of culture.

All passions and strivings of man are attempts to find an answer to his existence or, as we may also say, they are an attempt to avoid insanity. (It may also be said in passing that the real problem of mental life is not why some people become insane, but rather why why most avoid insanity.) Both the mentally healthy and the neurotic are driven by the need to find an answer, the only difference being that one answer corresponds more to the total needs of man, and hence is more conducive to the unfolding of his powers and to his happiness than the other. All cultures provide for a patterned system in which certain solutions are predominant, hence certain strivings and satisfactions. Whether we deal with primitive religions, with theistic or non-theistic religions, they are all attempts to give an answer to man’s existential problem. The finest, as well as the most barbaric cultures have the same function—the difference is only whether the answer given is better or worse. The deviate from the cultural pattern is just as much in search of an answer as his more well-adjusted brother. His answer may be better or worse than the one given by his culture—it is always another answer to the same fundamental question raised by human existence. In this sense all cultures are religious and every neurosis is a private form of religion, provided we mean by religion an attempt to answer the problems of human existence. Indeed, the tremendous energy in the forces producing mental illness, as well as those those behind art and religion, could never be understood as an outcome of frustrated or sublimated physiological needs; they are attempts to solve the problem of being born human. All men are idealists and cannot help being idealists, provided we mean by idealism the striving for the satisfaction of needs which are specifically human and transcend the physiological needs of the organism. The difference is only that one idealism is a good and adequate solution, the other a bad and destructive one. The decision as to what is good and bad has to be made on the basis of our knowledge of man’s nature and the laws which govern its growth.

What are these needs and passions stemming from the existence of man?

[Italicized emphasis his.]

Stopping on page 35, to be continued another day…