Becker's vital lie starts off with the notion of heroism. Heroism, in this sense, is the drive to have the world aware of our existence. It is universal and inherent in all of us. The two concepts of heroism are narcissism, which is natural self-interest, and self-expansion, which is the desire to sustain our existence. Becker points out that our attempts at getting others to know that we exist stems from our fear of death. We are not aware of it, but that fear is present behind all our normal functions. Becker believes that the fear of death is innate and plays a central role in our character development. It is the driving force behind our actions, belief, thinking, and everything we do as humans.
The fear of death also ties into what Becker calls the existential dilemma. To exist as humans is to be caught in this existential dilemma, the notion that humans are wholly organic and wholly symbolic. The organic body is limited to death and determination and is finite. The symbolic body is the freedom of thought and defiance of finitude and determination. The word "existential" describes how humans exist, the very condition of being human, and the characterizations of our existence. "Dilemma" describes the struggle between two opposing sets of demands. It is distinguished from a problem because a problem implies a solution. The attempt to resolve the dilemma would destroy the very condition that makes us human.
Becker uses the existential dilemma to reinterpret Sigmund Freud's explanation of childhood developmental stages. Freud believed that we should never underestimate what goes on in the psyche of a young child because it will show how that child will shape himself as an adult. He observes that from infancy to age six, the child goes through developmental stages, in which the child experiences conflicts with his parents. For Freud, the source of this conflict is sex, but Becker points out that it is the child's struggle to reestablish his...
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