On Death and Dying
The Universal Fear of Death
The Universal Fear of Death expands upon the ideas Elisabeth Kubler Ross and Ernest Becker regarding the psychology surrounding death, and the social constructs designed to mitigate its influence on our psyche. These ideas focus on different cultural perspectives surrounding the path to immortality/transcendence, how culture assists us to deal with our death angst (anxiety), and in a dialectical way, bring about a question; “Is the fear of death universal?”
In the introductory section section the question is asked; Is the fear of death Universal?” Ernest Becker argues that the very thought of death is “the mainspring of human activity.” He explains that this fear of death drives us to create myths about immortality, seemingly to deny that a physical death is the end of life. Death anxiety and denial are said to have two origins: innate animal instinct (fight or flight) or “cultural conditions that may give rise to the fear of death” (Charmaz). Modern philosophers Feder, Hinton, Gordon, and Malinowsky believe that this anxiety is innate, that it derives from the characteristics that make separate us from other species, or what makes us human. One quote from Gordon states “it is our interactions with other humans that complete our existence and give our lives meaning.” This is significant because if our actions and relationships are what gives our life meaning, then death is the destruction of all things meaningful. Death is challenging for humans to understand because its the opposite of what we strive to attain during life. In contrast, other scholars aren’t convinced that the fear of death is innate, rather it is perpetuated through culture. They explain that death fear is higher in cultures that focus on individuality and self. In contrast, rural and primitive cultures do not feel death anxiety as strongly. What this means is that the fear of death is “subject to manipulation” by cultural constructs. There...
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