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Theses Toward a Theory of Generative Death Anxiety: Thesis #18


We conclude the presentation of Theses, here offering:

Thesis #18 – Future human well-being, and possibly even simple human survival, will depend on learning to substitute more nonviolent and creative manifestations of the individual and social defense mechanisms against the anxiety provoked by the religiously/culturally Dissimilar Other for the more destructive manifestations we have habitually employed.

As we have seen, when we humans encounter threats to the psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being encapsulated in strong adherence to a particular cultural worldview, our initial response is, first of all, the protective crouch, and then from that protective crouch, we lash out in defense of our cherish beliefs, values and way of life. History is replete with example after example of this dynamic movement from threat to defense.

At the same time, we have also seen that it is exactly those who may initially represent a threat to our cherished beliefs, values and way of life that hold the keys of allowing us to view our way of life more critically, to see the costs in terms of human freedom and well-being we pay in order to maintain our way of life, and to imagine the viability of other ways of living.

We are a species that has made a habit of warfare and violence against the Dissimilar Other. Dehumanization, exclusion and violence comes to us very easily. We might even say it has become the ‘natural human response’ to such threats. But the very contours of modern society demand that we gain new habitual responses to culturally Dissimilar Others. Humanity has become so intermingled, both physically and spiritually, that we simply cannot continue to lash out in violence against those who are different from ourselves without the violence rebounding back on us with fatally destructive force.

We have become one world together in fact, even while we still cling to our various worldviews as weapons against each other. Our situation reminds us of the famous phrase attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “Now we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately!” That is to say, while the protective crouch as a gut reaction may be inevitable at least for the time being, we must learn habits of encountering those with whom we have fundamental disagreements that do not immediately turn to violence, but rather to an attitude of creative and generous curiosity. We can now understand what the psychological and emotional forces are that put us into the defensive crouch, but it is not inevitable that we emerge from this crouch in violence. That part of the dynamic is habitual, not unavoidable. This change in habitual reaction will not be easy, but the future of our species may well depend on how quickly we can learn to substitute creatively nonviolence for the habitual violence that has characterized the human ethos until now.

We are born into a precarious time. We can consider that an affliction, our own misfortune. Or we can consider it as a calling, a duty, and as an opportunity.

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