Re: memetics-digest V1 #20

Lawrence D. Rupp (
Sat, 11 Apr 1998 08:35:08 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998 08:35:08 -0500
From: "Lawrence D. Rupp" <>
Subject: Re: memetics-digest V1 #20

> ------------------------------
> From: Kastytis Beitas <>
> Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998 09:11:23 +0300
> Subject: Re: The sex-death continuum
> At 21:57 1998.04.07 -0400, Rob wrote:
> >Has anyone yet done any investigations of the realtion between sex
> >repression and death obsession? It's definitely quite present and seems
> >to be a good are to investigate in a memetic/ evolutionary biology
> >context.
> >Rob
> The interesting book on this theme is Yu. Boroday (1996) "Erotica - Death
> - - Taboo: The tragedy of human consciousness". I have read the Russian
> edition ("Erotika - Smert' - Tabu: tragediya chelovecheskogo soznaniya",
> Moscow: Gnozis, 1996). May be there is English edition too.
> Russian philosopher Boroday evolves some S. Freud's ideas about the sex
> and death relationships. Boroday presents very interesting hypothesis about
> anthroposociogenesis. It is intriguing alloy of ideas about sex, taboo,
> cultural evolution, death and murder, some psychoanalysis aspects etc.
> Kastytis

Pardon if this is a repeat. Can't remember if it was sent before.

See E. Becker, THE DENIAL OF DEATH. Free Press 1973 Also see H.
Vintage, 1955.


Daniel Liechty wrote:
> The most recent issue of ZYGON: The Journal of Religion and Science (vol
> 33 #1 - March 1998) is a special issue under the guest editorship of
> Neil Elgee and is focused on Ernest Becker. The lead article ('Tales
> from the Crypt: On the Role of Death in Life,' pp. 9-43) is by Sheldon
> Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. They present a summary of
> their research project over the past 2 decades on what they call Terror
> Management Theory, which is aimed at laboratory testing of a string of
> hypotheses which are derived from the basic theory of Ernest Becker.
> There then follow contributions made by me ('Reaction to Mortality: An
> Interdisciplinary Organizing Principle for the Human Sciences,' pp.
> 45-58), by Sally Kenel ('A Heroic Vision,' pp. 59-70) and by Eugene Webb
> ('Ernest Becker and the Psychology of Worldviews, pp. 72-86).
> I would like to take issue with a few points in the Webb contribution,
> which is essentially a reaction to the lead article. To begin with, I
> think we should finally lay to rest the hubbub about Becker's use of
> such terms as 'necessary fiction,' 'vital lie,' 'social illusion,' etc.,
> in reference to cultural worldviews and other self-esteem maintaining
> and enhancing ideologies. It is perhaps unfortunate that Becker used
> such terms in the first place and it is certainly unfortunate that he is
> not here to qualify and defend his meaning. Yet his use of such terms
> was very straight forward and need not create the kind of
> epistemological and cognitional 'binds' which Webb and others seem to
> find there. Becker was saying nothing other than that there are some
> ideas and propositions which we are better off (i.e., we are happier and
> our society will run more smoothly) believing, even when such things
> cannot be proven by the most hard rules of evidence we might apply to
> other propositions. He means nothing more or nothing less than that. It
> does not mean that such ideas and propositions are categorically not
> true (who knows, maybe the Mayan sacrifice of small children really did
> make the rain fall...) They are exactly the kinds of ideas and
> propositions which by their very nature cannot be subject to our most
> rigorous rules of evidence. To point out that we all hold to many such
> ideas and propositions, acting as if they are true and that without
> doing so we would be very inhibited and crippled in living our daily
> lives is not at all to demonstrate that the category should be rejected.
> Quite the contrary, it only emphasizes why the adjectives 'vital,'
> 'necessary,' etc. are vital and necessary qualifiers.
> Does the simple realization that there are varying standards of
> evidence, and that some rules or standards are more strict than others,
> somehow ipso facto 'privilege' positivism and make one a positivist? I
> hardly think so, or if it does then there is nothing to avoid in being
> so called. Positivism (capital P) entails a denial of the very reality
> of that which cannot be tested by the most rigorous rules of evidence.
> That is patently absurd to most people and is self-contradictory in any
> case, since the very proposition that only that which can be subjected
> to these standards of evidence are real is itself a proposition not
> subject to such verification. Sniffing out the scent of 'positivism' is
> really not very useful anymore.
> Yet because we are able to formulate various levels of evidence for what
> we allow to pass as true and real, we are obligated by mere honesty to
> apply the most rigorous methods possible in academic research and to
> treat ideas and propositions which have been subjected to the most
> rigorous rules of evidence as of a different level of certainty than
> ideas and propositions which have not been subjected to the most
> rigorous rules of evidence. As I stated repeatedly in my own
> contribution to Zygon, this is exactly why the empirical studies carried
> out by Solomon and company are so important. As a depth psychological
> system, Becker's theory can be placed alongside other depth
> psychological theories and on that level is equal to each of them.
> However, once hypotheses derived from Becker's theory begin to be
> subjected to rigorous rules of evidence (empirical testing) and the
> predictions made on the basis of this theory begin to appear with
> regularity (and predictions made on the basis of competing depth
> psychological theories are not appearing with regularity) we have every
> reason to assume that Becker's theory is 'more true' than the competing
> theories and we should start to treat Becker's theory with more
> attention and respect than other available theories.
> This is not Positivism, but simple practicality and pragmatism. It
> implies absolutely nothing about 'genuine knowledge' being pristine and
> uninterpreted. This is essentially the same intellectual move as
> checking out the repair history in Consumer Reports before buying a used
> car. A make which repeatedly proves itself lower in repairs by far than
> all other makes we will begin to treat as a 'more reliable' car than the
> others. A person may yet have reason to insist on sticking with Ford,
> but we would all recognize that this would be for reasons which at least
> to some extent fly in the face of 'hard evidence.'
> Again, if this makes us all 'positivists,' then it would seem that this
> is a good thing to be.
> Webb advocates in contrast to 'positivism' an epistemology of 'critical
> realism.' Yet every presentation of critical realism of which I am aware
> also assumes that ideas, propositions and hypotheses which has been
> tested according to the strictest standards of truth should be preferred
> wherever possible over those which have not. I think the real reason
> Webb imputes the bogeyman of 'positivism' to Solomon and company is that
> he wants to place the Girardian theory of mimesis on the table alongside
> of Becker's theory as an equal. Since critical realism privileges the
> move of rational reflection upon empirical sense data, Webb uses that to
> suggest that mimesis (as well as developmental stages) is as deeply
> rooted in human motivation as is denial of death.
> Webb is certainly correct in suggesting that there is no reason to
> assume there must be one and only one depth motivator in human beings.
> But there are problems in the move Webb makes on the basis of this
> suggestion. The immediate problem which arises is simply that mimesis is
> a behavioral learning strategy, not a depth psychological principle (the
> empirical studies Webb cites make this very clear, in fact.) It is
> therefore putting apples alongside oranges to suggest that mimesis is
> also a deeply rooted human motivational factor. (The same is true for
> developmental approaches - such approaches are always built on depth
> psychological principles, they are not meant to replace them, as Webb
> seems to assume.) Now granted, you can create a depth psychology based
> on the observation of mimesis, as Girard and company have tried to do
> and of which Webb is well acquainted as a translator and American
> spokesperson for this position. But then for that depth psychological
> theory (or any other) to gain a place at the table alongside of Becker's
> theory, it will have to be subjected to the kind of rigorous testing
> such as Becker's theory has in the form of Terror Management Theory. It
> does not gain that place at the table simply because some philosopher
> has thought about it and decided that it should be there. If, as Webb
> states in his article, the results of rigorous empirical investigation
> become simply 'experience' data to be thrown in as of equal value with
> all other types of 'experience,' out of which the armchair critical
> realist philosopher draws conclusions about what is 'genuine knowledge,'
> then I suggest this is both nonrational and unworkable. You wouldn't
> purchase a car or VCR that way (or deserve what you get if you do so),
> so why would you decide matters of more importance by such a method?
> Webb may well be correct in suggesting that Girardian mimesis is also a
> fundamental depth motivational factor in human beings. The next step in
> deciding whether that is so would be to start rigorous empirical
> testing. If the theory proves itself to be resilient in accounting for
> the results of that testing better than other possible theories, then
> the proposition that this is also a depth motivational factor will have
> to be given serious consideration. In the meantime, Becker's theory does
> stand apart from other theories and in the present, we are further ahead
> in our stumbling toward truth to interpret the worth of competing
> theories in terms of their relative ability to assimilate and integrate
> into Beckerian theory about death denial, rather than vice versa.
> One further note on the question of whether the unconscious is 'dynamic
> and smart' or limited and dumb (a question no clinician would ever ask,
> by the way...) The other morning I had forgot to set my alarm. At almost
> precisely the time my alarm would gone off, my unconscious broke into a
> dream I was having with that siren/growl sound from the beginning of the
> last track on Zappa's FreakOut album and yelled at me loudly - Wake up
> Dan, you'll be late for work! It was so loud that upon immediately
> waking up, I was sure the baby would also be awake. Only after a second
> or so did I realize that had all been in my head.
> Now think about it. My unconscious (to anthropomorphize) had to note
> that I forgot to set the alarm, had to keep time all night, had to look
> into my mental music archive for some rather startling sound (from 1965
> no less!) and pull all that together to wake me up at the right time.
> Seems pretty dynamic and smart to me...
> Peace,
> Daniel Liechty
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> ------------------------------
> End of memetics-digest V1 #20
> *****************************

What must we do to create the greatest good for an optimum number of
people over the long run?
"Good fences make good neighbors"

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