Essential Quotes

I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Becker, Ernest. THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF MEANING. 1971. Pg 172-174

So far we have been talking about everyday aggressions, self-assertive behaviors that are in the interests of the organism and hence, at least basically, of life. But now let us look at the darker side of the picture, at what Fromm calls “compensatory aggressions” and puts at the far end of the spectrum. These are a reaction to severe deprivations of long standing: to a severe cheating of life-experience, to a lack of basic fulfillment; they result in a truly crippled psyche, a genuinely deprived emotional development. For Fromm they result in typically in the necrophilic character, the one who values death over life, the mechanical over the pulsating. The most striking recent example of such a character was given us with artistic genius in the great film Dr. Strangelove, in the magnificent scene at the end. Remember that Stangelove in his wheelchair began to recite his great solution for surviving the end of the world, with the myriad explosions of the multiple warheads on the surface of the earth destroying all forms of life; meanwhile, deep in the shafts of lead mines in the bowels of the earth, there would be a refuge for tough-minded scientists to mate with choice pubescent girls, and breed a new generation of supermen who would arise after the radiation had dispersed. So transported was Strangelove by his vision of surviving the death of the entire planet that, in his enthusiasm, he unwittingly arose from his wheelchair and began to walk, apparently for the first time in his life.
The message of this chilling transformation of a psychic cripple is at the same time the denouement of our brief sketch of the spectrum of aggression. The necrophile takes revenge on life for what it did to him, he allies with death over life. And so we are led to understand that the most terrible form of life-negation is not something that man brings into the world from his heredity, from evolution. It is the result of the life experiences of his organism. How does it come about, what are these experiences? It is impossible to be exact about these things because they deal in the realm of feeling and in the internal experiences of the organism. But existentially we can recapture a feeling for that inner world and psychoanalytically we can sketch an impressionistic landscape of the forces that influence it. It would go something like this: that you cripple the person when you continually repress his spontaneity, his natural appetite, his joy in self-discovery and in the unfolding of his world; when you continually violate his self-protection by imposing your manipulations and your standards; when you make his own body a territory forbidden for him to take pleasure in, to feel at home in. Do his orifices belong to him or to you? Does he experience his own sensations in eating and excreting, or are these acts something that he has to perpetrate on his body? Does he have to be extra-careful, shut out pleasurable and “filthy” feelings, regard his gastric noises, his own insides as an annoyance or a source of shame? Is he deprived of the experience of the free and full functioning of his genitals, or even the comfort of self-indulgent flatulation of his anus? Is he made to feel mean and small, low in self-esteem compared to those around him-especially to things around him? Is he routinely punished for dirtying a tablecloth, for spilling on the floor, for losing a sock: the message he gets is that he is less valuable than these things, that things are truer than subjectivity, that order takes priority over spontaneity, that outsides and surfaces are more vital than insides and depths. Make it impossible or supremely difficult for him to reach out and warmly touch another human being, or melt himself confidently into another’s body; relate to him so that he is always a psychological yard or two away from you, cannot touch you or be touched by you emotionally; penetrate him with your own high level of anxiety about life, your fear of experience and newness, your lack of warm relaxedness, of comfortable playfulness; reward him for holding back, for self-control, for orderly arrangement, for taking care of his clothes and his gadgets, for skill in manipulating mechanical things, for not making technical mistakes in the use of figures and language-do these things to a marvelously sensitive creature who needs self-esteem and the experiences of his powers as much as needs bread, and you create a Strangelove. You create a being who is so deprived, so walled-up and pushed back on himself, so inept in reaching out, so short-circuited, whose nerve fibers are attracted to things hard, angular and cold, whose insides are such an empty echo-chamber of denial, that in order for this organism to sense, in some massively clumsy way, what would for him be a sense of vital expansion, to be psychically healed and begin to walk, it would take nothing less than the destruction of the entire planet.