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Rhonda Robinson

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May 1, 2014 - 1:00 pm
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boyhero1

Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Rhonda’s series on Ernest Becker’s ideas:

Part 1: What Makes You Human?

Part 2: George Clooney Didn’t ‘Save Puppies from Nazis’ In Monuments Men

Part 3: Is Self-Esteem a Social Construct Or the Soul’s Self-Awareness?

“Once upon a time there lived a little boy name Tom. He was brave, strong and he always obeyed his mommy…” and so each story would begin.

Every afternoon my little hero would meet a bear, a lion, go into the dark woods, or find a treasure. Each story led to a decision to be made, and our hero always chose what was right even when his faithful companion Little Bear (the scraggly teddy) did not. Every story would end the same–”because Tom always”…my voice would soften and fade as my own four-year-old Tommy would drift off to sleep.

When there are mountains of sand to conquer and frogs to capture, little boys find it hard to take time for a nap. However, I needed one desperately, so I made up wild stories to settle down my adventurous boy and feed his imagination. All in hopes of holding him still along enough for sleep to pin him down.

Until I read what Earnest Becker had to say about heroes, I hadn’t given those days of tale-spinning, or heroes for that matter, much thought.

Becker writes:

“Two centuries of modern anthropological work have accumulated a careful and detailed record of this natural genius of man: anthropologist found that there were any number of different patterns in which individuals could act, and in each pattern they possessed a sense of primary value in a world of meaning. As we said earlier, short of natural catastrophe, the only time life grinds to a halt or explodes in anarchy and chaos, is when a culture falls down on its job of constructing a meaningful hero-system for its members.” Ernest Becker, [Emphasis mine]

What stories do you tell your children?

Perhaps a more important question we, as parents need to ask, is what stories are the culture telling our children? What are the childhood heroes we, as a culture, are providing?

If in fact, Becker is correct and the only time life grinds to a halt or erupts in chaos is when the culture falls down on its job of constructing a hero system–we could be in more trouble than we thought. Although, I think we’ve always known it deep down–that’s why we are so disgusted with the likes of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber. At one time they held the admiration of young children.

What if Cyrus and Bieber aren’t the problem? What if, it goes deeper than that?

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Top Rated Comments   
He was four--learning not to play in the street, hit his brother or throw sand. First he learned to always obey his mommy. Now he obeys the law. No apologies here.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I must disagree about Harry Potter; those books actually do provide us with a good old-fashioned hero, who stands by his friends and tries to do the right thing, even if he sometimes gives in to his lesser instincts. Offering children "role models" who are TOO perfect can present its own problems.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't know about anybody else here but my heroes (I was born in 1951) were the guys who stormed the beaches in Normady, flew in the skys to fight the Luftwaffe, bomb the sh/t out of Germany, climbed up those murderous beaches in the Pacific and dropped the A-bombs on Japan saving millions of lives and bringing WWII to an end.

And they still are.

Call me old-fashioned.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
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I. This article is perhaps the most insightful article that you have written. You are getting at the core of Becker's most profound insight, indeed, THE insight that turned him away from the (cultural marxist) pychoanalytical school (which remained blind to the insight). And what is it? In "The Denial of Death" Becker reveals his freigthening insight:

"I believe that those who speculate that a full apprehension of man's condition would drive him insane, are right, quite literally right. ... [Man] literally drives himself into blind obliviousness with social games, pychological tricks, personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality that they are forms of madness--agreed madness, shared madness, disguised and dignified madness, but madness all the same."

Becker, influenced of Otto Rank, had stumbled upon a game that no utopian pychoanalysist (Fromm, Reich, Marcuse, etc.) could acknowledge, and that is the game of death. We all lose that game!!! All heroic structures, all the narratives we tell ourselves, all our lifestyles, all utopias and even our religions are agreed upon forms enabling us to "deny death", viz., surpress it adness from consciousness. Such denial is necessary because otherwise madness awaits us. But, is Becker devaluating your discussion of hero models and its problematic? No!

What I am pointing out is the fundamental problematic entailed in heroism (we human will have it willy/nilly). Even on his death bed in an interview only hours before his death, Becker, tubes pumping medicine into him, struggled with the "denial of death". What an interview!

The need for a "hero system" was accepted by Becker. But which type? What is the danger? At one point Becker suggests (based on some statement by Eichmann at his trial in Israel) that we humans kill others in a HEROIC drama to end death. We humans inflict death (physical or, say, psychological) in order to end death (as a fear producing factor for our group). In other words, we localize madness producing factor in a specific group (e.g., Jews) and then enter into a heroic drama of annihilation with that group. So, the Becker problem is to find a heroism that does not sublamate the madness into destructive hero narratives. I will write a bit on this in Part II. What you have done is to focus upon the heroic model necessary for health children, particularly for us male victims of the need. I do think we males are being emasculated in our feministic society. Whateever, I learn from your thoughts. I would like to suggest the most important hero system that is for us humans a bit anti-heroic.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Part II: "Socabill" found his heros in those American soldiers who "bombed the sh/t out of Germany" in WW II. Some of my relatives were doing just that. Yet, the "sh/t" bombed out included over 500,000 non-combattants, old men and women, children, street car driver, etc. some shrivelled down to minature size by the heat generated from the bombs. (Throw the military in and we have another ca 6 million dead.) I support the strategy used, but please do not overlook the problematic of inflicitng death so richly. Indeed, it pains me! For you see some of my relatives might have been burnt up. It is this problematic of inflicting death that can be seen in, say, the "heroic" German 6th Army at Stalingrad. Let me explain and then bring my thoughts to the American Army, all in light of "heorism" that denies death by inflicting it, but does not save.

300,000 man strong, totally successful in battle, the 6th Army (mostly due to stupid Hitler orders) got caught by the Red Army in Stalingrad. These were regular soliders (as a two hour documentary in German tv has shown) who mostly thought they were fighting for their country against an aggressor (just like our American soldiers) and spent a couple of months confronted within evitable DEATH. 100,000 surrendered (the others killed in battle or mostly frozen or starved to death) and ca. 5000 returned alive 10 years after WW II. That is a lot of death for self-confident "heroes". The common soldier soon knew that his "heroic" 6th Army was being beaten unto death. Death and dying occupied the minds of those soldiers, though some ate others, shot themselves or went raving insane, but all faced death. And what happened? Many started calling for "Mutti", i.e., "mom". "Mutti", in intact families of the day, was the place of security in which the weak, impressionable and unformed child learns and appropiates a hero system -- at that time quite martial in Germany (not per se direct against Jews) -- a process as relevant then as today. In a documentary about the US Marines fighting Japanese on Pacific islands, one military reporter noted that, during a lull of fighting, dying Marines could be heard crying out for "mom" and, surprisingly, dying Japanese soldiers were doing the same thing (the word was similar). We all, being heroic, can with good conscience (though not necessarily a correct one) inflict death upon others, but all so often, when we are the inflicted we turn to the source of security as young children, i.e. "mom". The mothering factor is so important here as it grounds are future secutiry as adults. It, however, cannot fend oft death, even for mortally inflicting dying soldiers. How to solve this problem? We cannot solve it! All reflective attempts will enter into the realm of religion.

Within a Christian context, the infliction of death and the person infliected by death does offer salvation (not in this world, but from the Becker-madness of this world through transcendence). I mean, of course, Jesus, suffering the infliction of a Roman execution on a cross, offers the only death, a voluntary sacrifice, by the only power that can truely free humankind from madness of the human condition, but not by the "heroic" deeds on the part of humans, rather by their acceptance of the task voluntarily taken up and realized by another. I would think that the most important hero system that a child can learn is not the lifestyles of this world, however important that may be, rather a sort of anti-heroic acceptance of one's human condition and the source of emancipation located in a divine figure.

I end here as Becker, as usual, leads me into thoughts that remind me that I am quite raving mad.

15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I developed the stories of The Naughty Tree Fairy. The Tree Fairy motto is to Stay Safe, but our young male protagonist wanted adventure. These were many and varied and always included his older brother and bossy younger sister. Our stories were told at table, since I couldn't get them to calm down any other way. ;-)
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, not our childhood heroes. The current crop of adult ones. Pathetic.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I must disagree about Harry Potter; those books actually do provide us with a good old-fashioned hero, who stands by his friends and tries to do the right thing, even if he sometimes gives in to his lesser instincts. Offering children "role models" who are TOO perfect can present its own problems.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't know about anybody else here but my heroes (I was born in 1951) were the guys who stormed the beaches in Normady, flew in the skys to fight the Luftwaffe, bomb the sh/t out of Germany, climbed up those murderous beaches in the Pacific and dropped the A-bombs on Japan saving millions of lives and bringing WWII to an end.

And they still are.

Call me old-fashioned.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
"... and he always obeyed his mommy…”

Then you're the problem. Read your own article!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
He was four--learning not to play in the street, hit his brother or throw sand. First he learned to always obey his mommy. Now he obeys the law. No apologies here.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
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