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The Hub for Important Ideas
The Hub for Important Ideas

Episode 23 · 2 years ago

Humility - featuring Dan Liechty Episode 23 – The Hub for Important Ideas

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

How do we make the world better for each of us and for our society in this age of individualism? This episode further explores the dual theme of humility and
gratitude.
This is an area that not only addresses our societal concerns, but also seems most appropriate in this Holiday Season.  

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How do we make the world better for each of us and for our society in this age of individualism? Welcome to the hub for important ideas. I'm Steve James and I'm Ken Swain. In this episode we explore further the dual theme of humility and gratitude that we began in September. This is an important area for us to explore. It not only addresses our societal concerns, but it also seems most appropriate in this holiday season. Well, that's true, Steve. We're going to play for you in interview we conducted recently with Doctor Dan Lichty. Dan Lichty, Ph d is also a doctor of ministry and is a professor of social work at Illinois State University, where he teaches human behavior. He is trained in academic religious studies, mental health work and pastoral counseling and is a licensed clinical social worker. He's the world's foremost authority on the work of Ernest Becker and his author or editor of nine books, including the Ernest Becker reader, transference and transcendence, death and denial and reflecting on faith in a post Christian time. He's also an avid amateur folk singer. Here's the interview with Doctor Lichty. Then lichty, welcome to the hub. Thank you for being here. Yes, it's nice to be here. Good to see you guys again. Thanks damn good to see Youtube. So they had before we do anything else. You're the world's foremost authority on our respector would you please review the basic ideas and concepts of Ernest becor just briefly? Yes, the thing that I noticed in Becker's writings, the thread that runs completely through, I guess you could say, is this idea of what he called expanded transference. I didn't call it that until later on, but that's what he was talking about, this idea that we feel a sense of inadequacy, of sense of guilt, the sense of somehow that we're do we don't quite measure up in ourselves, and so what we do is we project perfection and strengthen ability and wholeness and purity and all these other things onto external objects, usually people, but can also be things. I mean people make a transference object of their cars or, you know, they're whatever. A lot of us make transference objects out of our professional identity and the country, the nation, the flag and the nation, the flag and ideology. People have more than one transference object. They oftentimes have one main transference object, but then they have lots of other ones, lots of small elements. And what we do is we project all the stuff that we are not onto these transference objects and then we draw. Then we around a draw by vicarious identity with those objects. We then draw our own power for living. Hmm and Becker, this shows up in his very earliest writing. He was struggling with this all through. Why do we feel this inadequacy? Why did we feel? And what he finally came around to recognizing, and he got this mainly from a rereading of aut a wrong, that the ultimate thing that makes us feel inadequate, the whole it's sort of speak that we want to fill, is mortality. We are a creature, we are a species that is mortal, like every other species. Like every other species, we have the strong desire, instinct, even if you want to call it that, to keep living. But we are, as far as we know, the only species that has the intelligence to recognize that we are ultimately doomed, that we ultimately die. Other species, there's a few species that seem to recognize, maybe right in the moment of death, but we have the intelligence to recognize that years...

...and years before it happens and furthermore, we know that it could happen at any time. So in a sense, that kind of you've ever seen like a dog that's backed into a corner. They're backed into corner by a what they perceive as a mortal threat and they go into this really hyper kind of vigilant ready to grow. You know, we call that sometimes the fight, flight or freeze mechanism, that kind of thing. Becker says. We as human beings are susceptible to that as any other species, in fact probably even more so than some. But at the same time that can happen to us at any time. A dog is only going to call up that high, intense stress state in relation to a direct something that's right in front of them. But we can imagine a threat. We have we have it in our imagination all the time. Sure we can project dangerous where there are no dangerous in fact we like to do that in some ways in small doses. That I think that's what horror films are kind of about and why people why some people really, really like them and other people just can't stand them. But in a way they kind of dish up in small doses, that kind of tease, that kind of imaginative danger. It's almost like an innoculation, it can be. Yeah, I can almost like a vaccine. Almost like a vaccine, it can be, although I think that we never become immune to it. No Right, obviously, but certainly they're. I mean like people that are in high danger, high danger or high stress jobs, for example firemen and emt workers, and so they can get to the point where they don't react that too much at all in terms of fear, in terms of fight flight. For them, here's a car wreck, they go into action right, which is different than most of us being really seven subject to this high stress state of fight flight freeze. If we couldn't control that in some way, our nervous system would couldn't take it. Aren't we have heard at to you know, we dive a heart at that. So the only thing that makes the human species of viable species is that, alongside of the development of this high intelligence that we have that allow us to project into the future and see ourselves in the third person and do all the things necessary to recognize our mortality, along with the development of that, there had to be simultaneously the development of another kind of mental mechanism, psychological mechanism, and that is the ability to take what you know to be true and just shove it out of your consciousness. Oppression, repression, and that is the basis, probably of what Freud understood is the building of the subconscious. I mean there are other species that do things unconsciously, obviously. I mean a tree animal doesn't think, okay, now put this arm out and grab this limb and then swing. They do things unconsciously, right, but they don't have what we would call a dynamic unconscious. Just as there's something unique about the human intelligence. You could say that it goes beyond quantitatively, but it goes so far beyond quantitatively that it becomes qualitatively different. And and the same goes, I think, for our what we call the UN conscious mind. In human beings, we share all of the non conscious behavior that other species do. I mean you can learn to train it. That's what typing is about. I mean you you learn to train your nonconscious mind to do what you wanted to do. But we also have this dynamic unconscious which is so quantitatively different from other species that we really have to think of it as qualitatively different, and as far as we know, we're the only species that has that. How does this relate than to death anxiety? We as a as individuals, and then we as as a society, as a group, right, how we deal with death anxiety? Well, when Becker came to realize that, ultimately, what's going on in the unconscious, the thing that bothers us the most...

...is not just that we're weak, not just that we're not smart enough, not just that we're inadequate, not just that we're sinners before an angry God or whatever like that. Those are all symbolic expressions of something dwelling underneath that, and that is this recognition of our mortality and the need to keep that recognition, which all of us can understand. I mean, you can bring it into your conscious mind and it's very simple. You know, all men are mortal. Dan is a man, therefore Dan is mortal. I mean it, the syllogism is quite simple, but most of the time we have to keep that pretty much out of consciousness, put it off somewhere. Otherwise we would just be on, we would we would never be able to act. I mean, if I think of the possible dangers of just walking out of my office and going and getting in my car and driving away, not even to mention once I get on the road with my car, when I think of all the things that could happen to me realistically, that happened to all kinds of other people. You fall down the steps, you do whatever, and or even just your own body, just the heart gives out, and that's it. I'm like you, like you're dent, just like you done. The cress goes to sleep fifty five years old, doesn't wake up, no warning. Yeah, and as far as I know, they don't know why. I mean, they know that he had a heart attack, but they don't know why. There were no signals in his labs or anything like that that would indicate it. But anyways, up right, when your numbers up. So but the point is that even if we could just even if we could just say when the numbers up, that already is something that would at least allow us to distance ourselves from it. But accidents happen to people whose numbers aren't up. At least there's no reason to thing they are right, and you just beak coring in a corner all the time, afraid to act. At all. In order to act, in order to have forward movement in life, in order to keep going, you have to maintain a sense of self esteem, you're doing okay, and you have to keep this death anxiety, death awareness, I guess we can say out of conscious mind most of the time. Now sometimes things happen, you know, you walk out on the street and the other guys, the one that gets hit by the bus, well, you stand there shaking because that just brings that reality that that could have been you, Oh yeah, right to the front and so little by little you have to kind of push it back under again, and so you have, we have ways of doing that. When you wake up in the middle of the night and you've just had a terrible nightmare, which is essentially that thing of bringing mortality awareness to the center of your dream, usually then you lay there and you you, you have things you do to you know, to calm yourself down. This was just a dream, it didn't really happen. It's not a forewarning, and so you have these things you do. Well, that's what we all do. We have these things that we do to calm ourselves down and to help push that immediate immobilizing anxiety under and you mentioned self esteem, and that was a major theme in right workers work. Right, because Becker said that we do this individually, but we also do it collectively. Right, and he said that's essentially what culture is. Essentially we build culture to tell us that human life has meaning, this pageant that we're carrying on here, and has meaning, that it's pleasing to God or some other kind of transcendent realm that we're doing what we do, especially if we do it correctly, according to the rules and all that kind of stuff, and that by acting according to the rules of your culture, you can assure your soff that you're a meaningful participant, meaningful actor, if it is the word backer use. He liked to talk in terms of staging and acting, and I because that was kind of the I wouldn't say the fad, but that was kind of the school of sociology that he worked out of. The God Urvan Goffman and all that kind of stuff,...

...all those guys, that you're a meaningful actor in a meaningful production that ultimately appeals to the transcendent realm for its justification. Aside, observation of that is that all cultures are essentially religious HMM. Even an officially atheistic culture, a culture based on the idea that there is no god, still has to appeal to something beyond for its own justification. Like the old Soviet Union had its revolution, bringing into the liberation of the working class and all this kinds of sacred that was sacred to them, which, ironically, at the same time that's going on, there's this actually sort of a repressed, an underground religious movement that was totally honest and a pressed yeah, yeah, and then when the communist fell, this thing just sprung out, you know, and in a way, in a way, that's kind of how, on a very large scale, that's sort of the way you might picture backer's idea of the individual unconscious, that we have all this stuff stuffed under there and we're living our lives thinking we're in charge, we know what's going on and, as sue is, something happens like the guy next to you gets hit by a bus, this anxiety comes flotting out and stuff you thought you dealt with long ago is right there front and center again. Now it's now can and I have been working on this idea that, as Becker talked about, the narcissism in our society was reaching this epidemic level. We as a country elected a narcissist in chief. Yeah, as and a malignant narcissism with power is a dangerous thing. And we were examining the whole concept of narcissism and we came upon this idea of humility and gratitude as a counterweight, as antimatter to narcissism, right, and we started looking at that too in terms of some terror management theory work that have been done. Both those, both humility and gratitude, separate concepts and we started to say, well, how does this apply to Becker, because I don't remember. You would know better than me, or can did Becker ever really talk much about or did he have time in the dozen or so years he was busy working? Did he come across humility and gratitude as answers to death anxiety? The way he saw self esteem, purpose and meaning? As you just didn't really use the word self esteem either. That's a real that's a that's reading backwards. You. Okay, good point, right, right, but here's the way I would understand it now. I'm not saying my interpretation is exhaustively true or anything like that, but the way I would understand it is this, based on what my readings of Becker. He saw different kinds of societies as settting up different kinds of hero systems, different kinds of ways to tuck yourself in, and he thought that on the one side you had very collective ast societies in the extreme. You know, there's people that their societies in which people hardly use their own name. They think of themselves as the child of Soandso, not Dan, but the son of Edmund or Robert, or not even think of themselves as an individual. We are the sons of Blah, Blah Blah, you know that kind of thing. And so they are really tucked into a kind of a collective sort of meaning system and they don't face when the things happened that would rupture their death anxiety. They in a sense have each other to pull on. And tragedy certainly happens, you know, the lion attacks one of the brothers, you know, or when they're out tending their sheep or whatever, but in each case they're able to see the meaning system as a whole kind of upheld, because the cultural meaning system is kind of upheld because they're really in it. In a collective fashion, right. And then there is...

...the opposite extreme. We didn't really see a lot of this it on a wide scale until modernity. I mean I think if you look at certain kinds of people, like, let's say, certain Roman CAESARS, they might have been seen kind of pushed to the need to uphold the sense of meaning and on and forward movement individually because they put themselves in that position, I mean they became God. But in terms of a culture as a whole, I don't think you really see this strongly until modernity, and that is that, with the rise of individualism, right, we now have a hero system, a cultural system that pushes us towards making our own individual mark, and that means harboring the burden of meaning and more talent, mortality and meaning on our own individual soldiers, and we honor those people, we hold up as great, those people that seem to be doing that, the movie stars, the famous people, the sports stars, the People Making Boco box, you know, and that kind of thing. But you know, in terms of numbers that's a pretty small number of people that actually would be candidates for being able to do that. And a lot of them still are because they're only human and they also deal with that mortality problem. In their moments of silence or whatever solitude, recognize that they're not what they're cracked up to be. It's a tremendous burden. You're outside tremendous bird when you think about the traditional person living with death, anxiety that he or she can deflect because of the membership in the group, the purpose that they have, the meaning that the group is giving them, and not even thinking of themselves so much as individuals, as being son of some selling so right, whereas I am expected to be to achieve, achieve, as a one. Yeah, achieve, the driven to to this right. This the state of anxiety and stress, because most of us can't live up even to our own expectations, much less the expectations of others. Well, here's where I see, would see gratitude and humility coming in. We we live in this culture and which we are pushed to establish ourselves as individuals and whatever area it is we have chosen to be our specialty, if you want to say it that way. We need to achieve, achieve, achieve, and there's always someone doing better than you are. There's always someone who can, in a sense, cast shade on your sense that you're that you're making it. Well, if you think about what humility and gratitude due to US psychologically, they sort of remind us to tuck ourselves back into that larger whole. Yeah, when you feel gratitude, you're basically saying, in a sense, I didn't do anything to deserve this. Ultimately, the meaning of my life doesn't land only on me. I'm simply the manifestation of someone else's benefficient it's when you feel humility, when you practice humility. I don't just mean, you know, walking down the street and all, let me feel fumble for a while. No, I'm taking about when you carry on just a discipline to practice, to feel yourself humble and feel yourself in gratitude towards that which is beyond you. You're, in a sense learning to step back from the end of the diving board, so to speak, of individualism. Back you never thought of it that way. I love this. I love, yes, yeah, this sack into the meeting, it back into the arms of the crowd, to the because that's ultimately all we can do. We can only hold each other up. Right. You know, I like the artist that said we should all be famous for fifteen minutes. Yeah, yeah, and you were all yeah, I like that. I mean that's kind of flippant, but I like the idea that we form communities in which we, on a rotating basis, support each other and...

...how good a person you are and how glad we are to have you among us. And that's the power of facebook and those other well, it can be but yeah, also can people to think they need to stand out even more. Right, all these things could be, could be really good. But especially it's because of the commercialism and all that the tendency is to push this even further in the opposite direction, which might what we're calling the epidemic of narcissy. Epidemic of Narcissism Right. And what is needed there is in the healthy dose of humility and gratitude offset that that psychological need. Right, I think you'll find that people who are really practicing humility and gratitude find themselves spending less and less time on facebook and other kinds of things like that and more and more time on expressing their humility and gratitude by helping other people. So the point is, in our culture we have the threads for a more collective, more communal way of keeping our self esteem alive and so forth. We have those threads, but there are even stronger elements in the culture that push us to not employ those threads but rather to employ the threads of making your mark individually and and so forth, and in this in this twenty one century Western yeah, yeah, I'm painting here with really broad brushes, sure, but I would venture to say that if you meet someone who you see is really striving, they recognize the cultivation of attitudes of humility and gratitude are really what they need to recapture the mental health that our society are individualist society tries to rob from us. You're going to find many it, I would say most of the time. But much of the time those people are people that are immersing themselves in ideas from other cultures, in ideas from our own culture, but from hundreds of years ago, you know, when we weren't quite so pushed its individualism. Those are people that recognize the wisdom of the ancients rather than only seeing anything before. You know, two thousand and fourteen is outdated. You know, that kind of thing what we had talked about when we were first developing this whole this approach. We talked about humility and gratitude being part of ancient religious traditions. Like I'm A. I'm a cultural Catholic, and humility and gratitude are central to the Catholic cultural faith. From day one, every ash Wednesday, remember, man, that Thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return. They put that mark on your Bard. Right. What about your tradition? Can Your Protestant tradition? Was Humility and gratitude part of Europe bringing completely completely? You were giving thanks for everything all the time. I said great, we said grace before meals and held hands right, right and a circle right. And now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep if I should die before yeah, well, you're creepy. You're six years old talking about before you should die before you wake. But Dan, how does humility and gratitude fit into the whole religious tradition? Well, for the most part, when I say people who are consciously trying to cultivate within themselves a growing sense of humility and gratitude, those are going to be people that find it quite natural to be immerse in themselves in ideas and writings and practices that come down from the agents. That's what we're talking about. We're talking about religious practices and and again religion and religion and belief has tended to, I think, maybe overly emphasize that your religion is based on your beliefs, that you're going to numerate. Here's this doctrine, this doctrine, in this doctrine, and what I'm...

...talking about much more is the lived religion, the lived the lived tradition than the doctrinal tradition. I think that it's very possible to have no belief in things that we think of as religious in our society but still be immersing yourself in the practices and so forth of the ancients. I mean so many people that say I'm not religious, but they're still practicing meditation and they're still practicing you know now, of course, any kind of practice can become a kind of a transference object in itself. I don't just practice meditation, I meditate longer than anyone else around here. You know that kind of thing. It bit, you know. But so anything, anything like that can become a an ego feeding kind of mechanism and of course, it can end up being either stagnating or counter productive. But humility and gratitude particular. Those feelings in my my memory as a child growing up have to do with your place in the universe, your relationship to God, to that which is beyond yourself, beyond yourself. My Baltimore Catechism that I learned in first grade, the very first question who made us? Answer? God made us, which is another way of saying you didn't make yourself. Didn't make yourself. Why not a self made man like Donald Trump? Why did? Why did God make us? God made us to know, love and serve him in this life and to be happy with him in the next. So right away you're told you were created number one and the reason you were created was to know, love and serve God. Yeah, through knowing, loving and serving other people. And then, and then, of course, there's a whole tradition of well, you're not even number two in the food chain because the angels are ahead of you. Yeah, again, all that, that kind of minutia. That says a lot about the way we like to we like to multiply indefinitely or infinitely multiply the things we don't know, but you know you say what your purpose to do this, one other way of saying that is, and what's your reason for being? MMM, what is it that gives your life meaning? What is it that when you feel those times of fear and you know, those times when you all of a sudden are confronted with your mortality and it springs into into your consciousness and you sit there shaking, what is it that really can assure you that know, your life is valuable, your life is meaningful and what you need to do is live it out? Well, that's the whole thing about knowing, love and serve God through knowing, loving and serving other people, I think. I mean there's no other way to do it. MMM Right, okay, yeah, well, I well, you could become a monk and live alone, just praying. You mean like a hermit, Ma Hermit monke. Yeah, but even if you talk to hermit monks, I mean I spent a long weekend one time in a CISTERCIAN monastery and it was a silent monastery, but they had one person who he'd been there I don't know, forty years, as he he literally turned down a four year football scholarship to Notre Dame to go into the into the monastery and for forty years he never spoke except when they'd have the one on one with his superior. That was the only time he spoken forty years. Well, now they kind of put him in charge of the visitors, if you want to say it that way, the people that come there to do retreats. And he said that even all the time that you're doing this. I raised that question with them about wasn't this kind of sort of self centered kind of thing? No, you never had the feeling you were doing this for yourself. You were doing this for the benefit of mankind. Now you might say, well, how does that benefit man kind? Of Well, for one thing, they were at this monastery. They were they made their money by having this really great bakery. Out of that they not only had, you know, not only the commercial side of the bread making, but...

...they also were very involved in feeding people and all that kind of stuff. So that's part of it. But also they had this ideology, and you can say, well, how do you know that's true, but you can't. But it certainly didn't hurt anyone. Their ideology was that is good for all humanity that there are some people who have taken on them so they're not saying everybody has to just like they're not saying everyone needs to be a plumber, but they're certainly glad there's plumbers in society. They had a calling. They had a calling, and they're calling was to spend as much of their time as possible in prayer and meditation and that that was I don't think he pictured it this way, but I sort of did. Pictured that is radiating out into the society, into the larger society, and WHO's to say that that's not? We can't say that that. Well, how does that build buildings and paved roads? You know what I mean, right? But that is course, assumes that building buildings and paving roads is itself is a good thing. I mean, I guess it is if you're traveling or whatever. But yeah, but but if you're you know, when you think of all the destruction we've carried on in our in our society, I mean these guys were way into like eco ways of doing business and so forth, of growing their grain and they had animals and they were into an ECOS farming stuff long before I would have even known what the word meant. But when you look at what you were saying about our twenty one century Western society, where we are our own kings, we are our own pharaohs and we are expected to achieve in our own lifetime. And yet we look at humility and gratitude in these ancient traditions and we say it has a place in human cultures. What is its place in our attitude toward our place in the world? For Humility and gratitude are actually quite foreign to the at least the the individualistic strands of our cultural ideology. It's they're really rather foreign to that and that's what has been especially for the last forty years or so. It's emphasizing that individualistic Libertarian forget the idea that we have a responsibilities for the Commons and you know, we do the best buy a few all of society. All of the society benefits when everyone does what's good for number one, you know. And well, the humility and gratitude part it's strand it's very foreign to that kind of push. But I think we're coming around to increase in at least I hope so. I think we're coming around to more and more people recognizing that if we only are pushing that individualistic achieve even an achievement stuff. We're kind of reaching a dead end. Yeah, because, I mean you can take almost any topic, ecology, education, the economy, anything like that, and show how this idea that we have no common responsibility, that is responsibility to the collective, that are only responsibility is to keep pushing number one, that that's really ultimately, really destructive, very destructive. Well, I'm rand would tell you, if you take care of yourself and I take care of myself and everybody takes care of themselves, then everything will be fine. Yeah, except that the way that our economy is set up, we take care of ourselves by taking away from other people, for the most part, unfortunately, by grabbing as much as we can, and so we end up with people that have much more than they will ever, ever, ever be able to consume or enjoy in any kind of realistic, sensible meaning of the term, and other people who are really on the edge. And that's just our subsidey, not even talking about the world and comparisons of rich and poor in the world. And so we really have come to the point where the bankruptcy of...

...only emphasizing those threads of the culture and saying build your life on those threads alone. The bankruptcy of that is just becoming evident across the board. That's an excellent point, right, M and that's what we, as cultural critics, are looking at this culture and we're saying, wait a minute, we understand Becker, we understand the need to defend against death anxiety, we understand that this culture is providing us with this way of doing it. But first of all, it's not a wonderful way of doing it and secondly it's destructive on so many levels. Destructive to the environment as a night major one, but also destructive to the fabric of the society that we've pieced together. Right. And so this emphasis on self esteem, taken to its extent to the self esteem, self aggrandized self a becomes self aggrandized right because it starves steam. When self esteem inches over into self aggrandizement, that, rightly, way you can maintain self esteem is through constant aggrandizing of yourself, of the self. Then that becomes destructive. Yeah, self esteem. When we're all in this, when we recognize we're all in this together, we lock arms, you know a shoulders, and hold each other up and all that that self esteem maintenance as well. Right, just it's just self esteem maintenance that's plucking on very different strings and creating very different chords of self esteem than over on the aggrandizing side. But I guess the question then is we're talking about humility and gratitude. Can Humility and gratitude be an adequate defense against death, anxiety and, as you say, it's in some ways foreign to our modern culture, although it's baked into our history of Western culture going back a thousand years or so. But is it an adequate defense? The way self esteem has been? It's not foreign to our culture. It's foreign to that side of our culture that pushes us towards individualism. But we have another side of our culture too. And so when you recognize that way over emphasis on that side that pushes you towards personal achievement, personal aggrandizement, personal individualism, has hit a wall, then the only thing you can do is come back and say, well, okay, what else is there? Well, now we fight. Then you're able to see there's this whole other side of things that goes way back hundreds of years, thousands of years, into the more collectivists where we see ourselves less as such an isolated individual and much more as part of a larger whole. And then the question is, well, how do we get from there to hear? And I see cultivation, and that means conscious practicing, in whatever way you do it, conscious practicing that build up your sense of humility and gratitude as the mechanism, as the steps by which we can get from there and back to here. One of our listeners brought that up and he wrote me some very interesting, detailed stuff and at the end of it he was saying, so how do you get to this humility and gratitude? And you're saying you have to practice it. Yeah, yeah, it's that. You don't get to it, it is the way. You million gratitude or not? The goal there the they're the way toward the goal. The goal is just being able to live a good life and a life in which we feel that we would want to live it over and over again. Right, it's not the goal, it's the way. So okay, that's an excellent way of looking at the broad picture of our society. How about I brought up the trump word, the political situation that we find ourselves...

...in. What would be the significance of humility and gratitude and our current political situation. How does that relate to fees entrenched belief systems that are ideologies that are at war with each other? It's hard to say exactly, but I read a lot of the Christian nationalist kind of stuff and I read a lot. Yeah, I listen to a lot of right wing truck radio and I read a lot of the blogs online. I take part in discussions, discussion groups, on blogs that are a hundred percent or on websites and that are a hundred percent contrary to my own politics and point of view, because I want to know how these people think. True and when I find coming up more and more is not that these people themselves are pushed towards this individualistic achievement. Achievement they choose leaders who they can get that sense from vicarious identification with those leaders. Nobody in the discussion groups that I take part in, these right wing discussion groups, think they're going to be a billionaire. I mean sometimes I'll say you know, well, I you know who knows you know, like something like that, but none of them really think they're going to be a billionaire, but they get a vicarious sense of I don't know if I don't know if self esteem is the right word, but they get a charge, they get a participation, they get a charge out of that idea that they're in the ranks of someone who is expressing this totally well. And how do you view the other side? How do you view people like me? And then, almost in very bit, the first thing they say is your people who don't respect us, your people who think we're nothing but shit. You know, you think that we're nothing but what was Hillari's word? Dregs, nolrbals, deplorables. Yeah, that hurts so bad and I think maybe long before we think in terms of electing this person or this program or whatever, or maybe at least. Maybe not before, but at least along with we have to let other people know that you are a fellow sits in, you participate in the culture we do. We are in very real sense indebted to each other. I mean, have you ever really looked at a someone who's a real right wing person and try to cultivate in your mind how the ways in which you're indebted to that person? That's really difficult, sure, and that's really when we're talking about practices. We're not just talking about isolated meditation when you get up in the morning. We're talking about real kinds of practices that are very, very hard and take a lot of selfdiscipline, one of which would be to look at someone who you just can't stand and try to think of the ways in which and meditate on the ways in which you are indebted to that person and the things that that person can teach you, and you know that was reward you admire in that person. Were you admire in that person, all those things. Those are the kind of practices that I'm talking about and as a culture we've become so polarized that it's really hard for us to do that. But I think ultimately, even more important than getting this person elected or that person elected is that we have to come back to that ability to at least see ourselves as fellow citizens engaged in a mutual project that the outcome of which affects all of us. And how about in this pandemic, which is arguably the most important thing that we're facing right now as a species, because this is not the only one and only we're going to see more of these pandemics as we continue to encroach. Oh yeah, probably worse than this. Yeah, we could see some really really I mean this one is mild compared to what it could be. Right. How does humility and gratitude play into this? How we respond to the pandemic? Well, I mean the first step is recognizing that we all have mutual responsibilities...

...to each other and that if we have mutual responsibilities to each other, that means that my actions need to be affected by how I affect you. My actions need to be guided contoured by how my actions impact on you. And it seems to me I don't know. I mean it's really amazing to be how much even just wearing masks has become so politicized. But it would seem to me that just the willingness to wear a mask to protect yourself, but more than that to protect others, has reached such a wall of rejection with certain people and I think we have to understand how these things happen and there should have been intervention on that long before there there was the minute that people started politicizing this thing. Other people who have influence in the society should have been all over that and just never letting that snowball get as big as it did. I'm getting lost in Dan's ideology and I'm just I'm more like a listener. I'm all on the listener to this podcast asks that I am a host of it. Yeah, because your introduction, like when we say summarize the ideas of Ernest Becker. Most people start with his last four books, right, and you kind of attack those on at the end. Well, they are the culmination. Yeah, okay, but a lot of people, you know, Betar even said this in the introduction to denial of death. He said it in a way. He called it his first mature work, yes, which all I remember that will look at and say, Oh, well, that means all the earliest stuff is not and they so they start right with the you know, why should I read all the earlier stuff? Let's look at the mature work. But the fact of the matter is I don't think he meant it in that way at all. If you read the denial of death in the context of all of his other writings, you can see that it's clearly a culmination of something he was working on all along. There is a significance to it. For the first time he realized, AH, that's what's going on here. It's not just that we was always wondering, well, why, if you can show people this dynamic of expanded transference, why do they keep doing it? It's kind of like insight, the inadequacy of insight. If you could show people that this is what they do, then why don't they give it up? Why don't they stop doing it? and that troubled him really. That troubled him a lot because he really wanted a better society than what we had. You didn't want to have the wheels of war and oppression to keep turning, and so he thought by helping to expose this mechanism to people that they would slowly, in a way wake up. But in his last book, my favorite book, escape from evil. Yeah, he says that most evil is committed by people attempting to eradicate evil or do good. So are people who are striving for symbolic immortality by boosting their self esteem or your, their self aggrandizement, as you put it, they potentially inadvertently doing harm by trying to eradicate evil? They're they're doing more harm. And does that mean people should stop trying to do good? There's a question. Well, that's the place where I think when you focused too much on just the last books. Yeah, you get you get a you get a picture of death anxiety and death denial that leads you down a dead end road. It's like you come to the point where you just have to say, well, we're just a doom species and that's it. And Becker himself kind of went there. But remember he was like forty eight, did eight, forty nine years old. If he had lived longer, I know that he could not have remained in that state of extreme pessimism forever. And so those of us who kind of are looking at Becker stuff and saying, yes, this is a road we need to travel, but we can't just go to the dead end. We have to ask, okay, now we've been through this, where do we head from here? And that's why we're looking at ways that could be more creative in helping us deal with our...

...self esteem and death anxiety issues, ways to help us do that which aren't just simply turning the wheels again of one more ideology that then we have to turn around and fight and defend and murder and kill in order to maintain. It's the plausibility of that immortality ideology. So that takes me to the next question. Do Humility and gratitude have that same potential to do harm? In other words, can you imagine people rising up in armies with the you know, a Sigil of humility and gratitude at the way we do with this whole self aggrandizement? Of course, I mean all we have to do is look at the armies and armies of people that have slaughtered other people in the name of that guy who told us to love our enemies. Yeah, that's right, that's right. Yeah, that's true. I think we might get into trouble if what we think we're doing is we're finally going to come up with the thing that's going to save humanity. Yes, don't think about saving humanity, let's just think about turning the worst parts of our culture backwards a little bit. It's not to say that we now have the salvation ideology for everyone, humility and gratitude. And by God, if you're not humble enough, will you know, will be out of you? Well, hopefully you further right. That's not what this is about. This is basically about asking ourselves, can we turn back before we go over a cliff? Yeah, and even if we don't get back to eat. Can we at least turn far enough back that the cliff is not right there in front of us and already some of our group has fallen over the edge, and that we can at least think about a decent life for our children and that kind of thing? And I think that's one reason why the whole global warming and ecology issue is come to take increasingly front and center about what's wrong with our culture. The fact of the matter is our culture is based on the idea of infinitely expanding consumption right, and that's killing us. We have to we have to learn how to feel good about ourselves at at a much lower level of consumption of material goods then we currently do. It's the basis of the whole system. I mean pretty much since I think like madmen that get started there, and even this individualism thing, like the Marlborough Man, that whole madman individual thing really kind of started us on this. You got to consume and consume and consume right, and there's always new necessities that people keep inventing. But yet probably an important element in all this if you just have humility, well then you really don't do a whole lot. Then you're just a mush bucket, Yo, Mush bucket, if you need pros for the gratitude part comes into I mean, when you feel how much has been given to you, you in turn want to give to others. So it's humility and gratitude. Are really a marriage set. Yeah, a match set. Mutual. They're mutually dependent on each other or something like that. Match said, I like that. I like that idea. You know, when I was a kid I lived in a town in Indiana in which, yeah, we had, I guess, rich and poor. You mainly knew who. You knew who the people who employed people were, and you know who the people who work for those people were, sure, but we all lived in the same neighborhoods, we all went to the same schools and there was this underlying taboo against conspicuous consumption. I mean I remember, I remember saying to my Dad, well, dad, why can't we get blah blah, Blah Blah Blah Jesus? Well, you know, because there's other people in this town who really can't afford that kind of thing and we don't want to create in them the feeling that they need it. Well, and I used to think, man, that's so bad. That's so wrong and now I just think it was so...

...right. Are Right right now. If you go to that same town now there's multipe million dollar mansions and you know the big knows right. Well, not giant shopping mall. It's because still relatively small town. But you know, they built this great, big man Made Lake and they're all the houses around the lake. You wouldn't find any of them. Well, in that location there maybe three hundredzero dollars or four, but if they were where I live now they'd be three million dollars. Exactly right. So this is a really interesting point, I think, and one that we've touched on here and there. But do you imagine humility and gratitude to be important aspects of living a happy life? Yes, in the sense that that's what I've found to be true. Know, in the sense that I can't go tell other people now here's what you have to do. Here's the recipe, right right. What I can do is say I've given this a try. It helps. I'm not trying to say I've have reached any pinnacle of achievement on that. I'm still growing into a life of humility and gratitude, but I'm finding that that life is much more a life worth living and enjoyable than a life that's striving constantly after. For me the thing was professional achievement and I've never really cared about conspicuous consumption in that kind of thing. But I certainly had my areas, my music collection, you know, my got a lot of guitars behind you, a lot of guts are and a Banjo. Yeah, that kind of stuff. I mean, I've had my areas to where, you know, and I kind of recognize that and I laugh at them and it. But but one thing I do strive to do is try to examine when I recognize, yeah, that's an area where my inquisitiveness or whatever comes out, I try to examine that and at least try to see isn't hurting anyone else. MMM, is it? You know, I don't think we have to be perfect people in any essential sense, for I don't even know if there is a person the essence of perfection when it comes to people. Sure, but at least we can be aware of how our actions impact other people and strive not to be hurtful to others. Yeah, right, and really I mean, and I'm not just saying, you know, don't walk down the street and punch people in the face. I'm talking about looking at our power lives fit into systems and how systems impact people and all that kinds of, in the broadest sense, trying to live a life of non violence, and I called ECO responsibility. You said something shortly ago that's that expands on an idea that Steve and I have talked about my cousin Dave, who was a lawyer back in debating training. They would make you take the opposing view right, especially of an argument that you yourself are very committed to, and they would make you, in our world, they would make a really tried in the will blue person argue for trump right. And only when you can do that can you really say you've got all sides of the things. So you said a minute ago that you participate on right wing discussion groups, because I really want to know what they think. I know and I had the idea, first of all, that's where the solution to this thing is. But then I immediately fell off my high horse when I tried to imagine people doing that. If you even say anything, and that sounds intelligent, they call it hate speech and, as you said, the Red Folks said that you think that we're horrible deplorables and you're like, I don't think that. One day I had to really really guard against was getting sarcastic with people. You know, it would be so easy to just point out the absolute ridiculous fallacy of some of the things that people were saying in discussion with me, and I had to really watch and hold myself back from that, because you're actually specially when they're being sarcastic to you. What I had to realize is...

...when I get sarcastic and therefore make the you know, make the point, I've lost. Yeah, yeah, one I've want yessed it was good that you put your finger out like that. That's yeah, when you when the finger comes out right, you you're in a retreat mode, right, and only once. I think I did this pretty solidly for about two and a half years. I kind of stopped after a while. I guess I started realizing how much time I was putting into this. Yeah, and in the end I kind of had other projects going and I kind of stopped doing it. But I was on this website called the mad patriot and I basically introduce myself and said I'm a Patriot and I'm mad. Therefore, I have a place on this now here's what I'm mad about, and let's start talking to let's see if we can find common ground. And I had to be very careful about sarcasm, not to use it. I mean more than once I found myself jumping in with sarcasm and had then its end and erase, even though it hurt, because boys, some of those barbs were some of those who are really good ones, yeah, really youngers. And the other thing was to write in anger. MMM, and I'd also refus I said I'm not going to use any profanities and I would appreciate it if you didn't use profanities with me, but of course you can do what you want to do, but I won't use any profanities. Only one time that I slip up on that that I remember, not with profanities, and you could maybe you could say this a slip up or not, but one guy made a pretty serious threat to me, MMM, bodily injury. Wow. I simply told him, which was true, that it was not hard to google his name and I know who he is and I know where he lives, and this whole discussion is now been put over into a file which, if anything happens to end to me or any of my family, it's going to go to the police. And he stopped. He dropped that. Now I felt bad because he dropped out of the discussion then, at least under that handle that he was using. Yeah, but there's only one way to deal with a bully. That's the way. Well, and and my senses that he's not really a bully. My sense is actually just from looking from the information on that I could find from googling, my sense is that he's one of these guys sitting in his mother's basement. So more not really a bully. But he you know, he said he has access to high powered weapons, while I don't bount doubt that he does, because every American does if they want to. So that was one thing that was I would say, was a little I had to use a truck. I don't want see a trump guard, but you know, I had to use a I had to use a heavy hand there to let him know that he's threatened violence. I'm not threatening violence back at him myself, but I am very willing to use the violence of the state if he carries through with the violence he's threatened. So that kind of that's kind of not living non violently anymore, but it was what I felt I needed to do at that time. Dan, thank you for a excellent conversation. This has been absolutely this has been a delight and we really really appreciate your joining us and we're looking forward to another podcast with you. Well, and one thing I want you guys know. I know where you live. You make me look like a fool. My God, you're gonna hear about it. You're gonna hear about it. Look at hit with a Banjo and I really don't really hurt. And thank you so much. Thank you all right, great, you've been listening to an interview with Dan Lichty on the importance of humility and gratitude in twenty one century America. So, Mr Ken, what's your takeaway? Well, Steve, the first thing I have to say is that this interview with Dan really humbled me. Yeah, I'm me too. You know, I like to think I understand. I think we both like to think we understand, or in a specer, pretty well right, and it's been our habits since we're fortunate enough to talk to all these Ernest Becker scholars that we always start by asking them to give...

...us a brief introduction to the works or brief summation of the works of Ernest Becker. Yeah, because you get a lot of different perspectives on it and you sort of get a close approximation to what the reality is. Yeah. Well, we did that with Dan this time and it was just you and I are used to hearing kind of the same information being told in a different way. Right, when Dan started talking at the beginning of this interview, I wasn't sure that maybe he was answering a different question because it didn't include it didn't include any of the stuff that we normally hear. And, like I just said, as I just said, Dan knows becker probably better than any living person. Yeah, his and so his his understanding goes back to the really early writings that most people don't. You know. His real fame came with his final books, birth and death, of meaning denial at death and escape from evil, and that's where most people start talking about him, when he won the polar surprize. You kind of start there, right, might as well start here, right. The other stuff is all prelude, but not so with Dr Lecty. So he jumps in. The first thing he starts talking about is expanded transference, and that's where I kind of did a double take and I've never really caught up. I was listening to the interview, forgetting that I have a responsibility to be cohosting and conducting the interview. So that that that's about. That's about the highest compliment I could pay to Dr Lichty for you just he the guy has got so much in his head I don't even know where to start. Yeah, so, yeah, he goes. He draws a line through Becker's early work and takes it to the progression of thought over twelve year, his twelve years of writing, and then Dan applies it to our subject of hand, humility and gratitude. That's right. He notes that our ancient ancestors dealt with their own mortality, the purpose and meaning of their lives collectively. They were never alone in their defense against death anxiety, which is something that we all struggle with in the modern world. For the ancients, the tribe or group shared that load. In our modern society, were pushed to make our own individual mark, and that means harboring the burden of mortality, purpose and meaning on our own individual shoulders. It's a lot to bear and I had never thought of it quite that way till Dan pointed it out. It's a fascinating take on Becker. There's nothing new about this. Of course it's in Becker's writing, but Dan's perspective is so interesting. So what humility and gratitude do for US psychologically is to Tuck us back into that larger hole that the ancients took for granted, and I love that phrase he uses, Tuck us like we're being tucked in at night. Yeah, he has a bunch of those in this talk, things that just kind of ground you to what he's saying and you almost find yourself going back to thoughts from childhood and adolescence. Almost well, I think it's approach is brilliant. Yeah, he says, when you feel gratitude, you're saying, in a sense, I didn't do anything to deserve this. Ultimately, the meaning of my life doesn't land only on me. I'm simply the manifestation of someone's beneficence. Gratitude acknowledges that you're part of a mutually dependent group. That's right, Dan says. When you carry on a discipline, practice of humility and feel yourself in gratitude towards that which is beyond you, your innocence, learning to step back, and I love this phrase, to step back from the end of the diving board of individualism. It's really a very that's another one. It's a very visual image. Yeah, and I somehow saw the pool as empty when he no, I really I really did. I really did. I mean, you're very you're out there all by yourself.

I mean you're flying solo man, you're working without a net. But what he's saying is you step back into the arms of the crowd. That's right. Dan's major point is that that really that's all we can do. We can only hold each other up. We express humility and gratitude by helping other people. Yeah, it's great, isn't it? And he's a social worker and of course that's his perspective and he teaches other social he teaches people how to be social workers. Yeah, that's true. So he's kind of like a supersocial worker and helping people is what he does. That's his career. He's a teacher. Yeah, but it's a good perspective for us to have in this age of individualism. It really is, and I think you and I both caught on to this when we were first talking with Sheldon, because I think we intuited instinctively that there was something here that could be of great benefit to our society. So I'm really glad we got this and started talking about it. It's in the wind now. You know, we're certainly not the only people talking about this. So Dan notes that elements of our culture push us to make our mark individually. I think I said in there some of that comes from our original sort of wild west, rugged individualist, Teddy Roosevelt stuff, and then I think some more of it was amplified when advertising kicked in with, you know, the madmen and the Marlborough Man and all of that stuff. It's a guy on a horse all by himself somewhere like that's that's the ideal. So he insists that the threads for a more collective, more communal way of keeping our self as steam alive exists in our culture and we have to find those threads. And Dan maintains that we need to immerse ourselves in ideas from other cultures and ideas from our own culture. Hundreds of years ago he's saying those threads are in our culture. It's just that we've gotten away from them. Yeah, so we need to recognize the wisdom of the ancients. Here's a big one. If we're only pushing that individualistic achievement, achievement stuff, we're reaching a dead end. I think that's one of the most important takeaways. Yeah, what he's saying is that we as a society are at the end of the diving board. We're reaching a dead end. To wonderful metaphors, and then he adds another one. He calls it bankruptcy. Yeah, it's really destructive when our only responsibility is to keep pushing number one. So, climate chaos, pandemics, endless war, gross economic inequality, white supremacy, declining mental health. We're looking desperately for answers, and Dan is adamant that we do not have a magic bullet here, but he's saying that a community that embraces humility and gratitude, that regularly, maybe on a rotating basis, which support each individual in making him or her feel like a good person and how great full the group is to have that individual among us, that this would be a good place to start. I think that's right, and helping other people is a key component. Right. Dan says, you have to practice humility and gratitude. It's not a goal, it's a way to get to the goal of a happy life. That's right. It's not the goal, it's the way to the goal. Right. Dan Says we can move to heal the divide in this country if we recognize our fellow citizens as people that we are indebted to. We are all indebted to each other and we can learn from them. Right, and recognize that we all have mutual responsibilities to each other, especially in the pandemic. He said, let's not think about saving humanity, let's just think about turning the worst parts of our culture backwards a little bit. Can we turn back before we go over a cliff? Another metaphor? Yeah, at least back enough so that the cliff is not right in front of us with you,...

...and I have said from the beginning on this show, it really feels like that. Yeah, he's feeling the same things we're feeling regarding the environment. Dan says we need to learn how to feel good about ourselves at a much lower level of consumption of material goods than we currently do. Infinitely expanding consumption is killing us. So when you look at conspicuous consumption, it's the opposite of humility. Yeah, sure it is. Why do you need a mcmansion when there's only three people in your family? At what you need five thousand square feet? It's ridiculous. Well, it's actually it's mostly from the street. The value of that house is look what represents me. He's saying this endlessly expanding consumption is killing us. Yep, Dan found it to be true that humility and gratitude what you called the match set. Yeah, Dan like that. I like to say something that he thinks is intelligent. Dan said he found it to be true that they are important to living a happy life. But it's not a recipe. It's a way to a life worth living and more enjoyable, one that doesn't hurt anyone else and is echo responsible. A good idea, important ideas. These are important ideas. Steve. We got a lot this time, so folks, join us next time. Like us on facebook. We are grateful for your encouragement. Please recommend us to your friends. You can find us at wwwe human ideascom and support us on Patreon ad wwwatcom slash the hub important ideas. We are one hundred percent listeners support. We are most grateful for your support. Thank you for listening to the hub for important ideas. I'm Steve James and I'm Ken Swain. Stay safe, everybody, stay well.

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