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The Hub for Important Ideas
The Hub for Important Ideas

Episode 25 · 2 years ago

Important Ideas from 2020

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This episode sums up our first season and recalls some of the seminal ideas from our guests. Our intention is to bring into public discourse the most inspiring ideas
we’ve got, in an attempt to find the best way forward for humanity. www.thehubforimportantideas.com

Let's talk about some of the important ideas from two thousand and twenty. Welcome to the hub for important ideas. I'm Steve James and I'm Ken Swain. In this episode we sum up our first season and recall some of the seminal ideas from our guests. Some of these ideas are our favorites, in other words, we just like them. Others are too important not to include. We want to bring into public discourse the most inspiring ideas we've got in an attempt to find the best way forward for humanity. We're going to play for you some clips from the episodes in our first season. If you've been listening all year, think of this as a recap to a year that was tough but wasn't all bad. If you came in late, here's an opportunity to hear some of the things you missed. Something strikes a chord, you might want to pull up the full episode and hear the whole conversation, or you can just think of these as the cliffs notes version. Right. Okay, so let's start with Merlin Maory in episode three, on the subject of illusion and death denial. Decker's ideas about the power of death anxiety do confront us with some of the worst things about human nature, but there's a very powerful sense of satisfaction in coming to understand ourselves more clearly or getting an idea that helps us explain mysterious things about human beings and human behavior. You're right in terms of people showing away from disturbing and upsetting topics. We all like good news better than bad news, but I'll tell you, when I'm sitting in the doctor's office, I would rather have a troubling but accurate diagnosials than some feel good evasion. So can why are we starting with this one? Well, Steve, I think what Merlin calls a sense of satisfaction in coming to understand ourselves and human behavior is what we've been striving for for a long time. It's really what this podcast series is about. I agree, and I've always admired Merlin's courage in framing her position this way. Ernest Becker gets a lot of flak for sounding pessimistic. Well, for being pessimistic, I guess, but Merlin is Merlin is never afraid of bad news. She's all about helping to explain mysterious things about human beings. Yep, let's go to episode two. Sheldon Solomon talking about the source of bigotry. If you grant, either implicitly or explicitly, the legitimacy of an alternative conception of reality, you do so by necessarily undermining the confidence with which you subscribe to your own point of view. And once that happens, you expose yourself to the very anxiety that those beliefs were forged. A riginal notely to help you resolve somehow, Steve. Why is this idea important? Well, this is a seminal idea for us, for Ernest Becker enthusiasts and for terror management theory. It's at the heart of our understanding of bigotry and xenophobia. Here's a clip from episode five featuring Jerry piven on war, violence and evil, three of his favorite topics. Yeah, that throughout history, so much of what has been done that we consider evil, the horrific violence, has been done to eradicate evil. Short and to the point, it's an extremely powerful idea. We Commit Act of evil when trying to eradicate evil. Yeah, it's another way to say it is. Most evil is done by people who believe they are doing good. It explains so much of human history. Here's a clip from episode...

...eight with Kirby Farrell talking about heroism. Heroism and value are not so much the heroic strutting of a hero in a white hat, but in fact what an admiration of grace and beauty and communication and empathy, the ability to see how other people must be feeling and thinking and therefore to try to find a language that can bring them into some common shared experience with you. Heroism, as Kirby puts it here, is a social psychological term that describes a way that a culture rewards as members with opportunities for self esteem and defense against death anxiety. Kirby describes his idea of a hero in our culture and it's a beautiful description to next we have Merlin again, this time from episode ten, and she's talking about religion and recent generations we've gone in the direction of a kind of feel good religion or a religion that gives us a feeling of joy and pleasure and eliminates our stress and reassures us. But if you go back to all the sacred text of most religions, they speak pretty bluntly about the fallenness of human nature, about our brokenness, our smallness in the universe, the vanity of most of our efforts. The kinds of ideas that becker brings to the subject of religion are really very similar to the ideas religious believers and religious thinkers bringing to the topic when they are trying to look through a religious lens at human nature. This is a theme that we get to again later in the year. The ancient view of human nature that has humility at its core. It's at the heart of most, if not all, of the great world religions and in the ancient philosophies. Yeah, I had to rethink some things this year. Yeah, me too. You Know Me. I didn't trust any notions as older than Darwin. But I've started, I've started coming around of this way of thinking that the wisdom of the ancients may of value in our screwed up century. Yep. So here we have a clip from Jamie Goldenberg in episode eleven, who's talking about sex and the body. We're different from other animals in that we are more cognitively sophisticated and, among other things, what this does is it renders us aware of the fact that inevitably we're going to die. But rather than be paralyzed with anxiety associated with this. What Beck our suggest is that we deal with this threat by clinging to some kind of symbolic cultural worldview in which our own existence can be perceived as meaningful and our own behavior can be perceived as valuable. And so, essentially, what the civilizing process does is it forces us to change our own animal natural sense of self worth for a contrived, symbolic one. If the solution to the fears associated with death are to live our lives on this symbolic, abstract plane. Will then the body threatens the efficacy of these mechanisms. The body reminds us that were animals nonetheless, and so we can try as hard as we'd like to pretend were these symbolic creatures, but the body, in time, reminds us, takes us back to basics and reminds us that we're just animals, sacks. What it does is it reminds us of our animalistic nature, and so, even though it's very wonderful, it's also threatening and also reminds us of the fact that more like an animal and being like an animal reminds us that inevitably we're going to die. I know this is a longer clip. Sorry, but some of these ideas are brief and profound, while others are too complex to fit on a bumper sticker. This idea presented by Jamie is a Longish syllogism. Let's see if I can set it...

...up in a simple way. One all animals die. I don't want to die, therefore I don't want to be an animal. Sex is an animalistic activity, but I like sex. Therefore sex is a problem. That makes sense. Yeah, it does, and I thought sex was complicated enough before I knew any of this stuff. Now it's really much more complicated. This explains why almost all cultures regulate sex and why our culture is so confusing in our obsession with sex, and it brings up some ideas that we get too later. Right. Okay, here's another Jamie, Jamie, aren't talking about money and stuff in episode thirteen. What what is money communicate to us? It tells us not just how much our car is worth, but how much we are worth as the person who holds the keys, and so it becomes in this way, a reflection of our sense of symbolic value. So, in the same way that we value money because it can buy stuff, it can buy stuff also because we put some with so much value into it. When we have these these symbolic reflections that says, look, I've made in this world, I've attained the significant amount of material success that makes us in that conveys, in this culture at least, that we're people of value, that we're special, and so, to the extent that that gives us a reflection and which we can feel good about ourselves, and to the extent that feeling good about ourselves provides protection from deeply rooted existential fears, then we can understand this urge to splurge, this press for materialistic desire as our response, in part two, efforts to manage these deeply rooted concerns about death and vulnerability. To the extent that this consumeristic utopia, these messages of mass consumption in materialism, to the extent that they become integrated at the individual level, the individual well buys into them, as it were, as a means to attain self esteem, we can then understand impart people's very, very powerful drive to acquire more. I think, Mary poppins, enough is as good as a feast, and unfortunately that very sensible notion is not something that many Americans live by. We're driven from more, and we can speak in to understand why we're driven for more if we recognize that it's fulfilling a very powerful need that people have to feel good about themselves. To what extent does a cultural system do a few things? To what extent does it provide for the psychological needs of its members? To what extent does it give those people in the culture a sense of meaning and the possibility for a sense of value, and to what extent does it do that well minimizing the costs for those outside the cultural system and for future generations? You know, American enjoy some of the highest rates of depression across the world and other forms of mental illness. To what extent is everybody getting access to this as a viable system of meaning? So, Steve, we're into longer clips now. Tough. Yeah, I guess it's our show. We want to play long clips, will play long clips. Yep. So this is a vital explanation of why money and materialism is at the center of our culture and how our materialistic culture fails the average member as a viable system of meaning, a foundational idea. Right. So back to Jamie Goldenberg again. Here she is an episode twenty two, in a conversation about the sooganny. We defend against concerns associated with our mortality. There are symbolic cultural worldview and self esteem, and in a sense, this raises...

US above the level of a mere animal. So things that remind us of the fact that we are an animal nonetheless are threatening to us, and so we seem very much motivated to distance ourselves from all reminders of our connection to other animals. Culture provides the prescriptions and the standards in the rules that we follow, and by doing this we can again separate ourselves from other animals and we become more of like cultural oblige objects, cultural symbols. We see all over the media images of how the body, the body is, our physical body, is something that reminds us of the fact that we're like animals, and so we see all sorts of prescriptions for how the body is supposed to look, how it's supposed to behave, how supposed to perform. And so by doing this, you know, by having this body that looks a certain way, well then the body is no longer something that's an animal like. It becomes more of an object a cultural object and object of beauty. In the research that I've been doing, what we argue is that existential factors also play a role, and when we think about, you know, the aspects of women that are devalue, they're all those aspects that tie her to our physical nation. I mean women are devalued for being less rational than men, more emotional, physically weak, are at the mercy of their bodies. Men are also threatened by these types of attributions about women, because men don't merely need women, but they desire women, they're attractive to women, and so they're threatened on some level by thinking of a woman as an animal. So they do it for themselves, to strip them up their creatuliness. The root of the need to put women down and also to lift them to a higher level are existential. You can see how this is at the center of the me to movement, the devaluing of women for existential reasons, affecting both men and women, in their symbolic cultural defense against death anxiety. This is a be carrion insight brought into the twenty one century by women social psychologist researchers, powerful ideas that women everywhere could benefit from. All right, now we get into even more complex ideas again. What was it won't fit. Oh boy, okay, ones that won't fit on a bumper sticker. Here's Sheldon Solomon in Episode Nineteen, in the conversation about narcissism and economic inequality. If everybody around you is in fairly similar straits, you're fine, but you're not fine. And in most cosmopolitan cities, where you have shanty towns next to trump towers, then what you find, and this is empirical fact. You cannot wish this a way, and that is that people are a more miserable when any quality goes up to a certain point. They become more cynical and they have less trust in government to provide for the common good. And it's a physical nightmare that everything from cardiovascular problems to cancer rates to all forms of psychological disorders. This is Wilkinson and Pike it. It is spirit level. That's correct, and so we know that people are physically and psychologically miserable in these conditions. Traditionally we reduced death anxiety by embracing our cultural world view and striving for self esteem. But once we do that, that inclines us to hate people who are different and to blow ourselves up to hyper cosmic proportions, at...

...which point we're on the edge of malignant narcissism. And so the claim psychodynamically, is that humility and gratitude give you the upside, which is the mitigation of existential terror, without the downside, and it's a pretty powerful psychological cocktail. That has the benefit of being affirmed by thousands of years of cross cultural religious traditions that all converge on the same point. Whereas the point about humility is it's actually a realistic recognition of what I've been calling right now radical and significance, and I like that rather signignificance, but, but, but, what we're saying is that, first of all, that happens to be true. Secondly, that takes all the pressure off. If I'm radically insignificant, then it doesn't matter much if I write a book today or walk the dog. Each of those things can be just as joyous and, frankly, just as ultimately productive of contribution to the life force. About where are we? Of what next? And I see no viable what next that doesn't include a focus on gratitude and humility, and I say that in part because the other way is not sustainable. We've gone as far as we can with self esteem. Yeah, because it's it's still based on unlimited growth, it's still ultimately it's unsustainable. If you're humbling, grateful that you're going to be kind and compassionate, you're going to have a more tender view of life. When we look at ancient rituals that they're marked by festivity, but not in the frivolous I'm going to get wasted in Puke in the same as the ultimate celebration of life. Humility, gratitude, tenderness festivity are the ultimate expressions of strength and security. They're not the purview of the week and the meek. Up till now we've been following a traditional earnest becker line of thought based on his major works and terror management theory, which is based on his theories as developed by Sheldon Solomon and his cohorts. This episode and the two preceding it begin to get away from Ernest Becker. We're still following the notion of defending against death anxiety, but now we're looking beyond Becker's explanation of self esteem and heroism as the primary defenses, and that's because of the problem in our culture with narcissism. Right. That's where we started this line of thought, and Sheldon is where we wound up. Humility and gratitude, all for an equally strong defense against death anxiety, without inclining us to narcissism, which has reached epidemic proportions in our society, unfortunately, and also because Becker takes you to a place that many readers rebel against. That's true, kind of it's kind of tough going. Not a lot of people want to want to go there. Yep, okay. So here's Dan Lichty in episode twenty three, in conversations about humility and gratitude and unifying our society. 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, and furthermore, we know that it could happen at any time. We now have a hero system, cultural system that pushes us towards making our own individual mark, and that means harboring the burden of mean and more tame mortality and meaning on our own individual shoulders. If you think about what humility and gratitude due to US psychologically, they sort of remind us to tuck ourselves back into that larger hole. 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 than efficients, when you feel humility, when you practice humility. I don't just mean, you know, walking down the street and all, let me feel humble 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 grab, yes, yeah, the sack into the meeting, it, back into the arms of the crowd so that, because that's ultimately all we can do, we can only hold each other up. 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. 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 push to individualism. Those are people that recognize the wisdom of the ancients. 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 what's your reason for being hmm? 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 conscious business 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 know and love and serve God through knowing, loving and serving other people, I think, I mean there's no other way to do it. I think we're coming around to more and more people recognizing that if we...

...only are pushing that individualistic achievement, 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. 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 society, 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. When self esteem inches over into self aggrandizement. That right. Only way you can maintain self esteem is through constant aggrandizing of yourself, of the self. Then that becomes destructive. 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. humilion gratitude are not the goal. There the they're the way to 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. 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 than we currently do. 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. Don't think about saving humanity, let's just think about turning the worst parts of our culture backwards a little bit. A lot to unpack, as I say. Well, I'll agree with that. In Our twenty one century American culture, we defend against death anxiety on our own through self aggrandizement. Humility and gratitude are an alternative way that returns us to a more communal way of coping. Gratitude is acknowledging that you're not on your own. Humility brings you back into the arms of the crowd. As stands says, we hold each other up. Yeah, like that. We hold each other up as a great idea. Our culture has...

...this alternative way already in it, this more communal way of defending against death anxiety. It may be in the form of ideas from other cultures or it may be ideas from our own culture from hundreds of years ago. Self aggrandizement, pushing individualistic achievement is really reaching a dead end. Knowing, loving and serving other people. Being part of a larger whole maybe a better way to live a good life. Steve a lot of wonderful and important ideas. A lot of important ideas and our first year, that's for sure. And we're not done yet. My friend, it's been a real pleasure working on this with you. Say Hey, great first year. Yes, sir, 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 www hub for important ideascom and support us on Patreon, AD wwwpacom front the hub important ideas. We are one hundred percent listener, supported and we are most grateful to you 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, and happy New Year. Happy New Year.

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