We as a human have a very unique relationship with fear of death. We have perhaps most developed self-awareness or consciousness about our mortality among any other specie on planet earth. Yet this self-awareness can pose a big threat to the way we think about the world and our place within it. So we often do everything we cannot think about it. The fear of death wraps our mind in a creative or devastated manner. The fear of death can push us to create a positive legacy as well as us can drain our productivity.
However, it is impossible to avoid it completely. There are always reminders around us how finite our lives are.
Terror Management Theory about Death
So to deal with this we have developed a mechanism to help us cope. So, the terror management theory is built on this idea.
This idea explains our species are burdened with the fear of death or threat of mortality. That’s our ever-present and we know all about it.
So how we bury it down? How do we keep it managed? We usually break it down into two kinds of immortality.
One is literal immortality and in which we believe that we have a soul that persists our physical death and there is also the offering of symbolic immortality from our culture.
Our culture teaches us a way to feel that we will be enduring contributors to the world with our offspring. Through our contributors to the art science and also it allows us to feel we are part of something bigger than ourselves that will continue.
This concept of terror management is likely to have great importance and it significantly affects our psychology during this current global pandemic.
With this daily death trolls unavoidably splashed across the news and bulletins. Our mortality is present in our minds like never before.
Reaction about thoughts of Death
There are really two different reactions when we were reminded of our mortality.
First that we call proximal reaction. And these are practices to stop thinking about it.
We try to do what we can to stay safe or we deny it. Once we can push death out of our conscious awareness, it still lingers close to our conscious minds and that’s when you see terror management reaction and that is what we are going cling more tightly to our world view. That’s where we are going to strive harder for self-worth.
And we see some of that mixed in with our proximal reaction now.
So one consequence of terror management is that we can try to find comfort in our in the group. So in the people that are near to us and similar to us.
And we can try to emphasize those relationships against the people in the out-group. So the people who came from different cultural backgrounds, for instance. When we are managing our terror we want to see it
- Where is threat
- What can I focus it on
- I can potentially feel is uncontrollable. What can I pin it on that
So conspiracy theory develops and of course, that can get very dangerous when you start to pin the problems on specific groups and you see people lashing out.
Arguably we see these reactions of people in real-time. There have been many reports of a rise in Anti-Asian racism and xenophobia directly related to coronavirus.
Role of fear of death in changing social and political view
In China Itself there have been reports of coronavirus related racism against its African populations.
To find something tangible to blame for the virus, we have seen people latch on the conspiracy theories and spread fake news such as the spate of attack on the 5G phone masts here in the UK. As terror management makes us defend our cultural worldviews, we could see this having a knock-on effect on our politics too.
So it is easy to see how terror management has might start to change our political and social views, especially on certain topics. So if we become much more protective of the in-group and much more distrustful of the out-group, you can see how that could shape people’s attitude to the question of immigration for instance.
What I would argue is that as the fall US president election approaches, there is still going to be lingering thoughts of death not far from consciousness because of this.
And generally, that is going to work for a charismatic leader – leaders who sell world view in which “our group is great our group is strong and other groups are evil”. And Trump may have an advantage in that.
Fear of Death helps in boosting self-worth
This fear of death that drives us to defend our culture and strive for self-worth can be a force for good. For example, as a reminder of our mortality drives us to preserve our social connections it can also turn us more charitable and generous.
It leads us to strive to be of worth in the world and to the extent that our world view gives us a path to do that.
These approaches are constructive and valuable. Then our fear of death fuels us to try and leave a good legacy. It encourages you to be a little bit more creative.
Or to strive for creativity and reason for is we cannot live forever physically we try to live metaphorically forever.
And to live in this manner is to leave a long-lasting creative legacy.
So I would hope that during this pandemic we might find thought of death as an excuse to light a creative spark and to take on these very positive and constructive projects that will help us to cope with anxiety and potentially change our lives in the long term. Thinking about immortality can productively mold our lives. One day we will meet our end but before that moment we must live this life thoroughly, without regrets, without fears.