Thoughts on Sin by Ted Peters (1994) Anxiety 2E

Could “not knowing any different” equal the “unifying vision that once controlled the impersonal structures of institutions” that was lost in “modern” social fragmentation?

Consider, social fragmentation draws the individual into a type of social bondage, where one is held within a particular “language’ community, say, the community of Plumbers, that is further reinforced by the existence of other “language” communities that one does not belong to, such as the community of Electricians.

The fragmentation induces anxiety to the extent that the Plumber imagines that she could have been an Electrician.  Anxiety promotes neurotic behaviors, which block actions, close options, and increase one’s own bondage.  Anxiety also inspires one to pretend to be what (one could be but) is not.  For example, an anxious Plumber (who imagines that she could have been an Electrician) may mess up a project by telling the Electrician how to do her job; that is, by pretending to be the Electrician as well as the Plumber.

The Plumber has a choice.  She may try to impose her own meanings on the Electrician or she may step back and imagine that “she does not know any different”.

But “letting go” does not make “more choices and freedom available to me”, which is what Becker wanted.  Well, Becker wanted more than that.  He wanted to re-generate his mythical unifying vision that once controlled the impersonal structures of institutions.

According to Becker, with this unifying vision, the Plumber could pretend.  She could have been an Electrician if she had wanted to be.  Pretending would give her self-esteem.  Self-esteem is the only way to escape the bondage of psychological determinism that comes from fragmentation.  Self-esteem is the surest basis for selflessness and social harmony, especially when it comes from Becker’s mythical unifying vision that controls the impersonal structures of institutions.

In this way, Ernest Becker, like so many of his day, defined himself as a Great Progressive Thinker.

He could have stepped back, and imagined that “he did not know any different” in order to “let go” and free himself of the anxiety of all the lives that he could have lived but never did.  He could have been a painter, a chauffer, a paramour to an old lady with henna red hair, a connoisseur of cigars, a Nazi collaborator, or a member of the Resistance.  He could have been what his mother wanted him to be … he could have been anything except … a person without anxiety, a person who “did not know any different”, living in the ultimate wonderland of constrained complexity, where every word was grounded in the Real.