Keynotes • March 23, 2018
“The Meaning of Life & Death” is a special seminar series inspired by Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Denial of Death.” The series comes from footage taken during a day-long session from an Aura Mastermind gathering in New York City. This seminar series explores the themes of life purpose, the meaning of life, the search for immortality, and the significance of death in human psychology and cultures.
This video series was also a bonus component in the 8-week course “Lifestyle Mastery,” which examines the purpose of life and many other related issues.
For over a decade, David Tien, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfillment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behavior, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Subscribe now 🙂
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Here’s a link to Ernest Becker, “Denial of Death”
On Becker’s “Denial of Death” (Pt. 4/4)
David Tien, Ph.D.: The standard culture solution is this, and this is what we see maybe in your life, the average person’s life here, the majority of the world, is to play it safe. They choose standard transference objects, your parents, your boss, your leader, your political leader, your sports team; and they try to be a good provider or a solid citizen.
And then your life had meaning. You’re a solid citizen, you contributed to the taxes, you had a good job, you paid your dues. He earns his species immortality as an agent of procreation. He did his duty, and now he popped out some babies. He’s an agent of collective immortality. He’s achieved immortality collectively by being part of something, a group that’s bigger than him, like a country or something.
This is the standard person’s way of getting out of it. This is how they numb it, and this is the illusion they live under, thinking that their life has meaning this way. Power to them, great! You’re living the great illusion. There’s nothing I can do for you. Stay inside the matrix. Enjoy. Meanwhile, all of the things that they think that matter don’t actually matter.
They work really hard because they think it matters whether they make that project for the company or whatever. If he dropped down dead, they find someone else to fill that role and they might deliver a month late, it get done. He don’t matter. He’ll matter to his baby, but the baby will grow up as many kids do now, single parent family.
He’s got like this neurosis or whatever just like everybody else, gets on in life, has kids and they forget. This is not a hard argument to make; it’s just one that we don’t want to confront. But that’s the standard culture solution. “Let’s just ignore it and find meaning in being a good provider and a solid citizen, and working for the country, working for the company.”
And then popping out some babies, that’s our duty to the species. Why do people want to have babies so bad? I mean, why do I want – let’s talk about me. Why do I want to have a baby? The natural thing for a man who wants to have a baby is because he wants to see what – I don’t know. Well, how would you say it? Like see what you would look like. I don’t know. See what the baby would be like; to be able to pass down your knowledge into – You know, why? Why don’t you adopt?
Why don’t we have like clamouring for adoption? Because the adopted child would be less of us than our biological child. We’d do it for charity, but there’s less desire naturally. Because it wouldn’t be an immortality vehicle as powerful as an actual biological copy. That’s the standard cultural solution, anyway.
The artist solution. I hinted at this over lunch. The artist solution is isolation, starts with isolation. He separates himself from the herd. He’s like, “Look, you fucking sheep. I see they’re all sheep; they’re all in this illusion. I am Neo, I will be taken out of the matrix. I will leave.” He does, and he takes on this gargantuan task of consciously and critically fashioning his own framework for meaning; for being more than just an insignificant collection of atoms.
This exposes the person to a sense of being completely crushed and annihilated, because he has to carry so much on his own shoulders. And so, most artists throughout human history, were not appreciated in their lifetimes and they went mad. Mozart died a pauper without his own grave.
So many artists were never appreciated until they died. Nowadays, you think he’s an artist because he’s got a million views, he’s making millions of dollars. So as far as arts are concerned, that’s not a mark of an artist. That’s business. But what does an artist do? What we mean here is the artist says, “I will step out of this madness and fashion meaning for myself.”
The average man gives his heroic gift to a society, but the artist fashions a peculiarly personal gift. Maybe it’s this bizarre artwork that nobody understands. Or maybe it’s his music, or whatever it is. His thing. His art. And art always has to have a production, it’s a creation. That could be a novelist, any kind of art. We mean this very broadly, we could even mean it’s a technologist, an Elon Musk or an inventor.
He leaves that prototype before his death or something like that. He leaves it! And the judges of it are not society per sé. They may not appreciate it as they often will not if it’s truly innovative art. Like Steve Jobs says, “The market doesn’t know what they want until I give it to them.” That’s a real artist speaking there.
What he’s doing is he’s aiming partly over the heads of average man, they can’t appreciate it, they’re sheep, they’re animals, like I’ve said. They don’t know it. [NOISE] Go over. And what is he doing, if nobody appreciated the iPhone, what would happen? Well, he would say they’re stupid, they don’t know good art, and then the artist in him would die if they have to change the damn device to appeal to those dummies who have no taste.
They have to make a Microsoft item – just kidding. They have to make it look usable, that sucks, “I want it to be completely glass with no buttons! That’s cool.” And if they don’t appreciate that? Well, fuck them. So he’s got lucky that in his lifetime he was appreciated, but oddly he died before the greatest explosion of Apple and they’re still building in value.
It’s an amazing thing. And the thing is, just like earlier, he will be appreciated by anonymous people he doesn’t know, anonymous future people. His legacy is left, meanwhile he died quite young relatively. We say that tragically, sadly, whatever. He fashions this peculiar personal gift as a justification for his own heroic identity.
Now at some degree, he must have been obsessed with the art. He must have had to create it, no matter what. Even if they didn’t let them, even if they couldn’t sell it, he will make it – and then they will have a dumbed down version for the masses. Whatever. Luckily, we enjoyed it. But it’s always aimed partly not at the people here, not at the sheep, but some ideal.
The only way out of the human conflict for the artist is full renunciation, to give one’s life is as a gift to the highest powers, to the absolute beyond. That’s the artist’s solution. And most of society considers artists to be mad, to be crazy, to be insane, because they are actually aiming not for the people, but for this absolute beyond, which is really in their heads, you know, projecting into the future, that gives their present life meaning.
The artist and the crazy person are very similar, and the artist and the normal person is very similar. They’re just smarter. So the neurosis, taking it back to neurosis – I’ve talked a lot about this over the past couple of years, is actually repression.
It’s important to know: Repression is normal because we have to protect ourselves from the chaos of existence, of our limited ability to control this existence of nature, and of ourselves, and of our human bodies. So it’s normal self-protection and it results in creative self-restriction.
Because if we were to actually moment to moment confront this, we wouldn’t be living the lives we live. The average person would not. The well-adjusted man partializes the world, he splits it up, he categorizes, he makes sense of the world in order to have comfortable action, in order to live comfortably in this world, to get on in life.
The normal man bites off what he can chew and digest of life and no more. That’s the theory, they could just be dumb. But the theory is, they put blinders on because it’s too painful. And that gets uncovered in psychoanalysis; when they go through the unconscious, and they start to tear apart these traumatic memories that formed their personality.
The character that they think is them is actually just a reaction to repression, and the result of repression, blinders. So the average person has blinders and they live the great lie about life. The neurotic is, let’s define it as any lifestyle that begins to constrict you too much, that prevents free forward momentum.
That prevents new choices or growth that a person wants or needs. You think, “That sucks. That sucks to be a neurotic, doesn’t it? I don’t want that.” Well, guess what? A neurotic is simply a well-adjusted man waking up. Every brilliant person is a little bit crazy. Because he sees like I do. I’m a little bit crazy. He sees the meaninglessness of your life, of your life, of my life.
What’s the point? Give me the gun. [GUNSHOT VOICE] I’m not going to kill you first because that would be bad. That’s crazy, and then you say, “Okay, let’s do some psychoanalysis.” That person’s smarter than you; that person’s smarter than the average person. Okay, so that’s interesting.
Neurosis is actually the cracks in the system. The normal repression is cracking. Because we keep all of this – the normal person is just blind, the neurotic person starts to see shit. Now, there are different reactions to neurosis. You might become an evil person like I just illustrated. You might become a narcissistic person who’s going to kill people.
You might become a psychopath, or you might become an artist and say. “Fuck the world, I’ll do my thing.” Neurotic individuals grasp the ontological horns. Ontology is about being, the beingness, the paradox of being.
Some people are unable to separate, to individuate and they are crazy. Some people are unable to unite and to merge, and so they’re anti-social crazy. The artist type has trouble repressing and narrowing down, restricting his life, his understanding and his vision. He has too vivid an imagination. He takes in too much experience. He sees too large a chunk of the world and so he is also neurotic.
Steve Jobs was neurotic. Elon Musk, a visionary, is neurotic. He’s going on and on about A.I. and most of the world doesn’t care. He’s bothered by that. Gifted children, for those of you who were or who knew one, one of the greatest science is that he’s always depressed. Gifted kids are bothered by a lot of stuff that they shouldn’t be bothered by.
“Hey, why won’t you just play with a Tonka truck?” “Do you know what’s happening to the environment? Do you know all the CO2 that’s killing us?” That’s the sign of a gifted child. The armour of repression is cracking. He’s bothered by these things because he sees the cosmic significance. He sees the insignificance of this life, and that bothers him.
And then he has to pour himself into something that matters, for this life to matter. Another one is it’s a guy who laughs at all kinds of weird shit. So, you’re starting to see this right? I don’t have to get into how to identify gifted people, but the artist has trouble holding it together, of living the lie, but the average person lives a lie.
I’m tired of coaching the lie. Most of the guys who come to me are just wanting to learn how to live the lie better. “How do I get ego validation from club bitches who mean nothing?” Fuck, kill me now. I don’t want to teach that. I do not want that to be how I spend my days on this planet. The little time that I have because my life means nothing anyway.
Why do some suffering? Why perpetuate stupidity? I’m trying to get out of that. Meeting the 4D was part of that, getting out of that, going there and hearing the truth. So, the average person lives the lie of his life. For the artist though, the creative work is done under compulsion. And we give creative people a social licence to be obsessed, we think that’s cool. Well, now it is.
It used to be we would just throw them in the dungeon or something. Now, we think it’s cool as long as they produce something that we appreciate. Even stuff we don’t appreciate, so like modern art. Like, “What the fuck is that? Okay. Hey, that’s cool.” “You’re obsessed by it. That’s cool.” By the way, an artist doesn’t just produce art.
Conor McGregor is an artist and he’s famous for that quote, “This is not talent, this is an obsession.” It’s obsession. That martial art is creative. The well-adjusted man requires the obsession of work to keep from going crazy. So let’s take this step back and look.
So we had the industrialized age. And so, sort of we’re living out the results of the industrialized age as we move into technology. Soon, there is no more industrialization. It will be all technology. As you know, you’re trying to speed that up. So pretty soon, we won’t go to the factory anymore. The modern factory was a desk in a cubicle. That’s the modern factory, because we replaced real factories with actual robots. Soon, those people will be replaced by robots.
And so, that’s a caricature. So your job could be in front of an iPad, I don’t know, standing. It doesn’t matter, right? So you go to this day job to make money. And maybe you enjoy it, maybe you enjoy it like 60% of the time, 70% of the time. You need that to keep from going crazy. And that’s what we’re asking.
Once A.I. takes over, what the fuck are we all going to do? Assuming they don’t kill us all, or turn us into batteries like in Matrix. So, we’re still alive, what do we do? We might have Star Trek: No one works, there’s no money. You can make anything you want by saying, “Computer. Earl Grey, hot” and it just makes it. Or you can go to a simulator and you can experience everything you want that would be really sexual. There’s that.
There’s Star Trek, that’s the utopia. Then there’s Star Wars. So, we descend into war with other species and shit like the other race. So those are two ways: there’s utopia and dystopia. So what will happen? Well, the craziness of these activities is exactly the craziness of the human condition. They’re right for us because the alternative is natural desperation, repeated vaccination.
They’re a repeated vaccination against madness. “Give them something to do, god damn it!” So Jordan Peterson in these lectures, I keep hearing him say like, “There are people who go crazy. The best thing you can do is to teach them how to get on in life, how to get out of bed when they’re depressed, how to just get to work and do something, just do something.” Basically he’s saying, just numb them with work. That works for the average person.
If he’s not well-adjusted, you can make him well-adjusted by giving him a job, and then he has a purpose. It can’t be really suffering kind of job, but it will give him something that he wakes up every morning. He might hate it, as most people hate their jobs. You go to the Order of Man group, they are all blue collar workers. There’s like Trump supporters, no offense, but they go on there, they all have their guns–
Where was I? Work. The absurdity of work. They show up, they do this thing. You’ve probably seen other deep movies, like depictions of how meaningless a day job can be and how most people’s day jobs are meaningless.
An easy way now, we’re in 2017. You think back to the beginning of the industrialized age. When fathers start to leave the homes and didn’t do apprenticeships anymore, and were doing their swordsmiths or whatever the fuck they used to do; and they got into a bus to the factory, and hundreds of them got in the assembly line and put shit together.
And then you had the war effort that really drove that industrialized economy. And you think about the factory worker, right? Honest work. Gets some machine, tool, walks to work, puts in the time. And it’s interesting because in Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, when everything went to shit for Howard Roark, he went to the mines and just for months just [NOISE].
That’s a kind of solution. When everything is crazy, one thing you can do is to do work because work gives your life a purpose. Tomorrow, you got to get up and do that. Yeah, it’s meaningless if you step back and think about it, but it makes you busy. Most of the world is doing meaningless work.
We call them well-adjusted, but it’s necessary. The causa sui project is necessary so that everybody doesn’t go crazy. So going back to that question. What’s going to happen to A.I. when every A.I. takes over all the functions of human being? We might just go crazy. And one of the things was we were talking about: What if our lifespans go to 200 years, whatever, 300 years?
Actually, we’ll talk about that next. So the terrifying truth is the human life may not be more than a meaningless interlude in a vicious drama of flesh and bones that we call evolution. The necessity of the casua sui project of humanly-created meaning is necessary. I got a lot of slides, I’m just going to rip through these real quick here to get to discussion.
The cultural illusion of the average man is necessary. It’s a necessary ideology to justify this self. A heroic dimension that is like itself, to us animals that understand abstract concepts like symbols. If you’re just a non-thinking, unsymbolic animal like a dog, you don’t have to worry about it. You’re life has meaning just with fetch.
Unfortunately, we’re not that dumb. We’re symbolic animals, fuck. We evolved to our own despair. It’s interesting to imagine the first Homo sapiens that had brains big enough to know that they were conscious. That’s weird. Okay, so to lose security of the heroic cultural illusion is to die. That’s one of the theses of the escape from death.
So the cultural illusion is necessary for us to get on with life. The modern history of the neurosis is: neurosis has become a widespread problem in the modern world. Because of the disappearance of convincing dramas of heroic apotheoses of men. Like Christianity, the death of religion, has resulted in neurosis.
We can’t just say our life has meaning in heaven anymore as we did for thousands of years. We can’t just say that the sun god Ra gives our life meaning, that we sacrifice our wheat to him, or whatever it is. Or we can’t give ourselves to human labour to make a pyramid or whatever it is because that gives us immortality.
Modern man also cannot find heroism in everyday life anymore, as men used to in history, by doing their daily duty of raising children, working and worshipping, and then dying after 30 years. That was a pretty simple life. We didn’t have to step out of that and ask the deep questions. Modern psychology makes the cause for personal unhappiness as the person himself, and then he is stuck with himself.
The reason you’re unhappy is because of your thoughts. But all the psychoanalysis in the world won’t allow a person to find out what? Who you are. Why you’re here on Earth. Why you have to die. And then, what do I with this? How can I make my life meaningful and how can I be victorious?
Psychoanalysis is limited because it limits itself to the life history of the person. And within your life history, you have to step outside your life history to give your life meaning, like religion does. Psychoanalysis can’t do that. Individual unhappiness, well, it can’t do that. It can, but it’s limiting itself. So individual unhappiness arises because of the natural world and the person’s relationship to it as a symbolic animal.
We will die. Nature doesn’t give a fuck. We’re going to be lost in history. And the eclipse of secure communal ideologies of redemption; in other words, the death of the church, the death of communal religions and so forth. What is the ideal, then? What are you striving for? And I’m rushing through this just to get it done.
Just so you know, I would spend more time but – The ideal for mental health, what is the purpose of all that analysis? Well, the lived and compelling illusion that does not lie about life, death and reality is what we are supposed to be living to say that you are mentally healthy. An ideal that’s honest enough to follow its own commandments like, “Don’t kill other people” and “Don’t take the lives of others just by yourself.”
Follow that shit. Live your compelling illusion and you’re good. So, most coaching and most psychoanalysis considers itself successful when you can get on in life and not be too depressed, because you’re living this illusion that your life matters. This is a great outcome of UPW, is to believe that your life has meaning.
You make of your life what you want. Go out and get it, yeah! So that’s good, that’s success. That’s mentally healthy. Schizophrenia, is a great example of what we consider to be mentally unhealthy, is an extreme frontier of the human condition. If we go multiple personality disorder, that’s even more extreme, I think.
As a desperate solution to the problem of our evolutionary dualism, between that we want to be significant but we’re not; that we want to be special but we’re just food for worms. But man cannot get rid of his body even if he throws it away. How does he get rid of his body? He literally leaves his body and enters a new personality. Technically, it’s still the same body, but he doesn’t know it.
So the schizophrenic woman, who on the way to the therapist office says to her therapist says, “I think I got raped.” Doesn’t know. How? How can you not know? It’s your body. How? You leave the body to escape this creatureliness terror.
And so, the crazy people are smarter than you, than us. Because they see it. Their reaction to it sucks. It’s not very pleasant for them. Crazy people aren’t having a great time, generally. But they’re like- and she’s like, “I think I got raped, I don’t know.” How? While she was being raped. She left her body. New personality. Boom. Trauma reaction splinter.
So that’s an extreme frontier of that, but you can’t even leave the body. She’s still stuck there, so she looks down, “Shit, I think I got raped, what is this?” So you can’t leave your body; you’re stuck.
Low self-esteem and mental illness. Low self-esteem is the center problem of a mental illness. This is what you’re told. This is what you hear over and over. I can reference so many people, but all of the people you’ve been looking up to for mental health. They’re giving – Well, not all, but many of them.
Or the popular ones that I know, the former pick-up artist, the reformed players are trying to read, they’re wrong! They haven’t gotten far enough. They read Nathaniel Branden and they think it’s self-esteem, “That’s it. That’s what I need.” Self-esteem is the central problem.
Low self-esteem is the greatest when the heroic transcendence of faith is in doubt. When he doubts his own immortality; when he doubts the abiding value of his life, when he can’t believe he’s having lived really makes any cosmic difference, then he is low self-esteem. Why? “My life means nothing! I am nothing!” That’s low self-esteem.
Depression comes from the sheer terror of individuation; of difference, of being alone, of losing support of the delegated power. The life lies, Adler calls it, is necessary for most men to operate. How do you take the depressed, low self-esteem person and make him have mental health? You tell him the lie: His life matters. People love you. You’re a hero. You can be anything you want. You got it.
Okay, so the [INAUDIBLE 00:24:30] to immortalization, self-perpetuation by pleasing the other, by conforming to the code of behaviour he represents. We get it from a small family circle or we get it in our love object, the girl that we love, whatever, the co-dependent relationship. We might get it in our babies. It gives us something to live for.
“I matter now because that person loves me. I matter now because I’m part of something bigger than myself called the family, called cross-fit.” I don’t know. I think it’s part of like why communities are so popular. You give them a greater identity. Or, “I matter because I laid my life on the altar of–”
What was that Lincoln’s letter to the mother who lost all four of her sons? The famous example of great prose. What was it? “Lay such a heavy sacrifice on the altar of whatever for the country, and that we subsume our lives.”
They have meaning because we gave our lives for this cause, which is the United States of America. But self-esteem is the problem. It’s the organismic problem. So we have the elemental physical experience of the infant. His experience gives him confident narcissism. A sense of invulnerability if he wasn’t abused as a baby.
So he’s like, “I can do this. I can stand on my own two feet. I can walk. I can do this.” He derives this from the power of the other. So, as mom and dad are like, “Yeah, you can do this! Yeah, you got it, yeah!” He’s like, “Yes, I can.” And he derives it from these three things by the way.
So the first is: derives it from the power of the other. He derives it from the secure possession of his own body as a safe locus under his own control. Which means, he can control his body, he can move his legs like this, “Wow, I can do it because I can do this!” So that’s another thing the baby does.
And then finally, as the baby grows up. The meaning of his life project, his immortality project, causa sui project, the symbols and dramatizations of our transcendence, our animal vulnerability.
We matter, we won’t just die and become food for worms. Our life matters. The transcendence of our animal vulnerability.
Okay, back to it. As an adult, this is how he derives his meaning. “I have self-esteem because now I have this project that gives my life meaning. I can do it. I have purpose.” And then he falls into this trap. So then we deal with this problem now. We have individual freedom versus species determinism. What does this mean?
Man wants to achieve something more than mere animal succession. He doesn’t want to just be a mere fornicating animal, that all the meaning of his life is simply that he can put out some sperm and have another baby and then he dies, because as far as nature is concerned, that’s his only purpose. We treat animals that way, by the way.
We’ll raise an animal that’s relatively dumb, make it sire some more babies. And then when it starts to get sick, we just kill it. That’s how nature cares about the animal existence just to keep perpetuating animals. We get really sad when an endangered species is the last of its species and dies off, and there’s no more of that species. “That sucks, because there’s no more of them.”
We’ll keep them alive artificially not because they’re cuddly and cute. They might be, that’s incidental, but because it’d just be nice to have this damn thing around. So, we just need it to fucking fuck. Get those damn pandas to fuck. Pandas would have died out a long time ago if we didn’t have reserves for them, reservation.
Anyway, he perpetuates himself in his offspring who may resemble him and carry his genes, but you know truly he does not feel that he is truly self-perpetuating his own inner self. His distinctive personality, his spirit. No dad wants to hear, “That’s your clone, now die.” He’s like, “Wait, wait. I’m special. My kid ain’t me, I’m me.”
We’re not really making copies of ourselves, so we want to keep living on. So it can’t be. So we say to biology, we say to nature, “My whole existence is not just to have babies. Fuck you! I matter!” Like the clone, the Fassbender clone. He’s like, “I’m not just here to be the original of the clones. I matter. Let me live!”
What’s interesting is, in teleportation for sci-fi, and the way it works is, I don’t know if this will actually be the case but in sci-fi, the teleporter goes [NOISE] and it takes a copy of the configuration of your atoms. And because we can like 3D printing, print out atoms or whatever the verb is, we go and make a physical copy of you, the configuration of atoms that you were over here.
We don’t actually take the physical. Like, that’s the sci-fi theory. They don’t actually take the physical body somehow and plop them down on another planet. They take a copy, and then the teleporter thing makes another copy up here. So, that’s crazy.
And so, the great Derek Parfit book about personal identity, what if they fuck that up? So they take the copy of you, and then there’s another you over there in that planet but they forgot to destroy the original you. So, you’re looking at that you and this planet is about to get destroyed.
That’s why you get teleported out and you’re like, “Fuck. Hey. You’re over there. You’re going to be okay. You are going to be okay. You made it to the mother ship.” But the you, the original, they didn’t destroy you, so you’ve got to be here. How do you feel about that? That was the question that you get in philosophy 101. Well actually, it’s an advanced philosophy course in personal identity.
But that’s a deep question the philosophers like to ask. We do that kind of thing, sitting around and ask these questions. Does it matter to you that the copy is safe but you’re going to die?
So the intuition is most human beings care about themselves here even though there’s a copy of them over there that will continue their legacy. You care somehow about the original atoms. The original atoms that you’re inhabiting right now, or that make up you I mean, right now. You don’t like this situation.
Okay, that’s this. Let’s assume that that’s a perfect copy, but your son is not a perfect copy. So you still don’t give a fuck. You still want to matter. So the universal human need exists to lift your life onto a special immortal plane beyond the cycles of life and death, of all the organisms exist, that species determinism, you want individual freedom, you don’t want to be just another instance of the species.
You want to be individual. You want to matter. And that’s why sexuality throughout human history has been taboo. And this is part of Freud’s point, taboo and totem, and it goes through all of psychoanalysis.
Why is sexuality always fetishized in almost every culture? It’s a special thing. Not because it’s just a procreative thing. If it were just a procreative thing, it would be celebrated. Why is taboo? Why is it forbidden? Why is it dirty? Why is it dark?
It’s because that is a reminder to us that our lives don’t matter. Except to pop out more babies. But we don’t like that. We want our life to be more than just popping out babies. What does our life matter? So we then find causa sui projects.
Because our life has to matter. We have to make it matter, to create all by oneself a spiritual intellectual and physically similar replica of oneself is the perfectly individualized self-perpetuation or immortality symbol. Holy shit.
There’s a lot to unpack there, I’m not going to unpack it. I’ll leave that for later. So then, here’s some examples of casua sui projects. Something like a secret. It could be a secret ritual, a secret club, a secret formula. These create a new reality for man. These allow him to transcend and transform the everyday world of nature.
So throughout society, the elite, they have a secret. The elite have their clubs. We now call them like country clubs or whatever clubs, membership clubs, whatever. We do that so that our lives have meaning, so that we’re special. Anything that makes your life special, a club, “Now I’m on the insiders.” Whatever. That’s one thing that throughout human history has existed.
And it’s driven by something secret, some knowledge or ritual, whatever, that not everybody has access to. That makes me special. That’s a causa sui project. Ritual. This is something that is very common in Asian culture, especially in China. Ritual is the man-made form of things prevailing over the natural order, and taming it, and transforming it, and making it safe.
That becomes a causa sui project. It’s bizarre what you discover in history among ancient peoples, pre-modern peoples. Where a ritual was – They thought that by doing certain things with their arms, and having a procession of whatever’s, or slicing the throat of a lamb or something, that they could absolve themselves of sins, that real things were happening metaphysically because they did things in a certain order.
So, we have our basic ritual. For those who know Chinese history and philosophy, the important word ‘lĭ’ ritual. So you might have heard this. A very basic lĭ is you put out your hand, the other person puts out his hand and shakes.
Here’s a verbal ritual, “How do you do?” or “How are you?” The normal response is, “How do you do?” And now that’s locked, people say. “Good!” instead of “How do you do?” Instead of well, yeah, instead of well. But that’s a ritual.
That doesn’t mean anything. It just means, “I acknowledge you.” If he starts to say “Well, oh man, let me tell you. Hey, have a seat.” And start to tell him how you really are, you answered it as a real question, you have broached the ritual. The ritual’s simply a hello.
So, ritual gives our life meaning. It’s given pre-modern people’s lives meaning for many, many years. Of course, you see any emperors or kings in history, the entire thing was ritual. To make somebody believe that a real human being was the son of heaven.
This happened in China, it happened in Japan. They weren’t just human, they were deities. They were partly gods. Or for that moment, when they enter the temple of heaven – So, if you’ve been to Beijing, you probably saw the Temple of Heaven, and you enter that particular spot in it, you then became the god figure and you accepted its sacrifices of wheats of – And the priests, of course, did this in Israel and all this.
They actually had rituals, which were bizarre. It’s like abracadabra stuff. But that turned the natural order into something significant. And that was an on-mass causa sui project. That was a project that gave our lives, as a people, hundreds of thousands or millions of people meaning. And we see this now in the modern world.
You know, examples of not just like when we get together at UPW or something like, “Yeah!” But when your sports team wins. So Robbins uses this as an example of ridiculousness. You didn’t do shit. Like, “We won, we won!” And why? Because the ritual of the game. It’s a football game. Nothing’s really at stake here, but everything is at stake there for those whose lives are meaningless.
We play games, and we imbue those games with life or death significance, then we can live. Our insignificant lives. Okay, take a break. Back from the break. So, we have three slides. Three slides here. So that first break was just to let it all sink in. I bring it together the conclusion. We have a big discussion. And we’ll end and go for dinner.
So the heroism is impossible. How does it begin? The child represses himself. The child represses himself. He does not force to repress. He purposely says, “This is too hard to deal with. Let me cry over here and pretend that shit don’t happen.” Or he tries different strategies that allow him to ignore this reality over here. “I’ll be a joker.” And then, “Oh, mom don’t like joker. Okay, I’ll be a pleaser and now I’m just giving mom a back rub and she likes me now. Okay, I’ll stay with that one.”
Pretending like all of the other shit that caused him to make those pivots, they didn’t exist. And then at a deeper level, the child’s anality, his realization of his physical body, that it does stuff that he can’t control like shit, that sometimes he doesn’t want to shit because it’s smelly and that means he needs to get changed. And he’s in the restaurant, so if he shits, they’re not going to change him right away, and he has to cry and that’s not comfortable.
But he can’t control it. [SCREAM] There he goes, oh shit, literally. And now it’s coming on his leg, and then the mom’s like, “Holy crap! Hey, take him and get him changed.” And now, he’s all shamed because now everyone is looking at him and he’s like, “Mom, I’m a piece of shit.” And he cleans him, and now he’s happy now, he’s okay, but he can’t control any of that.
And then as he grows a little order, he knows he can’t control mom and dad. He’s pretty verbal, the baby. We’re trying to guess what he wants. And maybe he really wants to just be held, but we think he wants some bottle so we stick a bottle in his mouth. He’s like, “Meh, I don’t want that!” Now, you’re trying to figure out what he wants. So that’s a pretty trivial example.
Eventually, he gets the point where he realizes that he can’t control the outside world. He can’t even control his own physical body and his body is going to die. This doesn’t last. He can’t control this. And it starts from the anus. That’s the basic theory. The dirtiness of that thing that he doesn’t like, that he can’t control has no power over – and he’s peeing, of course, the excretions of the dirt. Parts of himself that are so nasty and dirty that must be thrown away.
And the whole time, not being in control. And then later on, as an adult he realizes, trying to transfer the meaning of his life onto his parents, they’re imperfect and can never fulfil that need for meaning in his life and they hurt him.
And then he becomes different. The child is constantly repressing himself. The first fear that he’s repressing is the fear of death. Not the fear of not being loved, not the fear that he’s not worthy. Those are secondary fears. The reason he’s fearing not being loved, the reason he’s fearing not being worthy is because if he’s not loved and is not worthy of being loved, he will be alone and will die.
And that sucks. No one wants to die if they’re alive, generally, unless they are realizing this and then they kill themselves. That actually, from a philosophical perspective, suicide is rational. Okay, so then we get into transference. How does he live, then? How does he deal with this existential dilemma? He wants freedom, he wants to be heroic but he can’t.
So utopians, they want perfect freedom from inner constraint or outer authority and they like, “The freedom of the self! The freedom of the self! I am unconstrained by anything.” Unfortunately, we know the truth: men need transference, so they transfer the responsibility for dealing with all this existential shit. The responsibility of dealing with the meaning of life onto something else that gives them meaning.
So it could be a political leader. It could be your group identity. And all of these are casua sui projects. The postponement of death is not a solution for the problem of the fear of death. This still ought remain the fear of dying prematurely. So even if you’re like, “Hey, it’s okay.” But you’re going to [NOISE] You’re young, but you walk out there, you might get hit by a car, you might drop down dead.
And, sometimes you see this. My friend who dropped dead at 14 years old, very healthy. She was probably one of the most physically fit out of all of us – well, definitely yeah, she was doing gymnastic meets and shit, just dropped down dead.
So Condorcet in 1794, and I wanted to read this to the man who just walked out – who was sick and had to go home. Condorcet in 1794, “A period must one day arrive when death will be nothing more than the effect either of extraordinary accidents or the slow and gradual decay of the vital powers, and that the duration of the interval between the birth of man and his decay will have itself no assignable limit.”
In other words, we’ll be pretty much immortal. Like the elves of Lord of the Rings. Like the vampires of– We’re talking about vampires at lunch of Anne Rice. Of Wolverine, and he wasn’t immortal, apparently, we find out in Logan, but he lived a really fucking long life and he couldn’t kill himself.
And it’s sort of like the dilemma of The Hulk. One of The Avengers movies talked about how he tried to kill himself, put a gun in his mouth and shot it, and The Hulk spit it out. The average guy would be like, “Dude, that’s awesome, man! Aren’t you super happy?”
The smart person understands this. The smart person understands the despair and the meaningless of a life that you cannot end. Then what happens is death becomes hyper-fetishized as a source of danger. And so, we’re talking about this: the longer your lifespan is, the greater the danger of death. The bigger the meaning is of ending that life.
And so, it makes no sense to me and to smart people. Well actually, it is tragic to us. It is even more tragic when an elf dies versus a human being, because the elf had forever. And so, they keep showing you in those movies.
And this is what Tolkien, who is a brilliant philosopher, actually was showing. Was whenever the elves die, the camera lingers over them a long time because Peter Jackson is understanding what Tolkien’s saying. The sacrifice that an elf makes is a hundred times greater than the sacrifice of dwarves, or especially a human – I don’t know how long dwarves live, actually, but it’s much longer than the human sacrifice.
The human just gave up an extra 50 years he was going to live. The elf gave up eternity. There’s no comparison. It is a God dying. And that is tragic. That’s crazy. If we became elves, what would we do? Well, we would be looking for some way to die gloriously. And that makes sense for them from battle.
And that was Tolkien’s – one of his great contributions to philosophy: thinking hard about immortality and showing it. So, a great quote here that I will end with, “A person spends years coming into his own, developing his talent, his unique gifts, perfecting his discriminations about the world, broadening and sharpening his appetite, learning to bare the disappointments of life, becoming mature in season.”
Going through Aura transformation, taking every course, transforming, changing. Going through stage after stage. Growing, growing, and maturing. Finally, a unique creature in nature. Standing with some dignity and nobility and transcending the animal condition. No longer driven, no longer a complete reflex, not stamped out of any mold.
And then the real tragedy, is that it takes 60 years of incredible suffering and effort to make such an individual and then he is good only for dying. And then right at the height of his powers, his body breaks down in death.
And all that arduous work – and it doesn’t even have to be a break down. You walk down on the street at the peak of the hard work, boom, you’re dead. Guess what, though? Your start-up that you worked so hard for and didn’t get any sleep for sold for hundred million dollars! After you died.
Don’t worry about it though, whoa! We love you, we write books about you. We write whatever. Who gives a fuck? You’re dead. You don’t get to enjoy that. But over and over, why do these people give a shit about what happens after they die? Because of the fear of death and the denial of death, they need their life to mean something, so they suffer in the now.
It is simply a replacement for the religion of Christianity or some other religion. Almost all religions I know of that are taught in world religion class include the afterlife as a major – the afterlife makes sense of the now. We’ve replaced that with legacy projects. That’s another term for it I just came up with. But the casua sui project: What makes your life meaningful?
And so we asked a friend. I asked him, “If you were going to live 200 years, what would you do with the extra hundred years, assuming you’re only going to live a hundred before, and now you get an extra hundred, what are you going to do with it?”
That’s the Wolverine question. “What are you going to, do Wolverine? You got an extra hundred years to live, extra hundred years to kill people or to save people. What are you going to do?”
He’s like, “Fuck this, I’m going to the forest. I don’t want anything to do with any of you guys because none of it means anything. They all die in the end anyway.” So that’s actually that’s what happened in Logan. They all died anyway. And Professor X is like, “No, Logan. It means something. Your life means something!”
What happens to Professor X? He gets killed like that! You’ve seen the movie, right? I thought it was like a dream sequence, because how can you kill off Professor X like that? There’s no glory in that. He’s just like an old man lying in bed and boom. I hope I don’t give away the movie. Oops, spoiler alert!
But that could happen to you. Just after all the hard work, you don’t get the rewards. He feels agonizingly unique – we, I should say we – and yet we know this doesn’t make any difference as far as ultimates are concerned. We have to go the way of the grasshopper even though it takes us longer.
There’s no other slide after this. So, I submit to you the existential dilemma of life. One healing aspect of it from a psychotherapeutic perspective is, a lot of what we spend our lives doing don’t matter, but we force them to matter and we suffer for it.
That’s one thing you can do right away, just ask yourself, “Am I enjoying what I’m doing now? If I died in the middle of this thing, would I enjoy it?” And then we still have to balance, “What If I do live a really long time? I don’t want to just be gorging myself on buffets all day, because I want to enjoy the now.”
And so, we have this balance. I don’t know really what to do with it. That’s the Denial of Death. I highly recommend this book. It explains neurosis, explains why there are crazy people; it explains why when we go through the process of psychotherapy with you – or revealing your unconscious, there’s all kinds of dirt and trash in there.
And maybe you want to get replugged back into the matrix and you don’t want to know about it. It’d be better if you were just another sheep, making your money, popping out a baby and then dying. That’s your choice. So, I leave you with that choice, the existential choice. I hope you choose wisely.