Keynotes • March 15, 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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On Becker’s “Denial of Death” 1
David Tien, Ph.D.: The psycho-therapeutic rebirth of a neurotic going through therapy, which is hopefully all of us, is like a member of Alcoholic Anonymous: You can never take this cure for granted, and the best sign of the genuineness of that cure is that he lives with humility. I submit to you that all of the knowledge, or facts, or thoughts that I’ll be presenting here, the ideas, are submitted humbly as another journeymen on the way to death, living life as best as I can.
Actually, this is a really great example that if you think you don’t need therapy, if you think you’re not a neurotic, you’re sorely mistaken and still in illusion as obviously we’ll talk about that if you want, but that’ll be coming up. You’ll see why all of humanity begins coming out of childhood as a neurotic necessarily as a human being.
Anyway, that wasn’t the point of this. This is from Andres [INAUDIBLE 00:01:02] paraphrased by Ernest Becker, and I paraphrased it, took out some things. So, as a broad overview, by the way, we’re going to go for – I’ll just introduce some things then and we’ll go until 1:30, and then we’ll break for lunch, come back and then we’ll have two more hour and a half sessions.
And in those sessions, we’ll have lots of time for discussion. So, I’ll present some ideas. And what I want you to do as you listen to these ideas, and for those on the tape, make sure that you write down in your notes somewhere so you don’t forget your question. We’re going to be covering a lot in this time, so when I get to this –
One of the things is, we generally, traditionally leave the Q&A at the end, and then people are just sort of staring blankly because they’re intellectually-exhausted, but also because they forgot the questions that they thought of earlier. So please, write down your questions as they come to you, not when you’re about to ask it.
This is part of a beta for a course on life purpose and life meaning. It will be one of the last parts of the course because what I’m going to cover here is incredibly difficult and painful for most human beings to see, to even entertain the ideas. And most brilliantly written or espoused by Becker, but he’s basically – Denial of Death is the most popular book, is walking you through chapter by chapter of all of the major thinkers in history. Not all of them, but many thinkers in history who have taught the same ideas but that basically the average man completely ignores and has no clue about.
So, one of the things I hope to do is to make those – the wisdom of the past, at least few hundred years in that book, but I can trace it back to 500 BCE at least, how these ideas impact our lives now in the year you’re living in, in the modern world you’re living in, too. So, we begin with a question on meaning and purpose.
And to point out too that in order for you to grow beyond being a brainless or mindless automaton, you need to believe that your life, your days, have meaning. When you don’t believe that your purpose or that your existence on this planet will be remembered, that there’s any point in you living at all, then you will become depressed.
This is a very easy way to get into clinical depression and then to suicide, because what’s the point? So in order to get on with life, man – I’m using this because I was very inspired by that book, but that’s 1970-something. So, human beings have to believe and feel that what they’re doing is truly heroic, timeless, and meaningful.
Heroic, you might think, “Well, I don’t need to believe I’m a hero.” That’s a special term of art that I will unpack. And by the way, this is my first pass through these slides. A lot of the language I take out of my main inspiration which is Becker, but also out of Freud and you’ll see in many other places. And I didn’t have the time to translate these words into modern English, 1970s English, but also into common English. That’s often the challenge in academia that uses a special type of vocabulary.
But heroic means that there’s some purpose to your life, that you believe that you’re more than just a purveyor of genes. So, you want to believe that that’s the case.
Let me read you a quote that encapsulates the central problem. “Everything painful and sobering in what psychoanalytic genius and religious genius had discovered about man revolves around the terror of admitting what one is doing to earn his self-esteem.”
So, you think that what inner game is about is about self-esteem, and you find out, what I’m about to tell you, is that’s part of the problem: the search for self-esteem is part of the problem. And actually, it is a sign of the problem in what psychoanalytic genius and religious genius have discovered about man revolves around the terror of admitting what one is doing, what one has to do to earn his self-esteem.
This is why human heroics is a blind drivenness that burns people up. And passionate people, screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as a howling of a dog. That’s what you will see me do, or that I have been doing that no one really notices, but that I’ve been feeling inside for years.
In the more passive masses of mediocre men, sort of like the arrogance of the academic, it is disguised as – humbly, it is disguised as they humbly and complainingly follow out the roles as society provides for their heroics and try to earn their promotions within the system.
Wearing the standard uniforms, but allowing themselves to stick out, but ever so little and so safely with a little ribbon or red boutonniere, but not with head and shoulders. If we were to peel way this massive disguise, the blocks of repression over human techniques for earning glory, or self-esteem, we would arrive at the potentially most liberating question of all, the main problem of human life: Why do we exist?
If you are a 20-something Millennial generation asking the Millennial problems of, “Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?” Which really means for a 20-something, “What’s my job?” or “How do I make money?” That’s really what they’re asking.
This is probably way too heavy for you, so I get it and that’s why it’s towards the end of the course, this very advanced thing. But if you were like me and you’ve lived, and you’re old, and you’ve seen babies and hung out with babies, and you’ve thought about the meaning of life beyond just, “How do I get cool? And how do I bang bitches? And how do I make money?”
And if you thought about why do you exist here at all, and if there’s no point to it, then why am I working so hard? Why do I go to the clubs at all? Why do I need people to like me? Why do I need me to like me? Why do I need self-esteem at all? Why? What’s the point? What is the point of this? Because I will just die? Eventually, you could die in an hour when we go outside.
You could die here – well, that’d be harder. We’re looking at having an earthquake here, people in earthquake places, never expect to have an earthquake. It could just happen to you. Then what was the point of all that?
I’m going to be coming back to these questions in very poignant ways, hopefully. We can get you to reflect on those, but just to get you started, to get you started on the perspective I’m bringing here and then we can dive into the actual ideas. So the standard view, what I call the uncritical view, is this.
So, you already know that children have anxiety growing up, and most people say, “Yeah, I can understand that.” Now, if you’ve been following my work at all, you know about trauma. You know about the formative childhood years. You know about shame. You know about growing up on that.”
And one of the reasons why there are a lot of other people in New York City I could’ve invited to this as guests who were former dating coaches, who were very high level, very experienced dating coaches, but I knew that if they came here, we’d have to struggle on slide one where I’d spent four hours on slide one.
I’m assuming you know my material in Awakenings. You know the material in Rock Solid and Masculine Mastery, and that you have some familiarity with the process of shame. I’m going to be covering some of that here, but that’s the background of this. We can’t get this off the ground unless we already have a background in clinical psychology.
So, you understand that first phrase. Yes, children have anxiety growing up, and even the people who don’t know anything about psychology, they can understand that. “Yeah, I get that.” So, what we’re referring to is the first separation, the first trauma. So, the child pops out of the womb and has what most psychologists call a separation, the first big repression of pain.
But anyway, let’s bracket that. We don’t need that for our argument. It comes out and is needy physically and of course emotionally as well, that’s been proven as so far as intellectually happens, intellectually as well. And at some point – So then if it’s a healthy household, he gets all of his needs met.
When he’s tired, he gets fed, picked up; and when he needs to poop, he gets cleaned up. His needs are met in an almost magical way. But then, the child gets too old. This is Tony Robbins’ way of explaining it. The child gets too old and he’s like, “Imaging pooping as an adult now! Tell me how that works out for you.” That’s his way of explaining the same thing.
He gets old, too old to the point where you’re not going to get coddled anymore. It’s not good parenting. And up to around two years old, one and a half it usually starts, one and a half to three years old, they have that period of separation, of realizing that you aren’t omnipotent, that you can’t make a boob magically appear in your mouth just by going, “Wah! Wah!”
Now, sometimes the boob has a mind of its own and doesn’t want to get stuck in your mouth, and you get frustrated, and you don’t get picked up whenever you want. You’re too big, and mommy’s too tired, and you’re not in control of anything. And meanwhile, adults mock you all of the time. They make fun of you in cute ways. They think it’s cute but you feel like it’s torture. You feel like it’s an attack against your self-esteem and you start to integrate those into who you are.
Many people grow up with these insecurities all the way through adult life completely and reflexively have no idea that they’re living as adult children, still. And one of the first things that they have to do is to try out a new strategy.
I can’t just cry and get what I want. I could try one of three broad strategies, which is the pleaser, I can now please mom and dad and then I’ll get what I want; I can be the rebel and say, “Fuck you, mom and dad!” and then I’ll feel a sense of independence, and then mom and dad will get scared that I’m walking off on my own and they’ll come to me; or third, I can be a recluse and hide in my own thing and just sort of shut down emotionally and go and play in the corner and completely detached. Those are the three broad strategies.
And we try all of those. That’s one of the reasons why we have terrible twos. The kid who sits down in the middle of the restaurant and throws a big tantrum is trying out the rebel strategy, see if that works. If mom and dad are good parents, that won’t work. But sometimes, it does. And sometimes, if the child falls down and cries, the parents all come.
And so, Tony Robbins talks a lot about that as well, where you get rewarded for showing pain, for being in pain. And that, to our uncritical minds as children, gets integrated, assimilated, imprinted into our formative consciousness. We grow up with that.
These are what – again, I’m going to reference because we got a bunch of guys who just went to UPW, and as did I. These are decisions. That’s a big trigger word, term of art for Tony Robbins, decisions. Your life is made up of decisions. And then in the old process, which he didn’t do on this one but many of you know, is – I changed it into books, he had video tapes.
So, you go in the bubble of your life, and you get these books out. And then during that process, you go back. You float back to the earliest decisions you made as a child on what life meant. When mommy didn’t come, when you were laughed at, when you tried your best. What was the decision you made? You made the decision that, “If I’m not a certain way, I won’t get the love that I need. I won’t get the attention that I need.” So you start to become that way.
And then you go through another set of decisions when you go to school for the first time. You have to fit in or you’re going to get bullied or made fun of, so you make another decision. And all of these what psychologists called false selves begin to appear. So you have this true self which is basically still a three-year-old boy, and then you start to branch off.
And in extreme case, you have schizophrenia, like full-on multiple personality disorder is when you branch off completely in a completely different personality. But many of us just act differently and we start to think differently because we’re acting differently. That whole thing forms a new personality but with the same voice more or less. You don’t change eye color. That’s an example of Tony Robbins.
But in some severe cases, the break is so drastic that your eye color will change because you’re thinking so different, the brain is sending new signals to the rest of the body. That’s some of the background that I’m assuming here for the rest of the slides.
So, the uncritical view, the person who hasn’t learned this, you begin teaching him that, and you’ll maybe go to UPW, doesn’t know anything else, and then he’s like, “Yeah, I get it. Children have anxiety.” But if the mother does a good job, the child doesn’t get fucked up, secure.
I made this mistake in previous masterminds of going over some of this material and then saying, “It’s possible that there’s a secure view.” The secure view has to be earned. It’s not something you just fall into.
A great example is the spoiled woman, the spoiled girl who thinks she’s a princess. Her dad raised her as a princess and then all of her relationships are going to be horrible because she’s always going to be comparing the boyfriend or the husband to the way her dad treated her as a princess, and that can’t happen.
Even if you have a great household and everything, all of your wishes were granted, you’ve now been fucked up. So at some point, you need to meet adversity. But as kids, we never get the coaching. So no matter what, you’re fucked up. There’s no shame behind that, by the way.
And the faster you come to admit that, the faster you’ll grow and become secure. But you don’t become secure accidentally. You don’t become mature by accident. So, I made the mistake of just presenting, “Here’s the secure view.” Because everyone wants to know, “Okay, David. For hours, you’ve been telling me how messed up I am but now I need to know what I should be like. And I hear secure, and then some guys hear the ‘secure’ I’m like, “Oh, I’m that way already.” And then they walk out of the room thinking they’re okay already.
That’s one of the biggest mistakes I made as a teacher, as a coach, to allow you the illusion that you’re okay already. You’re okay in the sense that everybody is fucked up, so in that sense you’re okay. There’s no shame. That’s what TR likes to say about, you’re not broken. You’re right, because everybody’s broken that’s why you’re not broken. Every car is defective, that’s why your car is not defective. It’s just not that great.
But it hasn’t grown up, that’s the problem. So in these NLP guided meditations, we regress you to childhood, earliest memory, take that book out, and then grow up with this memory. Now, five years of these memories. Now, 10 years of these memories. And what does he say? He says, “Now, looking back on your life, are those memories, dark, bright, or brighter?”
And you say, “It’s so bright, I need sunglasses. Why?” And he says, “Isn’t it interesting? It’s never too late to have a great childhood.” You’ve already been programmed, you guys in this room, most of you, on what I’ve been teaching but you didn’t know because you didn’t have the theory.
The way to break this cycle and to grow up is to regress you to childhood and to grow up with new decisions about what everything meant. You don’t do that by accident. Nobody does that on the way to school. “Oh, yeah. I fell down and I suddenly see a whole new past.” That would be incredibly psychotic.
So, there’s no way. I don’t want you to leave thinking I’m secure. Like, I covered attachment styles, avoidant and anxious, and some guys are like, “Well, I’m secure.” You’re not fucking secure if you’re here. I can look in your eyes and I see you’re not fucking secure.
And this is my last-ditch attempt, my Hail Mary attempt to prove that you are not secure because nobody is, not even me. Nobody is. And I can prove it to you in your life, but that might be offensive to you. I’m thinking about some guys who aren’t here in this room.
But whatever, right? That’s their life. Let them fuck it up. And so, I will be systematically walking you through why, and I’ll take myself as an example, life is a paradox about death. But the uncritical view: Fear of death is not a natural thing for human beings. We are not born with it. We come out of the womb and we love life. We don’t think about it. Our brains are not formed or well-formed, so we just know about drinking, and eating, and pooping, and being held.
As we grow up, we dream about Tonka toys or whatever the cool toy is these days and we have no thoughts about death at all. It’s sort of like the Buddha. And then the Buddha, at some point, when he was a sheltered prince, sneaks out of the palace and sees the four sights, one of them is a sick man, the other one is a dying person.
“What is that? I’ve never seen it before” because his father sheltered him from all of those things, and then that began his quest as an ascetic to leave the kingdom and ends up becoming Buddha. The uncritical view is there’s no fear around death. Later on, as we get older and somebody in our circle dies, then we start to think about death.
That was my uncritical view. I had a high school friend or a middle school friend who died while I was in high school at a gymnastics meet. She has fell down, brain aneurysm, dead within hours. We were all so shocked, we get there, but we’re kids. We’re like 15/16 years old, hormones raging. We’re still like, “Ooh, who is cute? One of our friends fainted but then we had a party after.”
Basically, we all went to her best friend’s house, we drank Kool-Aid, and we just chatted as if nothing happened. We got to skip school that whole day. Totally uncritical about the meaning of death and life.
And then in my early 30’s, one of my good friends from church just dropped dead and that struck me then. I was very sad, but then we went on with our lives and didn’t think about it much.
The uncritical view is death sucks. It happens. It happens to some unlucky people. It don’t happen to me. It’s not me. It’s that guy. I walk on the street, I drive my motorcycle. I’m not going to die, it’s the guy next to me who’s going to die. Sucks to be him.
We run into World War II not thinking that we’re going to be the ones who get killed. That guy’s going to get killed. So, this is self-esteem. Self-esteem is believing you won’t get killed. Now you’re okay. I’m going to get to that, that’s a very controversial thing to say.
So obviously, if you have very traumatic experiences. If you were raped as a baby or whatever, everyone’s going to agree, “Oh, yeah. That’s really bad.” That’s going to make you morbidly fixated on the anxiety of death. “Yeah, but most people are free from it. I don’t have that problem, David. I’m going to go for lunch now, I’ll see you later.”
My attempt in a bit of hyperbole is to say, if you have a brain at all, everything I’m going to say to you is about why you exist. I just know that many of you watching this may not understand this, so you should probably watch this 10 times. Or after the first time, just play it in the background, play the audio in the background and then just have it going in the background.
And as you live your life as another person in your life falls down dead, you can keep coming back to this. Maybe it will start to sink in. Or if your heart gets broken, because that’s sort of like dying, actually. So, the actual view – I referenced the Denial of Death as a great guide through this.
And as a preface to the importance of this book, it has a really boring title: Denial of Death. I guess these are kind of cool titles, but they’re not very descriptive. I don’t deny death. Why should I read this book?
So I just put it off. I saw it in every fucking list of every great psychologist, or theorist, or philosopher of psychology that I read in his footnotes – I didn’t understand why this would be an important book, but everyone kept citing it, saying, “You must read it. It’s the top of the recommended readings list.”
I kept seeing it over and over. I bought the book. I had it on the shelf. It was like one of the last ones I went to. And while I was waiting for my new Amazon order, I was like, “Okay, I’ll read this one.” It blew me away. In fact, it blew me away so much – I started with Escape from Evil because that sounded cooler. That blew me away. I didn’t understand half of it, just to put it out there.
And then I read Denial of Death. I understood most of that, came back to Escape from Evil. If people that you respect who are really smart tell you to read this book over and over, there must be something to it. And so, follow with me here as we go through it. It might be a little bit heavy, but it’s really deep – no, it’s still heavy though. Okay.
So, his view is the fear of death is natural and present in everyone. It begins from birth. The basic fear of that influences all others. You might have heard the twin terrors, I call them: the fear that you’re not enough and the fear that you won’t be loved. Those boil down to the fear of death. I’ll make the argument.
So it starts in childhood. The formative stage is a child’s extreme confusion of cause and effect patterns and relations. He thinks he’s causing food to appear magically like God. Babies think they God because when they cry, it’s just a matter of time before the need is met.
And they think that they control the world, so they have a confusion of cause and effect. For all we know, we have that confusion if you have a certain view of religion. Child’s extreme unreality about limits of his own powers. So, he doesn’t know that he can’t control the boob. The boob just comes.
His perceived omnipotence seems like magical powers to the baby. “Wow, I can cause things to happen just with a thought. I’m hungry, waah! Oh, this delicious milk!” Or he has a certain look like – which is when he’s pooing. And then magically, it comes out, “Woah, look at that! It’s crazy!” And babies have no fear around their poop. This gets later socialized to us as part of our fear of anality, kind of a fear of death and also socialization.
So then his poop gets cleaned. It’s amazing. All of these giants, I control them with a mere thought or a look! It’s incredible. And so, the child will eventually have some frustration. Maybe he cries too long and they haven’t cleaned, or he’s hungry, or he wants to get picked up, doesn’t get picked up.
This hate or destructive feeling is projected against the caregivers, and he has no way of knowing that these destructive thoughts won’t also be fulfilled by the same magic.
Right? So he’s thinking, “Wah! Boob!” or like “Wah! Look and they clean up my poop.” And then he’s like – because the little baby doesn’t know its limits, and then the internalized guilt. This is all happening, now it’s repressed, but that was happening. [CRYING NOISES] That was my acting out of that, okay?
So, frustration, destructive. Like, how dare you thing deny my control! How dare you! Oh, I feel bad because I wanted to die and I can make it die. Like, God, with mere thoughts. So, this is developmental psychology. And then we don’t, so we internalize that guilt.
So, you got to follow the argument here. For the sake of argument, follow the argument. Thus, the human child lives with an inner sense of chaos other animals are immune to.
So, most animals, they pop out of the womb. They start to walk within a day or sometimes within hours. Or if you don’t see it walk within a half hour, you’re really worried, right? And not all of its needs are met. Most animals, it’s rough and tumble; some of their needs are met sometimes and so on.
Human children are different. This is the child’s immature ego. Immature ego, as a term of art in psychology. What this is referring to is the child doesn’t have the sure ability to organize perceptions or his relationship to the world. He can’t control his own activity. He doesn’t have sure command over the acts of others.
So, we have a child who can’t command it, grows up unable to command it, that’s the immature ego. He wants to command it, gets frustrated that he can’t command it, and then becomes frightened that he can’t command it because it’s not in his control. This is what was happening. Of course, what happened was repression, which I’ll get to after this.
Introducing two other terms of art from psychology: inner sustainment, as a sense of bodily confidence in the face of experience that sees the person more easily through severe life crises and even sharp personality changes. So, no matter what happens, I’m going to be okay. And the uncritical view says, if you have inner sustainment, well, it doesn’t matter what life throws at you. You’ll be okay. That’s one concept.
And character defenses. So, this is another way that the uncritical view says, “We’re not afraid of death! We have no guilt! There’s no anxiety. Why? Because of character defenses.” This is where the person learns not to expose themselves, or the child learns not to expose themselves, not to stand out, to embed himself in the power of an other.
It could start with the parents, and then to some authority figure, and then to society at large, and so on. Both of concrete persons and of things and cultural commands. The law is another power that we subscribe to. We believe we can walk out in the streets of America. No one will come to us with a gun because it would really suck for them if they got caught, so we trust the law.
And maybe we trust the person’s good intentions, but I think American people don’t really trust other people’s intentions. They’re out for themselves, and they’re going to protect themselves, and they assume the other person’s going to fuck them over. And so far as we have laws and police to enforce those laws, we’re okay. And then it becomes lawless once those are removed.
But we believe this. We have to believe it in order to sustain our life in this universe, in this world, the modern world. The result is that he comes to exist in the imagined infallibility of the world around him. You drive down the road and you don’t think the guy coming in the other way is just somebody going to swerve and crash into you.
My mother lived with this fear. She’s always like, “David, don’t get too close to the divider!” Like, the dividing line, right? And he just has to plunge ahead. And what he does, is he plunges ahead in a compulsive style of driven-ness in the ways of the world. So, you come to me and you come to the self-help to learn how you can make more money, how you can get more energy, how you can live longer, how you can get bigger muscles, how you can get more girls.
These are the ways of the world. You go through it in a compulsive style. And when I stop and pause for you and say, “That’s a stupid question in and of itself. The goals that you are pursuing are the problem.” You don’t listen. You don’t hear me. You checked out.
And then I refer you to other people who can rip a hole in your ass because your ass is covered up, and they rip a hole through it so you can properly excrete – just seeing if you’re awake. And then you’re like, “No, close that ass up!” So, the reason is because of repression. And sometimes, the repression is so strong that nothing can break through it.
How does a child cope and grow up functioning with all of this? We’re going to get into it in the next slide. So hopefully, I’ve shown you just – Well, I think up to this point, I’ve only talked about basic trauma theory. So what is he coping with? He’s coping with the fact that he’s finding out he’s not in control, that the self-esteem is not something that he naturally has.
And I haven’t brought in death yet, but the basic question is, “How does a child grow up and function with this reality?” The fear of death then varies in intensity depending on the developmental process. Obviously, if he was beaten as a little baby, he’s going to have a much greater fear of death.
But no matter what, we have a fear of death, that’s where we get the fear of the loss of love. Why? Because if you lose love, then you lose the support and the resources and you die. Fear that you’re not enough. If you’re not enough, then no one will come and love you and then you will die. At the root of it is the fear of death. Why are you so afraid of death? Obviously, you’re afraid of death.
Okay, so that fear of death as a baby, and then as we grow older, gets transmuted into a process of making our way in the world. That’s the bigger argument. See, the uncritical view is viewing the human from the side of disguises and transmutation of the fear of death.
The uncritical view is – let’s assess the human being based on how much money he makes, how good he looks, the people around him, the girls, whatever. However you assess other human beings, it is on the other side of transmutation. He’s already transmuted his fear of death. You’re not assessing him on anything else. You’re assessing him on the ways of the world.
Okay, so what you’re looking at when you look at a man is not his true self. You’re looking at his transmutation, his repression, the results of his repression. And so, we have man’s existential dilemma. These are the two horns, one and two, in a dilemma. The first is, he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty.
So, you want to believe you’re special. I don’t mean special snowflake special, but that you actually matter, that there is a you at all, that you’re special. You’re different. You’re different from everyone else somehow. You’re different.
You ever see those sci-fi movies where – what was the one with the – there was one that was clones and stuff. Who’s the guy who played Magneto, the young Magneto? Famous actor. You guys know X-Men, the movie? You guys know Magneto? Okay. That actor. What’s his name?
AUDIENCE: It’s one of the old guys.
David Tien, Ph.D.: No, the young ones. He’s won an academy award.
AUDIENCE: The guy with [INAUDIBLE 00:30:58]?
David Tien, Ph.D.: Yeah. He was in the movie about sex. It was just sex. It was just sex all the way through, just fucking all the way through.
AUDIENCE: That’s going to bug you, isn’t it?
David Tien, Ph.D.: Yeah, it’s going to bug me.
AUDIENCE: What is this thing?
David Tien, Ph.D.: It’s a little warm, too.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE 00:31:19].
David Tien, Ph.D.: Oh, did you turn it off? Fassbender, that’s it. Fassbender. Okay.
AUDIENCE: What about Fassbender?
David Tien, Ph.D.: I have no idea. I have no idea why I brought that up. It’ll come back to me.
So, we want to believe that we’re unique, we’re special, we’re different. There’s a movie that I watched in an airplane, as I’ve watched most movies in airplanes. He was a fighter and then he fought, and then he found out he was a clone.
AUDIENCE: Assassin’s Creed?
David Tien, Ph.D.: Assassin’s Creed! Thank you. So, yes, the video game. What was the deal with that, is it because he’s the character that you play in the video game, and you keep dying, and then a new one comes? Is that the idea? Who’s seen Assassin’s Creed?
AUDIENCE: I watched it on my –
David Tien, Ph.D.: Who’s played it before? Oh, do you know? Okay, so I don’t know. For some reason, Michael Fassbender was a clone. And he gets two-thirds, three quarters through the movie, finds out he’s a clone, and he’s like, “What? No way!” And then he’s like, “You’re the 15th one.”
And then he starts to feel bad about himself. But he wants to make himself special. “I’m different from all the other clones because I will actually save this thing” or whatever. I forget what it is. And then at the end, he actually is different. He’s a clone, yes, but now he gets badges or something. And the end of the movie he’s like, now special clone.
And imagine that you are a clone. Right over there, there’s another clone. You don’t even know. It’s exactly the same as you. You’ve been going your entire life thinking that you are unique, but there’s somebody else who has the exact same thoughts, beliefs. When you get hungry, he gets hungry, the whole nine yards. Looks exactly like you. You’re a clone.
In fact, you’re the 20th clone so there’s like 19 of them more. And they’re all alive, running around. All of your uniqueness, the things that make you special, your identity – except the fact that you’re clone number whatever. The number is different, but everything else is the same. We don’t like that. As human beings, we generally don’t embrace that.
We look at Michael Fassbender in the movie and we go, “Damn, I understand why you are sad.” We don’t go, “Why are you sad? That’s amazing. You’re so lucky you have twins.” We don’t think that. We think, “Damn. That sucks. Now, character, do something to distinguish yourself so you’re not the same as all the others.” That is heroism.
So, the very deep stuff that I’m translating for you, when he uses the word ‘heroic’, he doesn’t mean Superman. He means that you have transcended somehow. There’s currently 7 billion other unique individuals plus all of human history. You, out of all of those people, there’s never been anyone like you. That’s crazy.
And then we get into astrophysics, and parallel universes, and all of this stuff. But imagine, this is a thought experiment that there is somebody like you. You don’t like that. And we see in science fiction, they kill their other clones. I can’t remember all of these other movies that I’ve seen, but clones kill the other clones because they find out he’s a clone. There’s the bad guy who finds out he’s a clone.
And then he’s like, “What?” And then he’s like, “I’m the original.” And it was the real original. He made a clone. He cloned himself, and the clone killed the original because he couldn’t stand that he wasn’t the original. We understand that as human beings. We don’t go, “Oh, that’s weird. Why would he do that?” We immediately understand the motivation there, because we want to be unique.
That’s horn number one of the dilemma. The second part is, we as humans go back into the ground, a few feet to blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. We are food for worms. This is a part that most people just don’t want to think about at all. This is a part that they’re striving for. This is their life, to be unique. “I am special. I matter.”
And even the ones who blindly go about like rats looking for sex, pleasure, food, gratification, ego gratification. They’re trying to live this life just very uncritically. But some of us live this knowingly. We want to be billionaires. We want to go down in history. We want to leave a legacy, or like the great Greek heroes, actual heroes. They want their name to be passed down for generations.
What are the chances of that actually happening? Now, it could happen now because we have all of these records, but up until 1980 or so, the vast majority of lives in human history no one knows about. But we don’t have to think about that right now. Let’s just get to everything man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his ugly fate.
Symbolic means that you’re not like an uncritical animal. You actually understand abstract concepts, symbols. Everything is a symbol, really, of some idea that you have inchoate in your mind, and you give it a symbol, a representation so that you can then communicate it to others and communicate it to yourself as representations of these ideas. That’s what he means by symbols, is a semantic theory.
However, the child you is unable to handle either horn so the child becomes mad. The child cannot become unique. He has no power, the little baby. He has no control whatsoever after he realizes he has no control, as I walked you through the beginning. He thought he had control and then the rug was swept out from underneath him.
And he starts to wonder what’s this shit. Like, literally, why do I have an anus? You might see dogs uncritically go and play with their poop. They sniff their own butt. They don’t have a fear or anxiety around anus. The child – this is very well-documented. I don’t remember doing this. I don’t see kids doing it. Well, I don’t hang out with that many kids, but apparently it happens quite often that children are very curious of that thing that excretes this stuff that people don’t like.
Studies have shown that we’re not that weirded out by the smell of our own farts. We don’t like other people’s farts. This is scientifically proven. So you can fart. You’ll just sit there. You might even like it. You’re like, “Oh, man. That was a bad one. Woo-hoo!” Especially dudes.
Somebody else’s fart? You’re like, “Agh! Get away from me!” The disgust mechanism goes up. You don’t get the disgust mechanism on your own excretions. You just get curious about that. “What is that? What does that mean, that I excrete?” So, this goes way back. Freud spends a whole book on this, the anality, the anxiety of the anus.
It means that you’re going to die. It means that the food you take in has to go out somewhere. And overtime, there’s passage of shit. You’re going to die. The fact that you have an anus is the sign that your life will end. The beginning of the end of your life started when you were born. Okay, that’s another way of putting life.
Children can’t handle that. “I’m going to die?” Well, two-year-olds like, “I’m going to die? No! It’s too scary. I don’t want to die. Mommy and daddy, hold me. Hug me. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” And that’s why we need love. Do you ever wonder why? It doesn’t make sense. Well, the child wants to have love, because if it doesn’t have love, it would die.
Pair bonds happen because the child would die otherwise. It’s all about death. It’s all about avoiding death. What happens psychologically? The only way the human race could evolve to avoid death is if there was a psychology that avoids death. You must have the thought to avoid death. We don’t just willy-nilly jump off this thing because who cares. We are afraid of it, because otherwise we wouldn’t be passing out our genes. The fear of death has evolved in us.
Now, what do we do with this fear? We can’t go around every day being afraid of death. We wouldn’t get on in life. We wouldn’t be able to make enough money to have food and other pleasurable things. So, what do we do to get on with life, especially when you’re a two-year-old? You repress it.
So, repression is a lot more than ignoring it. We like to think we just ignore it. So, what I’m about to show it and what goes through a lot of the cultural anthropology is, that cultural institutions are a result of the repression of the fear of death.
How our political institutions came about and how they are now, the things that we pursue, the consumerism and all of these other things, even communism can be explained as a result of the repression of the fear of death individually, and as a society. And then the interesting things that happen as a result of it, that we normally are really frustrated with. But when you see it, you can understand why that’s happening. It might still frustrate you, but you can actually see behind the curtain.
Before we take a break, I want to read out for you a little passage from this book. One of the reasons why it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which is normally not a prize awarded to academics, they have their own internal prize. Pulitzer Prizes are usually given to journalists or just people who write really brilliant books. This is an academic book but it’s beautifully-written.
I found myself just wanting to just take out whole sections of it just because the language is so wonderful. I want to read you this part because there’s no other better way to put it.
“In order to understand the weight of the dualism of the human condition,” this is the dualism, “that on the one hand, you’re going to die, and the other hand, you’re unique and special. We have to know that the child can’t really handle either end of it. The most characteristic thing about him is that he is precocious or premature. His world piles up on him and he piles up on himself.”
“He has, right from the beginning, an exquisite, sensory system that rapidly develops to take in all the sensations of his world with an extreme finesse.” You see this among kids, when they’re first little babies, they’re just looking around. They don’t even know that their hands work.
They look at their feet like they’re these amazing creations. Like, look at this. They stick their feet in their mouths. They’re just amazed by the fact that a thought can control this thing. Woah, right? And a thought can control a boob to come into their mouth.
They don’t make the distinction between the boob and their arm. It’s just controlled by a thought. “This is amazing!”
“To add to it, the quick development of language and the sense of self, and pile it all upon a helpless, infant body trying vainly to grab the world correctly and safely. The result is ludicrous. The child is overwhelmed by experiences of the dualism of the self and body, from both areas since he can be master of neither. He’s not a confident social self. He’s not an adept manipulator of symbolic categories of words, thoughts, names, or places, or especially of time. That great mystery for him. He doesn’t even know what a clock is.”
A little baby who can’t express. He can’t use language. “Nor is he a functioning adult animal who can work and procreate, do the serious things he sees happening around him. He can’t do like father in any way. He is a prodigy in limbo. In both halves of his experience, he is dispossessed. Yet, impressions keep pouring in on him, and sensations keep welling up within him, flooding his body.”
“He has to make some kind of sense out of them, establish some kind of ascendancy over them. Will it be thoughts over body or body over thoughts? Not so easy. There can be no clear-cut victory or straight-forward solution of the existential dilemma he is in. It is his problem right from the beginning, almost of his life, yet he is only a child to handle it.”
“Children feel hounded by symbols they don’t understand the need of, verbal demands that seem picayune,” or like random, maybe trivial, “and rules and codes that call them away from their pleasure in the straightforward expression of their natural energies.”
“And when they try to master the body, pretend it isn’t there, act “like a little man,” the body suddenly overwhelms them, submerges them in vomit or excrement-and the child breaks,” or just falls down because he’s trying to walk and he can’t control it. “And the child breaks down in desperate tears over his melted pretense at being a purely symbolic animal.”
So, he wishes he can now control the body with a thought and he can’t. Often, the child deliberately soils himself, or continues to wet the bed, to protest against the imposition of artificial symbolic rules. He seems to be saying that the body is his primary reality, and that he wants to remain in the simpler, physical Eden and not be thrown out into the world of right and wrong.
“In this way we realize directly and poignantly that what we call the child’s character is a modus vivendi achieved after the most unequal struggle that any animal has to go through; a struggle that the child can never really understand because he doesn’t know what is happening to him, why he is responding as he does, or what is really at stake in the battle.”
“The child emerges with a name, a family, a play world in a neighborhood, all clearly cut out for him. But his insides are full of nightmarish memories of impossible battles, terrifying anxieties of blood, pain, aloneness, darkness; mixed with limitless desires, sensations of unspeakable beauty, majesty, awe, mystery; and fantasies and hallucinations of mixtures between the two.”
“The impossible attempt to compromise between bodies and symbols.” So, we see that the two dimensions of human existence, the body and the self, can never be reconciled seamlessly. It’s a great book, right? It’s just incredible writing. Okay, so two more slides, and then 1:30 we’ll take a break.
So, the child, in order to deal with all of that – coming up that year and a half, two years, it’s just like, “What the fuck?” By the third year he says, “I can’t deal with this. I have neither the resources. I don’t even understand it. It’s just too much.” You ever see a two-year-old just get really frustrated? You see their whole body tense up. You just release all the lactic acid and then it calms down.”
Now what? And then daddy picks you up and everything’s okay again. The only way for that psychologically to happen is repression. It doesn’t happen just once, of course. It happens over and over. Let’s focus on these little things, like what flavor ice cream I like, not the fact that I can’t control the poop that keeps dribbling down my leg and I don’t know if daddy knows.
So, the cost of pretending not to be mad, the complex penalties of denying the truth of man’s condition are revealed to us by psychoanalysis. So, when you go through psychoanalysis, when you get a good therapist, or when you continue to do more Tony Robbins, or you take Rock Solid Relationships, and Masculine Mastery, and then you take Lifestyle Mastery, an Invincible, you will have revealed to you your unconscious, your sub-conscious popping out.
We undo layers of it. And each time you go through it, more of it comes out. More grief. More repressed memories. More crying. It’s called grief work. Your analysis is not working unless you cry. You go through the grief work. You process those old emotions. You discover that what I call the archaeology of psychology is in you, that you are like an archaeological site.
Many layers of sediment down, there’s all of these new things that you didn’t even know were under there and you’re way up here. You’re looking for dinosaurs down here. You have dinosaurs. And as you go through psychoanalysis, these are real things that are happening, that you’re experiencing, you’re seeing.
You’re like, “Woah, when I was a kid, my mom did this to me. I don’t even remember that. That’s why I’m acting this way now. That’s why I’m repeating these patterns now because my dad was like this, or I saw my dad interacting with my mother like this. And when I was younger, I decided that that’s how it had to be.” And you see that in layers and layers. Sometimes, you stop them prematurely and you don’t grow, but you’re an archaeological site.
Those are the costs of pretending not to be mad. The average person – and I’ve been saying over and over in Man Up episodes. It’s cool that it’s starting to sink it. I say everybody needs therapy because we are human beings. No one gets mature by accident. We just pretend we’re mature.
What’s an example of it, well, I’m going to get to this later, a well-adjusted man or well-adjusted adult? He goes to work. He shows up. Sits behind a screen, does his work, gets a paycheck. On the weekend, he meets his friends. Maybe he’ll get married and have kids, and now he’s very much like an adult. In the meantime, he’s not ever thinking about his life.
He goes all the way through 70 years old, starts to think about, “Oh, shit. I’m going to die. Better put aside some money. I better not get all of this lost by inheritance tax” and starts to give away as much of it as he can to his kids while they’re still alive. And then eventually, he dies in fear. Sometimes, they die with their families surrounding them in a numbing thing, like, “Okay, this is it. I am dead.” And they die.
That’s a well-adjusted man. That is madness. That is somebody who is dumb. And it’s okay. I think in the end, one of the conclusions is, be dumb. Go back into the matrix. Let’s plug you back in. Because coming out of the matrix is too scary for most people.
Now, there are artists. There are creative people who see it and they get out of it in a different way. I’m going to show you what that is like. And many of us in this room are taking the artist’s solution. But most of the world is taking the well-adjusted average man solution. And some of you are stuck in-between. You’re not happy either way because you’re taking the well-adjusted man but you’re too smart to just buy into that illusion.
So, you’re over here and trying to make something of it, but you don’t understand why it’s so hard over here. So, this is part of the madness. “The explanation of evil that men have wreaked upon themselves in the world in human history is the toll that his pretense of sanity takes as he tries to deny his condition.” That’s a big thesis in Escape from Evil. I’ve bracketed that part because death is enough for us for now. We don’t have to think about evil.
So, human character. There’s too many points on this slide. Human character is the vital lie. So much of self-help is, “Get self-esteem, build your character.” I know because I was teaching the same thing, and to a certain extent to the certain type of audience who are beginning in this journey, that’s what you need to tell them.
So, it’s sort of like Jordan Peterson’s “Clean your room. Dust the Cheetos off your chest. Get out of your parent’s basement and get a job!” Get on with life. If you’re talking to somebody like that, you do not want to go here yet because you’re still animals, basically. But human character is the lie that allows you to live. That’s why it’s called the vital lie.
So, you got Maslow who speaks very eloquently about the fact that we are simultaneously worms and gods. Maslow talks a lot about this dilemma. Many of you don’t know. All we know is about his pyramid, right? His hierarchy. A lot of what he was concerned about, the reason why he’s created that hierarchy, is to make sense of our simultaneously being worms and gods; the exact dilemma here.
The formation of human character, a study of human’s self-limitation and its terrifying costs were the result of dealing with this vital lie to ourselves. Man lived by lying to himself and about himself, and about his world, and that character is a vital lie. The personality that you then develop, it is an illusion for yourself to deal with the repression of the lie of the fact that you are insignificant and that you will die at any moment.
Pretty depressing, I guess. This is why existentialists, many of them were very depressed and became drinkers and killed themselves. So, we protect ourselves and our ideal image of ourselves by repression and similar defenses. Projection, there are all kinds of other – Most of what psychoanalysis does for you is to point out the different devices you use to repress the memories that you don’t want to deal with, or the realities that you know but that you’ve shoved deep into your unconscious.
“Here’s one way of projection. Here’s another way, transference. Here’s another way, idealization. Here’s another way.” And emotional vampires, narcissists, and so forth, have repressed so deeply – this is the theory, it could be generic, psychopaths as an argument is genetic – but narcissists have repressed so deeply that they can’t get out of it. And so, therapists give up on them and they just medicate those people to just make sure that they don’t harm society.
But maybe there’s a lot more narcissists who suffer from that personality disorder than that society wants to recognize. And it’s part of becoming – to avoid becoming conscious of these unpleasant truths. So, character is a neurotic defense against existential despair.
Before we get into total repression – so you might think, “Oh, this is so depressing.” It gets worse. But before we do that, it’s time for lunch. So, take a break. We’ll try to forget death by eating and having a good time, and further numbing. Right? We’re getting plugged back into the matrix. Hey! Let’s have a good time now.
Okay, so let’s do that. Forget all this stuff that we’re thinking about, or we can discuss it, and we’ll get some good food. So, I’ll see you when we come back to the video.