THE ANATOMY OF HUMAN DESTRUCTIVENESS SHELDON SOLOMON (VIDEO) OCTOBER 9th, 2008

Terror management theory posits that awareness of mortality engenders a potential for paralyzing terror that is assuaged by cultural worldviews: humanly created beliefs shared by individuals to provide a sense they are valuable members of an enduring and meaningful universe, and hence qualified for immortality. All cultural worldviews are ultimately shared fictions, in the sense that none of them are likely to be literally true, and their existence is generally sustained by social consensus. Consequently, encountering people with different beliefs poses a challenge to cultural worldviews, which is why people are generally quite uncomfortable around, and hostile towards, those who are different.

Additionally, because no symbolic cultural construction can actually overcome the physical reality of death, residual anxiety is unconsciously projected onto others as scapegoats: designated all-encompassing repositories of evil, the eradication of which would make earth as it is in heaven. We then typically respond to people with different beliefs (i.e., scapegoats) by berating them, trying to convert them to our belief system, and/or just killing them and in so doing asserting that “my God is stronger than your God and we’ll kick your ass to prove it.” Empirical support for a terror management conception of human violence will be provided, and recommendations for ameliorating the pernicious effects of bigotry and intolerance will be considered.

Presented by the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Arts and the UBC Terry Project.

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