Is self-esteem a death anxiety reflex?

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Is self-esteem a death anxiety reflex?

Post by Mr1001nights » April 9th, 2017, 10:13 pm

I just edited a video making the case for this proposition, as well as the historical perspective that it entails. The other competing (or complementary) major theory of self-esteem is coalitional psychology (CP, also known as “Sociometer theory”) basically saying that what others think of us has survival & reproductive benefits, so that a sense of self-esteem would help us improve or maintain this fitness by self-monitoring - gauging others’ opinion and modifying our behavior accordingly.

The problem with this CP explanation is that

1) Every major culture we know of features religious or supernatural beliefs which have less to do with what others think of us than with what gods or spirits think of us.

2) Our status or “what others think of us” is mediated by invented, largely arbitrary cultural activities and beliefs (abstract meaning systems) that have virtually nothing to do with the specific adaptive threats we encountered (or that could even be logically postulated) in the course of evolution. Work on primates shows that coalitions and alliances in primate groups serve very specific adaptive goals.

3) CP cannot account for the fact that reminders of death increase allegiance to these abstract meaning systems, and that, conversely, challenges to these meaning systems increase death-thought accessibility. These abstract meaning systems may indeed facilitate the formation and maintenance of coalitions, but TMT evidence shows that this is largely on the basis of a suppression of unconscious death-anxiety (an unfortunate byproduct of our adaptive intelligence), not as a specific adaptation for survival.

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Re: Is self-esteem a death anxiety reflex?

Post by Greta » April 10th, 2017, 2:03 am

From about 12:30 of the video there's some nice observations about cultural blinkers and the tragedy of the commons. It will probably all work out for the best in the greater scheme of things, though, just as the dinos' decimation and diminution into birds ultimately worked out for the best. Not so comforting on an individual level, though ...

I was surprised at the effect of death on people's attitudes. The essence seemed to be that many people mentally and emotionally shrink into a tight, protective shell at the thought of death like metaphorical armadillos. Either that or they explode into action to quickly realise their dreams before time runs out. Culture and ritual's positive influences here would seem to be akin to distracting an anxious child with toys or even acting as a pacifier :)

Thoughts of death have the opposite effect on me to those stated in the video. I have now reached the same age at which an elder sibling died some years ago. Now death is always at the edge of my consciousness, almost an obsession, to the point where I've wondered about getting counselling. However, if I was a judge with my current death-oriented mindset before adjudicating cases I'd be more lenient, with more of a philosophical, "life's too short to fuss" approach.

Maybe it depends on how vividly one imagines death? Those who undergo near death experiences are always more inclined towards forgiveness and goodwill than before the NDE, more inclined to let bygones be bygones and to take life less for granted. Maybe it's no surprise that abstract ideation of death causes problems? Abstraction leads to objectification, being an arm's length attitude towards the abstracted entity.

Meanwhile, it's understandable that people can feel under siege. At all times our environments are "trying" to tear us into tiny, digestible chunks. Water dissolves, air erodes, sunlight degrades and environmental biota wants to consume our resources and sometimes even the stuff of our bodies. Each biological organism operates from one fundamental aim - to stay in one piece, to resist the environment's constant attempts to integrate us, to homogenise. So yes, the ego is a mental shield that promotes behaviours that we hope will keep our bodies and resources intact.

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Re: Is self-esteem a death anxiety reflex?

Post by Dissimulation » April 12th, 2017, 10:42 am

Interesting video. Self-esteem whatever its genology or function is a difficult subject to dissect. With that said, Greta's post invoked a question, what is the efficient way to use it (if such a method is intelligible) the harms of misuse (if intelligible question) benefits of efficient use (?) ?

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