The Guardian last week asked authors to select a book that helped explain the rise of Donald Trump, a rise that is inexplicable to many. Oliver Burkeman selected The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, arguing that it “makes a haunting case for just how much authoritarians stand to gain by exploiting our fear of mortality.”
He selected this quote from the book: “Sensing a way to feel significant again people join the cause of the seemingly larger-than-life leader as a revitalised basis for self-worth and meaning in life.”
Now back to my selection of quotes:
As Ernest Becker starkly put it, the “natural and inevitable urge to deny mortality and achieve a heroic self-image are the root causes of human evil.”
“Life,” wrote biologist Stephen Jay Gould, “is a copiously branching bush, continually pruned by the grim reaper of extinction, not a ladder of predictable progress.”
Perhaps, once we fully recognize the central role that mortal terror plays in persistent strife, human ingenuity can also find ways of counteracting the destructive potential our fears can, and do, unleash.