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A brief, reasoned overview of the meaning of death in our culture. Lifton and Olson assert that we experience a constant apprehension of holocaust and annihilation -- brought on by, among other things, the atomic age, the Vietnam War and cultural flux (exacerbating the death anxiety of adolescence and middle age to the point of a ""generation gap""). But we have not developed ""meaningful rituals and beliefs""; we have no framework. We have therefore numbed ourselves to death; it has become a taboo topic, comparable to sex for the Victorians. While not denying Freud's view of the ""hard fact of death,"" the authors contend that symbolization of immortality is a human need that cannot be overlooked. What is most frightening to them is the possibility that without a sense of immortality or continuity, our death anxiety can lead us to ""ideological totalism,"" a view of reality according to which an ""enemy must be killed if we are to survive (some elaboration is called for here). We must find new forms, new emotional and conceptual structures. The recent proliferation of thanatological lore, as the authors point out, is indicative of the problem death poses to our culture. Lifton and Olson view the psychosocial phenomenon of death judiciously and perceptively -- a further extrapolation of the ideas more fully developed in Lifton's study of Vietnam veterans (Home From the War, 1973).

Pub Date: July 1st, 1974
Publisher: Praeger