THE WORLD OF SYMBOLS
“Society itself … is everywhere a living myth of
the significance of human life, a defiant creation
Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
THIS chapter is an analysis of the ways in which human communities have surrounded themselves with spheres of symbols, under the protective shield of which they have created for themselves a world of freedom and safety, dignity and meaning—a civilization. It also discusses the social and human consequences of the impairment or collapse of these symbolic spheres during great historical transitions.
Humankind has always had to create, and continuously recreate, a microworld for itself within a not too hospitable universe. Throughout the millennia of their history, people have developed two strategies for this purpose. Let me call the first the technical or Promethean strategy, and the second the symbolic or Apollonian.1
The technological, scientific, or Promethean strategy seeks to control the world physically and socially; to use the resources of this world to create a more or less closed human universe which protects and fosters human life