Addressing Research Obstacles

For the purposes of this documentary assignment I have researched as an “outsider.”   I am not privy to any information that is not freely available to anyone else, save for those who do not have access to databases like JSTOR for relevant journal articles.   I suppose with some creative thinking I could count myself as an “insider” just based on the amount of research I have done regarding this topic and the diverse source material in which I’ve immersed myself over the past two years.  Even still, I consider my knowledge on this topic to be at best elementary, with much more to learn ahead.    

Given the depth of the research I have done, I feel comfortable laying out the basic framework of Terror Management Theory (TMT) for my audience.    As a result, the tone of my documentary is confident.   I’m not merely advocating a philosophy or some wishy-washy theoretical gymnastics.  TMT produces empirical evidence that demands consideration, and I have found that Ernest Becker’s ideas provide the most reasonable explanation for the data.

No one has been threatened by my research, but I do know that some will feel threatened by the material I present.  TMT has the unique capability to cut deeply into its own subject matter.  For many, Becker’s ideas will fundamentally contradict their most deeply held beliefs, and in doing so will cause them to respond in terror.   I hope that some will recognize that terror in the context of its inspiration and perhaps use that as a reason to further examine Becker’s ideas.   I have found Becker can be very sneaky in that way.

Preparing for the Documentary

My documentary uses Terror Management Theory (TMT) and the ideas of Ernest Becker to explain why despite thousands of years on this planet, humans still can’t find a way to get along with each other.  It’s an interesting topic because, if TMT is correct, it both explains the underlying existential underpinnings of human conflict and provides a solution to, at the very least, minimize that conflict. 

My audience is quite broad because this topic is relevant to everyone.  I do not expect everyone to take particular interest in this topic, however.  I expect my primary audience will be the 60 Minutes, Unsolved Mysteries, PBS Frontline crowd.  They will find it interesting because human conflict is the ultimate mystery.  No one has ever been able to eliminate it, despite many explanations and attempts.

I know a good deal about TMT and Ernest Becker.  I’ve been reading Becker’s works, and the works of those who inspired him (Rank, Freud, Kierkegaard, Tillich) for a couple years now.  I have also read most of the TMT journal articles and the articles of those who criticize TMT.  I do believe that outside of basic political motives (land value, etc.) TMT offers the best explanation for why we continue to saturate our planet in the blood of our fellow humans.

My guiding question in this documentary goes one further than Rodney King’s: “Why can’t we all just get along?”  It will address this question from several perspectives.  This project features the philosophical (we are creatures torn between boundless creative capabilities and animal physicality, or as Becker called Homo sapiens, “the god who shits.”), the psychological (we repress our fears of death to function and survive), the sociological and anthropological (we build cultures of meaning to stave off the terror of utter annihilation and meaninglessness and go to war to defend those conceptions). It even presents the empirical side of scientific study to these effects.  Thankfully, having read so much of the literature surrounding TMT, I will not require too much in-depth research; I will just need to refresh my understanding.  I think it is important in any presentation of material to have a much more thorough understanding of a topic than one presents.