Mortals: How the Fear of Death Shaped Human Society, by Rachel Menzies, Ross Menzies
Mortals is a ground-breaking book uncovering the fear of death as the hidden driver of most of our species’ endeavours over millennia. The human mind can grapple with the future, visualising and calculating solutions to complex problems, giving us tremendous advantages over other species throughout our evolutionary history. However, this incredible capability comes with a curse. By five to ten years of age, all humans know where they are ultimately heading: to the grave.
Rachel and Ross Menzies, both acclaimed psychologists whose life’s work has focused on this area, examine all the major human responses to death across history, from the development of religious systems denying the finality of death to ‘immortality projects’ involving enduring art, architecture and literature. While some of these have been glorious, like the construction of the pyramids, others have been destructive, leading to global conflicts and genocide. Soberingly, Rachel and Ross hypothesise that worse is to come – our unconscious dread of death has led to the rampant consumerism and overpopulation of the 20th century, which has driven the global warming and pandemic crises that now threaten our very existence. In a terribly irony, Homo sapiens may ultimately be destroyed by, quite literally, our knowledge of our own mortality.
Mortals provides the insights we need to understand the history of our species and our future direction.