Dying to Live: Terrorism, War, and Defending One's Way of Life
INTERDISCIPLINARY ANALYSES OF TERRORISM AND POLITICAL AGGRESSION, pp. 49-70, D. Antonius, A. D. Brown, T. K. Walters, J. M. Ramirez, S. J. Sinclair, eds., Cambridge, 2010
22 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2011
Date Written: February 18, 2011
The present chapter reviews research concerning the existential motivations for terrorism and militarism based on Terror Management Theory (TMT). Whereas terrorism and militarism entail methods of extreme violence, TMT entails a set of psychological processes that help protect the self from the aversive awareness of mortality. TMT proposes that humans develop and maintain cultural worldviews and hold strong ties to their social groups because these constructs help individuals psychologically transcend death by providing a link to something larger and longer lasting than the self. Thus, in some cases, this existential fear may intensify identification with radical causes (e.g., ethnic, nationalist, or religious) in an attempt to achieve such a sense of symbolic immortality. Further, challenges to the efficacy of one's worldview or the esteem of one's social group undermine these death-denying qualities, resulting in a sense of humiliation or perceived injustice that may be attenuated by violent attempts at regaining agency, esteem, and dignity. This chapter describes both laboratory research and real-world examples of TMT processes that factor into increases in risk-taking, support for both religious and secular terrorist activity and militarism, and willingness to selfsacrifice to protect one's way of life.
Keywords: terror management, extremism, violence, war, terrorism, peace, ideology, threat, group conflict, politics
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation