How Fear of Death Turns Us Into Imperialist, Xenophobic Assholes

From The New Republic:

Over the next decade, the three performed similar experiments to illustrate how awareness of death could provoke worldview defense. They showed that what they now called “mortality salience” affected people’s view of other races, religions, and nations.

When they would ask sub- jects to make judgments immediately following the mortality exercises, the exercises would have little effect. It was only when they interspersed a diversionary interval between the exercises and the judgments that the exercises had their full impact.

For instance, because worldview defense increases hostility toward other races, religions, nations, and political systems, it helps explain the rage toward France and Germany that erupted prior to the Iraq war, as well as the recent spike in hostility toward illegal immigrants. Also central to worldview defense is the protection of tradition against social experimentation, of community values against individual prerogatives–as was evident in the Tucson experiment with the judges–and of religious dictates against secular norms.