The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker is a must-read for anyone with pretensions to staring reality in the face. I read small chunks at a time simply because it is so dense. Below area a couple of quotes from my latest reading (second time around).
It is only if you let the full weight of this paradox sink down on your mind and feelings that you can realize what an impossible situation it is for an animal to be in. I believe that those who speculate that a full apprehension of man’s condition would drive him insane are right, quite literally right. Babies are occasionally born with gills and tails, but this is not publicized—instead it is hushed up. Who wants to face up fully to the creatures we are, clawing and gasping for breath in a universe beyond our ken? I think such events illustrate the meaning of Pascal’s chilling reflection: “Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.” Necessarily because the existential dualism makes an impossible situation, an excruciating dilemma. Mad because, as we shall see, everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate. He literally drives himself into a blind obliviousness with social games, psychological tricks, personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality of his situation that they are forms of madness—agreed madness, shared madness, disguised and dignified madness, but madness all the same. “Character-traits,” said Sandor Ferenczi, one of the most brilliant minds of Freud’s intimate circle of early psychoanalysts, “are secret psychoses.”
If we had to offer the briefest explanation of all the evil that men have wreaked upon themselves and upon their world since the beginnings of time right up until tomorrow, it would be not in terms of man’s animal heredity, his instincts and his evolution: it would be simply in the toll that his pretense of sanity takes, as he tries to deny his true condition.