GVSU professor to discuss "Fear and Anxiety" as part of lecture series

By Jenna Fracassi | 2/26/17 9:55pm

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GVL/Mackenzie Bush - Todd Williams, Associate Professor of Psychology, prepares for his event on the Role of Fear and Anxiety in Social and Political Judgement, which will take place Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.

by Mackenzie Bush / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Todd Williams, associate professor of psychology at Grand Valley State University, will be conducting a lecture titled “The Role of Fear and Anxiety in Social and Political Judgment: A Social Psychological Perspective” Tuesday, Feb. 28, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the L.V. Eberhard Center.

“In the talk, what I’m going to be doing is reviewing the ideas of a cultural anthropologist named Ernest Becker,” Williams said.

Becker wrote several books on human motivation, the most notable being “The Denial of Death.” In it he argues that humans have a biological need to control our basic anxiety and deny the fear of death. He believed the origin of evil lied in the selfishness of human beings trying to protect their existence despite their mortality.

Williams explained how human beings are fundamentally animals. As animals, we have an instinct to survive that is hardwired into our brains. We have enormous brains, and our cerebral cortex gives us unique capabilities, like thinking in terms of time—the past, present and future.

“Human beings are without a doubt special in the vast capabilities that we have,” Williams said.

One of the problems that arises because of this is existential anxiety. As biological creatures, humans are aware of their existence. They know their life is finite and they will ultimately die. Still, humans strive for immortality. They find a solution to this by creating and participating in culture.

“We are creating a meaning system that will transcend our mortal years,” Williams said.

Another topic Williams plans to discuss is how this awareness of death leads to the punishment of people who are different. This includes personal judgment of themselves and other people in a social environment.

This event is part of the lecture series “Back to Basics: The Liberal Arts and Sciences as Common Ground for Meaningful Engagement.” These events open the floor to GVSU faculty members, giving them an opportunity to relate their field to current world issues.

The Back to Basics lectures series, which is made up of five talks, is co-sponsored by the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Koeze Business Ethics Initiative at the Seidman College of Business, and the GVSU philosophy department.

Scott St. Louis, the program manager for the Hauenstein Center's Common Ground Initiative, believes the importance of this series is deeply tied to GVSU’s position as a liberal arts institution.

“The liberal arts can bring us to informed judgment about our present moment,” St. Louis said. “This is about the mission of liberal arts education and the way in which it creates citizens who are informed and therefore free.”

St. Louis believes there is value in making this information available to college students.

“I think that college students, for the most part, are kind of in their early years of political consciousness and awareness,” he said. “As students reach durable long-term values and political world views, these types of conversation enable them to make informed choices in the way they see the world.”

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