Landing Lust: The Human Drive Behind Many Human Drives

Who wouldn't want to feel superhuman?

Posted Sep 06, 2018

 Khakimullin Aleksandr/Shutterstock
Source: Khakimullin Aleksandr/Shutterstock

Landing lust: An appetite to rise above your humanness to superhuman status, an imaginary state of infallibility, invincibility, and unassailability. Landing lust is a deep human-universal craving to graduate out of life’s school of hard knocks, landing at long last on a plateau high above human anxiety, uncertainty, and doubt.

Evidence for landing lust:

Heaven, Nirvana, enlightenment, alignment with God: Throughout human history and today’s cultures, people flock to religions that offer a path to a beatific graduation into a state of perfect peace, joy, and satisfaction.

Happily-ever-after fiction: Most fiction ends with some variation on happily ever after, the hero’s narrow escape from some risky, anxiety-ridden complication. By identifying with such heroes we gain vicarious, virtual-satisfaction of our landing-lust.

Rap, rock, pop anthems: We idolize and identify with pop music gods, often singing their own superhuman praises or singing about falling in love as though they’ve landed on a plateau high above the human fray.

Self-romancing: We fall in love in part for how grand it makes us feel about ourselves. Falling in love feels like landing. Falling out of love feels like freefall. We seek status, either ultimate status, the highest perch from which we imagine we can do no wrong, or at least status which would afford us more moments of feeling above it all, swaggering into more rooms where people treat us as superior.

Spectator-sport triumphalism: Reveling in our team’s victory as though we’re vindicated as members some superhuman campaign.

Appetite for charismatic leadership: Though many are coerced into submission to a powerful overlord, the overlord would not have become powerful without appealing to our landing lust. People feel superhuman by association with religious, political, and cult leaders. Trump cult enthusiasts are a prime example. Trump feigns superhuman infallibility, invincibility, and unassailability through a blend of high-minded purity and its opposite, a low cunning that he is entitled to because he is superhuman. Trump supporters aren’t just supporters. They envy his feigned superhuman status. They’re Trump wannabes. The same is so for followers of any charismatic leader. We aren’t just brainwashed. We invite such leaders to wash our minds of all doubt so we can be like them.

Gangster appeal: Something in many of us roots for all-powerful gangsters, real and fictional, people who can get away with anything as though they’re superhuman.

Anti-intellectualism: The more we think, the more we doubt, the more aware we become of conflicting pressures and reasons to doubt whether we’re on the right path. Throughout history, people have taken up arms against intellectual quests, as though through simple faith they can escape to higher ground above ivory tower intellectuals with their burdensome load of complicating reflections. We find that such anti-intellectualism in spirituality and politics, in Buddhism and Republican anti-intellectuals like Trump and Palin, campaigns that appeal because they make rising above it all look easy.

The evolution of landing lust:

Animals don’t have it though they have the seed of what motivates it. All organisms are at risk of death. Animals can feel that risk, though only in short bursts of anxious effort to surmount it. A zebra will panic during an attack but soon returns to a calmer vigilance.

Language distinguishes human consciousness from animal consciousness. In “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” psychologist Robert Sapolsky argued that with language, humans can ruminate about past and future threats in a way other organisms can’t. Given language, our anxieties are more acute and chronic. We can foresee more threats which stay in mind longer, all due to our capacity to put threats into worded thoughts, ruminations about what has been and what will be.

What will be includes our own deaths, foreseeable in detail by means of our capacity to word our way to details about possible deaths. Terror Management Theory demonstrates that when you remind people of their own deaths they become more firm in their faith, in what psychologist Ernest Becker called “immortality campaigns,” campaigns in which we imagine our value living on through our commitments to absolute ideals. In other words, through words we feel greater terror and therefore greater yearning for some kind of superhuman landing, a place where we rise immortal above it all.

Words refer to things in the real world but not just. They also refer to each other in a large network of associated concepts. This network makes us the first known bi-mundial creature. We live in two worlds, the real one and our language-networked imaginations. That’s what makes us both more visionary and more delusional than other organisms.

Combining our chronic awareness of threats with our capacity to imagine anything, we’ve ended up with landing lust, the dream that there’s a way to land above all threats.

Living with landing lust:

There are two basic ways to deal with landing lust:

1. “I once was lost but now I’m blind” faith: You ruminate anxiously, feeling profoundly lost until you land on an interpretation of reality that makes you feel superhumanly found. You commit to it through absolute faith, a commitment to your landing story as the one true reality, no need for further evidence since there’s no possibility that you’re wrong. In other words, you take your great epiphany as the last you’ll ever need, often coming across as a know-it-all who will stop at nothing to maintain the high of landed self-certainty.

2. “I once was lost and may still be though I’m finding my way like everyone”: You ruminate anxiously, profoundly lost until you’re so familiar with it that, less distracted, you look around and notice that we humans are all dealing with the same threats, doubts, and anxieties. You turn your landing lust into a quest played out in lifelong live-and-learn trial-and-error effort to make better decisions, not that you’ll ever land, but you’re learning, starting from wherever you started, paying close attention to your reality and what you can learn from the consequences of your trials. You identify with yourself as learning, not learned, not superhuman, safe and infallible.

You still crave landed superhuman status like everyone, but you do it offline in the world of fiction. That is, you still indulge in those activities listed above. You identify with superhuman heroes, you revel in your team’s success, you get yourself self-romancingly high on delusions of grandeur sometimes, but you never forget that it’s fiction. You know you’re human, and so you get with the human curriculum, reality – the hard knocks school of life.