The Theology of Peanuts, Chapter 3: Section xvi "Security Blankets."

xvi. Security Blankets
On June 1, 1954 we see Linus Van Pelt, for the first time, clinging to a blanket. Charlie Brown asks Lucy, "Why does Linus hold his blanket like that?" Lucy responds, "I'm not sure...I think maybe it gives him a feeling of security." With this strip Peanuts ushered the phrase "security blanket" into the American consciousness.

In Chapter 3 of The Theology of Peanuts we have been dwelling on the terrors of Creation: Death, thorns, and size. We are finite creatures; we melt like snowmen. Creation seems antagonistic, seen in Eden's thorns and kite eating trees. And we feel so small in a cosmos measured in light years.

All this adds up to create anxiety within us. We feel fragile, unwanted, and insignificant. So to ease our burden we reach for comforts, sources of soothing. Security blankets.

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

Kierkegaard said that life is often too much for us. Consequently, he claimed that humanity tries to "tranquilize itself with the trivial." Security blankets are existential fetishes. We become preoccupied with or invested in all matter of trivialities to deflect our attention from the terrors that surround us. We shop, play video games, watch TV, surf the internet, or write blogs about Peanuts. Distractions. Security blankets.

But more than distraction, because we feel so small and fragile, a second function of security blankets is to distribute the self, to somehow expand the self, investing it in objects or plans that can give us a sense of significance, permanence, or tangibility. As we see with Linus, security blankets end up becoming psychic extensions of the self. Appendages of the soul.

But this psychic investment also makes us vulnerable, brittle, fragile. Harm, loss, or disruption of these ego-objects and ego-projects can cause enormous pain and even violence as we try to protect these investments. Yet this pain, suffering and defensiveness is all so very neurotic. We have invested in these objects of comfort to avoid existential anxiety but now find ourselves caring about and crying over trivialities. Who wins American Idol somehow becomes significant to us. Why? Because these security blankets are vital distractions. We trade in real terrors for neurotic obsessions. It's just easier to live that way.

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

I know of no better description of the security blanket dynamic than this extended passage from Ernest Becker:

"A man's 'Me' is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his mind, but his clothes and house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, his yacht and his bank account...This is important for an understanding of the bitter fighting between social classes for social status: an individual's house in a posh neighborhood can be more a part of his self-image than his own arm--his life-pulse can be inseparable from it.

How else can you understand an event like the one that happened a few years back in Paris, when a stranger sat behind the wheel of a parked new Jaguar for a few minutes, evidently only to 'get the feel' of it: the owner came out and shot him dead. He must have felt that the stranger had defiled his own inner self. It is not that he was 'crazy' so much as he was brittle and over-identified with his material object, the material extension of his self. I once read the case of a man who could have nothing more to do with a wife who had been raped. Anatomically the wife's damage was slight or non-existent; but in terms of the extensions of his self, it was the husband who felt defiled...And what about the financiers in 1929 who threw themselves from tall buildings because something had happened to the numbers in their bank-accounts? It is just as William James had said: they were the numbers, and their value had gone down to zero so they were already dead.

Generally, the more anxious and insecure we are, the more we invest in these symbolic extensions of ourselves...In all these cases we see grown and healthy organisms being jerked off balance by their symbolic extensions...[These extensions are] not only things we hold dear, but also silly things; our selves are cluttered up with things we don't need, artificial things, debilitating ones. For example, [if you symbolically invest in] your house, as most people do, you might also extend it to the inventory of an interior decorating program. And so you get vitally upset by a piece of wallpaper that bulges, a shelf that does not join, a light fixture that 'isn't right.' Often you see the grotesque spectacle of a marvelous human organism breaking into violent argument, or even crying, over a panel that doesn't match. Interior decorators confide that many people have somatic symptoms or actual nervous breakdowns when they are redecorating. And I have see a grown and silver-templed Italian crying in the street in his mother's arms over a small dent in the bumper of his Ferrari.

We call precisely those people 'strong' who can withdraw a [symbolic extension] at will from trifling parts of their identity, or especially from important ones. Someone who can say 'it is only a scratch on a Ferrari.' 'the uneven wall is not me, the wood crack is not me,' and so on. They disentangle themselves easily and flexibly from the little damages and ravages to their self-extensions. Financiers who can say of a several million dollar loss: 'well, it's only paper.'

This flexibility of the self is real power, and the achievement of it is a rare maturity...and few achieve it."

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

--End of Chapter Three--

(1) p. 32-34. The Birth and Death of Meaning

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One thought on “The Theology of Peanuts, Chapter 3: Section xvi "Security Blankets."”

  1. "A man's 'Me' is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his mind, but his clothes and house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, his yacht and his bank account..."

    Also, we derive a sense of "Me" from how others - who they say we are and what they value about us.
    I've seen people who think highly of themselves for no apparent reason and conversely people who seem to be attractive and intelligent who think that they have no value whatsoever.

    A Zen Buddhist might advise you to see the object as broken already (or the new car scratched already). It takes maturity to see that things and also concepts aren't "You". We have heard the saying, "you can't take it with you", but most don't realize that this may include the way we organize our mind and our sense of self too.

    Rick T.

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