The search of heroism in contemporary society

Dear reader,

While I have written before about the ‘hero’s journey’ by, for example, the works of Joseph Campbell which reveals the journey of heroes as they are expressed in a variety of the mythologies around the world, I would like to come back on the topic for today’s article. Btw, I do think this cycle is not complete and that there are more archetypes to be experienced that are portrayed in this book. 

If you type in ‘hero’ you can find other articles in which I try to share my understanding of this theme on this website.

Assuming that most readers have a sense of what a ‘hero’ means, I would like to focus a little bit about the different ways and shapes this cultural archetype sets forth in the human psyche, especially during times of transition we experience today.

As a side-note, the Corona crisis serves as an excellent opportunity for a calling for ‘inner work’ now that ‘outer work’ and career steps are broken up for a while for most. Knowing that it hits the whole span of humanity, for some individuals and countries with weaker health and welfare systems the direct consequences besides health and well being are more extreme and are already resulting in staggering losses of jobs and occupations… More long term consequences have yet to be seen off course.

A direct loss of an occupation that meets the sustenance of oneself and loved ones is a direct impulse for the psyche to reshape itself, a trajectory I would like to explore a bit further in today’s article.

Starting of with acknowledging that the ‘hero’ or the archetype of the hero lives inside each one of us and is based on the simple fact that we all have to deal with philosophical questions of death, legacy, contribution, purpose et cetera. So the hero expressed in traditional folklore and stories is often times the individual that sets out to redeem the particular society he or she finds him or herself in. Depending on the state of the society the hero tries to individualize itself in a way by certain thoughts and actions that would dignify not only the society by means of a contribution, but would also dignify ones own sense of dying of and leaving something behind for people to remember its legacy.

So this is a natural tendency for all of us, since death always serves as a thriving force for the personality or the ego to leave something behind, could be a family with bright children, could be a revolution in the making, or it could simply be an expression of art that can help people transcend the meaninglessness of their daily lives.

Now that we live in times for a greater yearning towards inner work and exploring certain archetypes like the hero, I thought it could be nice to share some of my understanding of these types of heroism.

Heroism to my understanding is mostly expressed towards traditional means that exist in contemporary society. Which makes sense, since many of us are born into a highly advanced system of power structures, social norms and values and pathways already outlined to express deeds and lifestyles that are seen as heroic deeds by their peers. This form of heroism is the way of the sheep, or the cow, in the sense that one is, for example, conformed by bureaucratic paternalism through school systems and what not. So one could take this path and it might be a fit and someone could excel in academia and become an university professor, finding all sorts of breakthroughs within the academic or technocratic playing ground more advanced societies have to offer. Another way of the heroic sheep could be a successful political career, bending the way policy is formed by changing the political landscape from being and growing within this landscape for the betterment or redemption of society. Then yet again these heroic paths are not necessarily a vehicle for a true redemption of society, and it might actually turn out to lower the quality of life and society as we know it due to the simple fact that maybe being a (better) sheep in contemporary society could worsen the face of the society.

An example of this is a political martyr who fights and believes in good ideals but turns out to be just as corrupt and unable to change the system by enduring from within the system. An analogy for this that fits our times is that there is good reasoning to make the argument that today’s economic models that has driven us forth into the third and now coming fourth industrial revolution is not holding up to a pandemic event of this scale. The way of the sheep, and the way of known power structures, social norms and values might be to decadent to be valid for an economy at war and invalid for the new world. It is not really heroic anymore to be a highly successful bureaucrat or diplomat sitting at home, getting paid, and doing nothing at all in a world that is frozen. So is this type of hero still valid in society? Was it valid to begin with to follow the example of the political martyr? These are all questions time has set in stone to ponder about now if you might ask me.

Another way the hero archetype expresses itself to leave a small mark in the span of time and space, is the way of the ‘peacock’ or what is known as the ‘peacock effect in ‘run away capitalism’. I tried my best describing this concept in the previous article;

Run away capitalism; ‘The show must go on’ An evolutionary biological argument for the collapse of neo-capitalism.

As the peacock is evolutionary speaking doomed because of mate preferences, we can see that this form of heroism might seem to work on the short term, lending our egos to short term materialistic pursuits at the expense of the collateral damage for society off course, the hero within us is then fed a scheme of success that has prevailed since the rise of capitalism itself. This type of hero is more individualized, but does not necessarily accumulated the wealth, beauty and self-esteem through heroic deeds and contributions that would redeem the wrongdoings of contemporary society. It might as well be a simple matter of capitalizing gained wealth into more wealth, which is hardly a virtue, but typifies the ‘peacock’ by showing external beauty and proud, but with little (biological) functionality and virtue. Why this is a hero, is because contemporary society, social norms and values made this certain pathway of wealth and success an ideal throughout the first few industrial revolutions. An archetype which any reader of the peacock effect would understand is not as sustainable and worthy to strive for if it means collateral damage for the whole of society and many possessions to be brought into the grave. It might give a sense of complete god-mode in contemporary society, but it is still a version of a hero that settles with a type of success that is set out in stone in the social structures we are brought up in.

Even if this societal ideal is achieved by accumulating wealth which can be deemed honorable and for the betterment of society, culture and what not, it still becks the question if it actually will redeem society or make it worse as can be seen with many technological breakthroughs of our time. Is technocracy really the answer, is the ‘peacock hero’ with creating staggering new technologies and capitalizing it really the type of hero we need in redeeming our society? What if the impact of those new and profound technologies are so unimaginable strong over the span of 50 years that it could change society into some sort of AI regulated universe in which we serve as slaves of our own inventions?

So I think these are all questions to ponder about if we think about what a heroic deed is in our times of age. What is a new technology worth if we remain philosophically speaking at the same level or lower of all those other cultures of the past? If a hero brings balance to his or hers known world, that balance today would be a philosophical counterweight towards all the new technologies like AI invented to tackle major world issues.

So that being said, the hero lives within all of us, but throughout my own hero’s journey I keep on wondering these things and adjusting my mission on this website for it.

To be bluntly honest, in all of us also lives the antihero, because that is another way to deal with the dilemma of death and wanting to make your life meaningful and/or even try to leave a dot in the universe to be proud of. The antihero just does not care anymore, and retreats from the stage. Sitting in a corner, staying at home cowardly, seeing it all to depressing so to say. Which is perfectly fine in and of itself and completely understandable considering the enormity of the challenges facing ahead. It is maybe even less foolish then becoming the political martyr we all love to hate when it turns out more promises did not make it into new policy cause they try to operate as the best sheep within a highly rigid and bureaucratic system. Depression, addictions and nihilistic behavior could actually be a road of less suffering comparing them with the above examples of heroism expressed in contemporary society. In a way this antihero enjoys superficial pleasures of life and lives carelessly without being on a quest on finding gems and boons that could redeem the society, the greater whole he or she finds himself in.

This in and of itself will cause its own suffering of neglecting that sense of dealing with death by finding purpose. By neglecting that inner calling it causes a path of suffering unknown to the heroic sheep and peacock. Retreating from the world so to say could be a more miserable path than remaining a social actor all though foolishly blinded how heroic deeds could shape new calamities for future generations.

The antihero could make the argument that sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing. And I would argue there is some truth to this form of the hero archetype during times like ours in which there are high levels of uncertainty and complexity in a new world that is to come. Sometimes it is wise to not want to do more then one could do, to prevent to make it any worse really. We do not know all the unintended consequences are actions will cause, and to follow the path of heroism, to have a vision for a ‘ better world’ is in and of itself a frightening dream. Many great heroes of the past have done as much harm as they did good in their quest for redemption, so feed the antihero like one feeds his or hers hero. For me that is what my antihero gives me, a sense of peace in a world that is not at peace.

This is maybe even a theme worthwhile investigating of today’s youth movements and the newer generations. In a world in which there is an abundance of wealth, technology and in many cases an already advanced society, what type of hero is then still needed?

Radiating peace of mind, health, self-understanding, learning about accepting and loving each others differences in a distressed and globalized world might be more worthwhile nowadays than coming up with the next big break through in quantum computing?

But then who am I to say that 😉

Thanks for reading my perspectives on heroes, to be continued.

And that those heroes might become legends. 

Cheers,

Kees

 

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