The Failed Hero’s Journey

Excellent article from Quillette The Failed Hero’s Journey:

The experience of the pessimistic modern young man is evoked brilliantly by a Twitter user named Faceberg, who writes of the promise of employment in STEM fields: “You will never discover anything. You will never invent anything. You will never produce anything of value. Science is so compartmentalized nowadays that you have no idea what you’re working on. A part of a part of a part of some larger part. You’re given a set of instructions to follow and repeat until you find a different lab. There is no room for creativity or innovation.”

Both the high-IQ left and high-IQ right can relate to this article, which explains why it went so viral. Smart millennials, regardless of wealth or political orientation, can relate to the observation of how society has become increasingly compartmentalized and atomized. As the Faceberg quote shows, people are working on individual ‘parts’, rather than towards a greater, more holistic self-fulfillment.

This is a bleak portrait of a dead-end world, one where the hopes of prospective heroes are dashed before their journeys even begin. The ascendency of the chaotic frog, and its politicized correlate, President Donald Trump, are only possible in a world that has failed the aspiring hero. After all, it would be cruel and disingenuous to pretend that Faceberg’s pessimism has no rational foundation. Wages have stagnated in the United States. Many new jobs are temporary, without promise of a career or even tolerable pay. Finding a romantic partner has become seemingly impossible for a generation that has sex less often than their parents did, will be too poor to purchase a home, especially not in a major city, and are crippled by student debt. The heroic model of graduating college, finding a job, and building a family has faded in the slow hollowing out of America’s ladder of upward financial mobility. In the chaotic hell of a young man suffering chronic loneliness, a dead-end job, and no prospective future, the devious frog seems to be the most accurate symbol to describe reality.

Note how the author employs the ‘shared narratives‘ and the ‘wall of links’ method as discussed in the 2017 post Internet Journalism in a Post-2013 Era: Writing Articles that Go Viral.

It is then perhaps no coincidence that Pepe the frog is the universal online symbol of young men who find themselves unable to transform order out of chaos. Professor Jordan Peterson describes Pepe the frog as an “emissary of chaos.” Pepe embodies the pain of a generation of young men who believe, to the core of their being, that they have no future.

We all feel like frogs sometimes. But despite the election of Trump and the rise of the alt-right, the alt-lite, and alt-medium, online at least–especially with the rise of high-IQ communities such as Hacker News and Reddit, the rise of rationalism, and the rise of long-form journalism–I think we’re in what can be described as a post-ideological era. For example, the huge and seemingly overnight success of Quillette and Jordan Peterson is evidence of this. Same for the ‘postmodernism boom‘ and the sudden interest in philosophy among 20 and 30-somethings, in contrast to older generations that still prefer shrill, vacuous partisan mud slinging like found on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. Consider the ‘Frankfurt School’. As recently as a decade ago, no one except a handful of left-wing academics knew or cared about it. But just in the past few years alone on sites such as Reddit, there has been this up-swelling of interest in it [1], along with all things intellectual, such as coding, physics, political science, and so on. Such interest has only accelerated since 2016, mirroring the rise of Trump, and shows how ideology does not pose a threat to intellectualism. The concern by the ‘left’ (but also some on the ‘right’) after Trump won was that he would usher in an intellectual ‘dark age’, but that has not happened. The same for the permanent ascendancy of Silicon Valley and Wall St. elite, which despite a small setback in 2016 after Brexit and the election Trump, are more powerful than ever. The predictable failure of the swamp to be drained and the imperviousness of the status quo, is evidence of the limitations of ideology in the face of hard-line social and economic determinism.

Average-IQ people don’t contemplate these vexing, existentialist issues. To average people, what matters are things that are limited to the purview of one’s immediate senses, such as “I am hungry” or “What is on TV?” For smart people, it’s more like “What is the meaning of it all?” or “Why does society seem so broken?” The rise of NEET culture and rejection of social norms/conventions (such as family formation, getting a job, consumerism) could be interpreted as a form of silent protest against a society that smart millennials perceive to be irreparably damaged, corrupted, and rigged against them. This also explains the appeal of online esoteric sub-cultures that deviate from or outright reject the mainstream. From example, Nick Land, from the post Postmodernism: It’s about Facts, not Values:

We’re all becoming like Nick Land, channeling his philosophy whether we realize it or not. Before the 60′s there was a general optimism about technology and ‘progress’, and then some guys in France turned those notions upside down, and the legacy still lives on 50 years later; for example, the paranoid …

The same for the rise of the alt-right, ‘weird Twitter’, kekistan, 4chan, and so on. Although the far-left and far-right are, ideologically, polar opposites, they both seem united in these shared narratives. That’s why far-right philosophers (such as Nick Land ) and left-wing philosophers (such as Slavoj Zizek), because they are both high-IQ, seem to agree on the fundamental set of shared values that transcend left-right politics. There are also shared themes of determinism; in the case of Nick Land, Marxist accelerationism; for Slavoj Zizek, Hegel’s historicism. But also, a lot of Nietzsche, too, which is related to existentialism and one’s individual quest to find meaning in a world of dysfunction despair and the rejection of society’s values for creating one’s own. Jordan Peterson touches on these themes also, reconciling such despair with self-improvement (cleaning your room), and this explains the huge popularity of his videos with smart millennials that watch them.

So where does the promise of a successful hero’s journey come from at all? Carl Jung described the model life of the hero as the “countless experiences of our ancestors…the psychic residue of numberless experiences of the same type.” The accumulated patterns of the past that led to the survival of the human species are the record of the hero’s journey. If the world ceases to produce heroes, then the patterns of human survival come to an end, and so does the future of the human species. A crisis of young men who have lost faith in the world is a crisis of being itself.

However, I think such millennials reject the archetypal hero narrative. They don’t see themselves as heroic figures that can be easily reified (like a comic book action figure), but rather as disembodied ‘beings’ that ‘exist’–a dasein–as akin to Heidegger, that, like a ghost, floats about the periphery and tries to make sense of it all, but, unlike the hero, is somewhat disengaged.

[1] Amazingly, a Google search restricted to Reddit shows over 34,000 results for Frankfurt School, the majority of them from the past two years.