After two decades of wealth and entrepreneurship as the proxy of heroism, we are seeing a change that started after the 2007 global recession. Almost superhuman business creators that built, now, trillion dollar tech companies from scratch, dominating the highest position in the market and pushing out legacy industries such as oil and banks from the top places. People as Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Peter Thiel and Larry Page, dominated the ideal of success in American standards and became a beacon for thousands of young entrepreneurs that wanted to create the next unicorn from the valley. The key: A bold idea with the ambition of creating a monopoly, backed with a capacity to scale (bits > atoms). As they became billionaires and their business turned almost too big to fail, the collective perception started pivoting from Heroes to Demons: manipulation through data, extreme labour practices, tax evasion and obscure alliances with the government and private institutions, transformed the archetype from good to evil.
At the same time and almost at a similar pace, we see the rise of a new type of Hero with characteristics that resonate profoundly with one of the most important foundational symbols of the western culture. A victim that is turned into a source of transformational collective energy when his suffering is a public spectacle and the perpetrators are generalized into a recognizable and simple concept (white heterosexual men, police, antifa, proud boys...) turning a human victim into the “agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi”. The Hero is no longer Odysseus, Alexander the Great or Sulla, who achieved success through domination, risk, aggression and fearlessness but Jesus of Nazareth that turned immortal by being a victim of the violence and intolerance of the establishment, charged as a criminal by the government and sentenced to suffer the lowest possible public punishment and humiliation in his time.
From signaling success through conquer to signaling suffering by the hands of an oppressive establishment, we are pivoting our collective Hero reference from Jeff Bezos, Apple and Google to George Floyd, BLM and #metoo. Turning victims into Heroes is usually part of a broad millennialism-like collective mindset and causes a strong sense of belonging to those willing to sacrifice themself by confronting the perpetrators, and even provoke them, achieving a trascendental Hero status through martyrdom. We can see now the term “woke” as similar to “baptism”, that means literally “wash-ing”, as being dirty before and now clean. The baptism of John the Baptist (a precursor of Jesus) is recognized by Saint Paul as being a “baptism of repentance”, this I think is closer to the “woke” expression since anyone not woke is basically a perpetrator of oppression, meaning that there is always a sense of guilt in not being aware of the structural injustice before being “woke” and consciously or unconsciously being part of the system.
This kind of changes in archetype references have abysmal consequences in society. Three hundreds years after the death of Christ, Constantine the Great declared tolerance of christianity across the Roman Empire reshaping the collective perception of what is to be a Hero from the traditional aristocrat strongmen with military victories and wealth by conquer and plunder to a democratic model of heroism, open to all through martyrdom based on the Christ example of turning suffering into a contrarian statement that scream change. These changes can be linked traditionally to the decline of an empire and are pushed by groups of people that, fighting against injustice with good heart and high moral ideals, don’t apply retributive justice and force public confessions beyond truth. As John Gray remarks. “The self-imposed inquisitorial regime in universities and newspapers — where editors and journalists, professors and students are encouraged to sniff out and report heresy so it can be exposed and exorcised — smacks of Salem more than Leningrad. Saturated with Christian theology, Locke’s Enlightenment liberalism is reverting to a more primordial version of the founding faith. America is changing, radically and irreversibly, but it is also staying the same.”
We have to be aware as a society of our patterns and avoid bringing back Salem in our quest to change for the better.
Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism by Larry Siedentop