One such vital truth that has been long known is the idea of heroism. The world is a theatre for heroism. — Ernest Becker
The idea of life as the pursuit of heroism, as presented by Pulitzer Prize winning cultural anthropologist and writer Ernest Becker is timeless in its profundity. He starts by recognising the human condition, a state characterised by an existential paradox described as individuality within finitude. He asserts that our constant nearness to anxiety is because of the fact that we are gods, yet food for worms:
He is a creator with a mind that soars out to speculate about atoms and infinity, who can place himself imaginatively at a point in space and contemplate bemusedly his own planet. This immense expansion, this dexterity, this ethereality, this self-consciousness gives to man literally the status of a small god in nature.
Attentiveness to this reality has the potential to destabilise, to make one feel uprooted and groundless. Heroism is the remedy to the Kryptonite of existential dualism. In this discourse, acts of heroism should be viewed as an active pushback against the anxiety caused by existential dualism. Whether it is the esteemed courage of the athlete, the death defying feats of the magician, or the destructive bravery of the terrorist, they all strive for the priceless feeling of cosmic specialness and unshakeable meaning. This yearning finds its home amongst all cultures, societies and people.
Leo Tolstoy illuminates this discourse with his belief that “for man[kind] to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite” points to the modern inability of narratives, such as religion and nationalism to attend to our need for a transcendental identity. In interacting with existential dualism one must cultivate an individually worthwhile narrative, one which provides meaning, identity and transcendence.
The only question that really matters is ‘What am I doing to earn the feeling of heroism, and does it contribute to the fruitful progress of society?’