The Perils of Heroic Individualism
And what it will take to move beyond the frantic and frenetic energy of our modern times
It has been a year since my most recent book, The Practice of Groundedness, was first released, and well over two years since I finished writing it. Much has happened since. COVID-19 went from being a novel virus to a full-blown pandemic, dramatically altering our way of life. Democratic backslide has proliferated in the western world, perhaps most notably in my home country, America, where, following the 2020 election, the government was mere inches away from being toppled. For the first time since the 1940s, full-scale war has broken out on the European Continent. Inflation in America is the highest on record in over four decades. A few months back, in the middle of summer, the entire globe experienced record-high temperatures, leaving plenty of human and economic suffering in its wake.
The above events are complex and multifactorial. Yet, I can’t help but think that what in the book I called Heroic Individualism is playing at least a small part, and that working toward groundedness offers a path to meaningful progress.
What follows is a look at the book one-year later, with a focus on societal problems and ideas for addressing them.
First, a quick refresher. Heroic individualism, the main problem I identified in the book, is an ongoing game of one-upmanship against both self and others, where measurable achievement is the main arbiter of success; self-worth and productivity often get prioritized over people; and short-term thinking reins. Regardless of how far you make it, with heroic individualism the goalpost is always ten yards down the field. Try as you might, you never quite arrive. Heroic individualism says that you will never have enough, be enough, or do enough. It is an endless gauntlet of more, more, more. While heroic individualism may lead to decent short-term performance, long-term, it is a recipe for disaster. This is because fulfillment, health, and excellence depend on things that are inherently inefficient and unproductive, at least based on heroic individualism’s acute timescales and financial metrics.
From 2017 to 2021, I interviewed hundreds of people and reviewed thousands of scientific papers…