Features, Philosophy, Religion, Top Stories

The Failed Hero’s Journey

There is no more quintessential a model of the failed hero than Elliot Rodger. Rodger, a young man who was promised the world, turned against it when it failed to provide him with eros, love, and romance. His open hand reaching for the future became a fist clenched in opposition, an inversion of the successful hero story. Consumed with jealousy, resentment, and a rejection of the very notion of a healthy human being, Rodger indiscriminately murdered three men in his apartment, and three women at a sorority house. At twenty-two years old, he had chosen to end his life in bitter disappointment, choosing malevolent violence and suicide over the hope of continual and incremental improvement.

Carl Jung understood that those who ultimately reject life itself have failed to experience the archetypal ‘hero’s journey’. To Jung, every single young person who leaves their parents’ home and forages into the world has taken the path of the hero, whether they know it or not. A hero’s journey is simply the departure from comfort, warring against the chaos of the outside world, and the return home with superior wisdom. A failed hero is a young person who finds that chaos insurmountable, and is swallowed by its overwhelming force.

A hero’s journey is simply the departure from comfort, and the return home with superior wisdom.

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. They see the path of the hero, the path of their fathers, of their ancestors who made a life for themselves and earned wealth and had families, as a foregone impossibility. This generation of lost young men, who have invented the term ‘incel’ (involuntary celibate) and NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) form the core pessimism of the alt-right, traditionalist and white nationalist sectors of young men who bear the banner of the frog on Twitter and in the forums of 4chan.

Pepe the frog is an online meme/symbol that has become widely popular among disillusioned young men.

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.”

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.

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.

The foundational myths of the West, located primarily in The Bible, are filled with the stories of failed heroes, men who were unable to find ultimate faith in the world and took that pain out on others. Myths show us the precedents of our own species, the foundations of ourselves in narrative form. Perhaps there is no deeper precedent to the failed hero than the myth of Cain.

Jordan Peterson, a modern Jungian, describes Cain as the fuming, furious embodiment of one’s resentment at their lack of Earthly success. Anxious, paranoid, jealous and scheming, Cain’s works have been rejected by the world, and so his only response is to attempt to destroy the world.

In killing his brother, Abel, Cain enacts the ultimate tragedy – the murdering of the successful hero. To Eliot Rodger, and to Cain, successful people are the worst of them all. They show that the hero’s journey is still alive, but that they alone are failing to achieve it. But the underlying problem is obvious: if for every ten Abels, married and wealthy, a hundred Cains, single and poor, are produced, then society will become subsumed by Cains, many of whom have a right to be angry. The Trump voters who elected a fool had a right to be angry. Their grievances and fears were real.

To understand those who sympathize more with Cain than Abel in contemporary society, one must sympathize with the downtrodden and hopeless. Young men with no future are perhaps the most dangerous force in all of human history, and ignoring their grievances will not make them go away. It will only make them ferment and grow worse in their stewing, their ruminating, their million arguments against the state of the world.

But there is another side to the downtrodden than that of rebellious Cain. There is another mythical character who has suffered and failed, who chose not to abandon all faith in the world – it is Job. In the Biblical stories, the parallels between Job and Cain are uncanny. Both have lost whatever claim they had to a successful hero’s story, both are chewed and spat up by the random chance and fury of God (or the world, which for our understanding, God and the world are functionally identical). But Job did not turn against the world. No matter how dire his situation became, and how badly God punished him, Job still prostrated himself, apologized, and declared: “I abhor myself/and repent in dust and ashes.”

Carl Jung’s ‘Answer to Job’

In his Answer to Job, Carl Jung argued that Job, in taking God’s abuse and still behaving morally and obediently, had risen above God as a moral being of sophisticated self-understanding. Yahweh’s cruelty was beneath Job. Even though Yahweh had the upper hand in every possible way – he was beneath Job as a conscious moral actor. In exalting a human man above God, the myth of Job showed that the world’s ethics could be overcome by a superior hero.

Radically, Jung wrote that God “is not human, but in certain respects, less than human.” God was “unconscious”, a tyrannical force much like the Leviathan, as “unconsciousness has an animal nature.” If God’s world is unconscious and cruel, but Job is moral and good, then the entire trajectory of human life is to redeem the incomplete world created by an incomplete God. Jung wrote: “The real reason for God’s becoming man is sought in his encounter with Job.”

Instead of cursing God and rebelling against existence, Job acted morally in an immoral world – and because of it, the purpose of man became higher than the purpose of God. The creator of the universe, in the book of Job, was an unconscious monster, and his own creation was a faithful moral hero. The creation surpassed the creator on the moral plane. It is perhaps one of the most staggering stories ever told.

The entire hero’s journey is defined by the distance between Job and Cain. One has a future – one does not. Both are dealt an unjust hand, but the responsibility of the individual is to act as a moral exemplar despite the immoral world. Handed injustice, one can become greater than the world or far lesser. And it is all in the hands of the individual. If there is any message more Christian, traditional and powerful than that, I do not know it.

 

Alexander Blum is a writer with a focus on politics, fiction and mysticism. Follow him on Twitter@AlexanderBlum0 

27 Comments

  1. LottiProkott says

    It is good to see that the message of Dr. Peterson is picked up by others, because if it spreads, there is hope that the message will survive and maybe even that it can turn things around. I disagree with the interpretation of God in the book of Job and would recommend those who are interested to read it and come to a conclusion themselves.

  2. defmn says

    I find this a very depressing view of the alternatives available. Abject humiliation versus psychopathic anger are not the only paths available and to contrast them as such does a disservice to those who use their will and reason to find success in the face of adversity.

    • Zachary Reichert says

      Author never says those are the ONLY paths available, but rather alternate responses to similar situations.

  3. Excellent article. It treats the cause not just the sympton that other articles do. Young men are being kickee on the way down to despair by every force and especially the postmodern attack of intersectional feminism ideology. If you’ve seen the Last Jedi, you’ll know what mean. Star Wars once represented the hero’s journey for so mant young men around the world. Now it lay in ruin at the hands of Disney and its deconstruction engineers. Archetypes destroyed in the name of gender politics. It’s going on in schools and the workplace as we learned from James D’amore. The constant disenfrachisement of young men with high hopes has reached a critical mass before the gauntlet drops and shatters into a societal breakdown.

    • Are you tripping? Worse, are you stone cold sober? Are you truly saying that men are too selfish to share the world with women?

  4. Tyler Ducharme says

    The type of article I find myself wanting to like/enjoy, but I feel it comes out hollow in the end. I appreciate the incorporation of Dr.Peterson’s work, but I find that this is written without another important aspect of his work, mainly the push for self-responsibility. I think this is what Blum was trying to flush out with his use of Jung and Job, but in my interpretation he falls short.

    I don’t think the ‘Cains’ of the world actually do have the right to be angry. This idea that the goals of former generations cannot be fulfilled by the current generation to me seems to be the exact point behind Dr.Petersons lesson to millennials (and others), about not being a victim. This idea of downtrodden and hopeless strikes me as a self-pity as opposed to taking the opportunities that are presented. Are they the best opportunities? Probably not, but they are better than staying put and never venturing out in the world.

    I think this is what I don’t appreciate, or perhaps didn’t interpret correctly about the article. There is opportunity out there, it is not ideal, but that does not mean one cannot take that less than ideal opportunity and still make something of it, perhaps as Job did? If one never starts on their hero’s journey what else can they expect to happen but the same frustrations.

    It seems the author started with one idea and ended with another and that this piece is actually two articles mushed into one. I will end by saying easy to critique, much harder to create.

  5. People still read Jung for actual application to the study of sociocultural trends? There needs to be an article devoted solely to that phenomenon.

  6. Pingback: What the Hell is Going on in the World? LINKS 01/14/18

  7. What is life? Picking your poison? Trying to divine the lesser of two evils in every scenario? Accumulating wealth and a family is meaning out of the chaos, huh? Greed is limitless and so is righteous indignation to any who feel aggrieved about anything whatsoever. True ethics and morality do not exist. They are merely one tool used to constitute a form of mass control over the unwashed, suffering masses. Religion is weighed down by archaic dogma. Profit is our one true God. Preyed on as we pray. Some refuse to play along in this sick game. Some simply want to the see world burn.

  8. Carl Sageman says

    @Tyler

    I believe you are correct. Peterson does not believe in pitying. There is also no doubt that StarWars has become riddled with identity politics, sadly. I suggested my children not see it. We discussed the politics and compared parts 1-6 vs 7&8. It was ultimately their choice.

    In response to the media allegations of White Supremacist symbols, I spent a solid day alone researching PEPE. I did not see a group of angry young men. I saw goofy kids telling jokes, playing number games and using their imagination in a scrum. I saw less animosity than I see at Ars Technica, Wired, the Verge, Sydney Morning Herald, West World (the TV series), all of these which ooze with identity politics and negativity, almost solely directed at one sex.

    The sex and birth rates are plummeting in all western countries, this is true. But, it takes one man and 1000 women to have a 1000 babies, so, I postulate this is a female issue, driven by feminism (who are the minority of women). This phenomenon is beautifully captured by an in depth study called “THE PARADOX OF DECLINING FEMALE HAPPINESS in the last 50 years”
    http://www.nber.org/papers/w14969.pdf
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/06/falling-birth-rates-could-spell-end-of-the-west—lord-sacks/

    I also refute these are mostly angry young men. On the basis of a frog? Where’s the violence? Violence rates are going down. There are too many leaps of faith in this article. I’m specifically not commenting on future violence trends though.

    I firmly believe that our society has become misandrist (and extremely so). Whether it be #metoo witch hunts for touching a knee to Hillary’s exit speech “to all the little girls” to James Damore witch hunt for summarising facts to the NYT job application for a gender editor laced with sexism … even to Wikipedia’s definition of sexism being specifically a male behaviour toward females (ie. it’s impossible for females to be sexist, according to Wikipedia. You may need to check the edit history as this definition slightly varies).
    http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/09/politics/clinton-to-offer-remarks-in-new-york-city/
    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/jobs/nyt-gender-editor.html?_r=0

    What I see is a divisive, hostile, misandrist culture that alienates young men constantly. They are surprisingly resilient. However, everywhere they turn, they are being marginalised by the mainstream media and Hollywood. They gather in outlets like 4chan and reddit which has good and bad content. They are witch hunted by sites like Ars Technica and The Verge. Did you know that the factual feminist (CH Sommers) came to the defence of gamer gate? Sommers had a completely different view to the incident than Ars did. How come? Identity politics! Sommers spoke to groups of very confused young men from 4chan who nicknamed her “basemom”.

    I do see a generation of men who are being systematically marginalised. I, like many others, simply want the sexism and malice to stop. There is no sign of it even slowing in 2018.

    If we don’t tackle identity politics and specifically feminism, I suspect severe consequences for western societies. The problem won’t be found in green frogs called PEPE or young kids goofing off. It will be from postmodernism and neo Marxists who Peterson constantly warns us about. If you back a group of people into a corner because of their biology, eventually they will lash out. After seeing the last decade of intolerance, I have grown to fear the response of and when it comes.

    • David J says

      @Carl Sageman

      I found your comment more interesting and more enjoyable than the article.

    • David Taylor says

      “If you back a group of people into a corner because of their biology, eventually they will lash out.”

      Sounds like the start of (reasonable) feminism.

      I agree identity politics is bad for society, but think the idea of equality of the sexes regarding opportunity, etc is important and must not be thrown out with the garbage.

      Reading about all the hopeless young men I’m wondering where their fathers were. I have three sons and the article and responses drove home it is partly my responsibility to prepare them for their own hero’s journey. Probably more important now than when I grew up because it seems school, university, and the SMH will certainly not be on their side.

  9. geegee says

    What Eliot acted out was not pessimism, it was narcissism. If he were just pessimistic, he would have simply killed himself, maybe left a suicide note, and no one would probably have heard of him, especially not the six people he killed.

    But no, his world was not shattered by despair, it was not swallowed in nihilism, it was burning in rage. Other people were there by his choice, just so he could make a point – not a point about the world – but about himself.

    It is intellectually and ethically dishonest to paint him as some kind of harbinger of suffering of failure. He did not fail – the fact you basically compared him to Cain proves he did not fail. The fact you used the phrase “quintessential model” in connection with his name *proves* he did not fail. It was a hero’s journey, just not the kind of hero we (want to) read about in the books.

    We read of them in the news. Their kleos aphthiton is sung by you, and the rest of big, small, minor and alternative media, who try to make broader points by sacrificing, little by little, but still irreversibly, slowly chipping away the idea that adult individuals make choices they should be held responsible for.

    Because reasons.

    Yeah, life sucks, all women are sluts and all men are jerks, and I will never not sell cheap burgers for whatever the below minimum wage is. And that gives Eliot and such the right to kill others? “No of course it does not. You missed my point!”

    Did I really?

  10. People still read Jung for actual application to the study of sociocultural trends? There needs to be an article devoted solely to that phenomenon.

    I don’t get Quillette’s obsession with Jung either. I do t think the antidote to modern bullshit is archaic bullshit.

  11. Louis says

    The juxtaposing of Cain and Job seems a bit forced to me. It is true that they both chose different ways to deal with adversity, but Cain’s story does not appear to end as bleakly as your article suggests. Genesis tells us that he went on to accomplish something with his life. He had a wife. He had a son. He built a City. Not the picture of someone who had no future. And we are told that his descendants were important to the raising of livestock, the realm of music, and working with bronze and iron. While his early life DOES show us the dangers of giving in to our jealousy and anger, Cain can also be seen in the category of “moral exemplar” for how he changed the direction of his journey. So perhaps he is not as much a “failed hero,” as he is a broken one.

  12. Brian says

    “It’s all in the hands of the individual,” at the end, seems a little empty and cold to me. We need to preserve individual rights and responsibilities, but must also acknowledge that our very selfhood emerges from within society. Think about how quickly selfhood deteriorates in isolation — simply put, people go crazy, and quickly. Perhaps that’s what’s missing from both the stories of Job, and of Cain and Able — any sense of the communities they presumably lived in. Yes, a focus on community and communal rights can wind up in philosophies dangerous to individual freedom. But there has to be a balance.

  13. Michael Clegg says

    Beautifully done piece. I’ve always been sceptical of Jung, but the ideas outlined here are suggestive; perhaps, like Freud, a terrible scientist but an intriguing critic.

  14. Douglas says

    If the author has included Antifa, BLM, Occupy Wallstreet, Et. al. in his list of disaffected losers, he’d have made a better impression on me.

    • augustine says

      Yes. Framing Trump’s election as the apotheosis of young male frustrations seems absurd. Whatever motivated the deciding percentage of Trump voters, it was for a positive outcome they believed he could deliver (same with Hillary).

      Another oddity in this piece is the failure to mention Job’s faith in God as the deciding factor in his ultimate triumph over adversity. Faith in something beyond the self and beyond the material world, imperfect and always evolving, leads the hero on his journey.

  15. Darren, nottingham says

    Don’t be so pessimistic about frogs – just one kiss is all it takes

  16. Pingback: Other Publications - ALEXANDER BLUM

  17. Jung missed the mark in his exegesis of Job. No, God did not cause Job’s misery, He had simply “dropped the fence” He had put around him, as Satan complains. So, Yahweh was never cruel to Job, He simply allowed Job’s suffering to proceed – for the world to swallow him up. But why? This is the instance of the Problem of Evil. The logical problem of evil has, philosophically, been dissolved (the emotional problem of evil is the one that gains much traction with the Cains of the world). See the works by Alvin Plantinga, who logically dissolved the problem of evil. The atheist presupposes that God has no valid reason to allow Job’s suffering. He/she can think of no good reason, so assumes no reason exists. Job challenges as much when he climbs the mountaintop to put the Almighty on trail, where the Lord answers:

    “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth…?” and so on. Meaning, “Is it possible Job, oh finite creature limited by space, time, knowledge and understanding, that I have a morally sufficient reason that you cannot see to allow these particular evils to occur. Is it possible that I may grow good from unspeakable horror?”

    The arrogant and “all-knowing” Cains of the world scream “NO!”

    While the humble Jobs reply with “I shall sit in silence, and contemplate the beauty and mystery of God”

  18. Jeff York says

    Mr. Blum, good article. I have difficulty understanding the “Cains” and the Elliot Rodgers of this world. I don’t understand this “no hope to invent anything, amass wealth or have a family.” Life is unfair to all of us. I’m 58, to date myself, and I’m probably “on the spectrum.” When I was young I was a klutz with women and not attractive in my teens & early twenties, nevertheless I got married and we had two sons who have turned out reasonably well.

    For all of our undeniable faults we are professing Christians and raised our sons with traditional American values such as personal responsibility (“the world doesn’t owe you anything”), the Golden Rule, the value of education & work, thrift, sobriety and our Faith. In terms of income we barely qualified as middle-class but they both graduated from high school & college, they’re both employed fulltime and have no vices of any significance; the occasional beer. My oldest and his wife are expecting their first child in March.

    The last three generations have had some bad upbringings to include being propagandized with all kinds of Leftist nonsense. Among the Left’s messages are to abdicate personal responsibility, “it’s someone else’s fault” and “if it feels good, do it.” The Right’s messages include personal responsibility, “eat your spinach” and restrain the worst of your impulses

Comments are closed.