What war is Gen X and Gen Y fighting, what is the purpose of our generation? Every generation has its own great war. For some generations, that is an international military war. For other generations, it is a war for civil rights or economic class power or human liberty. Every generation fights for something great, every generation has a spoken or unspoken idea about what greatness is. Greatness is what you fight for, greatness is what you are willing to die for. What is the greatness that our generation fights for? What is the purpose of our lives, and of our generation?
Some people may say that the purpose of our generation is: technology progress, medicine and research progress, openness of information, international peace, legal justice, economic opportunity, domestic security, inner peace, family love. While these answers sound nice, imagine that these goals were realized. Imagine we had international peace, we had economic opportunity for all, we had family love, etc. What then? Is the human saga done? Do we all just go and retire? What is a human when he has no more enemies to fight – when he is simply safe and comfortable?
I am going to say something that many of us have felt or thought vaguely: that the human species – perhaps the only intelligent form of life in the universe – is capable of imagining and creating a world that is more epic, heroic, profound, adventurous, visionary, open, public, engaging, connected, challenging, empathetic, leadership-driven, that is greater than any previous civilization or empire. Past civilizations and empires lifted up their kings, emperors, or presidents into heroic stature. In the internet age, in the psychology age, in the post-industrial age, every human on earth has the opportunity to become the leader of their own modern tribe. Earth can be the empire of a billion emperors, each leading their world of their own art, skill, profession, town, academic topic, political agenda. Humanity is not a herd of followers but an empire of heroic leadership. Every human citizen of the new empire should be a heroic leader.
There is a deep psychological reason that we are instinctively wired to become heroic leaders, and a deep psychological and cultural reason that we have not reached this potential. The cow eats grass, the lion hunts gazelle, and the human builds empires. We are the first generation where every human has the opportunity and resources to build and contribute to an empire, either online or in real life. Building a new heroic empire is our greatness and our purpose. Building a civilization with a billion heroic leaders is our great war. This great war starts with understanding the human psyche, our need for greatness, and why we have as a species given away our greatness.
To understand what greatness the human species is capable of, it requires that we look back in history to see the original instincts and goals that the human animal had originally evolved. The human animal evolved from ape to tribes of hunter-gatherers over millions of years. Most of human evolution optimized for the instincts and goals of a tribal human animal. In this tribe, every member had a purpose and a leadership responsibility. There were chiefs, hunters, tool makers, shamans, tribal elders, etc. These roles were extremely important, since the survival and growth of the tribe depended on the purposefulness of each member. Yet most important of all, each member of the tribe believed that the greatness of their tribe was their own greatness. Each warrior wanted to perform heroic deeds for the tribe. The tribal elders administered wisdom and justice for the tribe. To ancient man, the idealized good, true greatness, was the tribe itself.
Tribes had mythologies where each tribe believed the universe was created for their tribe – and their tribe was responsible for the harmony and justice of the universe. Spirituality, morality, ethics, mythology, history, art, and culture all idealized the tribe. Nothing was greater than the tribe. Tribal members literally created entire belief systems where their tribes were the purpose of life and of the universe. The tribe was, above everything else, the idealized good.
We now live in a world where the world is our tribe, and it is very clear we do not think of the ‘world tribe’ as the pinnacle of greatness, as the idealized good. We do not really have a mythology or morality or belief system that invests the world tribe as the idealized greatness and the purpose of life. There are several reasons for this:
- Decline of Heroism. Warriors, chiefs, elders, shaman, and tool makers could develop a reputation for honor, heroism, and leadership in small tribes because everyone would know about everyone’s deeds. In modernity, there are simply too many people for everyone to know about everyone else’s heroic deeds.
- Corruption at Scale. It is easier believe you live in a just and fair society when you know everyone in your tribe and everyone knows everyone else’s crimes or punishments. In modernity, we don’t consider the world to be ‘our tribe’ because people can hurt us or exploit us without being punished or without their reputation being hurt.
- End of Empathy. In ancient tribes, all elders were called parents and all kids were children of the tribe. Children were initiated into adulthood by the entire tribe. This created a strong empathetic family dynamic that we are missing today. We don’t consider our tribe to be great because we don’t consider them family – we consider them strangers.
- Solving Survival. While not all issues of survival are solved, humans are much less preoccupied with just surviving. The greatness of the tribe and great deeds of the tribe were often in defense of a tribe’s survival. Without the preoccupation with survival, it is often unclear what the end result of great heroic deeds would be.
We still see glimmers today of believing our current tribes are the idealized goal of life: whether the tribes are our nations, political parties, sports teams, regions, cultures, genders, arts, etc. Yet these sub-tribes are nowhere near the extreme idealized greatness of the ancient tribe. It could be said that the Roman Empire was the last great tribe, the last great group of people who collectively idealized the greatness of their tribe above all other things. Ever since the decline of the Roman Empire, idealized greatness has never been just one thing. Ever since the Roman Empire, if you walked through a city or culture or event or nation, you would not see the same degree of idealized collective greatness.
We may ask – so what if idealized collective greatness is has declined, and all we have now is patchwork of insincere partial idealizations? Life is more comfortable, technology is more advanced, we live longer, we have more civil rights, and we have more military peace. Yes, past generations have fought many wars to win those accomplishments of the human species. We have gratitude for past generations. The goal of our generation, building on a platform of technology and comfort and healthcare and military peace, is to reconnect with a more original instinctive psychological purpose for our species – to live like we were part of a truly great world tribe – part of the empire of a billion emperors. I will discuss next why the human mind was wired to eventually live within the empire of a billion emperors.