The Ethos of the Extraordinary: Self-Esteem in a Post-Christian World

I saw this quote on Alan Jacobs blog, from Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's book Plato at the Googleplex:

Kleos means both “glory” or “fame” and also “the song that ensures that glory or fame.” The noun is cognate with the Homeric verb kluō, meaning “I hear.” Kleos is sometimes translated as “acoustic renown” — the spreading renown you get from talking about your exploits. It’s a bit like having a large Twitter following. In the Homeric version of the Ethos of the Extraordinary … to live a life worth living was to live a kleos-worthy life, a song-worthy life. Being sung, having one’s life spoken about, your story vivid in others’ heads, is what gives your life an added substance. It’s almost as if, in being vividly apprehended by others, you’re living simultaneously in their representations of you, acquiring additional lives to add to your meager one.

The Ethos of the Extraordinary answered that all that a person can do is to enlarge that life by the only means we have, striving to make of it a thing worth the telling, a thing that will have an impact on other minds, so that, being replicated there, it will take on a moreness. Kleos. Live so that others will hear of you. Paltry as it is, it’s the only way we have to beat back uncaring time.

Our own culture of Facebook’s Likes and Twitter followings should put us in a good position to sympathize with an insistence on the social aspect of life-worthiness. Perhaps it’s a natural direction toward which a culture will drift, once the religious answers lose their grip. The ancient Greeks lived before the monotheistic solution took hold of Western culture, and we — or a great many of us — live after. A major difference between our two cultures is that, for the ancient Greeks, who lacked our social media, the only way to achieve such mass duplication of the details of one’s life in the apprehension of others was to do something wondrously worth the telling. Our wondrous technologies might just save us all the personal bother. Kleos is a tweet away.
The quote struck me given one of the big themes in Hunting Magic Eels

Specifically, as Goldstein observes, with the Greeks and their Ethic of the Extraordinary we get a window into the achievement of self-esteem "before the monotheistic solution took hold of Western culture," self-esteem in our post-Christian world where "the religious answers lose their grip." As I recount in Hunting Magic Eels, and as Goldstein notes here, without God we're returning to things like Kleos in the pursuit of self-esteem, meaning, value, and identity. 

This craving and desire for "having one's life spoken about, your story vivid in others' heads" to give your life "added substance" feeds and fuels what I describe as "the Ache" in Hunting Magic Eels, the unstable nature of how we achieve a sense of value and purpose in a life devoid of a transcendent ground of meaning. 

Without God, in the words of Goldstein, seeking likes and followers on social media has become for post-Christian people "the only way we have to beat back uncaring time."

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