Lone Wolf vs. The Collective

The Lone Wolf myth is pervasive in Western culture — the idea that what really moves the needle and has the power to make change is a single solitary force: an exceptional, rugged individual who can brute force his (and it’s usually a he) way through all opposition and Get Things Done.

It’s the seductive idea of the Hero who will swoop in to save the day (The Lone Ranger, Superman); the genius whose innovations disrupt and revolutionize industries (Steve Jobs, Elon Musk); or the strongman who will overpower an entire nation into submission (Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, etc etc).

It’s intertwingled with other strongly held cultural ideologies:

  • Superior physical strength is the best leadership trait; violence is the most expedient way of solving problems
  • Relatedly: Strict Father Morality — the Judeo-Christian worldview that the father is the “mini-God” of every family and must be obeyed absolutely
  • Patriarchy: men are leaders, and women exist to support men in their leadership duties; masculine qualities (or perceived masculine qualities) like physical strength, superior rationality, immediate action, and bulldozing the opposition are better than feminine qualities (or perceived feminine qualities) like coordination, consensus, listening, empathy, patience, inspiration, respect, negotiation, storytelling
  • Relatedly: great man theory of history
  • Human supremacy in general: “some are more equal than others” and those people deserve all the cultural (and literal) capital
  • Efficiency is the highest value — because one person making a decision is faster than having to come to consensus
  • Entitlement: the expectation that our lives will be pleasant and any challenges will be minor, of limited duration, and solved somehow without much effort
  • Arrogance, egotism, and narcissism: “I alone can do it”
  • Magical Thinking and control: believing either that we are the Hero or that the Hero will swoop in to save us is a way of relieving the psychological discomfort of unpredictability and uncertainty in the world. We harbor a secret belief of being superior to any crisis as a way of convincing ourselves that nothing bad will happen to us
  • Being fooled by appearances: our tendency towards gullibility, especially towards people in positions of authority — who are often enacting a self-serving agenda underneath the public-facing PR version of the story

References:

  • Rebecca Solnit — “A Hero is a Disaster” (Whose Story is This?)
  • Malcolm Gladwell — Outliers