An unhealthy degree of gigantism isn’t limited to just economic endeavors. It permeates every aspect of contemporary life. We’ve gotten so accustomed to it that we don’t pay much attention to it anymore. But it creates a social calculus in which the individual is accorded ever-dwindling significance.
To get a better understanding of what’s troubling about our contemporary age, we need to look back to much earlier times. In the traditional village societies where we humans have spent the bulk of our existence on Mother Earth, if you were the best athlete or cook or whatever among 100 people, you were a remarkable specimen—definitely a “somebody.”
Today, being the best football player among 100 of your peers may get you onto your high school team—but not necessarily as a starter. Being the best among 1,000 may not land you a spot on even an obscure college team.
Your chances of being viewed as a “somebody” today don’t improve a bit if what you happen to excel at is music, storytelling, or painting.
What about people who don’t have special athletic or creative gifts? In more traditional times, people would have known and valued you for your character traits, and the things you did to make the community a better place. Today, as we chase career opportunities all over the map, we’ve lost our once-extensive webs of personal connection, and we’re lucky if a small set of our immediate coworkers see and value us for what we contribute.
At the same time, a new social class has arisen, consisting of mega-stars whose names are known all over the world. Like a traditional aristocracy on steroids, they form a global celebritocracy, around whom the world is seen to revolve, while the rest of us are relegated to the inconsequential status of serfs. The net effect of living in this type of social order is that we’re continually told between the lines, in subtle but powerful ways, that we don’t matter.
This message increases in volume if we don’t happen to live in the coastal areas where “things are happening,” or we lack the costly distinction of having attended a big-name university, or we speak in a more regionalized manner than TV news anchors typically do—or if we come up short on any number of other exclusionary tests. Who knows how often we may be given a status-reducing ding for, say, having a last name that ends in a vowel other than “e?”
If gigantism of scale might be our real enemy, a natural question is, Do we happen have a giant slayer in the wings? Say, somebody with the initials EW? More on this in just a bit. But first, a little more on how gigantism has affected us—and then how to begin combatting it.