Who We Are


Ernest Becker understood that the root cause of human behavior and human evil is the attempt to deny what cannot ultimately be denied, one’s inevitable mortality.  According to Becker, the strongest defenses against the anxiety caused by the knowledge of one’s death are self-esteem, meaning, and purpose.  Heroism is general recognition of what we as a society revere. It can range from a bold act of courage that risks one’s life in the service of another person or cause, to a quiet life of participation in a community that contributes to the well-being of others, knowing that that life will inevitably come to an end. Heroism is society’s way of providing self-esteem, purpose, and meaning to its members.

Traditional heroism in our contemporary society has focused on a deed or achievement. It has expanded to include achievement of high social status, wealth and power. This is a broad use of the term that includes rulers, billionaires, generals, politicians, doctors, and luminaries.  Unfortunately our current forms of heroism have a dual drawback. Our materialistic secular society provides opportunities for heroism through social status and achievement that are not attainable for all of its members. This is a source of social dissatisfaction, anxiety, and unrest. Moreover, the striving for this current form of self-directed heroism can promote greed and selfishness, forsaking the common good, and failure to reward those who do focus on it. “Traditional values” have become corrupted and have grown toxic to our social wellbeing.

Believing that Becker’s insights can help facilitate healthy cultural change, a group of likeminded people formed the Contemporary Heroism Initiative (CHI).   We focus on the universal striving for heroism that is at the heart of our social order and is a primary defense against death anxiety. CHI takes Becker’s seminal ideas and applies them broadly to contemporary life.

CHI focuses the crisis of values in contemporary American life. We recognize that understanding a culture’s heroism is a fundamental step to producing social change for the better. Unfortunately Becker’s insights and the body of social scientific scholarship and knowledge that he has inspired are not being represented in public decision-making.

Ernest Becker’s thinking was broadly interdisciplinary, innovative and applied theoretical formulations to current problems and concerns. CHI mirrors Becker’s thinking. Our approach is interdisciplinary in bringing together members from a variety of backgrounds and experience. We work with experts from various disciplines, who will articulate our shared concerns, ideas, and positions and apply the ideas of Ernest Becker to current problems in our society


Contemporary Heroism Initiative

CHI is contemporary, in that it focuses on current issues of the day  through the lens of Becker’s insights and related scholarship and research. It examines the values that have led to suffering, and violence in our society.   We offer new ways of thinking about each issue, as well as about the world and humanity in general.

CHI is about heroism and focuses on a positive approach. The concentration is on contemporary American striving for heroism, and shows how the intention to do good often leads to evil. This new way of thinking will find fresh ears in the logjams of modern American discourse and political debate. The insights of Becker and related scholars and researchers will be applied from a constructive, accessible starting point.

CHI is an initiative, (a call to action) that is goal-oriented. By bringing new thinking to American discourse, our intention is to foster a change in values, a change in what Americans revere, a change in contemporary heroism. We will accomplish this through peaceful, humble, and persistent participation in certain areas of public discourse. Becker’s insights and the work of contemporary scholars and researchers will find a new outlet as they are applied in open, public discussion.

We are looking for broad public consensus by fashioning messages that are new, sometimes surprising, but always accessible, and that can be internalized by a general audience.

© 2017 Contemporary Heroism Initative