The Need to be Icarus: In Conversation with Seth Godin

Godin believes all marketers and industrialists are "liars", Greek Myths and their role in our daily lives.

Our lives have changed so drastically since the last century and with the inevitable advent of technology, that now more than ever, most of us either want an easy way out, or to be able to escape our realities in fictional, or mythical and sometimes even legendary worlds.

What wouldn’t we give to be able to believe in and live by our imaginations and fantastical whims? The idea of choosing to believe in myths and live by them is not only more “entertaining” today; it offers relief in ways not necessarily imaginable.

In an interview with Tom Bilyeu of Goalcast, Seth Godin, author of All Marketers are Liars (2005), former executive of dot com and entrepreneur, discusses how the story of Icarus is so “fascinating” from a “cultural perspective” but, what is the myth of Icarus in the first place?

According to a video published on Youtube by TED-Ed, the myth of Icarus and Daedalus is associated with mankind’s greed to excel. The video describes how Icarus suffered at the hands of his hubris [according to Greek tragedies, “hubris” is taken to mean excessive pride towards or defiance of the god(s) that eventually and inevitably leads to the failure of the characters].

However, Godin discusses how Daedalus apparently told his son to obey his command and not fly too high or the wax joining the feathers will melt and Icarus will surely die but, what is most fascinating is that Godin believes the myth has been changed since the 1500’s and the 1600’s.

The reason behind this “change”, in Godin’s opinion is the industrialists and other people of power. He believes that it is easier for them to keep others in line, in check of how they want to run things. He continues his argument by discussing the origin of the private school system and its connection to factory owners who needed more “compliant factory workers”.

Godin argues that with the inception of the modern day education system, the world had an amazing system of confining and restricting the individuality and mind-set of the youth. This system ensured that people behaved in a manner that was expected of them without any objections.

Although this system of schooling would provide you with an opportunity to get a job where a person could work for say, 50 years, nonetheless, there will be no sense of self-gratification and self-achievement.

Godin stresses on the reason why this way of living is dangerous for the productivity of mankind, because although you will be working and earning, you will fall into a standard, instead of aspiring you will simply settle for the “comfortable”, such as going home after work, watching television to help unwind, have meals, sleep and repeat the mundane routine over and over again without delay, and without any change.

Moreover, he discusses how this leads to a certain sense of “pack mentality” which reminds me of the play The Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, the central idea being that of wanting or rather needing to fit in, the urgency equal to that of breathing for survival.

What is even more troubling is that Godin’s analysis of current day social media networking is spot on. When he says, that social media promotes this sense of needing to fit in, to follow the pack.

Modern day interaction makes people strive for shortcuts in life, an easy way out and though it might come in handy for some, for others it mostly usually almost is a waste of time, effort and often money.

So, why bother with wasting resources when they can be out to good use? This is because, from day one, we are conditioned into being “followers” instead of “thinkers”.

Additionally, this is due to our innate and very human fears, such as that of being lonely, dying, the failure to do something and so on et cetera, argues Godin. Therefore, we under the hypnotic spell of social media and the education system, build narratives to live by.

These narratives further give way to, many more illusions that allow us the ability to uphold our various masks and continue the façade. However, he does stress that it is precisely this fear that lets us survive in the harsh world.

Thus, the more fearful you are, the better your chances of survival because the harder you will strive for yourself. He refers to the fox, lizard and the wolf for this analogy claiming, their survival is based on the fact that they are fearful.

Godin stresses the need to establish the narrative of taking the bull by the horns and standing your ground against it. In simpler terms, the idea is to take hold of your fear and conquer against the odds, believe in yourself and your idea because they are different.

He argues that we need to “develop this narrative with fear” because time will help you in your efforts.

He argues on the need to work on individual will. Godin believes that if our will is strong enough, it opens avenues which may seem impossible otherwise. This idea has been echoed throughout literature and history at various points in time. One most recent echo being Paulo Coleho’s The Alchemist. Godin concludes by re-invoking the idea of daring to be different.

Therefore, what we can infer from the relevance of the myth of Icarus is that although following certain principles is a necessity, it is by no means a restriction that we must follow.

So, as individuals as well as a community we should reinforce the notion of daring to fly like Icarus did because according to the original myth, if Icarus would fly too high the heat from the sun would melt his wings yet, if he would fly too low the waves below would make his wings wet hindering his progress and he will “surely perish”.

The lesson to learn from this is that we need a balance in life, though gaining it may be a road less traveled, it will surely be fruitful. Let’s all take an oath to be more like Icarus and discard the herd mentality.