What is Alpha?
Dr. Golan Moshe Lahat
Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet; its etymological source can be found in ancient Phoenician and Hebrew languages. As the first letter of the alphabet, it is often used to symbolize beginnings (in unfinished legal documents, to represent Jesus in the New Testament as “Alpha and Omega” - the start and end to everything, etc.), as well as to symbolize leadership and dominance. For example, this is why biologists tend to label dominating males within a species as “Alpha males.”
Over the years, in light of the modern era’s scientific revolution in general and the publication of Darwinian Theory in particular, Alpha, or the desire to “be first,” has been assigned evolutionary and existential significance. The first to survive was not necessarily the strongest of the pack (even though that was, at times, the case), but rather, was generally the one who was born most adaptable to their environment. Darwinism, which began as a biological movement and grew to become socio-political as early as the second half of the 19th Century, sanctified primordialism as a desired concept, one that only “healthy” nations capable of winning existential battles between nations can attain.
Throughout the 20th Century, being an Alpha, or first, was assigned clear individualistic meanings as well. In an era in which capitalism that justifies competitiveness and self-serving interests prevails, the desire to “win” or earn as much as possible and as quickly as possible became “everything,” through which one’s measure of success as an individual could be measured.
Within the frameworks of financial, social and academic activities, it has become evident that in order to be first, one must strive for excellence, as founded in breakthrough innovations, industriousness, perseverance and a thirst for learning. Can one even consider the history of science without the “Alphas” who accelerated its development throughout the ages? Could the scientific revolution have even existed without Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Newton? Would the field of genetics even exist without Mendel’s garden pea experiments? Astronomy without Kepler and Hubble? Physics without Einstein and Bohr?
Being an “Alpha” means leading, being ready, and, at times, paying a social price while pursuing the truth, which of course, cannot be compromised on, and making decisions that are not necessarily obvious or accepted. This journey “against the grain” into a challenging world can be hard for anyone, especially for youth, who often view the popular route as the only acceptable option. Alpha will be a space within which they can deviate from the norm and thrive.
Dr. Golan Moshe Lahat is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University (Department of Political Science) and serves as the Academic Principal of the university’s Idea Program.