Thursday, July 21, 2011

why heros?

I was thinking about the term 'hero' today and started wondering why humans so readily create them. Obviously heros have existed (been created) pretty much forever so its likely that the need stems from human nature. In thinking what the lack of heros might look like, one is forced to imagine (relatively) more collective efforts. It feels odd that equality in society is such a recent and even (still) limited phenomenon, and again, this seems to reinforce the notion that heroism and maybe conceptual relations to it, ie hierarchical societal divisions (castes, classes, etc) are somehow the natural state for the human psyche.

I also wonder whether the need for heros and/or leaders (are they the same thing, conceptually?) changes with the structure and goals of society (leaders are much more critical in warfare--or at least we say that--and may be more critical for a roving band of hunter-gatherers than for a metropolis of millions). What is freedom's role here?

Oddly enough, I've never really bought into the hero concept and perhaps this explains my tendency toward collective responsibility instead. Are heros more a function of personality, culture or human nature?

Maybe I should drink less coffee... or perhaps read more Joseph Campbell books..

1 comment:

PoliticAli said...

Hi Navigio. You are really getting deep now. I will need to think about this topic a bit (that may be an understatement).

Your comment on heroes and collectivism has prompted my thinking on a related (maybe) topic. What is a life well lived? I remember a few years ago Jehovah’s Witness dropped off a pamphlet with my wife pointing out the bucolic scene in the centerfold showing a handsome couple sitting under a tree with a lion and a lamb. Their question to her was “wouldn’t it be great to spend an eternity like this”. My gut reaction was, how awful it would be to go through eternity without facing and overcoming any challenges. How would we know who we are? In that sense then a good life might be one with an abundance of challenges that one can and does overcome.

Heroes are individuals who face great challenges and overcome them. Though I think the term is too broadly and inappropriately used when applied to people who circumstance has put in a position where they suffer greatly. Though they are called that, I don’t believe prisoners of war are necessarily heroes by virtue of being prisoners and suffering. We should be appreciative of the fact that they have suffered for our benefit and express our gratitude openly and loudly but there is no heroism in being captured. In war the idea and challenge is to capture or kill the other guy. Being captured is in that sense a failure. (Though I will concede hero status to John McCain, not for being captured but for what I have read about his actions while a prisoner)

I have often wondered why we are so fascinated with sports and elevate superb performance to heroic status? As with “true” heroism, I think the answer is that we tend to see their performance reflected on us and recognizing them as members of the same species, it makes us proud. In that sense, heroic acts, whatever their nature, tend to highlight the higher quality of our species and for an instant these individual acts make us think of our success as a species.