"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Where Have All The Heroes Gone Now That We Need Them?

Most politicians when asked who their heroes are invariably respond ‘Jesus Christ’.  He is always safe refuge, for who can possibly have anything against him? Of course as Dostoevsky pointed out in The Grand Inquisitor, Christ sold Man a bill of goods, promising him eternal salvation but consigning him to a life of misery and hunger.  Many questionable acts were done in Christ’s name – the rack, boiling in oil, and flaying alive during the Inquisition were commonplace to force apostates to repent or reveal the Devil within.  The Crusades marched to Jerusalem to remove the infidel, and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost along the way.  The Renaissance popes were as venal and power hungry as the kings and queens of Europe.  Catholic clergy ruined many a maiden or young boy, not in Christ’s name but under his aegis.

Nevertheless politicians don’t think of all these downsides when the answer, and reflect only on Christ’s charity and goodness.  Politicians like the rest of us think first and foremost of Christ as Our Savior who died for our sins and through his suffering, grace and infinite mercy offered the Kingdom of Heaven.

If they thought about it, however, they would realize that their answer is foolish.  How can you admire God? Or how can he qualify as your hero? And if Jesus Christ is God, then his acts are not those of a hero but predetermined by his Father.  Christ was therefore not subject to the same criteria for heroism – courage, honor, faith, and nobility – as the rest of us.

In any case most Christians don’t give any of this a second thought.  Jesus is their hero and their idol because if they could be more like him, than the gates to Paradise would not be so hard to open.

Another safe haven is Winston Churchill, my personal hero.  Once again, how could anyone not be impressed with the sight of Winnie among the ruins of a bombed-out London, or his eloquent words of inspiration for the British people; or his absolute conviction never to give in….”Never, never, never”.  Churchill was not just fighting an expansionist, aggressive enemy, he was fighting Evil.

Of course there are many in the ‘progressive’ Left who take Churchill to task for his old-fashioned views on Empire.  If Winston had any say in the matter, the sun would never, never, never set on the British Empire, thus – in the worlds of the liberal Left – consigning millions of black and brown people to perpetual bondage and degradation.  Even his own people tossed him unceremoniously out of office when they thought he had outlived his time and his utility.

Tolstoy thought that Napoleon was an interesting man in a dramatic sense – flair, courage, and élan – but that he was no hero.  There are no heroes in history, Tolstoy went on to elaborate, since every human act is condition by tens of millions of antecedent ones.  The Battle of Borodino may have been lost by Napoleon because he had a cold, the result of the negligence of his valet who forgot to bring he Emperor’s gum boots, a negligence caused by concern over his – the valet – wife’s infidelities which were in turn caused by…etc. etc.

Most Frenchmen consider Napoleon a national hero because he had established Empire far beyond the borders of France but also because of the reforms he had instituted.  He finished the job of the Revolution, it is said, for he codified the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Of course he alone was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, and at the Battle of Borodino alone, 70,000 men perished.  His detractors say that he was a crazed runt, a megalomaniac whose ambitions had no bounds.  No, Napoleon would not be anyone’s hero if they stopped to think.

Henry V is thought of as a hero in Great Britain for his valorous retaking of English lands in France.  In Shakespeare’s play Henry offers a lengthy disputation on the justification for his expedition.  However, after he disguises himself before the decisive battle of Agincourt to better canvass the views of his soldiers, he is surprised to hear them say will die because of the arrogant, flimsy claims of their monarch.  To them he is no hero.

Religions have their own heroes – martyrs who die for their faith; but it is hard for outsiders to accept the martyrdom of Islamic extremists blow themselves to smithereens for a cause far more questionable than Henry’s assault on the walls of Agincourt.

Joan of Arc features in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 1; but the playwright, echoing English sentiments, depicts her as craven, unhinged liar who would do anything to save her skin.  No hero in the Bard’s eyes although millions of children read heroic stories of the Maid of Orleans.

Dostoevsky has an interesting take on martyrdom.  The bastard Smerdyakov argues with his brother Alyosha about the senselessness of dying for one’s faith.  The minute you even consider renouncing your faith to save your life, you are damned.  God works quickly and by simply thinking heretical thoughts, you are guilty of heresy, banned from the Kingdom of Heaven and consigned to the fires of hell for all eternity. Under those conditions, says Smerdyakov, why not renounce your faith?  You have already been damned and the fires of hell won’t burn any hotter because you articulated your thoughts.  Besides, he goes on, you will live to do good works and may be pardoned by Our Every Merciful Lord.  Martyrs are fools, says Smerdyakov.

I know a former Marine Corps lieutenant who was decorated twice for bravery.  He won a bronze star for storming a VC gun emplacement and neutralizing it, thus saving the lives of his company.  His second bronze star for dragging two comrades a quarter mile under heavy fire to safety and medical help.  The lieutenant, however, was driven by more complexes than even Freud described.  He hated his father but felt compelled to match his WWII bravery.  He was semi-impotent and joined the Marines as a way to compensate for his lack of virility.  His psychoses were so painful and deep-seated that rushing to certain death would have been a happy ending.  So he certainly was no hero.

There are legions of academics who idolize Shakespeare; but he didn’t labor long hours in playwriting school, scratching out draft manuscripts to be read, reviewed, and thrown out by harsh instructors.  If this had been the case, then he might be considered a hero, for he would have overcome insurmountable odds to become the best that he could be.

Instead, he tossed off 37 plays and 154 Sonnets in a little over 20 years.  He was a genius.  Persistence, hard work, diligence, and overcoming obstacles were unknown to him.  He was gifted with talent, brilliance, insight, and language which flowed from Olympus.  How can he be a hero if evolution had ordered his genes and environment in such a way to produce this unique, unparalleled master?

The same can be said of Mozart and Einstein.  The idea of relativity came to Einstein when he was stamping letters at the post office. Yes, he had learned the fundamentals of mathematics, but his insights came from Olympus as well.

The great Indian mathematician Ramanujan was figuring out the most complex mathematical problems known to the scientific world – all from his small, traditional Hindu village in Tamil Nadu.  When Hardy received his work sheets, he could not believe how such an untutored, unschooled man could produce work of such genius.  Ramanujan’s talent came from Olympus, so he cannot be anyone’s hero.

Bill Clinton always had a cheat-sheet in his pocket just in case he was asked the question about heroes and idols. He had compiled a long list of ordinary people who had overcome the odds to be successful.  Mabel Comers, for example, the granddaughter of sharecroppers who became President of the Arkansas State College for Women.  Hector Lopez who had fled the civil war in El Salvador and from the humble beginnings as a leaf-blower and weed-puller built the multi-million dollar Lopez Enterprises, International, a landscape firm which served half of the state of Texas.

This is America, however, and these stories are common.  Everyone except the privileged old-line Anglo-Saxon families who had wisely invested the private incomes generated from their grandfathers, the captains of American industry, worked hard for a living.  This is what we do as Americans.  We work hard.

To make matters worse, in these days of confessions, aggressive paparazzi journalism, and gotcha invasions of privacy, no one can possibly be a hero.  JFK is still talked about in terms of Camelot, but he nearly caused nuclear Armageddon.  His pussy-chasing got him on J.Edgar Hoover’s shit list and the Director told him in no uncertain terms, “Slow down on Civil Rights or I will expose you and your dirty tomcatting.”  Hoover had the goods one of America’s best-known Lothario, Martin Luther King who apparently had sex with more women than Wilt Chamberlain.  Many ‘progressives’ argue that a tarnished hero is better than no hero at all; but there are a lot of women who think that a deceitful man is a deceitful man, no matter who he is.  

Because we so desperately need heroes, the NFL is cleaning up the League and spitting out wife-beaters and child-abusers; and why Major League Baseball finds Alex Rodriguez, the doper, an embarrassment.  Any fool knows that college football is no more than a slave plantation; and those few athletes who make it to the NFL have had no way to learn socially acceptable behavior.  Ghetto rules. Heroes?  I doubt it.

The best tack is to tone down expectations.  Don’t look for heroes but for behavior models.  There is nothing wrong with trying to be Alex Rodriquez the talented baseball player, but just leave it at that.  Bill Clinton was a consummate politician.  Leave all the rest outside. There are good soldiers, bad soldiers, and crazy soldiers.  Always emulate the good ones.

So, where does this leave us? Winston Churchill. He was courageous, heroic, prolific, faithful, and his only vices were cigars and brandy.  He loved his Clemmie dearly until the day he died. He is my hero.

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