Monday, December 8, 2008

Interview with Andrew Bernstein on THE PHILOSOPHICAL BASIS OF HEROISM

 A nice addendum to the Bernstein essay I recently discussed via an online interview: PRODOS SPEAKS WITH DR. ANDREW BERNSTEIN ON HEROISM AND HERO-WORSHIP.

 I'll direct the traffic to the Prodos site for the full interview, but a couple of notable parts not discussed in the essay:

Prodos: You've used the word 'actualize'. I first encountered that word years ago when reading the literature of the 60's and 70's, like Carl Rogers and all those sort of 'let it all hang out' type of advocates. But you're suggesting a completely different approach. You're saying that actualization is not about just simply 'letting yourself go', it's not about waiting for things to happen to you. You're saying that actualization is something that you can go out and get, go out and grab, go out and achieve yourself.
Andrew Bernstein: Right. The term comes originally from Aristotle, the philosopher.
Prodos: Ah!
Andrew Bernstein: It's all about, as a human being, having a rational faculty, having a mind. If you work hard to develop it - really push yourself to get an education, seek a career in some productive field and also - in the bodily realm - exercise regularly to stay fit and robust - that you can have a life of all round, healthy self-fulfillment. And as you push yourself to succeed in your career and in striving for your own development and your own fulfillment, you have the knowledge that as a very benevolent consequence - as a secondary side issue - that your development as a rational human being will benefit other people as well.

 Another notable bit:
Prodos: Another question for you Dr Andrew Bernstein. Just as when a great artist portrays a simple piece of fruit in a distinctive, compelling way - so that after we've seen his painting we never look at fruit or color or texture in the same way - I wonder whether appreciating the heroic also, in a way, ESSENTIALIZES our view of our self and of others. That seems to be what's coming through from what you're saying in a way. So my question is really about the parallel between the effect that great art has and the effect of hero worship.
Andrew Bernstein: That's an interesting question. To be perfectly honest with you I haven't considered the question in quite that form before. It's a very good observation you're making. That great art, you used the example of an apple, stylizes something. That is, it stresses the characteristics that make it what it is. And similarly with observing a hero. It helps us pick out (the essentials) - from amongst all the diversity of somebody's life - from all the various incidental details of who your parents were, where you were born, and what color your skin is - trivial things like that - trivial in certain ways at least - because it focuses on the human potential: This is what is possible to man, This is what is possible to the human species. We're not just limited to criminals, dictators and gangsters and drug dealers and drug addicts . . .
  One other note of interest: Bernstein professes ignorance of Jung and Campbell's treatment of the hero:

Prodos: Lovely. Now if you talk to intelligent, educated people today about heroism they'll usually nod knowingly and tell you they've read Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero Of A Thousand Faces, who's written a lot on what he calls 'The Heroic Journey' and all that sort of thing. What's your view of Campbell's ideas Andrew Bernstein? Where do you agree and disagree with him?
Andrew Bernstein: Well to be perfectly honest with you I've never read Campbell (Prodos laughs - surprised and pleased) . . . I've heard the name, I've never read his books so I really have no idea of what his specific thinking on this or any subject is.
Prodos: I suppose there's a reason why you haven't been attracted to his writing?
Andrew Bernstein: Is Campbell particularly religious? I forget.
Prodos: He's a funny mixture because he makes studies of mythological characters and heroes and talks about the usefulness of myth. I think he believes in the 'collective subconscious' and all that sort of thing (Later I remembered that he is an intellectual descendant of Carl Jung - a whopping big Kantian).
Andrew Bernstein: Well the fact that I haven't read Joseph Campbell's books, I didn't mean that as any kind of put down of Joseph Campbell. It's just that there's a lot of people I haven't read.
 I find this personally ironic, in a good way, because of my personal journey through Jung and Campbell in the quest to define Objectivist Heroism. Ironic, because the man who wrote a key essay that eliminates the need for Jung and Campbell professes that they didn't inform him in his work! An O. Henry moment for me...though I wish I had his article a few years ago, would have saved me some grief! Ah well, I guess we all arrive in our own way...:)