Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"What's a Hero?" THE PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF HEROISM by Andrew Bernstein (continued)

  As discussed in the last post, Bernstein showed the problem of the contemporary views of heroism (mind-body duality), and set out to redefine it. In doing so, he identifies “four components” necessary for heroism:

 



• Moral greatness,

• Ability or prowess,

• Action in the face of opposition,

• Triumph in at least a spiritual, if not physical, form.

  All four components are essential if one is to save the concept of hero without the mind-body dichotomy. (I’ll save the first one for last, because it’s the most important, but also because it’s under this sub-topic that Bernstein’s definition implicitly addresses the problems of the original etymology.)

Ability is important, because

If we lived in a Garden of Eden, in which an omnipotent deity provided all goods and full protection, then no competence on the part of human beings would be required for either the creation of values or their defense. But since metaphysical reality requires that man's values be created and produced, ability—above all, intellectual ability—is crucial to his survival on earth.

Action in the face of opposition:

 …since evil men attempt to enslave the creators and survive as parasites off of their effort, ability—again intellectual ability especially—is required to defend the good against their murderous intentions.

But even in the absence of “evil” men, this component is still necessary, because

 nothing is given to man on earth—struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible—the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.

Triumph (in at least a spiritual, if not physical, form): it is not essential that a hero “win,” in the physical sense. This may seem odd at first, but remember, without the mind-body dichotomy, we realize that man is not omniscient or infallible. It would be asking too much to guarantee that a hero is not allowed to fail in his mission. But if he fails, the hero remains a hero “if one remains true in action—come hell or high water—to rational values, if one strives mightily against any and all antagonists, never yielding, never betraying one's soul, pursuing excellence relentlessly, if one embodies all this and never cries for mercy, then one is a hero even though one fails in practical terms.”

Moral Greatness: Bernstein claims that “Of these, the hero's moral stature is unquestionably the most fundamental. An uncompromising commitment to morality is the foundation of heroism. Although the point can be stated simply—the hero is a "good guy"—its reasons are philosophical and apply to all instances of the concept.”

He adds that

The hero is the man dedicated to the creation and/or defense of reality-conforming, life-promoting values. Because of the culture's mind-body split the defender of rational values has very often been recognized whereas their creator has not. But the truth is that the man who creates values is the primary hero; the man who defends the creator from evil is a hero because the creator has made human life possible. This distinction must be made because of irrational philosophy dominating the culture.

  Now, I claimed before that Bernstein does not address the etymological aspect directly, but the passage above indicates that he is aware of it by referencing the idea of the defender. And, again, as I claimed before, Landon and I were debating whether or not the word hero should be replaced to describe Objectivist creators (or creators as heroes in general). But Bernstein approaches the problem by subdividing heroes into primary and secondary heroes.

  When Bernstein writes that “[t] he hero is the man dedicated to the creation and/or defense of reality-conforming, life-promoting values,” he is going beyond the etymology by adding the concept of creation, making that primary and placing the defense of the creation separately.  THIS may seem to be a violation of the etymology (“why does BERNSTEIN get to add to the original definition?). But this is NOT a case of hubris here; matter of fact, Bernstein is addressing and CORRECTING an error in the etymology. HOW? Bernstein, remember, claims that “Because of the culture's mind-body split the defender of rational values has very often been recognized whereas their creator has not.” Now, remember that the Greeks did not value man as creator, but instead, looked to their gods as the source (which is why Prometheus is punished for delivering fire from the gods to man.) Even when men (or women) DO create, they are punished for competing with the gods (such as Arachne’s transformation into a spider by Athena for being a better weaver…talking about “hatred of the good for being good!”).

  But implied in the above is that the act of creation is STILL primary; if men are relegated to the “defense” of creation, it is still CREATION that comes first, even if it’s creation “by the gods.” Only, since the gods are creation of man’s mind, Bernstein, via Rand, rightfully place the act of creation back into the hands of men. So Bernstein rightfully says that “But the truth is that the man who creates values is the primary hero; the man who defends the creator from evil is a hero because the creator has made human life possible.”

So now we have primary and secondary heroes, creators and defenders. But Bernstein adds

 Nevertheless, in fact, both the industrialist who creates a new product and the police officer who rescues him from kidnappers are heroes—and for the same reason: the actions of both exhibit an unswerving loyalty, no matter the opposition, to the values required by human life. This is the indispensable moral pre-requisite of being a hero. Lacking this, one need not apply.

 With that said, Bernstein presents “a fuller understanding” of his original definition:

A hero is an individual of elevated moral stature and superior ability who pursues his goals indefatigably in the face of powerful antagonist(s).

  So now we have a better understanding of what Rand meant by hero, and why her characters are more than just creators, or “someone to look up to.” We also have a better understanding of what sets those heroes apart from her secondary characters. As Bernstein writes:

A hero is related but is not identical to a moral man, to an achiever, to a role model. A moral man is one who possesses an unbreached commitment to reality and who never indulges whims. An achiever is a man who attains ends that are objectively life-promoting, one who fulfills reality-conforming purposes, whether to construct a home, complete an education or find a cure for cancer. A role model is a man who, as a rational achiever, is worthy of emulation. A hero is all of these things and more.”

 With that said, I’d like to clarify the original goal of SUPERHERO BABYLON. So much emphasis has been placed on pointing out the enemies of heroism in the culture at large. But now, with the concept of heroism fully fleshed-out, we’d like to go think that our job is now that much EASIER to promote true heroism wherever it may be found. Landon and I (and our guest contributors) have already pointed to the heroes of the past and present.  But who are tomorrow’s heroes? I’ll give Bernstein the last word on this:

It is not an accident that, historically, most of mankind's heroes have been great warriors. This is so because men have recognized implicitly that there are a special few who take on all comers to achieve their ends. The designation "hero" is a moral approbation reserved for this elite.

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