OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
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Heroes once held a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans of all ages. Some were caped crusaders, found in comic strips and then books for wild-eyed young boys and girls dreaming of their next big adventure. Others were chiseled from history, be it George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or The Untouchables. Each rose to some occasion, fitting the model so eloquently described by Justin Kownacki—marketing consultant and PR guru by day, screenplay writer, and storyteller by night.
The concept of a hero is as old as humanity itself. In his research, Kownacki identified three common traits dating back to Greek mythology:
- They were mortal descendants of gods.
- They were exceptional above all other men regarding some particular skill.
- As mortals, they were destined to die.
Kownacki says that society has moved past the concept that heroes are the children of gods (that wouldn’t play too well in monotheism where the children of God are God in the flesh). Justin also describes how modern Americans have embraced the anti-hero, beginning sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with Dirty Harry and grittier portrayals of Batman. The well-defined argument that Mr. Kownacki laid out is definitely worth a read.
On the other side of the discussion is Noah Berlatsky, who penned a piece for Medium titled ‘Why We Don’t Need Any More Heroes.’ This article offers a phone interview with journalist and author Jordan Flaherty as a press piece about Flaherty’s book, No More Heroes. The salient conclusion of their interview is that both gentlemen question the “idea of the ‘great man theory of history.” In a nutshell, they posit that individuals don’t shape or change history. Instead, history, in their view, is altered by communities and groups. Mr. Berlatsky’s article is linked above. It reads like a ‘what’s wrong about traditional America.’
Like most truths, both claims are correct enough to be seen as separate arguments. However, choosing one over the other is an oversimplification. Change comes from courageous individuals and tireless group efforts. The marriage of both ideals is the best recipe for lasting and historical change.
It’s not enough, though, to consider only the maxims of people paid to pontificate and philosophize. The idea of heroes and heroism is rooted in civilization from time immemorial. Psychologist Scott T. Allison, Ph.D., wrote about the shortage of heroes in modern society. His work may offer insight into how lockstep Leftist ideology is destroying heroes on what feels like daily. Dr. Allison offers four possible explanations:
- “To be a hero, you have to learn to be a deviant” (borrowed from fellow psychologist Phil Zimbardo)
- Heroes must often overcome psychological barriers.
- Heroism involves risk and potential danger.
- Heroism requires knowledge and preparation.
Each explanation is its own principle and can be observed in modern society. The flip-side is that examples of each are found to receive their own pushback that often results in Leftism attempting to silence, cancel, or erase a hero from existence. This push-pull dynamic is the centerpiece of the culture war taking place across America—and many parts of western civilization. The fighting between the two sides has reached a fever pitch over the last year, bringing the country to a level of violence not seen since the late 1960s.
The health and medical blog HRF published ‘19 Shocking Statistics of Democide.’ For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to murder by the government through authoritarian means. The idea captures how absolute statist power, whether extreme-right or extreme-left, led to the death of more than 200 million innocent lives in the twentieth century alone. Research on the subject was completed by Dr. R. J. Rummel, a former political scientist and professor at several major universities. Democide consumed Rummel as he studied and wrote about the topic for decades. His findings took him from his early socialist roots down the road of libertarianism and economic liberalism. Before his death, Dr. Rummel was critical of the Left in their attempts to create a one-party state.
Destroying heroes is but one goal of statists. In so doing, they silence the individual who may choose to act with courage. After all, Dr. Allison noted that ‘to be a hero, you have to learn to be a deviant.’ Think of the countless examples available on legacy news outlets or the internet. A person who engages in some courageous act to find their time in the limelight has uncovered personal flaws that have no relation to their gallant deed. The lowest and truly wretched among society can still be heroic. A good deed is not connected to past transgressions. By the same token, the kindest and gentlest of all people—a person who has never transgressed against another—may shrink in the face of danger, fearful for their own life. If deviance is a requirement to be a hero—accepting risk and confronting danger or death requires exceptional moral courage—then statists would naturally wish to deter anyone who might stand up to them.
This is where cancel culture rears its ugly head, be it something as innocuous as taking an unpopular position on a social issue to call out a governor for sexual assault. Talking heads in society scream at the brave individual who chose to speak out. Victims may be revictimized in the press and tabloids, tamping down the likelihood that others would come forward with their own stories. Deviance is punished. Anyone who speaks out against a preferred narrative has their character called into question. Committing an act of public defense—say, a police officer shooting a felon who stole his partner’s taser—may lead to the person who committed the act being questioned for any choice they ever made, regardless of its relationship to the incident in question. Law enforcement officers are routinely called racist. Indeed, some of them are—as would be expected of any cross-section of any profession. Of course, it is always in society’s best interests to attempt to find this out in the screening process to hire candidates who will not engage in selective enforcement.
As hard as it is to reconcile, a racist person can still commit a good deed. They can still be selfless and discard their prejudices for the extent of time necessary to carry out that good deed. None of this defends racism or the people who practice it. Neither does it condemn heroism when conducted by a deeply-flawed individual. Still, the Left demonizes the individual who might otherwise be heroic. Punishing deviance is intended to serve as a deterrent to future deviance.
If heroes must overcome psychological barriers, raising those barriers through public punishment further serves the Left in stomping out deviance. Imagine a person hears cries for help through the wall of their apartment or townhome. The telltale signs are there. It sounds like a circumstance of domestic violence. When cops are already deemed racist or thuggish, how is the individual expected to respond to an incident where they might otherwise help?
Hesitation takes over and leads to doubt. A person might question whether they should get involved in helping their neighbor in distress. The psychological barrier has been raised. Past deviance has been punished. What if the do-gooder is wrong? Will that lead to them being canceled too?
Raising psychological barriers to cross the threshold of accepting personal risk limits the number of individuals who would show the moral courage to intervene. It compels a person to rely on authority figures—but not those racist cops—to resolve interpersonal conflicts. In so doing, it chips away at the sense of self. The erosion of self-reliance creates a vicious cycle where a person loses all sense of courage to question authority because of potential punishment for deviance and the ever-increasing psychological barrier to entry.
Risk and personal danger limit the pool of available individuals who might otherwise find the courage to act in some heroic fashion. Instead of the apparent dangers that stem from the loss of limb or life, the newer and more pervasive threats come from society itself. Publicly questioning an election’s integrity fraught with irregularities might lead to an individual being sued in court for three-billion dollars. Were a defendant made to pay even ten percent of that amount in a settlement, it would bankrupt most individuals. Again, deviance is punished. The psychological barrier is raised. Risk and personal danger move far beyond saving a mother and her children from a burning car. That’s a job for those racist cops. And, even then, it will only get three seconds on the legacy media news as interviewing the officer-involved might mean having to dig up his or her high school tweets to determine if they were even worthy of intervening on the mother’s behalf.
The potential risks of speaking out or acting on behalf of another are increased to remind would-be heroes that deviance is not acceptable in the one-party state. The psychological barrier to entry is quietly raised, yet again, to deter the person who still thinks for himself. The threat of financial ruin—perhaps even demonetization from social media—elicits hesitation in the face of danger.
If heroism requires knowledge and preparation, the field is shrunk to its smallest available pool of applicants. Seeing a mother and her children in a burning car and knowing how to help them are two different things. If a person has never been allowed to express himself or herself because of the constant threat of punishment for deviance, then the would-be hero is reduced to nothing more than a bystander. If a shooter walks into a restaurant, yet the state has restricted the right to carry a concealed weapon, then no amount of preparation can be had without first committing the ultimate deviance—willfully breaking the law. Again, this is by design. A father cannot adequately defend his wife and children when he is holding a butter knife, and the assailant is holding an already-illegal Thompson sub-machine gun.
Have no fear. Politicians will come to the rescue. They will pass more laws—double-secret probation—to keep society safe from felons who already disobey the laws on the books. The truly-deviant—hardened criminals—can’t and won’t be changed by cancel culture. It simply does not exist in the circles they travel in. They’ve already been canceled by civil society. Double-canceling them would be as fruitless and oxymoronic as the scene from Animal House linked above.
Instead, the threat of cancelation—or erasure, as in the case of President Trump from all Leftist organizations—mixes with a raising of the psychological barrier to entry, increased potential risks above and beyond life and limb. A lack of knowledge or preparation to shrink the pool of available heroes to a level the Left can adequately manage to fight. If the entirety of MAGA and their families were to disengage from the Left—peacefully, of course—there would be too many would-be heroes for Antifa and BLM to accost. It should come as no surprise that Antifa stays in their safe spaces, never attacking individuals where the right to carry is enshrined and protected against government infringement. Antifa doesn’t attack individuals in 2A sanctuary states. There is a reason for that. Attacking an Okie from Muskogee might result in dead Antifa foot-soldiers, not all that different from Kenosha, Wisconsin (this author is neither defending nor admonishing Kyle Rittenhouse—that’s the court’s job).
Even in the instance where an underage boy from Illinois used deadly force against would-be attackers in a neighboring state, the incident has been thoroughly caricatured in the court of public opinion. Leftists and the legacy media have canceled anyone who says Kyle deserves his day in court as a racist, bigot, white supremacist, nationalist, etc. In the instance of the couple in St. Louis defending their own home against rioters, the same tropes were dragged out.
Individuals chose to be deviant against the preferred narrative that violence in the name of social justice is not only okay but celebratory. Those individuals had to be crucified at the altar of Leftist politics to punish future would-be deviants. The psychological barrier was raised to suggest that defense of self and defense of property were not reasonable in the face of social justice rioters. The risks include life in prison for the foolhardy boy from Illinois or criminal and civil charges for the couple from St. Louis. Even individuals within the Leftist movement who do not adhere to the shifting narrative are candidates for cancelation.
The mayor of Portland once stood arm-in-arm with protestors and rioters. When they demanded he allows entry into his own home or move, he said enough was enough. He was rightly chastised for his flip-flop in position. At the same time, he was fodder for the Leftists who are never satiated by fealty. They are after blood.
Kownacki celebrated heroes. Berlatsky and Flaherty mocked them. Dr. Allison pontificated about the social barriers that minimize heroism. Dr. Rummel opined on the dangers of statist authoritarianism. Regardless of whether you have it in you to be a hero, the numbers are in: statists killed 200 million of their own people last century for deviance. Statists masquerading as Leftists fighting for social justice are walking down the same path. Will you stand in their way?
As always, this has been the World, According to Chris.
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