In Defense of Heroes

This is an article I wrote in response to this one
It’ll be helpful to read that before mine. This was intended for the UMass collegian, but it is their policy to not allow articles that directly reference other articles. I may rework it so I can get it published.

In response to the recent op-ed titled “no more hero worship”:

Only someone who lacks the ingenuity to contribute anything original to “social labor” can claim to care about and admire everyone in general and not a single person in particular. One’s inability to attach one’s own “face and name” to anything is no reason to damn those who can. The argument that innovators take too much credit because they require the labor of others to enact their ideas, and are therefore reproachable and un-heroic is based on the underlying premises that values are of an exclusively material nature, that material goods determine a person’s value to society (as if being rich or poor in themselves automatically grants someone the objective status of being bad or good respectively), that wealth and titles are all that people ever admire, and that taking part in a process (such as inventing arrow signs on a keyboard) grants one equal status to everyone involved in the final product (the full keyboard, integrated into a computer console). I submit that while there are heroes of industry, who may be properly admired for their material achievements, many of them are spiritually admirable as well, and many people who have little material wealth accumulated are rich in spirit and are admirable in that sense. I will now attach a face and name to people for whom that is true (while for their comfort I will not literally name them, I can assure readers that these are actual individuals, who have faces and names):

My grandparents and parents moved to America in the 60’s. By their own decision and effort, they left the Portugal of corporative fascism and public Catholicism to earn a living in a freer and better country. They realized their American Dreams, not because they were endowed with luck or because they lumped their achievements into collective pools, but because they worked incredibly hard and never complained about their hardships. Rather than mourning all the times in life that not everything was easy, they proudly point to houses they used to live in and places they used to work in during their quests to self-made wealth and happiness.

An uncle who died last year finished building his house a week before his death. That a dying man, tortured by an impending demise and a rotting brain could have the strength never to complain of his circumstances or beg for better luck or appeal to some “right” to healthcare (he paid for his own, andhis savings from his work are still paying), must be baffling to anyone who has not achieved a single thing individually or lived with that same integrity. So much for poor, disadvantaged, minority descendants of farmers not being able to get anywhere in life without collective help and collective achievements!

I have a friend with whom I was proud to share the superlative of “most likely to succeed” in high school. As she powered through countless leadership positions (at times leading me and at times assisting me) with passion, energy, and skill, she made my entire school a better place and raised everyone’s standard of what is productive and respectable. It is unlikely that a more powerful motor of the world could be discovered in a high school, or anywhere – certainly not among people dominated by the word “we”.

Another friend has embarked on a remarkable journey of self-education. His unimposing yet intense self-esteem is well-earned and his mastery of his mind and control of his life is learned. Only an ambitious and very intelligent person could so effectively integrate his own life and embark on a quest to integrate the sciences. He accepts his education and living as his own responsibility and has too little time and too much to accomplish to appeal to the “1%” for help or the “99%” for craft supplies. If there are people deserving of pity, they are not those who don’t get what they demand, but the ones who don’t have the privilege of knowing someone who demands nothing.

These people are not abnormal; they are few among the competent, productive people I know, who are among many who have shown me that life can be heroic: the astronomer who defied the Catholic church and fathered modern science; the founders who created and fought for a country based on individual rights; the inventor who began a revolution of light with his inspiration, perspiration, and determination; the chemist who let nothing come between her and her understanding of the fundamental physical elements; the brothers who were not discouraged by Da Vinci failures of flight when they gave man wings; the preacher who dared to tell America that he wanted to be judged by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin; the genius who integrated philosophy and provided man with a method for discovering truth and achieving joy; the visionary who began a revolution in his garage and drove a massive wave of innovation in computing, animation, and communication; the (individual) men and women who every day risk their lives defending our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness – the police who arrest violators of my rights, the firemen who rushed into the World Trade Center, the armed forces who, regardless of the rightness or wrongness of the particular conflicts they are engaged in, defend their values and our lives, and the young students in ROTC who develop integrity of body and mind. All of these individuals or groups, which are sums of individuals, are heroes in some way. They have all improved our lives in some manner. When the effort and the effects were not exclusively individual, these people added individual contributions by their voluntary consent to whatever “social labor” there may have been.

I offer a final word for myself: I look to no false heroes and I can claim or take pride in no collective achievements. I look to the people who live fully and by their own effort, and I choose who I collaborate with. In my jobs, whether I’m experimenting with a new pizza or creating sample packages for paper merchants, I ideate. When this summer I built a shelf and started preliminary work on a piece of art, I was working with my ideas. My ideas, however insignificant they now are to the course of the world, and no matter what future impact they will have, are mine. That they do or do not benefit others is a secondary concern to me, but my reward is multiplied when they do. That I earn more than some people is not a cause for guilt; that I earn less than some people is not a cause for envy. A second-hander who claims a right to a second of my time, a cent of my earnings, an iota of my respect, or any part of my ideas and achievements has absolutely no right to either, and may not include me in their “we”, “our”, “99%”, or “social labor”. I am proudly unequal – I am 100% myself.

If heroes to you are selfless hordes and if worship to you is blind submission, then you should stop worshipping your heroes and be yourself (after you make yourself). But if your hero is a person of integrity and your means of worship is to share the values of the best people you have ever met or heard of, keep up the good work – you are a hero. Learn to say “my achievement”, and emulate those who have taught you how. Let the worship continue!

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