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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Post Presidents Day Depression

Presidents Day was set aside to honor two past Presidents who were also heroes. Those were George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. And we should pay attention to this because next year, we will be asked to vote for "heroes" who would be President. There will be a "hero" nominated by each of the two major political parties--at least that is how they will be marketed by their respective political parties. And then after much marketing and selling, we will be asked to cast our vote for one of these two "heroes."

Note that when referring to those who will be nominated to run for the Presidency, that their label of hero was in quotes. That is because regardless of who these nominees will be and what their accomplishments are, they will be portrayed as real heroes, as our next rescuers. 

Now all of this emphasis on the concept of hero reminds me of a question and answer session held by Noam Chomsky.  We should note this about Chomsky, it's a good thing that he has a day job and does not have to rely on selling to make a living. He is kind of an anti-salesperson in both his demeanor and presentation of material. And he likes it that way.

Anyway, during the Q&A, a young, enthusiastic college student fan of his blurted out that he was our hero. He quickly responded with the following: 'We don't need heroes, we need ideas.'  And though the quote here is an approximation, the ideas conveyed are still clear and simple. Heroes can be a substitute for our participation. This is especially true for living, political heroes as opposed to dead heroes of any sort. Dead heroes just might inspire us, but living, political heroes want us to buy into and rely on their promises so we can go about our daily lives, without checking on them.

But there is something else about heroes we should note and this applies equally to both the living and the dead ones. We prefer the portraits of our heroes to be airbrushed. There is just something about the photoshopped images of these people that allows us to better appreciate them. Thus, in showing this kind of reverence for our heroes whose pictures have been touched up, we reveal more about ourselves than the feelings we have for others.

What does our treatment of heroes show about us? For one thing, it becomes obvious that we don't mind being deceived under certain circumstances and for certain reasons. Yes, we want those who sell us stuff to be extremely honest. But when it comes to the heroes we worship, we see that littles lies makes our hearts grow fonder. And the fonder our hearts grow, both the more attached we become and the more personal significance we gain from those whom we like. So as long as deception causes us to feel better about ourselves via how we feel about our heroes, the more deception is tolerated. And if we aren't deceiving ourselves about our heroes, we find ways to minimize their sins so that even the truth can hardly make a dent in our worship of them.

But love for our heroes also illustrates our desire to be led. Heroes can represent authority figures. And this is especially true when it comes to military leaders and politicians. So provided that the heroes we choose are in charge, the more comfortable we are with not knowing the details of what they are doing. Also, our heroes being in charge means the greater is the margin for error which we extend to them when things aren't meeting our expectations. Here we might modify an old adage to make it say: Hero worship, covers a multitude of sins.

And all of this leads us to Chomsky's answer to his young fan: We don't need heroes, we need ideas. For focussing on ideas draws us into looking for the details of both what our elected officials are doing and how they are doing it. Focussing on ideas doesn't artificially inflate the margin for error by those who would lead or exploit us. Focussing on ideas involves us in the political process so that we are not as easily misled.

So do we care about the wrongs and weaknesses of our past heroes? Do we care to learn how George Washington treated his slaves during his lifetime? Is how Washington saw the land west of his new country as land to be conquered and taken from America's indigenous people? 

And what do we know about Abraham Lincoln and slavery? Did we know that Lincoln was not an abolitionist and that he believed that Blacks should not have the same rights as Whites? Did we also know that he also believed that the slavery problem could be solved through colonization (click here)? Are those facts important to us or do we do some mental gymnastics so that those truths don't minimize our esteem for these two national heroes?

The point here is not to throw away our heroes from the past as some of our moms threw away our old comic books costing us a few thousand dollars. No. The point is to keep a certain perspective when having heroes. The point is to mix their good points with their bad points so that the pedestals we put them on are closer to the ground and thus more in touch with reality. For the less we idealize our past heroes, the more realistic our expectations of the present will be.

As for our present, perspective heroes, especially those who will be running for President in 2016, we shouldn't have any. The campaigns for both major political parties will tell us otherwise, but we must resist. And this brings us back to Chomsky's quote. Remember that he said that we need ideas instead of heroes. And that is exactly what we should requiring from all candidates. We  must require that they give us their ideas. And here we are not talking about idealisms. Anybody can promise us pie in the sky. What we must require are their ideas on what they will do and how they will do it. In fact, we should require that they listen to us for some of their ideas.

The point being here that we can no longer afford voting for candidates because of how they have presented themselves as our rescuers. Candidates who campaign that way are presenting themselves as heroes to be worshipped rather than  candidates who want us to judge them by their thinking and character.

Another Presidents Day is gone. And yes, Lincoln and Washington are heroes in the sense that they have contributed mightily to our nation. But they are not heroes in the sense that everything they did was right and good. Some of what they did or said would be called evil today. So if these past Presidents have a mixed records at best and they are two examples of our best Presidents, rest assured that those presidential candidates running in 2016 are people we must test and thoroughly examine.




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