Heroes, Bias and Disappointment
First written in May, 2005, but cleaned up and finished on August
Recently, I was reading Websnark
and came across a
piece on Orson Scott Card (see his sites here
and here). Actually, Eric Burns
of Websnark was reacting to a comic strip author’s negative
comments about Mr. Card. The author of the comic in question, Aeire,
produced and recently ended Queen
of Wands. Now she is reposting the entire run of Queen
of Wands with new commentary. I have read the comic strip and
really enjoyed it, the characterizations and the art. It was worth
the time I put into it. However, I have not been reading the reposting
with commentary, so maybe I’m missing out on something, but
I haven’t had the time.
Aeire was a fan of Orson Scott Card in his heyday, mainly the 80's,
and even mentions a couple of his books in her comic strip (for
In her commentary for this particular strip, written well after
the original comic had been inked, she complains about Cards views
on gay marriage (found in a recent
essay written during the big gay marriage debate in 2004). Aeire
states that she has been very disappointed by this man who was her
hero in her younger days, a man who wrote about tolerance in his
books. Receiving many reactions to her statement, both positive
and negative, Aeire felt she needed to further clarify her remarks
in her blog.
Enough of the background. Don’t take my word for any of this.
Visit the above links and check it out yourself. This is all setup
for my commentary. And all of these people make valid points.
Let me talk about the hero. Although everyone conceptualizes hero
in a slightly different way, most people can say they have someone
that they look up to, that they admire for accomplishments, abilities
or characteristics held by the individual in question. Some take
their admiration of others to extremes, practically building a cult
of personality. Their hero is their god, their master, their superlative
example, and to such people, any hint of humanity kills the illusion
of perfection built up in their heads about their heroes. Probably
not a very healthy approach to life.
I have a different approach. I rarely embrace anything whole-heartedly,
and perhaps much can be made of the commitment issues within my
personality. So be it. However, there are people I admire. I admire
people most for certain talents. Musical and literary talents in
particular impress me, but I also appreciate most generative and
Accomplishments are also important, because to me, an accomplishment
is an expression of a talent, and a sign of dedication and commitment.
For example, there are many authors I have admired, including Isaac
Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Orson Scott Card. These were influential
authors of my youth, and yes, I read a lot of science fiction. Still
do. A large portion of my even larger personal library is comprised
of science fiction and fantasy books. However, as I have matured,
I have found many points in which I differed in my opinion from
each of them. I will only briefly touch on some of those differences.
Isaac Asimov seems to have had the view that a single, socialist
or possibly even communist-type of dictatorship government was the
best possible approach to ruling humankind. He admitted that monarchy
was dangerous, but infinitely more efficient than democracy. He
wrote of a galactic government that operated smoothly under an emperor
(with control over every aspect of the commoner's life) but floundered
as a representative-type government. However, Asimov recognized
that even having an emperor has weaknesses. Succession is a huge
issue, for instance. His answer, his best fix for the chaos caused
by these types of governments was to come up with something horrible
called Gaia/Galaxia, where everyone and everything is part of the
literal collective. Boy, sounds like fun. My mind linked with every
other person, animal and rock. I feel one of humanity’s biggest
strengths is its individuality. Did Asimov actually want a communist
collective government for the world? Well, I have read in places
besides his own writing indicating that yes, he did. Probably not
the mind linking, but who knows?
Robert Heinlein was another very intelligent writer, but with some
serious flaws. I own several of his books and can still look back
at the huge influence his writing had on my youth. But if I look
at his earlier writing, women were merely objects or props in the
machinations of plot. His later writings were filled with incest
and other casual uses of sex. He got very bizarre (I once heard
it was after his heart attack) and I got turned off to many of his
Orson Scott Card is a Latter Day Saint and a good writer. I would
also call him very intelligent (I know, I know, how big of me).
However, he hardly represents everything LDS. Not that I do, either.
I think both he and I try to live our religion as best we can. His
influence on me is not inconsequential. Long before I realized he
was the same religion as me, I was impressed by his concepts and
his characterizations. His people seemed real to me. The pain Ender
Wiggen of Ender's Game felt as he killed people out of necessity
was pain I shared through the power of his writings. But I have
definitely never agreed with everything he said or wrote.
Who cares, though? Who am I to judge?
I agree with Eric Burns of Websnark. Heroes are going to disappoint.
It is a sad part of life. I rarely take on heroes, because of that
very issue. There are people I admire, but few heroes. And yes,
I have admired and been heavily influenced by Orson Scott Card,
have read many of his books, and enjoy taking a peek at his websites
occasionally, because I enjoy reading his opinions. I most definitely
do not always agree with him, but that is not the point. I have
enough ego strength (forgive me for using a Freudian term when I
hate Freud, but I have no other word good enough to describe what
I mean) to read and listen to the thoughts of others and not completely
change my mind. I read news and opinions coming from left wing,
right wing and libertarian sources, and form my own opinion. I enjoy
the mental challenge of reading opposing views.
Of course, I realize that not everyone is interested in that kind
of mental challenge. Fair enough. I wouldn’t want others to
blindly follow me. I will attempt to leave that portion of this
topic, now. However, there are several observations that came to
me while I was reading this controversy (Queen of Blades and Websnark
are both pretty popular and have generated a lot of noise over Card’s
essay). I would like to share those observations.
Heroes are humans first, objects of worship second. From your Brad
Pitts and Michael Jordans to Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freuds,
as individual tastes prefer, these were all humans, trying to make
their way through life successfully (however they defined that).
As such, they have weaknesses, make mistakes, and even change their
minds. That’s fine. I seriously doubt any human being can
make it through life without contradicting themselves or offending
another person at least once or twice. It happens. However, no hero
can remain human once put on a pedestal. However unfair, once a
person is raised to a place of worship, they become an object. They
weren’t born up there. We, as individuals, place them up there.
Most don’t ask for it. For those that do, I personally don’t
believe they deserve it. Few understand what the pedestal of celebrity
will do to their personal life, their perspectives and grounding,
their happiness and relationships, their privacy and other “costs”
to being in the public limelight. Some publicly admit that they
actually regret the changes in their life made by public worship.
Each person needs to keep in mind the toll of worship on a hero
or celebrity, but I’m not saying we should say “Poor
wealthy and successful Bruce Willis,” for example. While that
may be appropriate for his personal losses (including a dissolved
marriage), I think it is important that we take a reality check.
Does the personal life and opinions of some famous person really
make a difference in your daily life? If so, why? Do you know them
personally? Do they owe you money or something? No, most hero worship
is way overblown, and if you expect too much of anyone, you will
eventually be disappointed. It happens.
So, should we just have low expectations for all people? It certainly
would be easier, in some respects. However, by expecting the worst
of everyone, an individual would have to always be on their guard,
a taxing effort for most. It is far better, in my opinion, to have
realistic expectations. Just what is realistic? Well, I return to
the subject of the humanity of every hero. Realize that your heroes
are imperfect and adjust your expectations accordingly.
There is a new set of dirty words, these days. To be considered
“judgmental” and “biased” are the new demonizing
labels. To be called this is to be the scum of the earth, or even
lower, depending on the company you keep. Yet, I would submit that
everyone is judgmental and biased. We all categorize. I believe
that is just how the human mind works. Humans use heuristics and
schemas to make sense of the world. It is difficult to think without
using categories. That is how we deal with large amounts of information,
by grouping and chunking it together into manageable portions. How
can this be bad?
The problem is when we don’t allow for exceptions, we don’t
explore further, we don’t seek additional knowledge about
a situation. It is far easier to make a snap judgment based on skin
color, religion, gender, etc. and not have to think a little. No
one can know everything and I know there is quite a bit of ignorance
in the world, even from those who think themselves educated. Most
people become satisfied and cease to actively learn. Their categories
of thought (also known as prejudices) become fixed.
Labels can be hurtful, no matter who is saying it. If I call an
ethnic minority or a differently sexually-oriented person a charged
name, it is not nice (moral) or approved by society (legal, as in
a "hate crime"). It is made worse because I am a white
male. However, despite the current closing of eyes, it is just as
unhealthy and just as not nice for people of other orientations,
races, religions or cultures to call me names. Why is this tolerated?
Because the white population has been on top for so long. Well,
I don’t think society is served in a healthy manner by oppressing
any group. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head
is criminals, who would continue to oppress others if not stopped.
Otherwise, oppression should be eliminated from all directions.
To do this, we first have to admit that we all are biased and prejudiced.
It is a matter of recognizing our biases and not letting them dictate
how we think.
I will say it again. Everyone is biased, from the greatest president,
the smartest scientist, the most talented musician, to the lowest
stations in life, and everything in between. So it does not surprise
me that Orson Scott Card has bias. He is human. However, I would
not deny any rights from Aeire. It is fine to lose respect for someone
who believes differently from you, but understand that it cuts both
ways. Others may lose respect for your narrow-mindedness, childishness,
bias against others, etc. What bias does Aeire have? Aside from
being biased against those who don’t like the homosexual orientation,
I wouldn’t know. That’s not the point. She is not perfect.
I am not perfect. Although it is a cliché, there is something
to the old statement “Those who live in glass houses should
not cast stones.”
If someone does disappoint you by revealing their biases, that
does not invalidate everything good they have ever said. Orson Scott
Card still has said may good things and promoted many good causes
and philosophies. He has probably done many good things in life
that are not invalidated, just because someone disagreed with his
viewpoints. Everyone has to watch out for their inner hypocrite
and their inner racist (or sexist, or whatever). We all need to
be a little more forgiving of others, myself included.
For your enjoyment, I am also including a link to a scholarly essay on heroes through time and hero worship. Enjoy.