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  • Home > Musings > Heroes, Bias and Disappointment

    Heroes, Bias and Disappointment
    First written in May, 2005, but cleaned up and finished on August 30, 2005

    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 example, here). 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 creative abilities.

    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 later books.

    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.

    Copyright © 2007 Matthew Rutherford
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