A meditation on saints and role models.
The information tsunami drowns heroes.
Any stain, slip up, or failure is bound to wash up on the shores of discourse.
For every Churchill, there's a famine. For every Mother Teresa, there are political missteps, ineffective altruism, and strange ethics. For every Marcus, there’s a Commodus.
Recently, less serious role models have their mistakes fished up at a pace that's difficult to keep up with.
Many would-be heroes can't help but contribute to their own devaluation by jumping into social media or TV and exposing themselves. They are just like us.
The Martin Gurri thesis is that political and cultural rockiness is the result of having a sea of information at our fingertips.
With knowledge of good and evil: institutions, experts, and authority no longer carry the prestige they once did.
Proximity kills your heroes and the information era brings each hero too near.
There are political implications for this. Expect more turbulence.
But there's something even more fundamental at stake.
Humans form our values from prestigious role models. We are homo imitans. If, on reflection, each role model is no model at all where do we turn? If we can't ask what would our hero do, what do we do?
One route is to turn to fiction.
Myths and novels contain models. Stories of who we wish we were, even if we fall short.
Looking at fictional characters, from Bellerophon to Batman may seem trivial. But it isn't necessarily so.
The unreflective use of any guide, fictional or actual, is a mistake. Weighing up the pros and cons of various characters can be useful. Even when they are immaterial.
Another option is compartmentalization.
There's something disappointing about turning to fiction to solve the problems of reality. Alluring and meaningful, but not sufficient.
Choose real heroes – focus on their strengths. Do not ignore, but do not obsess over their flaws.
From the right angle, nearly every person has something admirable. Emulate the pieces of people.
Still another stratagem is honest realism.
It's hard to be a human being. It's harder as anything else.
Hagiography has short-term benefits. If you're looking to raise support, whether financial, cultural, or social energetic puffery is helpful. The perceived virtue of a leader fuels the movement. Whether political or entrepreneurial.
Regardless of positivity, human imperfection is omnipresent. Everything we do eventually curves back into oneself. This is expected.
A final move is to question the premise.
Extreme altruists, who give away their income and organs or adopt tens of children, are disturbing because we're disturbing.
On secretly hopes that proximity kills one's heroes. If it didn't, one would be left without recourse.
Is goodness really so far away?