No More Heroes, All The Heroes

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After it became obvious Biden would indeed fairly win the 2020 election, I saw praise for the “heroes” of the election. This activist may be lauded one day, the next a bureaucrat doing their job, and later an elected official showing a shocking amount of integrity. The heroes changed from day to day, but in all cases the praise felt the same – “this lone person/persons was all that stood between us and Dictatorship!”

Which is bullshit and I wish to discuss the bullshit. In fact, after the 2020 election we need less bullshit and consider this my small contribution to reducing the amount of bovine feces in political discourse.

Too many times I witness Americans seek the hero or heroes, the single person or small group that changes the world. There is doubtlessly a great deal of psychology and cultural analysis to be done here, though for me that may be for another time. I suspect it’s a combination of national myth, remnants of the Great Man theory of history, our media, and a large amount of parental issues. I would also add there’s plenty of ego as well – if there is a Great Hero Astride History you can be that person – or pretend to be online!

But the Lone Hero or Lone Small Group of Heroes really doesn’t stand up to reality and is cruel to those doing good things.

A functioning world depends on many people, as we have learned during the COVID-19 crisis when we suddenly discovered “Essential Workers” (and have in many cases unforgivably forgotten them). Our election saw activists texting and phone banking and protesting and their names are rarely in the news or even known. Legions of people processed votes, provided security, monitored for discrepancies, and no one is interviewing them or writing books about them. Even elected and appointed officials doing their jobs are legion, even if we’re surprised they show anything close to actual principles.

This is a terrifying reality for us to accept. In some ways there are no heroes, no one person is coming to save us, there’s no one to look at and say “they have it under control.” If there are no real heroes, then there is no chance for us to be praised and lauded. If there are no real heroes then all we have is each other, and that’s messy and complicated.

It also means we better get to work because life is all hands on deck.

But also this is a wonderful reality to accept. There is an army of people out there ensuring things work, often unappreciated – but we can appreciate them. There are legions out there doing the right thing – and these are people we can help and amplify our own power. This also means the world doesn’t have to hinge on one hero – or one villain – if we only remember that there are a lot of us out there who frankly don’t need them – or can prevent them.

Heroes give the world shape as we can understand the laudable. Heroes give us role models, and we certainly need all we can get. But we need to recognize that pathological ideas about heroes only harms us, makes us seek perfect parental figures. Instead let heroes be humble so we too can be humble, and let them be swappable so we can find the hero we need as opposed to clinging to one.

Besides, it is is cruel in the end to rely on others to save us. Now in the age of COVID-19 we try to ignore the exhausted doctors, the working people in masks and goggles hoping not to get ill, the scientists operating on no sleep. But because they are legion, because it’s hard to find that Special Standout Person among so many, they are oft ignored. If we didn’t seek heroes so much, maybe we’d roll up our sleeves and help all the people doing important things.

Hard work sounds better to me.

Steven Savage