Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Having heroes is a form of study. You can see it in the rooms of teenagers who have decorated their walls with posters of musicians, or other popular figures. The posters, quotes, and facts about the person of renown are used by the teenager to try to understand what it is in this person that has made him/her great. Teenagers emulate the behaviors, language, dress, political outlooks, etc. of their heroes because they are searching out the combination of qualities and actions that constitute greatness.

The process doesn’t end with the teenage years.

It may be a false dichotomy, but it seems to me that heroes get evaluated either in terms of popular reaction to their exploits (either epic or romantic), or less commonly, against an objective set of criteria established only in the mind of the devotee.  The difference is significant. It tells us something, not about the hero, but about the person who is aspiring to heroism.

If my definition of heroism depends upon either embracing or bucking popular values, then I am a Conventionalist. I define myself entirely in relation to other people, and to the prevailing culture.

If my definition of heroism depends upon a set of principles and beliefs that I accept for their own sake, without dependence upon the opinion of my society, then I am a Fundamentalist. Ironically, many heroic figures may themselves be Fundamentalists, while gaining a vast following of Conventionalists who wish to emulate them.

It is my experience that there are very many more Conventionalists than Fundamentalists in the population, though it is not always easy to distinguish who is who.  Fundamentalists often possess values that are largely in harmony with their culture. Romantic Conventionalists take positions in opposition to the prevailing culture, and so may appear Fundamentalist, but actually are not, because they define themselves relative to the culture, not based on independent values or beliefs.

Eric Falkenstein relates intelligence to having unusual ideas. This is a related but distinct concept.

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