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September 18, 2015

HOW HAVE OUR HEROES CHANGED? At Acculturated, Mark Tapson writes:

The model hero in ancient times was of the conquering, killing sort, a warrior earning renown by slaying piles of enemies on the battlefield. Think of Homer’s Achilles, whom Lindberg examines at length: a self-centered, petulant demigod, perhaps, but a warrior of superhuman caliber. Or Julius Caesar, a man so determined to be the greatest man in Rome that he would destroy the Republic in a civil war rather than rein in his ambition.

But over the centuries, the slaying hero gradually fell out of fashion, thanks in large measure to the horrors of World War I and Vietnam, not to mention the rise of the literary antihero such as The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield. Our ideal of the hero morphed instead into a courageous soul who is no less afraid of death but more focused on saving lives than taking them. Achilles’ modern counterpart acts not to kill and conquer, but to serve and save others. “From slaying to saving,” writes Lindberg, “from the highest, riskiest expression of self-regard to the highest, riskiest expression of generosity and the caring will.”

Lindberg uses the history of the Congressional Medal of Honor—the U.S. military’s highest decoration—to demonstrate this evolution of heroism. He reviewed the award from its creation during the Civil War to the present, and concluded that “the percentage of citations that include a saving narrative [as opposed to a killing narrative] has increased markedly” over time.

Whatever cultural changes that allowed the “saving narrative” to triumph over the “killing narrative,” the firemen of 9/11 (whom Tapson refers to at the start of his article) and the men who risk their lives to save others on the battlefield are all legitimate heroes and entirely deserving of society’s respect, despite the culture pushing an Audie Murphy-type such as Chris Kyle into the background.

Far worse is another changing cultural value, in which victims reflexively become not just replacements for heroes but “a new kind of aristocracy,” as Jonah Goldberg writes in his latest G-File:

(Whatever you think of Ahmed Mohamed and his clock, it is now obvious that the best thing that ever happened to him was getting wrongfully arrested. If he’d brought in a baking-soda volcano, or had been a blond kid named Smith, he would not be heading to the White House or getting the royal treatment from Facebook and Google).

The point is we live in an age where victimhood is the new currency, victims a new kind of aristocracy, and pity a cardinal virtue. Conservatives — who are by no means separate from, or immune to, this cultural shift — have at least been lamenting it for a very long time. What is interesting is that academia is finally catching up. Jonathan Haidt:

I just read the most extraordinary paper by two sociologists — Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning — explaining why concerns about microaggressions have erupted on many American college campuses in just the past few years. In brief: We’re beginning a second transition of moral cultures. The first major transition happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor (where people must earn honor and must therefore avenge insults on their own) to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There’s no more dueling.

Campbell and Manning describe how this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized. It is the very presence of such administrative bodies, within a culture that is highly egalitarian and diverse (i.e., many college campuses) that gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim. This is why we have seen the recent explosion of concerns about microaggressions, combined with demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, that Greg Lukianoff and I wrote about in The Coddling of the American Mind.

And as Ace recently noted, “Compare to Lukianoff’s and Haidt’s piece in the Atlantic suggesting that ‘microagression culture’ is an insidious, harmful form of cognitive therapy — as positive cognitive therapy would desensitize a hysteric so that the hysteric could behave normally, insidious cognitive therapy supersensitizes normal people into acting like hysterics…Lukianoff describes how he came to have this insight. He’d fallen prey to depression, and went through cognitive therapy to teach his brain to stop ‘catastrophizing’ and to unlearn other pernicious mental habits. It began to dawn on him that the Social Justice Warrior claque was using cognitive therapy to go the other direction, transforming the mentally well into the mentally unwell.”

This doesn’t bode well for the future of western civilization. (Or the lack thereof.)

RELATED: Reverse Engineering Ahmed Mohamed’s Clock… and Ourselves: “So I turned to eBay, searching for vintage alarm clocks. It only took a minute to locate Ahmed’s clock. See this eBay listing, up at the time of this writing. Amhed’s clock was invented, and built, by Micronta, a Radio Shack subsidiary. Catalog number 63 756.”