Monday, 18 May 2015

Unheroic Age

“We live in an unheroic age...” Write a speech against or in favour of this quote.
- My English homework.

Compared to the ancient societies of our world, and indeed to those prior to the twentieth century, our society certainly lacks clear heroes and idols. However, I don’t believe that we live in an “unheroic age” - in fact, exactly the opposite: we are living in an age of more heroes than ever before. The difference is that now, rather than worshipping a few divine-seeming idols, we are positively surrounded by little heroes.

A “little hero” could be anyone, and that’s often the point. They are us, people we identify with, people who exemplify the American Dream. Our culture’s heroes are celebrities, but not necessarily the traditional kind. Through work or talent or luck, they exalt themselves above us and allow us to follow in their footsteps. We don’t really care about morals; we care about novelty, anything to distract us from our comfortable, monotonous lives.

So we propel the man who found a stolen iPhone to China-wide fame, we watch people dance with their cats, we obsess over Twitter trends, we invite titles for ourselves. Our heroes are little because they have to be. Inexorable technological progress and the movement of time wipe feats away faster than ever before. Thanks to the internet and instantaneous worldwide communication, legends cannot survive. In ancient times, heroic tales were told through myth and legend, and endured centuries gradually evolving with the society. The person didn’t matter so much as the story. Things have drastically changed. We can now fact-check almost anything at the touch of a button, and we no longer learn from scrolls or oral stories. We learn from an interactive medium, the internet, that we shape even as it shapes us. From fifty decades of fame, to fifteen minutes, to today’s fifteen seconds: there are so many of us in the world, so much happening, that we cannot all give attention to any one person or thing.

We couldn’t have an Isaac Newton today. Instead, we have legions of everyday scientists working in times. Individual heroes like Einstein or the aforementioned Newton have been made impossible by the advanced state of science. Everything is fragmented. Fields have their own heroes, their own seminal writers. You don’t know who made the field of bioinformatics possible and I don’t know the profound impact Russian writers have had on Eastern European literary tradition, to give a hypothetical example. In short, we lack unity. 

In the late 1960s, we found in the space race something we could all care about. This was humanity’s great frontier, leaving our planet - but even then, all the everyday heroes were there unnoticed in the constrol room while we focused on Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins. The human mind can’t understand scale, because it works in story. We needed a focal point, and the three astronauts of Apollo 11 became that point. 

Now, we don't have even that. The last manned Moon mission occurred in 1973 and people don't care about regular trips to the ISS. In response, we crowdsource inspiration. It reduces the pressure on idols of old, and disperses responsibility. 

There was more to the essay, but it's dark so I'm not typing it up. If you want more, just ask. I'm still working on a decent blog post about affirmative action.

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