Let’s talk about heroes.
Because many of you may have missed it, I wish to point to a book review I did a few weeks ago. It was for a book called Winter Is Coming by Garry Kasparov, and it was published in 2015.
I called the book a must read, and I stand by that. I dearly wish I’d read it in 2015, before the Trump entry into the Republican primaries. My wife, who has read it, pointed out one thing to me: she believes now that the main reason for Russian interference traces back to what Kasparov describes as a key Russian propaganda point. Everyone in the world is corrupt, and therefore Russia’s corruption is not particularly bothersome. This theme, of manipulating viewpoints through an assumption of broad-based equal failures, is repeated with examples throughout the book.
There is another point Kasparov makes, early on. It is that dictatorships throughout the world learn from the failures of other dictatorships, if they learn nothing else. He contends that the great lesson of the fall of the Soviet Empire is the “cracks in the wall” dilemma. To that end, dictatorships have learned to allow large, controlled points of dissent but are quick to squelch any tiny, uncontrolled avenues.
Through his presentation, the former world champion chess grandmaster illustrates a simple point, learned by some during the American Revolution and of disproportionate importance to fascists: there are no small voices. Every person can make a difference. This isn’t merely a convenient slogan in the book, the way it so often is. It’s a key point, driven home through experience and logic.
A year ago, Kasparov was one of the first people I followed on Twitter. This was because I liked the man and found him clever. This year, having read more of his work, he is a hero to me.
Keep in mind: Kasparov and I differ greatly on some key political and artistic viewpoints. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that he recognizes evil in the world, is attempting to fight it, and is working hard to rally others to his cause using reason and wit. He believes in the principles embedded in the foundation of this country, even if many others do not.
If there is a perfect example for differing with one’s heroes, however, that credit must go to Harlan Ellison. A tireless fighter for things he valued, Harlan rubbed almost everyone the wrong way at multiple times in his life. He was not unmovable. He changed his opinions like anyone else, and he was willing also to admit errors. He was very liberal in many of his political and social stances. He had a visceral dislike of Republicans based purely on the fact that they were Republicans, following an instance where Spiro Agnew personally targeted him for professional destruction.
One thing he consistently railed against, however, was ignorance. Another was false equality. His positions there can be summed up in one quote:
“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”Harlan Ellison
Setting aside the many wonderful stories he wrote, the man who spent much of his life actively promoting that viewpoint would still have been a hero of mine.
These aren’t the only ones. All of my heroes share traits like those, though: they champion individuality, freedom, the value of human life and the necessary efforts of all of us to better ourselves.
Valid heroes, to me, are those who provide an impetus to better ourselves. They do not promise us gifts nor seek to scare us into submission. They do not declare themselves superior and expect us to live vicariously through their conquests and bacchanals or their tilting at the windmills of leadership.
In the end, we choose our heroes. People need to choose wisely if we are ever to overcome our easily-exploited and natural tendencies toward division.