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Heroes

| 9 Comments

[Greetings once again from Chester of The Adventures of Chester. If you like these posts here at Winds, please visit my blog and see if you find something you like there.]

The new NBC series Heroes is very entertaining. The premise is that a number of regular people all over the globe -- about 10 or so -- have discovered that they have incredible powers. These are the usual comic book-type of powers, but that doesn't make them uninteresting. Indestructible bodies, the ability to fly, painting the future, hearing others' thoughts, and bending time and space are among those skills. It's a great show and I recommend it.

The most interesting part is each character's reaction to the discovery of these skills. Some want to deny them, others immediately see themselves as freaks, several aren't sure just exactly what is happening, and one in particular knows that he is a superhero and must now save the world.

The sudden discovery of unknown power then becomes a moral question: how best to use it? For good or evil? And how to determine what is good and what is evil?

The show hasn't gotten that far in-depth yet, but I suspect it will have to, because ultimately, these powers are useless, or at least destined to be misguided without the impetus of a sort of moral journey, in which one determines what is good and how to strive for it. Only then can superpowers be used effectively. Otherwise, they'll be forever used for mundane goals -- like cheating at Vegas.

Moreover, the possession of such power means that eventually choices will have to be made. The ability to make those difficult choices -- whom to save if many can possibly be saved? -- is perhaps what gives those with superpowers their true edge.

This leads to a question: if it is a clear moral grounding, or an ability to weigh difficult decisions and choose the lesser of many poor outcomes that truly gives superheroes their power, then couldn't such a faculty be conscientiously developed by an ordinary man not possessing such unnatural powers, but who would come to be no less potent for his ability to quickly and accurately command his emotions, a situation, or a difficult moral decision?

Two things jump to mind: first, Frodo, of the Lord of the Rings, who has no supernatural powers whatsoever:
Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding on to Sam?

Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.
And the second is Robert E. Lee's Definition of a Gentleman:
The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly--the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.
Perhaps honor and perserverance trump unnatural powers. It's a thought worth remembering in a test-driven meritocracy.

9 Comments

It's a hoary old cliche, but summed up in one sentence:

"With great power comes great responsibility".

What a pity that so many who have the power aren't responsible.

And another point is that if you don't have the power it doesn't matter how responsible and wise you are.

Unfortunately, very many of those who have a responsible attitude have no chance of making a difference, because they are too busy making a living to do the sort of posturing required to gain power in a democratic society.

Fletcher, what makes up our society goes so far beyond politics. Having a responsible attitude, living it each day, and passing that on is the underpinning that makes all else possible. That makes a difference - far more difference, I'd say, than many a more "prominent" legislator can claim.

And we have seen in our time that a politics which attacks this very group does not do so without a long-term reaction.

Bah.

Those words don't appear anywhere in 'Lord of the Rings'. They are a bastardized paraphrased version of the central discussion between Frodo and Sam on the nature of heroism on the pass of Cirith Ungul, placed out of context and muddled up.

You should change the link to read ''Lord of the Rings' the film by Peter Jackson loosely inspired by the novel' so as to ensure than none of your readers make the mistake of thinking that nonsense appears in the book.

celebrim,
Forgive me for not quoting the book and for quoting the film instead. I admit I am not a purist.

Yet, even taken by itself, the exchange fits my meaning, doesn't it?

Consider poor Superman, able to fly halfway around the globe when he hears the cries of some woman falling off a bridge, to save her from dashing her brains on the rocks below.

After a long week or month of saving people, he really just wants a weekend off, to kick back and relax and drink a beer. Then he can get back to saving people, once he's rested.

But he can't. He's barely gotten his beer open when he hears, across the country, a child about to fall off a cliff. Is he going to sit back and let the kid fall and die, because he needs to relax. No, he can't and he won't. He'll leave his beer, fly off and save the kid, and rejoin his own rat-race, because the next kid is in trouble, too.

(BTW, Spiderman is the only comicbook hero I know of who has actually confronted this problem directly, right in the origin story.)

Anyway, it's not only in comic books. You and I are well-educated, wealthy (by the standards of most of the world anyway), members of the richest, most powerful society in history. And we're well enough connected to know about all the problems in the world, unless we actively shut them out. (Which many people do, of course.)

So what's to do? Decide that if someone falls off a cliff it's just their fault and their misfortune? Run yourself ragged rescuing? It wouldn't surprise me if the answers to these questions are pretty well correlated with identification with Right and Left, respectively.

But it's a serious moral dilemma.

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past.

Isn't that how we behaved with the Arabs up until 9/11? We've been forgiving and forgetting their provocations for years, and it just encouraged them on to greater and more deadly provocations.

I think Mr Lee must have been forgetting a few more phrases in his definition, because if that is all that defines a "gentleman", I'm not willing to be gentlemanly any more towards that bunch of murderous lunatics.

NahnCee, it's a very good point. Suffice it to say that Lee's explanation is how one can survive in a civil society, not inclusive of all of the traits needed to build it in the first place: like killing those who threaten it.

What General Lee would probably have said to the 9/11 perpetrators (NOT "the Arabs," please!) is:

"You, sirs, are not gentlemen." (Followed by a slap of the white glove across the face).

Which was, more or less, President Bush's response, at least in Afghanistan.

Not reminding somebody unnecessarily about their faults does not mean that we sit on problems and act as though they don't exist. If the fault is a problem, then it is necessary to point it out, for improvement. The way certain parties manages issues created so much more pain and sacrifice. Isn't making the world a better place the UN motto?

A gentleman resolves issues through wisdom, a fool resolves issues through his fists.

Too bad this world bows to the tyranny of money/power rather than the majority.

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