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Heroism & Death Worship in Media - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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August 16th, 2008


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03:25 am - Heroism & Death Worship in Media
I highly recommend this post on depictions heroism in fiction by the typically wise and thoughtful eyebeams. As I mention in a comment to that post, I have little tolerance with that idea and regard anyone who values any ideology over their own or anyone else's life as foolish, dangerous, &/or insane. To me, statements like "Give me liberty or give me death" are neither sane nor reasonable.

What's even worse is when you combine this negative idea of heroism (which eyebeams wisely refers as "death-worship") with the modern fetishization of cynicism and irony that results in the mockery of anything hopeful, positive, or idealistic, especially if it involves any vision of humanity that does not assume that most people are vile most of the time. The result of the combination of the two is a sort of brutal nihilism that I've seen in far too much modern media. While not completely immune to either of these problems, I've recently been enjoying various pieces of deeply humane and idealistic and completely unironic media from the early 1970s, because I'm sick of both death worship & cynicism.

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Comments:


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From:mindstalk
Date:August 16th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC)
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I think there's obvious social value in convincing people that it's worthy to make great sacrifices for the social group. Or personal value in convincing other people to make sacrifices for a group including oneself. "Let's you and him fight." Goes back to at least the Spartan women telling their men to come back with their shields or on them, and probably long before then. Ways of motivating altruistic behaviors, or of motivating risky behaviors. This may seem very cynical but I don't think death worship is being the right kind of cynical.

And there are bunches of problems that would be easier to solve if people *did* have "liberty or death" reflexes. A lot of oppression relies on being able to pick on the fear of individuals, and cause defection from principles that would help their class or cause or whatnot.
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From:rjgrady
Date:August 17th, 2008 06:09 am (UTC)
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To me, statements like "Give me liberty or give me death" are neither sane nor reasonable.

To me, that's just being alive. Everyone dies. Choosing the manner of one's death is a chiefer occasion than putting on the opera. I don't consider this choice ideological.

I hesitate to call anything a belief one is not prepared to die for, in extreme circumstances. All the rest is more words than belief.
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From:heron61
Date:August 17th, 2008 06:41 am (UTC)
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I hesitate to call anything a belief one is not prepared to die for, in extreme circumstances. All the rest is more words than belief.

By that standard I have no beliefs. I might be willing to die for a very few individuals, but I'm far from certain of that, and I'd never risk death for any belief.
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From:rjgrady
Date:August 17th, 2008 07:12 am (UTC)
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Interesting. Let me pose a scenario. You are captured by a terrorist group. They give you a gun and order you to kill a fellow prisoner. If you kill the prisoner, they have offered to release you. If you do not do it, they have stated they will execute you.

Will the threat of execution compel you to shoot the other prisoner?
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From:heron61
Date:August 17th, 2008 07:33 am (UTC)
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If I don't know the prisoner and I think that there is an actual chance they will release me, and I didn't know the prisoner, then definitely. OTOH, I would not be remotely inclined to trust anyone putting me in that position (I'd be far more likely to believe they'd kill me after I killed the prisoner). Also, if they actually gave me a loaded gun, then threatening the terrorists would make more sense from a purely pragmatic PoV.

However, I am equally sure that if by some odd & very unlikely chance I trusted them and also had no other way out, then I'd very definitely kill a stranger. I regard my life as worth vastly more (to me at least) then 1,000 strangers. The fact that not everyone feels this way is useful to me, but also nonsensical.

I don't believe that life, joy, or happiness are zero sum games (I don't particularly believe in zero sum games), I do my best to be kind and to help everyone (especially everyone I care about, but in a more general sense all of humanity) have good, loving, and positive lives. However, if the choice is ever between my survival and some stranger's or even 100 strangers' survival, there is no choice at all - I always come first for me. If a stranger gave their life for me, I'd be pleased, but I'd also think they made a profoundly bad choice. I'm nice, I'm kind, I'm loving, I want everyone to be happy, but when issues of survival are involved my morals and ethics are profoundly self-interested.
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From:rjgrady
Date:August 17th, 2008 09:10 am (UTC)
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I would call myself profoundly self-interested, too, but I don't think I am likely to consider it in my best interest to cooperate in such a scenario. I would definitely take the gun and try to escape, even though rationally such resistance is far more likely to lead to death than trusting my captors have little intention of killing me.

Where issues of survival are involved, I think my sense of humor tends to be the deciding factor. If I were facing a deadly situation, I would definitely, as a backup plan, try to come up with a pithy one-liner to say before I died.

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From:aureantes
Date:August 17th, 2008 06:23 am (UTC)
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That is true....afterall, one of the most pervasive fears in American society is the drastic loss or lowering of living standards, let alone injury or death...and that fear helps keep the entire social/commercial machine running, even when people are getting run under its wheels. Take any organization or movement where people are unafraid to die -- whether it be Al Qaeda's suicidal violence, early Christianity's swell of sainted martyrdom, or Gandhi and his mobilization of the entire Indian population to nonviolent resistance -- and you have something that is, whether for good or ill, a force to be reckoned with.

Berserkers are a lethal bother to fight, and sacrificial pacifists are composure-shaking to those they confront, but about the most dangerous thing that consumer culture has ever produced is the Black Friday shopper-stampeding at Wal-Mart....
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From:heron61
Date:August 17th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
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Take any organization or movement where people are unafraid to die -- whether it be Al Qaeda's suicidal violence, early Christianity's swell of sainted martyrdom, or Gandhi and his mobilization of the entire Indian population to nonviolent resistance -- and you have something that is, whether for good or ill, a force to be reckoned with.

That is all exceptionally true, but I also utterly oppose the idea. From my PoV, doing things in that fashion means you are doing something in a deeply and fundamentally non-optimal fashion. Buying any goal with human lives or human suffering (either causing either in others or accepting it in yourself and your colleagues) is to me abhorrent and also an immediate sign that there must be a better way to accomplish your goals. Occasionally, there are no better solutions, but I firmly believe that this is not true in the vast majority of occasions.
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From:aureantes
Date:August 18th, 2008 03:31 am (UTC)
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Well, I don't think it ever praiseworthy to kill or harm others solely for the sake of one's goals (and that includes killing/harming oneself as a political action), but I still regard it as honourable for one to be able to accept suffering in the course of furthering a cause. And I maintain that there is a fundamental difference between the two concepts.

This is not saying, though, that any organization or any creed should be entitled to demand or require ultimate self-sacrifice, because it remains at the core a personal decision of ethics, and I don't think that subverting free will and conscience to propaganda ever aids the greater cause of human rights and freedoms. Lives lost/destroyed in the course of a struggle are always to be regretted, whether or not their suffering was ultimately necessary to the success of an endeavour.

I just refuse to make any absolute statement for or against the idea of martyrdom, because it is too deeply (and variously) ingrained -- and too useful -- a traditional concept to retreat away easily in the face of apparent survival-practicality. One can try to separate out the most destructive threads of the lot and defuse their extremist catechisms, but still there remains enough of a reality that willing sacrifices are still sometimes necessary for the greater/longterm good, that I am unwilling to buy into the worldview of "every man for himself always."

Afterall, if every person is encouraged to further only their own perceived self-interests, then what does happen to the social fabric, which depends to a certain extent on the willingness of individuals to make sacrifices -- generally not unto death, but as I said, Americans are more psychologically attached to material living standards -- for the sake of general wellbeing and mutual survival? The persistence of glory+honour in large-scale sacrifices makes it less onerous in comparison to do what one must in the small scale of daily non-solitary living: it is the body of myth that sometimes makes everyday reality more bearable and less irritating.

Which isn't to say that I think every life is automatically equal in worth to my own, but that there are some circumstances in which the person of altruistic instincts (whatever one's opinion of them) does not hesitate to calculate the relative values.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:August 16th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
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There is much profit in death worship. Ask the Pentagon or any megachurch.
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From:slothman
Date:August 16th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
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Some of “give me liberty or give me death” is brinkmanship. “I’m willing to die for this cause. Are you?” can get people to back down if they aren’t equally committed to their cause. Another part of it is “liberty is so valuable that it’s a cause worthy of risking your life”; it’s a value statement to use when calculating tradeoffs. There’s also the martyrdom aspect; I have a great deal of respect for passive resistance, but on the whole I prefer to work to help people make better decisions rather than make an example of myself.

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