Why Are There No More Heroes?

Where have they all gone? I’d argue that they are still here, and have been here all along. Martin Luther King cheated on his wife. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Andrew Jackson was responsible for the Trail of Tears. Now that we are connected via a global hive mind with instantaneous information transfer, blemishes are harder to cover up than before. Platforms like Twitter take snippets of thought and etch them in digitized stone tablets, permanently public for the world to see.

This lengthy post discusses the history of privacy itself over thousands of years. While the author makes some interesting points, there is a fatal flaw in his thinking. Human minds and memory are fallible. A few hundred years ago, if someone witnessed someone else having sex with someone else, they would store mental images of it. Now, those images can become part of a permanent, public record, shared instantly and for free. This allows for more easy recirculation of the information and also perfect recall.

Could you imagine if all of your thoughts were written publicly, all the time? That sounds like something out of a Black Mirror episode, and we aren’t there yet, but we are on track. People today aren’t better or worse than people of old. The crucial difference is that today, everyone is under a microscope.

We have false positives in our threat detection systems. We have the same issue in our hero identification systems. People can only be heroes if they haven’t made any egregious mistakes. Egregious isn’t concrete. Our society hasn’t figured out long term sentencing in the court of public opinion. While many of us don’t support capital punishment, we do support capital punishment of careers, or at a minimum taking people’s limbs. If an egregious offense occurs, mobs form and pressure organizations into punishing the offender. There isn’t a formalized justice system.

Mobs are unpredictable and often violent. Once a mob forms, civility decreases significantly. Violence ensues. Compassion goes out of the window. Violence is a primitive form of problem-solving and begets more violence.

Is Michael Jackson’s music no longer good because of how he treated children? Is Cosby no longer funny? Is House of Cards not a good show because of Kevin Spacey’s behavior?

Separating the behavior of people from how we value them can be tricky. To me, this is the core issue explaining why there aren’t heroes in our world today. Our brains don’t know how to grok this.

Is it possible to support someone without supporting all of their choices? If we buy MJ’s music, does that mean we are supporting a pedophile, or does it mean we just like his music? Both? Neither? Here’s a personal example I faced recently — a friend was hosting a Catholic baptism for their child. By showing up, does that mean I support their choice to raise their child as Catholic? I don’t wish to do that and would advocate against it. I asked several close friends about it, and they didn’t seem to have the right answer. Could I show up to support them, without supporting the cause in question? There’s a bit of a gray area in the example.

How about this, though? Let’s say that your mother is going to a Nazi rally and asks you to join. Would you show up to support your mom and not the cause? Is it possible to dissociate the two? If so, when? I don’t know.

Perhaps another way to define hero is someone in the public whose faux pas we have yet to shed light on, or who is vigilant about staying private, which is increasingly difficult in today’s world and is only becoming more difficult as IoT takes over. Shenzhen is already auto-enforcing minor violations such as jaywalking by auto-deducting money from citizens bank accounts. In America, we have been auto-fining people for traffic violations with cameras for years, though the collection hasn’t been automated yet.

Before you crucify someone or put them on a pedestal, remember that we are all humans and we share this earth.