That’s me in some back and forth with hero philosophers Ari Kohen and Matt Langdon on this week’s Hero Report.
The discussion builds from my essay on the difference between heroic imagination and hero delusion, inspired by the mass killing at Isla Vista.
One clarification: toward the end of the discussion Ari frames healthy heroic imagination as “other regarding”, i.e., selfless. I agreed in passing but on reflection I’m not sure. It seems to me that the road to heroism almost always starts out with a focus on the self. You begin by seeking to understand your own purpose in life or by trying to live up to a dream, talent or ideal. This is an act of personal development. Over time that development, and the realization of your own potential, allows you to be more and more helpful to others.
This is a core idea in Classical heroism, that pursuing your own excellence is what ends up turning you into a hero. Even our 21st century idea of heroic imagination is essentially an inward, reflective act: you picture yourself as a hero and ask how you can improve to reach that ideal.
In the video, when Ari says we should think only of the good of others, I joked that I actually spend several hours a day thinking about my own good. If we focus too much on selflessness we make heroism unrealistic, and we miss out on a great hero development tool which is self development. Very few of us dreamed as children of being St. Francis of Assisi, but an awful lot of us dreamed of being Harry Potter or Superman.
For more on selfishness, terrorism and other hero delusions, check out the video for yourself. My favorite part is on the question of whether heroism is relative or defined by the winners.