Summary: Our heroes reveal who we are. Under economic stress not seen since the Depression, we display the same powerlessness — and revert to the same heroes.
In some ways we are back to conditions like the Depression era. High unemployment. High school graduates entering a crowded job market with little hope for most. College graduates entering with massive debts Income inequality back to levels of the Gilded Age, and still rising. Many boomers approaching retirement with few savings and only social security — facing the prospect of cat food for dinner. Corporations boosting profits by firing employees and cutting their pensions.
One aspect of our response is the same: we acknowledge our powerlessness and passivity — our lack of agency — by our choice of heroes. Just as we did in the Depression. We hope for some of the rich to save us, since we cannot do so ourselves. Such as Green Arrow and Batman — billionaire Jesus figures who sacrifice themselves for the peons. And actual gods like Superman and Thor.
Meanwhile in the real world we remain sheep. Our leaders distract our attention from domestic problems with one of the oldest tricks — bogus foreign foes.
- Iraq’s primitive military (their air force lasted minutes in the first Gulf War) becomes an immanent threat to America’s security with its non-existent WMDs and delivery systems.
- China, emerging from the Third World, becomes a serious threat to our military (US and its allies are roughly 3/4 of world military spending).
- China, relying mostly on copycat technology, becomes a serious threat to the lavishly funded electronic systems of the world’s technology leader.
- Primitive North Korea frequently sends our geopolitical experts into a tizzy (as in their recent bout of hysteria, until the Boston bombing gave them new fodder for foolishness).
The government lies about foreign threats, from Tonkin Gulf to Obama’s drone wars (“no civilian deaths“). We always believe their next warnings of our dire peril.
Meanwhile America’s economy evolves to destroy the middle class, the political system fails to respond, and we do nothing. We appear incapable of learning from our experiences.
Now for the bad news
19th Century America was a horror show. Much of the wealth of the antebellum era was created by slaves (then America’s largest capital asset, other than land). Much of the wealth generation of the postbellum 19th Century came from disenfranchised Black Americans and land stolen from Native Americans — boosted by wages kept low by private and public force crushing workers.
When we think of America as a City on a Hill we usually refer to the civil rights revolution, the victory over Fascism, and the creation of a middle class. The first was a century late. The US and UK share second place in WW2 win (Russians did most of the fighting and dying). The third is the genuine article, an accomplishment with few historical precedents.
It was an accident. We fought to achieve American independence and end slavery. But by 1929 our elites had successfully domesticated populism (exhibit #1: Woodrow Wilson), crushed communism (e.g, Palmer Raids), and beat down the unions. Until the Great Depression and success of fascism terrified our ruling elites.
The middle class was a side-effect of the WW2 mobilization and the use of veterans benefits to kickstart the post-war economy. But our elites had regrouped by the mid-1960s, and resumed their work to domesticate the American people. Five decades of well-funded, skillful programs have reset America back to its base course towards oligarchy.
Now the last stages of the game have begun. Probably you — certainly your children — will see the shape of New America. It’s up to us. There are no superheroes to save us.
For More Information
- A philosophical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
- Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009 – The Law of Equivalent Exchange
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 12 November 2010
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
- We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America., 11 January 2013
See our heroes
19 thoughts on “Our choice of heroes reveals much about America”
when analyzing imaginary heroes in 2013 you must take into account that super-uber-man has changed to super-yeah-man
the international rise of Fascism was a desperate attempt to save capitalism but in reaction to Stalinism which has never been clearly understood the system that we live in is having difficulty producing and sustaining extraordinary individuals
you can see this narrative somewhat here:
perhaps you might try shaking things up and writing your own story?
General George C. Marshall’s name never comes up but it should. Mr. Josiah Bunting has bio of GCM coming out in in the next six months or so. The anti-superhero’s are more inspiring like Heath Ledger’s Joker or Khan in the old and new Star Trek movies.
Christian Bale’s Batman was pretty awesome though. New Super Duper Man looks interesting.
GCM was a superhero in every respect…I make sure that in the class I teach on national security, that GCM’s life and times and lessons for us now are heard and discussed.
Beyond GCM, the great quantum mechanics like Bohr, Einstein, Feynman, Murray Gell Mann, Szilard, Schrodinger, et al,, entered the political fray and had much to say about politics and the fate of humanity. No one has replaced them or their monumental intelligence.
Seems to me we look for fantasy hero’s ’cause it is easy…I certainly enjoy the thrill a good superhero movie can provide but I know that there are plenty of them from the past to inspire those who will have to deal with the carnage that is to come…
with regards to your comparison of historical figures you must include the fourth wall
contrary to popular opinion most people’s attitudes are weak and vague
historically convictions were formed from first hand experience
I am not sure how much of your comments I understand, but they are consistently intreaguing and informative. Thanks for posting them!
I do not compare myself to others
just looking out for you
A good comment inspires thought. Reading yours suggested the short version of this post:
Fantasy, like religion, is an opiate of the masses.
beware that is a thought terminating expression!
fantasy is a highly complex psychological state
religion is ceremony
Beware the Yoda complex.
Religion is much more than ceremony.
what is that?
Need to consult Evolutionary Psychology for an understanding of “us.” Art is an absolute part of that study.
what is art?
is it still relevant as an asset class?
Investments is off-topic here. It tends to crowd out other topics, IMO almost all of the comments about it are not worth reading, and there are thousands of other websites about it.
It is one of the few the spam-blocker will delete automatically (others are racism, anti-semiotic ism, etc).
my question is related to definition of art not to economics
money means nothing to me
Readers know neither your intent nor your internal state. Just your words. That reads like a question about investments.
I understand. everything I do is premeditated
Stay away from the catfood. That stuff is vile, really. For eating cheap there’s always the dry ramen. Actually, I don’t mind eating this now and then, even though I make middle-class salary these days.
I can get Ramen cheaper than a can of catfood, though day after day that’s just too many carbs and no protein. For that maybe there’s always the Costco pack of canned tuna-fish. At a good Japanese market you might find the packaged Natto, which is an odd taste, but has plenty of protein and is cheap. These asian soy based products can keep you going.
Also I find tea is incredibly cheap. I can buy a box of tea for not so much money and it takes me weeks and weeks to get through it.
where are you going?
a UFW activist told me that when he was in Miami in the 60s during the Delano grape boycott, the poor retirees on social security only ate pet food, and that fancy cat food was developed for poor seniors. look at the old people in pet food commercials?
remember when you see old people in commercials you also see yourself in the imaginary old people. in the gaze the object has the power…the object here is the imaginary old people…denial of this function can lead to paranoia as you sense the mirror looking back at you