Summary: How can we make 2019 a great year for America? Before we take the difficult steps – risking our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor – let’s abandon fantasies about heroes. Instead let’s build organizations and find leaders.
“The future is taking shape now in our own beliefs and in the courage of our leaders. Ideas and leadership – not natural or social “forces” – are the prime movers in human affairs.”
–– A World Without Heroes: The Modern Tragedy by George Roche III (1987).
By Elias Isquith in The Atlantic, 9 January 2012.
“The political criticisms of Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and The Dark Knight Rises stem from the fact that for Hollywood, history and ideology are second to business — and individualistic narratives sell.”
Isquith’s essay ends with an insight essential for understanding America’s dysfunction:
“It’s individuals, and individuals alone, who matter. In Zero Dark Thirty, an isolated, single-minded CIA agent – a loner that no one believes in – is the chief reason the butcher of 9/11 is lost to time at the bottom of the sea. In Lincoln, it’s only through the singular grace, wisdom, and humanity of the 16th president that the greatest evil in American history, an evil few but he sees with true clarity, is finally put to rest. And in The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham is saved by the orphan Bruce Wayne as the pariah Batman. These people do great things. And they do them alone.
“This is Hollywood’s – and indeed, much of entertainment’s – conservative belief. But it’s less ideology than business imperative. Recall the feeling you had the last time you walked out of a really good blockbuster. You probably felt elated, invigorated, like you could master the world all by yourself. It’s a good feeling, and it’s happening right now at a theater near you.”
But that is not happening in a neighborhood near you. That is not happening in America. The 1% do not rule as individuals. They are not villains dressed in spandex and swinging through the city. They recruit followers; their money is their superpower. Against them we are helpless as individuals.
The 99% have numbers and great resources. We have power only through collective action. But instead we are fed dreams – as effective as drugs – of wielding power as individuals. As children we read of Tarzan (created in 1912), Zoro (1919), The Lone Ranger (1933), and Batman (1939). As adults we are fed follies like those described by Charles A. Beard in “The Myth of Rugged American Individualism“ (Harper’s, December 1931 – with powerful insights). More recent repackaging of this fantasy by Ayn Rand tells us to become Objectivist Übermensch.
So we dream of being superheroes. Or having superheroes, like winged Jesus-figures, fix our problems. Both seduce us from more realistic visions of a heroic future in which teams reform America. That is the path to successful self-government, through the difficult work of organizing ourselves.
We saw these self-crippling dreams in the Bobbsey Twins prancing on our political stage during the past decade: the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. The members of both resisted the natural process of discovering and training leaders, and by that diverting themselves off the mainline. The Tea Party was co-opted to become GOP shock troops. The OWS become street festivals, leaving nothing behind but garbage on the streets. They were peasants’ protests. They were the uprisings of children, preferring to be a gang instead of an organization.
As individuals we are dust in the wind. From School Boards to Congress, from the Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact to the pacts binding the movements of tomorrow, the first step to gaining political effectiveness is organization. That means selecting leaders, giving them authority, following them, and holding them responsible for their actions. Our forefathers did this well. It is how they built America – and the West.
- In May 1764 Samuel Adams and others in Boston took the first step to American independence by forming the first of the Committees of Correspondence. They reached out to like-minded people in other colonies. Eleven colonies had Committees by February 1774. These groups steadily gained experience acting on a local and then national scale. They formed the nucleus of shadow governments, which later formed the basis of revolutionary governments. Victory came with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
- In 1774 Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first anti-slavery society. In 1868 we ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. In the mid-1960′s the great Civil Rights legislation ended the government-sponsored oppression of Blacks.
- In 1787 William Wilberforce began his crusade in Parliament against slavery in the UK, he drew upon support from groups such as the Quakers’ antislavery societies and the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, plus informal groups like the Testonites. Full victory came in 1833.
- The first women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls NY in 1848. The first National Women’s Rights Conventions was held in Worcester, MA in October 1850. The 19th Amendment became law in August 1920 when ratified by the 36th State.
- The Civil Rights movement was a loose alliance of groups, including the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It began in the 1950s and triumphed with the passage of the great civil rights legislation in 1964.
We can do equally great deeds in the future. We lack only the will to put aside the fantasies of children and act together as citizens. In 2019 we can begin to build organizations to reform America, and find leaders for them. They are out there now, waiting for our call.
For More Information
- Can Americans pull together? If not, why not?
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes.
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit
- Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?
- Why don’t our dreams of a better world inspire us to act?
- We like superheroes because we’re weak. Let’s use other myths to become strong.
- Inspiration. The missing element that can reform America.
- Where we can find the inspiration to fix America?
Look to America’s beginning
for fun inspiration
In times of peril, Americans turn for inspiration to the Founding. As a place to start, I strongly recommend the film version of the hit Broadway play 1776. The screenplay by Peter Stone was based on his book 1776.
Much of the dialogue and some of the song lyrics were taken directly from the letters and memoirs of the actual participants of the Second Continental Congress.
For other sources see my posts about inspirations.
If we recover our will to govern ourselves and stand together, there are few limits to what we can accomplish.