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May 19, 2006


emmanuel goldstein

[... only a handful of the people on the list owe their position to technical excellence: Attenborough, Sen, Yunus, Berners-Lee , Barenboim and - being generous - Gates or Dylan]

Counterexamples: Stephen Hawking, Andrew Flintoff, John Carr. And probably Dawkins too. Why the conflation of excellence and technical excellence anyway?

You say that a belief that one has “Truth” on one's side rules out doubt, reflection, originality and irony. It does no such thing, and reading a biography of Mandela or Thomas More should make that evident. Second, surely these qualities (the first three, anyway) are attractive because they tend to truth?

I think you've mischaracterised heroism; it isn't (just) that the hero has the right beliefs, but that he has come about them in the right way, and has the excellence of character to act on them. Otherwise one would conclude that other black South Africans didn't believe very strongly that they weren't beasts of burden.

One ought to believe according to the strength of the evidence, so strong belief can be admirable. Atta is a villain because no reasonable person could form (and act on) the strong beliefs he did, not because he had false beliefs, even strong ones.

James Hamilton

"..Chomsky and Dawkins aren't there for their work in linguistics or biology, but rather for their monomanic dogmatic certitude." Or pretense at such, combined with a nose for a lucrative market. You can probably make your own guess at which of the two men I'm referring to there.


Some good points, Emmanuel. My list of those with technical (as distinct from moral) excellence was woefully incomplete.
I wasn't (I hope) attributing dogmatism to all heroes, merely pointing out that it is a correlate of the desire to consistently express a view or to oppose injustice or pursue power.
I suspect that if (say) Dawkins took a more nuanced view of religion - granting that it brought happiness and moral courage to millions, and that it inspired great works of art and everyday endeavour too - I would repsect him even more, even though he might less less of a hero. (I write as an atheist).
And for every bit of evidence that heroes do have self-reflection, there's other evidence that they can be very hard to live with - viz, accounts of (say) Churchill.
I guess all I was doing was maing a Berlinian point, that there are few wholly good qualities.


A related quote from Bertie Russell: "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."


Atta's beliefs were only wrong in your opinion. They are clearly right in others'. I think he demonstrated incorrectly and technically the Koran would suggest he shouldn't have killed innocents - but who's really innocent?


Simstim - I bet Bertrand Russell was pretty sure about that.

Chris - Emmanuel's points are good ones, yes, but you back down too quickly. (too full of doubt, I guess) Some heroes may have had doubts, but I absolutely agree with your original assertion that heroism itself (as a quality) pretty much negates qualities of meekness, doubt, and (almost) open-mindedness. Those heroes who express doubt are heroic despite, not because of, that quality.

Heroism as a quality is closely linked to leadership, and thence to control over others, to decisiveness over reflection, brutality over kindness, dogmatism over flexibility. Heroism as it is preached nowadays (in business books, for example) is something to avoid.

I'd draw a literary parallel. Odysseus was a heroic hero; Leopold Bloom was an unheroic hero. Personally, I'm all for the Leo's of the world.


"Monomanic dogmatic certitude"? Translation: "With perfect consistency, for longer than I can remember, Chomsky has upheld a set of beliefs which conflict with my own monomanic dogmatic certitude."


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