On Heroes

I have been asked why I have said I do not have heroes. The most  I will admit to is respect for people who have a track record of  rational analysis. I don’t care who you are, what matters to me is what you say– is it logical? is it true? Are you appealing to emotion? — I am not going to be intimidated by a name or title.

I feel skeptics should always examine propositions made no matter the source but, I have been noting a growing number of people in the atheism/skeptical movement who seem to accept as true without question, propositions made by popular figures; or their heroes.

I ran into a case of this at my very first atheist conference (Eschaton 2012). Sitting in the audience before a panel started,  a neighbouring audience member was talking about how their hero had re-tweeted which made a tweet of theirs popular. This seemed an odd thing to say as I had yet to get on twitter and, what does popularity of a tweet (statement) have to do with whether or not it is true? I also offhandedly remarked that I didn’t always agree with this person and was immediately gently told that said popular figure was within earshot. I was struck at both the defence and the scowl.

Was this hero above criticism? Was their defender feeling threatened? Asking questions was my path to atheism but can the dogma of church teaching be replaced by the dogma of the words of a hero?

Does this matter?

Hero worship is after all one of the techniques used in propaganda but,  as I was once asked after a short talk I gave, if perhaps we could also use Public Relations (The more modern name for propaganda), for the good guys? I admit I had a hard time answering this one. Certainly skeptics should be made well aware of Edward Bernays work as we need to see the truth as best we can, but for the public good? Who gets to decide which teachings are in the public good?

Where does this leave us?

It leaves me exactly where I started since I examine propositions as they are given no matter the source. This is hard for some to accept as they try to force me into choosing a side (tribalism) which makes me a target from all sides. If I do criticize someone it is for ideas, not for who or what they are.

But I can’t speak for the rest of the community. I would suggest that being seduced into hating an entire group is a waste of time and effort that could be used to fight our common enemies. In particular I don’t care if some of your ideals are in conflict with my own if we are both fighting for church state separation. Does it matter?

The tragedy is that it does seem to matter to some of you and our time is wasted fighting each other rather than our common enemies.

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One thought on “On Heroes

  1. I guess the way I see things is that a large number of good ideas or good deeds can make one a hero for *those things only*. One can be great with those and an utter jerk with other matters or, indeed, everything else. Moreover, one should be able to change one’s mind – either way. I used to think less highly of Descartes, for instance, because I’d only read the “philosophy 101″ stuff. But read (with historical sensitivity) what might be called his physiological psychology and his cosmology, and you realize that the “St.Rene” crowd are wrongheaded – and those folks have it exactly backwards!

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