Magazine article The Nation

The Hero Within

Magazine article The Nation

The Hero Within

Article excerpt

If many strangers die all at once, as in the tragedy of the tsunami or the Rwanda massacre or a war like the one in Iraq, it is a moral problem, to be dealt with through politics or philosophy. The death of a single good person, announced on the radio or in the newspapers, presents a different kind of problem. What can be done?

To teach or speak or write against the grain and still be heard beyond the confines of the agreeable may be as good a definition as any of a heroic life. A person can internalize such thoughtful heroes without ever having read one of their books or listened to their speeches. To have opposed the Vietnam War or to speak out now against the villainy in Iraq is to have inherited the character of Seymour Melman, just as understanding the effects of globalization is to be in some way as politically pertinent as Richard J. Barnet. Merely to have lived at the same time as Susan Sontag is to have admired her, although sometimes in the form of an argument with her ideas, but there was no way to live quite so discerning a life without her. In sum, our heroes are us, which is why the death of a hero confounds an admirer.

The old philosophers may have understood death as a part of life and let it go at that. Freud defined death in two categories: your death and my death. The first category makes perfect sense. It is nature's magic trick. Now you see it, now you don't. Gone. Departed. Vanished. The survivors are spectators at the magic show.

"My death" cannot be dealt with so easily. What Freud called my death means the world (from our point of view) comes to an end. …

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