Kris Morgan 9/30/17
With all the discussion about players in the NFL kneeling during the national anthem, and our nation’s endless pursuit of war in the Middle East, the word hero is spoken daily. What is not discussed is what actually makes a person heroic. We have vague impressions pertaining to the topic, such as protecting others from danger and saving lives, but we have nothing philosophically concrete.
This lack of a solid standard makes it possible for people throughout all walks of life to claim the title hero, and makes us susceptible to making errors. Calling the wrong people hero opens the door to a significant amount of heinous deeds. Determining who true heroes are requires us to first examine moral behavior and its roots.
Defining moral actions demands we look at humanity at its beginning stages. Unfortunately, we are a few hundred-thousand years too late. However, we can imagine 20 people in a lifeboat landing on the deserted island of Moraltopia. Each of the 20 realizes they are in the same set of circumstances. They are limited in their knowledge and abilities, and can only perform one task at a time. Each needs food, shelter, and water in order to survive. Under these circumstances each person must make efficient use of time, energy, and resources.
Let’s assume the 20 people divide into four groups of five; group one searches for food, two fresh water, three builds a shelter, and four gathers firewood and makes rope. Suppose everything runs smoothly until Hurricane George strikes and destroys the shelter. Frustrated the structure could not stand, each member vows to build their own. While other members are working alone, two decide they are going to steal one of the structures being built.
After spending the day searching for food, one of the gatherers returns to sealed doors. He organizes the other inhabitants of Moraltopia and tells his tale. After much debate, it is concluded the offenders undermined his attempts at survival. The victim had built the dwelling with his own hands, on his own time, using his own energy, for his own ends. By seizing it for themselves, the thieves achieved material gain at the expense of the rightful owner. The small tribe of 18 decides to excommunicate the two criminals.
They declare it a universal rule: any interactions between inhabitants undertaken without the consent of all parties is wrong and met with ostracism. Ostracism is the best they can do with their small and primitive group.
With a basic concept of right and wrong, it is prudent to determine what makes behavior heroic. The standard for heroism surpasses that of basic morality. Rather than simply not committing an act of force, theft, or fraud, heroes protect people from those who fail to exercise the same self-restraint. In short, they get between predators and potential prey. This is the stated goal of government. However, that is not always the case.
The primary functions of authority include passing, enforcing, and interpretig laws. These laws normally begin as social customs which become codified. The basis of law is not limited to moral or heroic behavior. Hence it follows that anyone willing to carry out the will of the state cannot be defined as a hero. Enforcing laws that are designed to control others puts our system in the role of the criminal.
Military members and police officers are the most common government agents we call heroes. Neither role meets the criteria, as noted above. The task of a police officer is to enforce laws. While few of these laws include the aforementioned standard of protecting others, most do not. It may be true that some laws and officers protect others, a person cannot be both hero and villain simultaneously. The same dilemma befalls our military.
While we find it necessary to have a protective force to defend from aggressors abroad, armies all over the world regularly target civilian populations. The United States ended the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Japan at the end of World War II, in recent times accepted credit for 500,000 children dying due to sanctions, and ruined the genetic makeup of the city of Fallujah. Defining incidents such as these as necessary or collateral does not erase them from our permanent records. Clearly, taking the oath to obey orders, regardless of how destructive, does not make one a hero.
When we define evil as being necessary and acceptable to sustain our society, we destroy all hope for heroism. This is not to say brave men and women do not perform singular heroic acts, but coercing others cannot be part of one’s persona to be labeled as a hero. Government control of security and justice does to heroism what the welfare state does to prosperity. The more we get, the more it fades away. We can see it. We have the potential for it, but our actions are blocked off by a glass ceiling, making it unattainable.
When justice is our highest goal, our standards ought to be as high as possible. While we rightfully associate positive personality traits with the military and police, such as bravery and loyalty, they are not heroes. They agree to use force against others at the government’s will, regardless of whether their targets are actually threatening or harming anyone. When we glorify these roles, we say anyone who harms or kills others is a hero, so long as it’s for the government.
It may ease the reader’s mind to understand that this author is an Army Veteran, with a family history of military service, who once pursued a career in criminal justice. However, we all have a duty to ourselves and each other to be seekers and speakers of truth. The truth is that harming innocent people under the cloak of helping innocent people is not worthy of the hero label.
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