What constitutes a hero in modern society?
Why do industries in America do everything in their power to disenfranchise the people making them rich beyond measure?
As a writer of genre fiction I am always in the market for a new hero, a new character who battles against the inequities of whatever world they live in making it safer, more beautiful, more harmonious, benefiting everyone around them. Reading comics, it’s easy to see heroes like the Avengers or the X-men and believe they are the mark of what heroism looks like, modern gods for mere mortals to aspire to.
Is it really that simple?
Some people will tell you its the schools you went to, or the awards that you win, or the recognition of your peers, the acknowledgement of your betters which define who should be declared a hero in the modern parlance. The bigger problems of life are always in the hands of a hero someplace outside of your living room.
Should we leave the big answers to life’s problems in the hands of other people? Should Barack Obama speak out for Black people killed by over-enthusiastic, rebellious, dangerous or even racist police officers? Should he be complicating matters by flying into disaster zones even though it takes resources from the efforts necessary to save people?
Is he heroic for doing so? Or for NOT doing so?
Most of us live our entire lives believing we do not have what it takes to be a hero. We leave the heroics to firefighters, police and emergency services workers. We expect military people to aspire to and achieve levels of heroic sacrifice as a matter of course. It’s their job to fight and die heroically for our nation.
It is their sacrifice which makes them heroic. Is the mark of heroism what you have to lose when you take a risk?
I admit to taking my morality from reading comics. I grew up in New York City in the South Bronx in the seventies. There wasn’t much to look up to at the time. Gang violence so bad we have entire movies dedicated to it. Overdressed pimps, a variety of drug pushers and the era of blackspolitation are considered the only interesting things to come out of the era. Oh yes, and the ever-dying, but not-quite-ever dead, disco music.
My unrealistic morality insisted that if I were going to make the world a better place I had to acknowledge there were a few impediments I had to work with: no money, nothing that even looked like money, no superpowers, no technology which would make improving the world easy or magical.
Thus I realized to improve the world I would have to rely on doing it, one person at a time; also known as the Hard Way.
However, I was uniquely qualified for this method of world-saving. Having grown up under less than ideal circumstances, I learned to make due with almost nothing. Given nothing I could still make something out of it. Adaptability was one of the gifts of my childhood.
My journey to change the world, one person at a time, would take me into high school; a prestigious school you needed to take a test to enter. A test everyone told me I would fail. I didn’t have the academic chops. I went to an ordinary junior high school. I came from a disadvantaged neighborhood. My parents were unremarkable people of color.
Uneducated, one a truck driver, the other a nursing assistant. I didn’t have a chance in hell.
But you see, that is my superpower. Excelling when others are certain of my inevitable, inescapable failure. My power is the incredible effort I will put forth to prove you wrong.
I passed that exam. I went to Bronx High School of Science. At least fifty people got to learn something different about the world that day. At least fifty people learned that it wasn’t wise to underestimate me simply because I came from a disadvantaged background.
I could do with the force of will, what could not be done with money.
My innate talents were greater than the sum of their realizations.
Heroes do that.
Heroes redefine the playing field, making something from nothing, rewriting what you knew as reality, until that moment when they do the impossible.
I have spent my entire life redefining the boundaries, again and again. Without awards, without applause, without the visual and cultural support given to the titans of industry when they fuck over MILLIONS of people.
I joined the military, served with distinction, performed above and beyond the call of duty. There were many nights I regretted my decision. Nights of cruelty, because no matter what the advertising says, the military can be a cruel place. Didn’t matter. I fought when I was forced to and earned the respect I was due.
I left that life without so much as a backward glance.
No idea where I would end up but I knew I could do better than the military would offer me; a life of robotic, decision-free living, doing what I was told for some as yet unrevealed military purpose, the living hand of a government whose goals I would never know, whether I lived or died accomplishing them. But pretty certain the efforts I made that day were doing more harm than good.
I could not abide such a thought — not one more day.
I left. With offers to attend college at the behest of three-letter agencies interested in my continued service to our nation. Remember, I wanted to help people. I wanted to make the world a better place.
I knew I could do better than a three letter agency. I staked my future on it. You see, that future was assured. Go to college, get a degree, join the agency, serve well, be a member of a three letter circus for the rest of my life. You never leave such organizations.
You can know too much.
Thus I had to resist the temptation to join them. I love to know things. I would want to know TOO much so I resisted myself, the first temptation to real power. The military was a taste of power, but you are the instrument, not the wielder of that power. I knew such power would prove irresistible to me.
The wisdom goes: “Know thyself.” I knew myself. I knew I would never give up.
I stepped off into a world without a net. Without a place to live, without resources of family or friends at the time. Legends say this is when the hero has to find himself.
I did. I went to college, I wrote stories with computers. Something my college had never considered putting together. I wrote papers in half the time, corrected them in seconds. Used the free time to write other things and master computer technology. This decision was not made idly.
I spend a year poring over the potential work I could do in the world. I wanted to help people. I worked as a computer technician. Each person I helped had a face and a name. I was clear that I helped them and taught them how to help themselves in the future. I worked in a computer lab, then in a corporate office as part of a help desk. My plan was working. I was helping people every day.
It was not enough. I got greedy. Helping people in its own way was as addictive as money. I wanted to increase my footprint.
If I could help five in a day, why not fifty? I took over the department. The previous manager didn’t want the job anyway. Then I had five people who I trained, upgraded their skills, and we helped fifty people a day.
The ten I helped directly and the forty who I helped indirectly by training my team. I realized this was my future. Finding, training, preparing a team to tackle bigger problems than I could handle alone. Superteams have been founded on that very same principle.
I created a mentoring program at a local community college when the organization I was a member of refused to consider computer training that didn’t consist entirely of programming software.
There are plenty of things you can do with computers besides programming. I wanted to teach those things and the organization said no. Undeterred by their lack of vision, I left. I returned to college to teach computer science.
While I was there, I founded my own mentoring group where I taught desktop design and art, web design, graphic art and prepress design, introduction to computer science, and computer hardware and network design.
I engaged ten students first. I learned about the things they were interested and cross-trained them in a variety of other subjects. The program started off as something fun.
We met every Friday at first, just to play video games. Some of the prospective students from the hood were reluctant to engage in anything that looked like kowtowing to the Man. “How could computers help me? You know where I live, right?” I told them they were geniuses and simply didn’t know it.
I didn’t lie to them. I just told them what they had never heard before. The idea they could be something other than what they had been told up to this point.
I taught them the Kobayashi Maru couldn’t be beaten. But that wasn’t the point of the exercise. The point of the exercise was to get used to the idea that you could do everything right and still lose. It’s what you do once you have been beaten that matters.
Laughing and joking we would compete against each other. In some games there were people who could not be touched. Such amazing ability revealed hidden genius I would later exploit.
In others we competed more equally. What I was most proud of was they were all different members of society, different races, religions, genders and while there was ribbing, there was also camaraderie.
They would be introduced to computers one step at a time. We took the hardware apart and said, if you want to play today. Put that computer back together. Then you can play.
Next week: put that computer together, install the operating system and you can play.
The next week: Put that computer back together, install that operating system, install those programs and their associated drivers and then you can play.
By the end of six months, they could take them apart, put them together, install the operating system by hand, understand the separate elements of the equipment, reinstall the drivers, connect the equipment to the network, establish IP identities, map server drivers AND play and destroy anyone in any game we played there.
This program would grow until there were easily fifty members over the next three years. They would train each other, learn how to run the lab, make it a place they personally took pride in. They didn’t see what I saw, a means of bringing new minds into the workplace. Divergent minds, minds in brown bodies, who were told there was no place for them. Until I taught them how to carve one for themselves.
Because that particular truth is still apparent now as it was then. If you are a person of color, the industry will not accept you, unless you can make it.
Only by being so brilliant, they cannot see you for the light you cast will you be allowed to participate. For as long as they can exploit your powers for their gain.
The facility these wonderful students, my personal Justice League, made would go on to serve two thousand students a semester for five years. When I arrived, it barely served two hundred a year.
My greatest sadness is to know the program died a senseless death, not for a lack of love, but for a lack of vision on the parts of the college leadership. They saw it as unorthodox, lacking in the proper educational polish to make real computer technicians. Said the people who never bothered to come and see what we accomplished.
I left soon after, more than a little heartbroken. But driven to transcend myself one more time.
What is the mark of a hero?
- Is it the striving against impossible odds, knowing you will most likely fail, (or that your detractors hope you will), or is it the tiniest sliver of hope that matters?
- Should you be driving yourself forward because it is the only reason we are here at all?
- Nothing matters until we decide it does?
- Or is all we do part, of a self-aggrandizing program where at the very end of our life, we can look back upon the bodies of all the people we used for our success and take into our death the regrets of the people we used poorly; the people we stole opportunities from, drove into early, suffering graves, so that we might know one more yacht, one more change of furniture at our Hampton’s estate, one more overpriced, hand-build automobile we can never drive anywhere near its top speed?
Is the true meaning of life the number of people you suck dry along the way? (It sure looks that way from where I am sitting…)
I have chosen the foolish, heroic route.
- Where I try to make the world a better place, one foolish effort at a time.
- Convincing people to join me in tilting at the social windmills of racism, of classism, of separation, of honor killings, of dispelling LGBTIQA hatred, of environmental protection and the belief in people having an intrinsic value whether they be beggar or mathematical prodigies who can eat Einstein theories for breakfast.
- This is what it means to me when we say All Lives Matter. Actually treating ALL LIVES AS IF THEY MATTER.
- That the life of the lowest peasant sitting in an alley in Dubai, has the same intrinsic worth as a prince living in the tallest building there and never have their eyes met.
Over the course of my long life, I have failed to make the entire world a better place. Was it unreasonable for me to consider that I might be able to even accomplish such a haughty goal?
Should I leave that to the giants of industry, of privilege… to the Elon Musks, the Steve Jobs, the Mark Zuckerbergs, those who have managed to using craft, exploitation, privilege, opportunities beyond my race, my station, my educational benefits to have the money to now change the world for the better?
But are they doing that? Or do they simply prepare the Earth for their continued economic strip-mining by the creation of tools and resources keeping people quiescent, amused, commenting on the latest video, looking forward to their latest technological release, paying attention to things which ultimately don’t matter, while they grow fantastically wealthy at a pace which has never been equaled in the history of the world.
While they tell you, their wealth is a sign of their natural right to lead you. Their money makes them more suited for deciding what is best for you. If you have been ostracized by the system, it’s for the best. Accept your lot.
Never gonna happen.
When the battle feels most lost, I remember the most important lesson. Your enemy has a vested interest in keep you unclear of your position in life. Keeping you chasing their dreams, their ambitions FOR you. They keep you believing you can’t make a difference.
No matter I have no decorations for my walls, no pictures of me with famous people, no indications that I am an exemplary individual in any way society sets forth as “being a winner.” I am content with knowing, I have made a difference.
I have made tiny corners of the world better. One person at a time. I have left many students across the world who may secretly, still aspire to the same heroic ideals, but they never tell anyone.
I told them not to. People don’t trust you if you tell them you want to help them.
They assume you have the same plans they do, to use them, to exploit them for your benefit, for as long as possible. I told them to go on through life, helping people, secretly if you must, because only by helping each other can we truly save the world. All those masters of industry, of finance, of technology won’t be saving anyone but themselves and their wallets.
Don’t take my word for it. Look at their history. History is the best indicator of what a man will do next.
Saving the world is a never-ending task. There will always be more to do. There will always be one more species to save (goodbye, beautiful eastern mountain puma), one more life that could be made better, one more cause in desperate need of a champion.
The world is always in desperate need of champions. People who realize no amount of money will make people’s lives better as long as you don’t care about the people whose lives you already touch with all of your money.
There will always be a surfeit of bastards in the world.
People who believe it is the most important thing in the entire world that they be richer, more powerful, more connected, have better yachts, have prettier trophy wives, enslave more third world nations, create richer corporations, strip mine the largest swaths of the Human populace for their last penny.
These bastards will always exist.
And often, they will be sitting at the highest point in the land, with the most power, with the money, the police, the government padding their larder.
To the hero, they mean nothing.
The hero remembers two things:
- One: It is a never ending task to make the world a better place. There will always be something that needs doing. There will always be a need to make something right. There will always be people in need of a light in the darkness.
- Two: Few want to do those things. Heroes do what they do because it is their contribution to a thankless world filled with bastards. Otherwise the world falls into darkness.
You are fighting a battle in direct opposition to those forces exploiting your fellows and convincing them to keep working with them, on the promise they will have an opportunity, one day. Impoverished millionaires, my ass.
When you are filled with doubt, ask yourself: Are you making the world a better place?
- If the answer, the real answer, the one you know only to yourself to be true, is no, you still have time. It is never too late to make the world a better place, one person at a time, if necessary. You are not alone.
- There are plenty of people out there who want the same things you do. The trick is to find them. And cherish them. Ask around. They may be closer than you think
- The world needs champions. People who know right from wrong. People willing to go the extra mile to help someone in need for no recognition, no wealth, nothing but a thank you for a job well done.
- You will be called crazy. You will often be alone. You will find no one recognizes your efforts, even when they are wildly successful. Helping people in a world filled with selfish, self-obsessed people is often the least gratifying work you can do.
Remember the alternative:
- A dark world where everyone has given up, a world where no one is concerned with their fellow man except in how he can be served up to your benefit in the future.
- Think of a world without kindness, without support, without grace or humanity.
- Imagine a world where everything that exists serves only to strip away the last vestiges of your humanity, for profit.
- Or for religion, or for ideologies which punish anyone who isn’t a member.
If you turn away from the idea of helping others, this is the world you enable.
I am tired. I am worn. I have been beaten. But I will never give up. There is too much work still left to be done. I don’t know any other way to be.
So listen up, you bastards. I know who you are. I know where you live. I know everything about you. You have no shame. You treat people as disposable resources. You hide the world in lies, in obfuscations people are simply unable to parse, using lobbyists, politicians and outright lies to maintain your death-grip on our dying society.
You don’t know me. I am the irresistible force, you the immovable object. I cannot be stopped. Having done my work right, my students cannot be either. We will be like the wave, wearing the rock down with our constant and persistent belief in a better world.
You, giants of industry are the rock. Immobile, unable to change your habits, unwilling to give up what you deem yours by merit and by madness, you hoard the resources of an entire world not realizing, it doesn’t belong to you.
Your efforts have made people desperate. Unpredictable. Fearful. Willing to do anything. I understand their feelings. I too have nothing left to lose.
There is nothing left to be tempted with. I have had money. I have lost money. I found myself at that dark tea-time of the soul. What I have now you cannot buy. I will change the world, just like I always have.
One person at a time.
Until one day, you captains of industry, until your work vanishes like the smoke it has always been: a distraction to what we all should really be doing.
Saving each other.