February 7, 2008

Heroes of accomplishment v. heroes of suffering

Greg Cochran points out a profound change in American culture: from celebrating and promoting heroes of accomplishment to doing the same for heroes of suffering. Consider two war heroes-turned politicians. Dwight Eisenhower got the 1952 GOP nomination because of his accomplishments even though he didn't suffer much for them -- he was never in combat in his life. But organizing D-Day and managing the Anglo-American coalition suggested he had what it takes to perform well the day-to-day work of the Presidency during a particularly scary part of the Cold War. In contrast, John McCain is likely to get the 2008 GOP nomination in large measure because of his tremendous suffering during the Vietnam War, although he never accomplished all that much in the military.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are granted Honorary Heroes of Suffering status because of their being non-white males. Moreover, Hillary attained Presidential Timberhood by suffering through her husband's public infidelity.

Similarly, Obama's autobiography is pure emo rock: Yes, I know, sitting on the beach in Hawaii smoking dope may sound like a pretty soft life to you, but it was hell to me because of my"story of race and inheritance." The drugs were just “something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind . . .”

So, he had to go Suffer with His People on the South Side of Chicago for four years. Sure, he didn't accomplish anything in those four years, other than once helping Mau-Mau the all-black Chicago Housing Authority into removing some asbestos from a housing project, but that's not the point. The point is that he suffered.

In contrast, Mitt Romney, who, among other accomplishments (none of them D-Day scale, of course), saved the 2002 Winter Olympics (which by the way, were much better run than the embarrassing 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta), proved so unpopular that he dropped out today.

Perhaps the turning point was John F. Kennedy, whose main wartime feat of command was the almost unique one of getting his PT boat sliced in half by a Japanese warship.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

28 comments:

William said...

Most of the "men of accomplishment" elected in the past were men who won wars. Unfortunately you have to fight a war where politicians give you the support you need to win. If not, you're just some military guy connected with an unpopular war. What general could have emerged from Vietnam or Iraq as a potential political leader?

And besides that military leaders probably won't ever again be seriously considered because of A) their depiction in the press and entertainment and B) the miltary life is now so far removed from the average American's everyday experience as to seem foreign.

That leaves either suffering or success in business. Even Republicans apparently preferred "suffering" to proven leadership skills.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call Rosa Parks a sufferer Steve. Though I agree with everything else. What she did took guts, back in the Jim Crow day. She did it because she was tired, and pissed off. For a middle aged black woman to do that in Montgomery Alabama in the late 1950's took real courage.

But you're dead right on everything else. Call it the age of Oprah.

Anonymous said...

obama and clinton aren't running on the strength of their suffering. are you implying that anyone from a marginalized group is automatically designated a hero of suffering and there's nothing they can do about it? romney's mormonism doesn't get him that? somehow the fact that he saved the olympics is more impressive than obama's accomplishments? come on, steve.

JAN said...

The clear and away, the only “Heroes of Accomplishment” candidate in this election cycle was Mitt Romney: incredibly gifted intellectually, physically and personally as well as extremely accomplished in academics, business, non-profits and politics at the highest levels (finance) and the most difficult situations (GOP Gov in most liberal state MA).

From Gov Romney’s speech at the CPAC yesterday announcing his campaign suspension:

"As I said to you last year, conservative principles are needed now more than ever. We face a new generation of challenges, challenges which threaten our prosperity, our security and our future. I am convinced that unless America changes course, we will become the France of the 21st century – still a great nation, but no longer the leader of the world, no longer the superpower. And to me, that is unthinkable. Simon Peres, in a visit to Boston, was asked what he thought about the war in Iraq. 'First,' he said, 'I must put something in context. America is unique in the history of the world. In the history of the world, whenever there has been conflict, the nation that wins takes land from the nation that loses. One nation in history, and this during the last century, laid down hundreds of thousands of lives and took no land. No land from Germany, no land from Japan, no land from Korea. America is unique in the sacrifice it has made for liberty, for itself and for freedom loving people around the world.' The best ally peace has ever known, and will ever know, is a strong America.

"The threat to our culture comes from within. The 1960's welfare programs created a culture of poverty. Some think we won that battle when we reformed welfare, but the liberals haven't given up. At every turn, they try to substitute government largesse for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and to remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is a culture-killing drug. We have got to fight it like the poison it is.

"That's exactly what happens with high taxes, over-regulation, tort windfalls, mandates, and overfed, over-spending government. Did you see that today, government workers make more money than people who work in the private sector? Can you imagine what happens to an economy where the best opportunities are for bureaucrats?

We lost best candidate in the Presidential Race today and are left with the worst sort of career bureaucrats from both parties. When "too polished", "too good looking" and "too successful and polished" are handicaps, this country is in for big trouble. My only hope is that Romney will turn out to be the 1976 Regan in and Obama/Clinton the Jimmy Carter (and probably much worse).

William said...

On the other hand, there's something to be said for rewarding suffering. Americans consider the guy who hasn't suffered to be the guy who's harvesting all the profits of everyone else's sacrifice.

Don't you think that if Mitt Romney had not taken that deferment back in the 60s or if even one of his five - yes, five - apparently healthy sons had bothered to serve we might now be pondering the prospect of a President Romney?

Rewarding suffering of the McCain kind says you have to be willing to take a few real risks if you're to be trusted with political power.

Eric said...

Sigh. Here comes the Rosa Parks sillyness again. Parks wasn't just some lady who'd had enough. The whole thing was very carefully planned out with civil rights groups beforehand - the refusal to give up a seat, the boycott, everything.

So she really was more of a "hero of accomplishment" than one of suffering, if you have to choose one.

Fred said...

Great minds think a like. Here's part of what I wrote in the comment thread for "Taking dynasticism to a whole 'nother level":

Re McCain's POW experience: He was a hero, but I don't think that explains his popularity today. He was also a victim, and Americans love victims these days more than heroes. Hillary is also seen as victim by the Left (of Bill's philandering; of the "right wing conspiracy", etc.). It's almost like we are voting for a Queen for a Day.

Anonymous said...

We lost best candidate in the Presidential Race today and are left with the worst sort of career bureaucrats from both parties.

I still have some hopes for a McCain Administration. McCain is pretty consistent in opposing bills laden with pork and he did oppose the Bush tax cuts. He can say now that he supports keeping those tax cuts in place but if he can cut a deal with Democrats for lower spending in exchange for allowing the cuts to expire he might do it. Who knows? Fiscal sanity could come back into style.

Rosamund said...

Greg Cochran is right and it breaks my heart: the diminishing of accomplishment, and I would add, honor. At least McCain acted with honor during his imprisonment and is admired for that amongst conservatives; from what I understand he refused to be released unless his fellow inmates were also released and believed that his leaving would be used for propaganda. I could be wrong about the story, but I hope that's why he's admired.

William, I don't think it would have made a difference vis a vis Romney and I share your respect for the military: I told my husband before I accepted his marriage proposal that I could only marry a vet. He enlisted in the only branch that would take someone with his afflictions: the Air Force. So few men serve that that it makes not serving any kind of disqualifier. My grandfather was a Korean War P.O.W. for two years, tortured in captivity, but it would never dawn on me to think to look only at that, or the fact that he enlisted as soon as possible due to love and country, and nothing else when evaluating his fitness for any kind of elected office. It would help me evaluate him, but the buck wouldn't stop with it.

William said...

William, I don't think it would have made a difference vis a vis Romney and I share your respect for the military - rosamund

It could've made enough of a difference, if people, Southerners especially, were able to see him as a guy who had sweated a little rather than just the successful Mormon son of a successful well-connected businessman. I bet Mitt has very soft hands. That wouldn't stop me from voting for him, but it stopped a lot of people. Romney was born with a silver monkey on his back.

What was the "swing" in Florida? 2-3%? If 2-3% of voters had voted for Romney instead of McCain he would've won the state, and won the momentum. as it is, he was basically written off after his Florida loss.

And having been raised a Mormon I can assure you there's a lot of ex-vets out there who resent Mormons not for their religious beliefs but because they saw or heard rumours about Mormon men getting draft deferments for missionary work.

Hoosier Comrade said...

Nietzsche anticipated this transition in his contrasts between the "master morality" and "slave morality". As our society transitions from one of hero worship to victim worship, more and more of our idols will be victims, lauded for having been exceptionally victimized.

SKT said...

"And having been raised a Mormon I can assure you there's a lot of ex-vets out there who resent Mormons not for their religious beliefs but because they saw or heard rumours about Mormon men getting draft deferments for missionary work."

Well America is a free country. People have a right to dislike Mormons and they don't have to give you any reason to justify.

silver said...

We have been living in what we might call the Therapeutic Age for some time.

Reviewing a seminal work on the issue (at least with respect to modern times), "One Nation Under Therapy," Theodre Dalrymple wrote:

What the authors of this book call “therapism,” the idea that man is psychologically fragile and can achieve mental stability only by means of professional assistance, is comparatively new, and is in antithesis not only to the traditional American virtues of self-reliance and sturdiness in the face of adversity, but also to a couple of millennia of moral reflection. Whereas fortitude was once regarded as a virtue, it has come to be regarded—at least by those who believe in therapism—as a kind of reprehensible and deliberate obtuseness, to be utterly condemned as treason to the self (there is no fury like a non-judgmentalist scorned).

http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/23/jun05/therap.htm

That authors contend (and I agree) that this conception of life thoroughly pervades society. Most conservatives experience it most vividly in media accounts, though even "conservative" news sources are not immune. That this may now have worked its way up to appraising candidates for political office cannot really be considered surprising.

Anonymous said...

Nobody is voting for Hillary because of her suffering. She is hardly the first wive who has to hold her nose over her a philandering hubby. People are voting for her because she exudes competence and leadership. She rules debates.

As much as someone might agree with Romney's very well written speech, he did not comport himself like a leader. In presidential debates, he mocked and tittered on-camera at McCain's foibles. Simply not presidential.

Hillary gives the sense not of "Prom Queen" or "Queen for a Day," but a quality that brings to mind Queen Elizabeth of Margaret Thatcher.

The Republican Party has some very good principles that the Democratic Party does not share. Unfortunately, the leaders they put forward are lame. The best one is a grizzly old war hero who makes a good trooper and a good follower, but I am frankly afraid to see what he will do with our national resources if he is elected as leader. Tax and Spend is bad, but 100 Years of Wars is far worse.

All the older folks who think that war hawk talk makes sense (because their generation grew up with a sense of profound isolation from the world) need to wonder how we can fund those wars and pay their massively looming medical bills at the same time.

We are in a real danger of becoming the next France, stuck in a dreamy, complacent sense of idealized yesterdays while the todays are sliding downhill because the world has changed.

The Obama camp got a very rude awakening after assuming they could count on a coalition of non-peach people, and the Latino vote wasn't interested. That's some major mental fog on the radical left that is being flossed right about now.

"Believe in Change" sounds too much like "Got Any Spare Change?" Latino people didn't come to this country to subsidize that kind of thing, and the whole skin color guilt machine doesn't work on them.

Baz said...

A good example of the celebration of victimhood can be found in London's Trafalgar Square which was originally designed to celebrate Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Nelson's column surrounded by Victorian generals but a few years back an empty plinth was given a new occupant - a statue of the heavily pregnant feminist sculptor Alison Lapper who was born without arms and truncated legs.
With her punk haircut, nose studs and tattoos she is very much the poster girl for victimhood in the UK.

Incidentally, one of the other statues in the square is of Sir Charles Napier who celebrated diversity in India by stamping out the barbaric Hindu practice of suti. This was the custom of burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands.
When the Hindus protested Sir Charles is said to have replied: "You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

David said...

You emulate what you worship. This country worships failure. Buh-bye, America.

Anon. said:

I still have some hopes for a McCain Administration[...] Fiscal sanity could come back into style.

What is fiscally sane about continuing to borrow billions from China in order to squander them (and the best of today's youths) on endless wars worldwide? How will McCain pay for his proposed annihiliation and occupation of Iran et al.? And how is open borders plus existing distributionist schemes going to put money in our pockets?

America is broke, a debtor nation without parallel in recorded history.

McCain is a lunatic and his supporters aren't exactly playing with full decks either. "Fiscal sanity"?

Fred said...

"He can say now that he supports keeping those tax cuts in place but if he can cut a deal with Democrats for lower spending in exchange for allowing the cuts to expire he might do it. Who knows? Fiscal sanity could come back into style."

The problem here is that discretionary spending is what -- 20%? -- of the Federal budget? The biggest chunk of the budget goes to entitlements: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The smart thing to do would be to raise taxes enough to create an initial surplus and invest that in a sovereign wealth fund in something other than Treasury securities (which add to the debt). A diversified investment portfolio could conceivably grow faster than entitlement spending, thus obviating the need to continually raise taxes to meet higher entitlement spending.

"Don't you think that if Mitt Romney had not taken that deferment back in the 60s or if even one of his five - yes, five - apparently healthy sons had bothered to serve we might now be pondering the prospect of a President Romney?"

If that was anyone's reason for not voting for Romney, why would they prefer Hillary or Obama as President? Neither of them served in the military, and Hillary's military-age daughter's idea of serving her country is working for a New York hedge fund run by a top Democratic contributer. At least you'd never have to worry about Romney engaging in those sorts of tawdry arrangements to cash in on his political stature.

Anonymous said...

skt Well America is a free country. People have a right to dislike Mormons and they don't have to give you any reason to justify.

Really? Do you think every American have the inalienable right to hate Jews and freely weave such views in throughout the MSM and personally? How about Blacks? Women? Gays? Aren’t Christians and a growing number of conservative Whites always whining about Hollywood for their hatred? The liberal PC (e.g. MSM) and fundamental Christian conservative (e.g. Huckabee) hypocritical bigotry is blinding.

There is something fundamentally wrong and un-American (as much as I hate that word) is countenancing bigotry against any minority group. Mormons have some wacky ideas and aren’t the most exciting people to be around. Also, Mormonism comes across as intellectually indefensible to me personally, but all religions have these problems or worse.

However, Mormons have uniformly proven to be the least hypocritical, most hardworking and most decent of any sizable Christians sect or even non-Christian group I’ve encountered. I haven’t connected with Mormons as best friends, but they tend to make great neighbors, fellow citizens and co-workers.

Qliphah said...

We are experiencing the total Judaification of western culture. Anyone who denies it is in a state of denial, or lying out of piety or fear.

This is a quote from Sydney Morning Herald article.

Still, all this might never have led to the present form of the Holocaust's treatment in America if not for the cultural revolution that occurred in the US during the 1960s. That, in any case, is one of Peter Novick's most stimulating theses. The content of this revolution involved a shift from a dominant culture of winners and heroes to a culture that also gave voice to losers and victims. As a result of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the revolutionary changes in US immigration policy, the Nietzschean critical approach to history began to gain ground against the heroic-patriotic version.

This more critical view of the American past has been used ever since as a moral weapon by minorities and women in the political fight for social recognition, privileges and rights. Novick sees in all this a competition for the "gold medal in the Victimisation Olympics", a contest in which American Jews can maintain an insurmountable lead, as long as they can convince Americans of the unique and incommensurable quality of the Holocaust. All other crimes, including those in American history, become secondary.


Note that Jews were very instrumental in the civil rights movement and changes to the US immigration policy. Those things didn't happen spontaneously, as this article implies.

gcochran said...

to Rosamund: Hackworth didn't think that McCain was all that special. My impression is that prisoners who adhered strictly to the prescribed military code of conduct didn't come back. That said, different prisoners accommodated their captors to different degrees, and I've never hear anyone say that McCain was a hard case like Jeremiah Denton. On the other hand I've never had any reason to think that he's a Manchurian candidate, other than his enthusiastic support of polices that are certain to break Uncle Sam's balls. And even if he _is_ a mole like Bush, at least he's got an excuse.

Martin said...

"David said...

What is fiscally sane about continuing to borrow billions from China in order to squander them (and the best of today's youths) on endless wars worldwide? How will McCain pay for his proposed annihiliation and occupation of Iran et al.? And how is open borders plus existing distributionist schemes going to put money in our pockets?"

Exactly Right. It doesn't matter how much McCain might lower the budget by cutting out earmarks, if he's simultaneously squandering 300 billion dollars a year occupying Iraq, and letting in millions of new illegals who will bankrupt our schools, hospitals, and prisons. And undoubtedly a (likely) democratic controlled congress will vote to extend medicaid to illegal aliens - or some kind of universal socialized medicine if they are able to push it through - and a President McCain will sign it.

And what is an amnesty and the war in Iraq other than a kind of pork barrel spending, really - earmarks that benefit mexicans and defence contractors respectively. There will be nothing fiscally responsible about a McCain administration. He will squander your money and the lives of your sons for his own vainglory.

"Fred said...

A diversified investment portfolio could conceivably grow faster than entitlement spending, thus obviating the need to continually raise taxes to meet higher entitlement spending."

I don't like the idea of the government investing in the market, and I don't think it would work anyway. If the U.S. government had a big stake in private companies, then they would exercise a great deal of influence over them, in order to protect their investment. The government is risk averse. At least in mundane things (sure, they will casually conduct social experiments that can destroy the nation as we know it, but switch to new accounting software - let's not be hasty here). The hidebound nature of Uncle Sam is not a productive quality for a stock investor. Would a government controlled investment portfolio (likely to be the largest in the nation) ever have invested in Intel or Microsoft? A government controlled equities market would stifle whatever is good about our capital markets (less and less good everyday, I admit).

anony-mouse said...

You write about 'heroes of accomplishment v heroes of suffering' yet virtually all commenters seem to be prophets of doom, declinists, and generally not the kind of people from which heroes of accomplishment spring from.

Anonymous said...

"If the U.S. government had a big stake in private companies, then they would exercise a great deal of influence over them, in order to protect their investment."

Well, for starters,it's not as if the U.S. government doesn't exercise a lot of influence over companies now, through taxation and regulation. But there are ways to prevent the government from exercising direct control: investment decisions could be delegated on a hands-off basis to asset management firms, and the government's stake could be limited to a small, non-controlling percentage. Also, the government's asset managers could forfeit their proxy voting rights.

You are right thougn, that the government would have some skin in the game in this scenario. I think that's great. It would have an incentive not to over-tax and over-regulate American businesses. It would also invalidate a lot of the Left's anti-business rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

I hate writing like 'questions of who I was'. What the hell does that mean? Be specific please. Reminds me of Hillary finding her 'voice'. At least in her case I think I know what it means - getting to be a Senator cause she was both a politically active feminist First Lady, and the wife of a philandering southern politician (though she might phrase it differently).

Robert Holmgren said...

This could become a new academic field--Sufferology.

Anonymous said...

Words I have never said before:Steve,youre wrong!!The change from "achievement" to "bereavement"(as j. Jackson might say) did not come from JFK. Many PT boats were sliced and diced in the war. McHales Navy,with Skip,Gruber and the boys taking out Japanese subs left and right, was pretty much made-up! :) JFK was a hero because he kept his men together and alive! NOW...its obvious that the cult of suffering comes from blacks and jews,and their civil rights movement,which made heroes out of those who suffered under the Man,joined by the gals lib movement. Remember the movie "Hombre" with paul newman as an Indian(heh heh) Hollywood really embraced the idea of the Cool victim!

Anonymous said...

"A good example of the celebration of victimhood can be found in London's Trafalgar Square which was originally designed to celebrate Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Nelson's column surrounded by Victorian generals but a few years back an empty plinth was given a new occupant - a statue of the heavily pregnant feminist sculptor Alison Lapper who was born without arms and truncated legs.
With her punk haircut, nose studs and tattoos she is very much the poster girl for victimhood in the UK. "

I am pretty sure you can't see it there anymore, it was (thankfully) only a temporary thing. It was ridiculous to read those that placed it there pontificating how wondeful it was that 'disability'was being depicted in public, ignoring the big statue of a man with one eye and one arm on top of that big column. But I guess if you get injured or even killed in the service of your country it doesn't count in lefty land...

Anonymous said...

buy xanax online no prescription how much xanax and alcohol will kill you - xanax drug alcohol