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A Call to the Heroic

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.” C.S. Lewis

I was watching the movie “The Return of the King,” Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the J.R.R. Tolkien masterpiece “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It was, of course, a visual treat, and engrossing tale. The problem I have with it, and I mean Jackson’s trilogy of movies in toto, is that he butchers some of the great themes of the book in pursuit of an audience and political correctness.

And oddly enough, during the movie, a commercial for some Lady Gaga event aired. It involved her album or tour entitled, “Born This Way.” Not being a Lady Gaga fan, I am only vaguely familiar with her music and fan base, but it is my impression that “Born This Way” is the excuse she and her fans use for being the collection of self-identified monsters they claim to be.

And therein lies the connection between Frodo, Bilbo, and Gaga.

Bilbo and Frodo are little people, unaware and unbothered by the storms and wars of Middle Earth. They are concerned with food, and drink, and mindless pleasures as they go about their small lives. Until events push them onto the stage and demand that they rise above the way they were born. Bilbo finds, keeps, and defends a ring that has the power to change the world. Frodo, in turn, must take that ring and destroy it. Both recognize that the task is too great for them, but they also recognize that they must perform the task, or the world will dissolve into chaotic evil. By now, nobody should be surprised that they both rise above expectations, and themselves, and save the world.

“The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life even in order to keep it.” Gilbert K. Chesterton

Once again, I am not a fan of Lady Gaga, AKA Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, so I have to admit an unfamiliarity with the subtleties of her leitmotifs. I have a sneaking suspicion that Gaga and her followers are not being urged to rise above themselves, or expectations. They are, after all, born that way, and therefore, one shouldn’t expect them to be other than they are. And lest you misconstrue, this isn’t a phenomena limited to Gaga-istas. It is a long term illness that has been around for quite some time.

In 1989, Marc Lépine, armed with a legally obtained Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife, shot twenty-eight people at the Ecole Polytechnique, in Montreal. He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students, then shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women to shoot. Overall, he killed fourteen women and injured ten other women and four men in just under twenty minutes before turning the gun on himself.

During this time, not a single man tried to interfere. Not one tried to attack the shooter, or defend the women. René Jalbert, the sergeant-at-arms, said that someone should have intervened at least to distract Lépine, but acknowledged that “ordinary citizens cannot be expected to react heroically in the midst of terror.”

And that is the crux of the issue. “Ordinary citizens cannot be expected to to react heroically.” But the fact of the matter is exactly the opposite. Ordinary people do react heroically, and in the most unusual of circumstances. If there were a class of beings that were naturally “heroic,” the word would lose its meaning. Actions are heroic precisely because they are committed by ordinary men and women.

Superman is never a hero, because there is never danger to him. Sal Giunta is a hero precisely because the danger to himself was so great. Likewise the firefighter who runs into a burning building. He does it despite the danger that exists.

And here is where Peter Jackson, Stefani Germanotta, and Rene Jalbert come together. All of them are engaged in normalizing the failure to rise above the ordinary. To be fair, it’s not just them, it seems to be society in general. Children in school are exposed to “I, Rigoberta,” but not Beowulf. They know Che, but not Patrick Henry. We no longer teach the great virtues of selflessness, heroism, and the struggle for greatness; instead we teach the pseudo-virtues of conformity and “go along to get along.”

When the argument arises about American exceptionalism, as it has recently, this is the core of the argument. Does America rise above the ordinary, in the pursuit of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; or does it just shamble along aimlessly, with no claim any longer to being the “last best hope of earth?”

We should avoid, at all costs, the idea that accidents of birth prevent achievements of the soul.

 

 

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