Antipodean Angst – part 4

Hero Culture

In the past few decades, the Australian psyche has embraced a desire for heroes.

Superficially that is not a bad thing as heroes are needed in any society. Heroes are the embodiment of the sense of national identity and pride. What makes it bad in these times is how we create them and how we also forget and cast them aside as we invent new heroes.

Perhaps it is necessary to explore what a hero is.

The definitions of a hero are varied yet tend to follow a common theme.

A hero is a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character. Additionally, a hero is a person who has been determined to have demonstrated behaviours and decisions that are ethically and emotionally worthy of our awe. We see in that person something we think is not within us and we desire to have those traits we cannot see within ourselves. Yet those very traits reside in every person given the circumstances upon which they may be revealed.

If you were to ask a random selection of people what they think a hero is they would not be able to articulate it in that fashion, instead they would cite examples of what a hero is as a result of the thing that they did in a given moment in time. Some would relate a hero to the superheroes created in the fantasy of cartoons and movies. Some are simply clueless.

If you asked a hero why they are a hero then the humble person would most likely deny the label. The vain and shallow would extoll their deed.

Most heroes simply don’t think of themselves the way the public does. It is entirely related to perception.

Heroics are linked to bravery and that then requires an understanding of bravery.

In my youth I heard that bravery is best defined as doing something stupid without thinking that had a good result. That came from an old soldier at my local RSL after a Dawn Service.

Again, there are various definitions of bravery and basically it ascribes to having or showing mental or moral courage in the face of fear, danger, or difficulty.

Australia has a history of creating heroes and this is no more apparent in recent times as first firefighters and then doctors and nurses were raised to hero status in the moment to be quietly cast aside. Sometimes they are resurrected to support a narrative as suits.

For a decade or more Australia has resurrected the heroes of wars gone. That is after decade upon decade of them being ignored and forgotten.

This is not intended to denigrate the actions of these people in times and moments of adversity and hardship.

The question is why we have this fascination with elevating not just one or two individuals to hero status on the merits of their actions, but entire segments of population.

 It is actually baffling. Surely not every single one of these people did something heroic in those moments.

I postulate that Australian society, at its core, has a desire to find meaning in these turbulent, uncertain times. One way for society to find meaning is to find heroes.

Australia has for decades been somewhat immune from the consequences of conflict. Conflict has been a remote experience, even when our defence forces have been involved in overseas conflicts. These conflicts simply did not impact on Australian society, and life, the way that conflicts of the past had done. Conflict has been a remote thing in modern times and not something that struck the public psyche in the way that the past world wars did.

Personal greed and advancement have been in the fore in the recent protests, and the actions of the few who achieved much for society have come under focus. Agenda driven minorities had belittled the actions of those few, as it suited, and that had more relevance it seemed than any of those selfless actions by those individuals that had been cast down.

I suspect that in the heart of hearts of people there may be a secret shame that scares them. That even as they denounce past heroes and desecrate and rip down the monuments to them they know they are morally bankrupt.

Hero creation is subjective to the prevailing ideology of any given time. A case in point would be the Vietnam War and how our soldiers were treated, as it was an unpopular war. Facts such as conscription being the main way to provide troops was ignored, instead unwilling soldiers were cast as baby killing war mongers and publicly despised and then ignored. The passage of time has changed that in the public psyche and now they have been raised to hero status. Even this paragraph does not delve into the intricacies of the difference between conscripted and career soldiers; it merely presents a broad and somewhat clumsy example. It does present, however, the prevailing view of one era and the view of another era.

In the blink of an eye, Australia has found itself in a series of events, driven by a virus and an oppressive regime attempting to exert its dominance over us that could no longer be ignored, to magnify the search for meaning in our national identity. Politically it is expedient to find heroes to focus or direct attention to the path more preferable.

It is easy to draw a conclusion from these connections that the Australian population is lost in its identity, however, that is somewhat simplistic.

To be sure the national psyche is seeking connections that give meaning in a time of uncertainty, yet to only be superficial in inspection is to be limited to what is truly driving this desire for heroes.

Part of this search for heroes is driven by a need for relevance, however given the increasing diversity of population from other cultures it exposes the shallowness of this desire with regards to national identity. Australia is a melting pot of cultures and that is what shapes our identity, it always has.

What percentage of population that is derived from recent immigration actually cares about the origins of this country as an integral part of national identity?

Some immigrants may have more identity with their country of origin than their country of residence. For some their country of residence has more relevance to them than their country of origin, it rests upon what they were leaving and what they were going to. Escaping repression or violence to live in freedom is a great motivator to adopt and embrace a national identity. Leaving safety and freedom for whatever other reason is not a great motivator for national identity.

This essay does not consider delving into the thought processes and motivators of each individual, as to do that is to judge collectively the convictions, thoughts and desires of each individual. To do so is to be judge and jury of a group as a whole and to disregard the individual. To do so is to be morally and ethically empty.

I put forward that the national psyche is diverse and that a percentage of the population not only accept and embrace the freedoms that Australia provides under law, but that also a percentage of population are driven by motives other than national identity. Those motives can be as varied as the individual.

Again, this essay does not care to delve into the cultural and racial diversity that has made Australia what it is. I leave that to others to cast their opinions, educated or otherwise.

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