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In Lieu of Reviewing the Movie, ‘Kickass’

8 May 2010

[H/T Alan Farhi]

Actually, the plan was to see Kickass, then to add some interesting links about real-life (yes, as in not on any screen) people who are costumed heroes.  When I heard that Kickass had a scene about a 14-year old girl being beaten to within an inch of her life, I thought I needed to draw the line. 

There is this going on, over in the Big Apple:

“We are just people who really care and try to go out and make a difference,” says Chris Pollak, 25, whose alter ego, “Dark Guardian,” strikes fear in the hearts of drug peddlers in Washington Square Park. “The idea is to be this drastic example of making change in your community.”

The Staten Islander has been patrolling city streets for the last seven years, frequently putting himself in harm’s way. A drug dealer flashed a gun at Pollak once, and he has almost come to blows with thugs.

“My fiancée is very supportive, but she gets worried if I’m doing anything that involves danger,” Dark Guardian said. “When I met my fiancée, I told her I liked to do this thing where I go out and help the homeless and patrol the streets. I didn’t get into the whole costume thing — I waited until a little bit into the relationship.”

I shared this with a friend of mine, Alan Farhi, who lives and works in NYC.  He responded by sharing with me some news of Phillip Zimbardo  (this is the guy who headed up the famous Stanford Prison / Guard experiment, that went haywire and had to be ended). 

Here is an excerpt from Heroic Imagination Project’s white paper, ‘Understanding Heroes.’ 

Banality of Heroism’

We may now entertain the notion that most people who become perpetrators of evil deeds
are directly comparable to those who become perpetrators of heroic deeds, alike in being
just ordinary, average people. The banality of evil matches the banality of heroism.
Neither attribute is the direct consequence of dispositional tendencies; there are no
special inner attributes either of pathology or of goodness residing within the human
psyche or the human genome. Both conditions emerge in particular situations at
particular times when situational forces play a compelling role in moving particular
individuals across a decisional line from inaction to action. There is a decisive decisional
moment when a person is caught up in a vortex of forces that emanate from a behavioral
context. Those forces combine to increase the probability of one’s acting to harm others
or acting to help others. Their decision may not be consciously planned or mindfully
taken. Rather strong situational forces most often impulsively drive the person to action.
Among the situational evil-action vectors are:

Group, team pressures and group identity; the diffusion of responsibility for the action; a
temporal focus on the immediate moment without consciousness of consequences
stemming from the act in the future; dehumanization of the other; de-individuation
(anonymity) of self; negative role models; social norms approving of the action; moral
disengagement via semantic distortions of the real nature of the evil action, actor, and
consequences; among others indentified by a large body of research.

Zimbardo argues that the very situations that inflame the “hostile imagination” in some
people, inducing them to cross the line between good and evil and become perpetrators,
instill the “heroic imagination” in others, inducing them to act heroically to challenge
human evil or do service to others in natural disasters. In both cases, a unique opportunity
provides a call to action for evil or for good.

The whole thing is fascinating. 

I don’t think I agree with Zimbardo on every point.  For example, he seems to distort God’s intention in telling Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom.  My own opinion is that God was using the situation to build Abraham into a man of compassionate courage.  And of course, I do not believe the destruction of Sodom to be an evil thing, precisely because I do not ascribe evil to God  (no apologies for the circular-sounding logic, either). 

I also do not believe acts of heroism to be completely selfless.  For example, Corrie Ten Boom (I’m using this example deliberately – you’ll see why if you read HIP’s whitepaper) cites her father’s concern over the Jews coming from his conviction that “(the Jews) are the apple of God’s eye.”  This respect for the ethnic group then is derived from Casper Ten Boom’s respect for the Almighty. 

Moreover, I have a book written by a woman who was on the train with the Ten Boom sisters, on the way to the camps.  Her activism is the reason she was captured;  but it seems that she was more profoundly influenced by her love for her boyfriend (and he for her).  Love is often a complicated mixture of selfishness and selflessness.  Even agape-love.  (Ask any mother!). 

Finally, while I think Zimbardo is apt in exploring the relationship between heroes and villains, he doesn’t seem to go as far with it as he needs to.  The scary thing about either group, is that everyone believes they are good people.  Simply put, any villain is simply acting out his or her own heroic imagination (!). 

I do not think the effort to understand the banality of heroism will be successful, in that it appears to attempt it without understanding the character of God as He has revealed Himself. 

But, ya gotta admire the effort!  🙂

– Elder

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