You are a hero, and that’s your problem.
That probably needs a bit more exposition, so this article will have to be longer than 8 words.
You’re not the Man of Steel. You aren’t more powerful than a locomotive, or faster than a speeding bullet. You don’t have super hearing, or super strength, and you’ve never leaped over a tall building in a single bound. You also can’t fly, except in a straight line towards the ground – once.
Nonetheless, you’re a hero and that’s why you’re screwed.
Your heroism isn’t the capital letter insignia of a cape wearing man in red and blue tights, your heroics are written lowercase. You might sit in a car in grid locked traffic for hours each day just to get to the job you work to pay for her house, groceries and lifestyle. And don’t let your name on the mortgage confuse you, that’s her house. This is part of what makes you a hero. And that commute of yours is heroic too, in case you wondered.
Despite your modest heroism, you have all the super qualities of that capital S emblazoned comic book myth. You weather abuse and indifference to your own pain with almost the noble silence of a Kryptonian. You routinely put your own needs after the needs of those you serve. And if you imagine that deal is reciprocal, you are in error. But your service and self sacrifice does have one benefit, you get the provisional public identity as a “real man”. So long as you don’t rock the boat. Superman doesn’t complain about the burdens of being a super man.
Of course, Superman is an imaginary character from a comic book. By contrast, you are a real person. The fact that you are an actual man living in the real world is of course why your day to day heroic qualities are small. A real man can’t compete with an imaginary fellow who flies and deflects bullets.
Superman doesn’t exist. He only exists as an imaginary heroic figure to put your small-H heroism into his shadow. And your sacrifices of comfort, of your health, of your own needs behind the needs of those you serve, comprise your real world modeling of the hero archetype.
Why are so many men driven from their own homes to a basement or a garage? If modern transportation still used horses you’d be sleeping in the stable, rather than the main house. It is not that you are banished, rather you have banished yourself in a bizarre gesture of self sacrifice. How stoic of you, it’s only too bad a cape is not in modern fashion. After your important bills are paid, what fraction of your disposable income do you spend on yourself, and what fraction on those you serve?
The sacrifices made daily by men on behalf of others, viewed only as “positive masculinity,” are small scale heroism. Compared to the idealized hero, your heroic character is small and unimpressive.
Next to Superman, or Hercules, or some other legendary figure, you will always be inadequate. You are not Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ubermench or a member of the DC comics Justice League.
He is the pure, idealized image of what you cannot be. You are not an indestructible strong man from outer space. He doesn’t need his basic humanity, his pain, or his fatigue recognized. He doesn’t feel fatigue, he doesn’t have human needs, and he will never fail in being a hero – because he is imaginary. You are not imaginary.
But you’ve been conned. You bought into the hero identity. You work hard to maintain your conferred identity as a good man which is small scale writing of the word hero. That’s what keeps you in your service role. It’s what keeps you working for somebody else’s dreams rather than your own. It’s what makes you believe somebody else’s goals are your own.
Superman lives a life of never ending errands. But they’re not for him, he runs from urgent task to urgent task for others. Imagine your own job and the tasks your boss puts on your desk. Now imagine each one comes with priority: urgent. All tasks are top priority urgent. You cant prioritize tasks because your just an employee taking orders.
To be superman is to be a slave.
So why do you still esteem the conferred identity of “good man” or “real man”? Are you so foolish and weak minded that you see no other possibility for yourself?
It’s obviously not quite so simple. Departure from the assigned role of hero comes at a great cost in pain.
When Dr. Warren Farrell spoke in Toronto in 2012 about problems facing boys in the education system, conformists and authoritarians chanted “Shame!” Dare you consider men or boys as anything except service automatons who have un-addressed needs? Shame! Shame!
When a crowd of sixty shouts that at you it is withering, even if you are following your conscience. No coherent reason is offered other than that you have deviated from your assigned service role.
The word shame is the revocation of your good-man dues-paid card. And it works to put you back into your harness because, in your life, you have unconsciously modeled the hero archetype.
But what are you going to do with this knowledge? The concept, possibly new to your consideration that you have modeled the hero archetype for your entire life? Heroism is a mental trap, making your human worth dependent on conformity to a destructive ethos of self abasement.
It is not enough to recognize our own modeling of the hero archetype and the blockage it creates for self determination. Human beings are social animals and we live in a world of created meaning. We don’t live in a world of concrete survival challenges on which to focus, we live in the context of a human created social reality. So how does a man exist without a model for himself in that world of symbolic meaning?
He doesn’t. Having value within a world of meaning, which is to say, having social value is a basic human need. The most obvious answer for men is to reject the hero archetype and to select an alternative. One possibility is to replace the super hero with the super villain. The super villain is not affected by a consensus of public opinion on his status as a good man. He is not controlled by disapproval. Whatever model we choose, it should be based on the recognition of heroism as a scam and a tool of control to be dumped by anyone who seeks self determination.