I have known people who are bona fide heroes. Depending on your definition, I might be a hero. It’s a title I don’t desire, as it waters down the impact of those I consider to be real heroes.
These days there are so many heroes that it is the unusual person who is not a hero.
The kid with cancer who wants to be Batman for a day is a “hero”. Any cancer survivor is a hero. Oddly, dying of cancer is less heroic, and treating cancer gets no mention at all.
Right now, as far as I’m concerned, the guys from the water company who worked through the night to repair the water main break out front, allowing me to take my first hot shower in days, are heroes.
Edward Snowden is not a hero. Neither is “Chelsea” (Bradley) Manning, or Julian Assange. Heroism requires more than being on the right side of an issue, and I’m still not certain which side of their issue is the “right” side. I do know that heroism involves “doing the right thing”, a fairly fuzzy definition, and that none of these men chose the “right thing” that was available, turning instead to illegal avenues that endangered the lives of others. Heroes don’t put people in danger, so yeah, I’m sure these guys aren’t heroes.
Most of you have never heard of Aaron Swartz, but a lot of people think he was a hero. He was certainly a genius, developing the RSS standard when he was only fourteen. He left public school in the tenth grade, enrolling in the local college, and was later admitted to Stanford University. He dropped out of Stanford after a year, because he “didn’t find it intellectually stimulating”.
What he did find intellectually stimulating was exploiting the internet, developing ways to make it accessible in more ways to more people. Among his cooperative developments are Markdown, Infogami (which became Reddit), and Jottit, among a multitude of web shattering collaborations. Aaron became quite wealthy from his creative efforts, and invested his money and intellect into social causes. He believed the internet should be free, and that all the content on the internet should be free. Not a very popular position among artists, but big with consumers.
Aaron was, as most “creative types” are, prone to depression. Real, clinical depression. Being a genius and being able to accomplish anything he applied himself to made him feel invincible, the praise and hero worship justified his impression of moral superiority. When he “liberated” millions of documents from the MIT JSTOR library, he was indicted on 13 counts of wire fraud, computer intrusion and reckless damage.
The reality of a world regulated with “stupid” laws that applied to everyone, including him, was more than Aaron could handle. He hung himself in his Brooklyn apartment last year, three months before his trial date, at age twenty six.
I can empathize with his turmoil, his aspirations, the frustrations of living in a world of masters and slaves.
Was he a hero? Maybe. Was he a criminal? Probably. Was he a gift of genius and insight to the human race? Certainly.
Life is a complex equation, human beings are a mash of variables. Very few things are black or white.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently ruled on the issue of “net neutrality“, allowing providers to regulate content. What this means on the surface is Verizon can charge Netflix for the amount of bandwidth it uses, and that cost will be forwarded to end users. What it means to some people is that internet providers have the ability to charge for and control what content they deem to provide. Will it be abused and used for censorship? Probably, in the way that Walmart, the largest retailer of hardcopy music, has the ability to control what it sells. If you want a CD with a parental advisory, it’s not at Walmart. That would only be censorship if you also couldn’t get the CD at Target, or a neighborhood record store (a few still exist), due to Walmart’s influence.
If internet providers were capable of censorship, I would certainly hope the first thing they shut down are child pornography sites, I will give a second thought to whether or not they might censor speech sometime after that happens. In the meantime, I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that copyrights still apply to the internet, as an author my work is protected, as artists my friends works are protected.
There are a lot of heroes out there. They make the world a beautiful place. Celebrate them.