A little something on what happens when the heroes we put on a pedestal betray us. It happened to Germany. It can happen to us.
|May 24||Public post|
Here is a fun illustration of how storytelling affects the course of civilisation. Here is a passage from the preface to Lawrence Lessig’s book on the changing face of copyright — Remix.
In early 2007, I was at dinner with some friends in Berlin. We were talking about global warming. After an increasingly intense exchange about the threats from climate change, one overeager American at the table blurted, “We need to wage a war on carbon. Governments need to mobilize. Get our troops on the march!” Then he fell back into his chair, proud of his bold resolve, sipping a bit too much of the wildly too-expensive red wine. It was obvious that my friend was speaking metaphorically. Carbon is not an “enemy.” Not even an American marine could fight it.
Yet, as I looked around the table, a kind of reticence seemed to float above our German companions. “What does that look mean?” I asked one of my friends. After a short pause, he almost whispered, “Germans don’t like war.”
The response sparked a rare moment of recognition (in me). Of course, no one was talking about using guns to fight carbon. Or even carbon polluters. Yet, for obvious reasons, the associations with war in Germany are strongly negative. The whole country, but especially Berlin, is draped in constant reminders of the costs of that country’s twentieth-century double blunder.
A similar observation can be found in the preface to Christopher Vogler’s book on the craft of storytelling — The Writer’s Journey. Vogler points out that Germany is one of the few countries in the world which can be aptly described as “herophobic”.
German culture seems ambivalent about the term “hero”. The hero has a long tradition of veneration in Germany, but two World Wars and the legacy of Hitler and the Nazis have tainted the concept. Nazism and German militarism manipulated and distorted the powerful symbols of the hero myth, invoking its passions to enslave, dehumanize, and destroy. Like any archetypal system, like any philosophy or creed, the heroic form can be warped and used with great effect for ill intention.
In the post-Hitler period the idea of hero has been given a rest as the culture re-evaluates itself. Dispassionate, cold-blooded anti-heroes are more in keeping with the current German spirit. A tone of unsentimental realism is more popular at present, although there will always be a strain of romanticism and love of fantasy. Germans can enjoy imaginative hero tales from other cultures but don’t seem comfortable with home-grown romantic heroes for the time being.
So to summarise, stories were used to alter Germany’s perception of reality and guide it down a path which proved disastrous. This in turn affected the German mind so that now stories of the heroic kind do not find ready acceptance in German society. This in turn has given rise to a new kind of story in Germany. One where as a culture, they are suspicious of saviours.