PRODOS SPEAKS WITH
DR ANDREW BERNSTEIN
ON HEROISM AND HERO-WORSHIP
DR ANDREW BERNSTEIN IS A SENIOR WRITER WITH THE AYN RAND INSTITUTE. TO READ TWO OF HIS ESSAYS CLICK HERE AND CLICK HERE.
Prodos: (INTRO) What do these people have in common?
Galileo, Thomas Jefferson, Cyrano de Bergerac, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Jordan, Batman, Howard Roark, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Ayn Rand? Well, they're all extraordinary individuals. They're inspirational. They've overcome incredible odds. They're all, in a sense, undefeatable. Ladies and gentlemen, they're HEROES! Today on the show that is exactly what we're discussing: HEROISM. And my special guest, on line from New York City, is the author of - well, so much - but here are couple of his essays which I've read or re-read only recently: Villainy - An Analysis of the Nature of Evil (from The Intellectual Activist). The Soul of a Champion - An Open Letter To Michael Jordan (from The Intellectual Activist). The Philosophical Foundations of Heroism which you can find on the website of Mr Universe winner - Mike Mentzer.
He is one of the world's leading Objectivist thinkers, writers and teachers - and a man who I've been told is himself an inspiration to many, welcome to the show Dr Andrew Bernstein!
Andrew Bernstein: Thank you Prodos, I'm very happy to be here.
Prodos: Andrew, it's a great pleasure and I'm a big fan - I have to admit it.
Andrew Bernstein: Oh thank you, I appreciate that very much.
Prodos: You're the man who wrote this opening line in your 'Open Letter to Michael Jordan':
"Dear Mr Jordan . . . thank you for winning six NBA titles and earning hundreds of millions of dollars".
You're obviously a man who BELIEVES in the idea of heros and heroism. You obviously treat it as a very serious subject. It seems to me you're possibly even making it into a Science.
Andrew Bernstein: Yes, I've been a HERO WORSHIPPER since I was a very young child. Unfortunately in the Twentieth Century hero-worship is sneered at by most intellectuals and yet I think it's a NECESSITY for an individual's moral and psychological health and development - to be a very ACTIVE hero-worshipper.
Prodos: I want to put this idea to you Andrew. I believe that once the first man ran 'the four minute mile' a whole lot of others soon followed suit. That first man changed our expectations. That in turn changed our performance. Is that the sort of thing a hero does for us?
Andrew Bernstein: A hero benefits us in many different ways. The obvious way is the practical gain that we get. For instance, you mentioned Thomas Edison. When he put in years of effort to develop a lighting system, the benefits to the rest of us is obvious. We have the electric lights that we didn't have previously.
But at the deeper level, aside from the practical benefit that we get from a hero's achievement, I think even more important is the INSPIRATION that we can derive from the hero when we see somebody like Thomas Edison struggle for years to develop the electric light. We see somebody like Louis Pasteur, the great French Scientist develop a theory of what causes disease and he's rejected - not just by the common man but by the Scientific and Medical establishment - and he has to fight for years to get his ideas accepted. We see the kind of struggle that these individuals go through and eventually they triumph and the positive impact it has on human life.
We can ask ourselves the question:
If Pasteur can go through all of that struggle to reach his achievements, what can I do in my OWN life with a similar dedication and a similar commitment - granted that I'm not a genius and I can't do the kinds of things they did - I won't change the world - but can I change MY LIFE? That's the kind of inspiration we can draw from a great hero.
Prodos: So you're suggesting in a way that it's not automatically obvious to us what our potential can achieve for us. And that a hero is, in a sense, useful in helping us look at what we ourselves could possibly do. Even though we didn't know we could do it, the hero inspires us, the hero tells us something about ourselves that we didn't know.
Andrew Bernstein: Absolutely. The hero shows us what the HUMAN POTENTIAL is.
Prodos: Ah yes!
Andrew Bernstein: I've always loved the motto of the modern Olympics 'Citius, Altius, Fortius' = 'Swifter, Higher, Stronger'. I think that's very beautiful. And that was part of my letter to Michael Jordan - that he is obviously a superbly talented athlete. I don't have that kind of ability. There are a lot of people with a lot of talent who don't work to develop it. But Michael Jordan, what separates him, is he's the one who's combined tremendous talent with this indefatigable work ethic - that he's so dedicated to developing his skills. That's what made him the best ever in his field. Well, I may not have his kind of talent but what can I do in my own life if I incorporate his kind of work ethic? If I push the envelope on MY development and actualize MY potential and go as far as I'M able to go; given MY ability what might I accomplish in MY life? This is something open to every one of us.
Prodos: You've used the word 'actualize'. I first encountered that word years ago when reading the literature of the 60's and 70's, like Carl Rogers and all those sort of 'let it all hang out' type of advocates. But you're suggesting a completely different approach. You're saying that actualization is not about just simply 'letting yourself go', it's not about waiting for things to happen to you. You're saying that actualization is something that you can go out and get, go out and grab, go out and achieve yourself.
Andrew Bernstein: Right. The term comes originally from Aristotle, the philosopher.
Andrew Bernstein: It's all about, as a human being, having a rational faculty, having a mind. If you work hard to develop it - really push yourself to get an education, seek a career in some productive field and also - in the bodily realm - exercise regularly to stay fit and robust - that you can have a life of all round, healthy self-fulfillment. And as you push yourself to succeed in your career and in striving for your own development and your own fulfillment, you have the knowledge that as a very benevolent consequence - as a secondary side issue - that your development as a rational human being will benefit other people as well.
Prodos: Yes. That's remarkable. It's also remarkable that we have not realized that fully enough until now. It's not surprising that it took AN OBJECTIVIST to point that out to us Andrew Bernstein.
Andrew Bernstein: Well, you and I and millions and millions of others have enormously benefited from the achievements of, say, the Wright brothers who invented the airplane. Now we're able to travel from New York to Melbourne - is that how you say it "Melbourne"?
Prodos: Ooh yeah, you've got it spot on there.
Andrew Bernstein: Yeah, we can travel from New York to Melbourne in how long? Twenty something hours now?
Andrew Bernstein: Which seems like a long period of time. But if we remember that it took Magellan's crew three years to circumnavigate the globe in a boat, the twenty four hours or whatever it takes to get from New York to Melbourne doesn't seem so long anymore. So the point is that by actualizing my own potential, primarily I make MYSELF happy and I live the life proper to a man, to a rational being. But as a SECONDARY CONSEQUENCE I also benefit others enormously. And that's a very happy fact.
Prodos: So when you thank Michael Jordan for winning six NBA titles and for earning hundreds of millions of dollars that's not just an attention grabbing opening statement or gimmick; you actually mean it.
Andrew Bernstein: Oh, absolutely! He's provided me with this inspiration! It's been not only a joy watching him - as someone who appreciates a great athlete - and watching his athletic artistry which is an esthetic experience - it's almost like art work - but more than that, it's the inspiration I've gotten from him. I've seen him one year in the NBA finals. He was sick and he had a high fever and he could barely stand but he still pushed himself out there and dominated the game and won the NBA title!
That kind of achievement in the face of great adversity fills me with an emotional fuel. It's a spiritual energy that then says to me "I can do things in my life too. I don't have his talent but I can have his drive and perseverance and I can go as far as I can." And that really helps me in writing books and giving talks and teaching classes as a philosopher, attempting to save money - philosophers don't make a lot of money - but the feeling is: If Michael Jordan can win the NBA championship when he's as sick as a dog, why can't I be able to make money and live on a budget and save and reach financial independence one day!
Prodos: Another question for you Dr Andrew Bernstein. Just as when a great artist portrays a simple piece of fruit in a distinctive, compelling way - so that after we've seen his painting we never look at fruit or color or texture in the same way - I wonder whether appreciating the heroic also, in a way, ESSENTIALIZES our view of our self and of others. That seems to be what's coming through from what you're saying in a way. So my question is really about the parallel between the effect that great art has and the effect of hero worship.
Andrew Bernstein: That's an interesting question. To be perfectly honest with you I haven't considered the question in quite that form before. It's a very good observation you're making. That great art, you used the example of an apple, stylizes something. That is, it stresses the characteristics that make it what it is. And similarly with observing a hero. It helps us pick out (the essentials) - from amongst all the diversity of somebody's life - from all the various incidental details of who your parents were, where you were born, and what color your skin is - trivial things like that - trivial in certain ways at least - because it focuses on the human potential: This is what is possible to man, This is what is possible to the human species. We're not just limited to criminals, dictators and gangsters and drug dealers and drug addicts . . .
Prodos: (interrupting) Sounds like Hollywood
Andrew Bernstein: (all laugh) Yeah Hollywood . . . That the human potential includes the capacity for greatness. And if we're dedicated to pushing ourselves - to use the slogan of the US Army: 'To be all we can be' - If were dedicated to pushing ourselves 'to be all we can be' then we can achieve not necessarily great things - I may not have the talent to do great things - but I can achieve at the highest possible to me and be very, very proud and not ashamed and not feel like I'm a sinner or be embarrassed about myself. I can live a very, very proud life because I've earned it.
Prodos: Lovely. Now if you talk to intelligent, educated people today about heroism they'll usually nod knowingly and tell you they've read Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero Of A Thousand Faces, who's written a lot on what he calls 'The Heroic Journey' and all that sort of thing. What's your view of Campbell's ideas Andrew Bernstein? Where do you agree and disagree with him?
Andrew Bernstein: Well to be perfectly honest with you I've never read Campbell (Prodos laughs - surprised and pleased) . . . I've heard the name, I've never read his books so I really have no idea of what his specific thinking on this or any subject is.
Prodos: I suppose there's a reason why you haven't been attracted to his writing?
Andrew Bernstein: Is Campbell particularly religious? I forget.
Prodos: He's a funny mixture because he makes studies of mythological characters and heroes and talks about the usefulness of myth. I think he believes in the 'collective subconscious' and all that sort of thing (Later I remembered that he is an intellectual descendant of Carl Jung - a whopping big Kantian).
Andrew Bernstein: Well the fact that I haven't read Joseph Campbell's books, I didn't mean that as any kind of put down of Joseph Campbell. It's just that there's a lot of people I haven't read.
Andrew Bernstein: I don't know enough about him to say one way or the other. I'll just say on this that I'm more interested, with my own thinking, in looking at reality, looking at facts, looking at some of the people like you mentioned before - Galileo and Socrates and Ayn Rand - and people like that. Looking at THEM - at real life heroes - and then INDUCING from them, extracting from the particulars what's the essence of being a hero rather than studying scholarship on what other people have written about heroes.
Prodos: Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, is said to be a philosophy for living on earth. Would it also be true to say that Objectivism is a philosophy for living on earth HEROICALLY? In other words, my question is: Are Objectivism and heroism especially compatible?
Andrew Bernstein: Yes. Absolutely! The reason that Objectivism is so compatible with heroism is that a hero is somebody who's committed in one form or another to either the creation of or the defense of life-promoting values. That is, the things that make man's life on earth possible. So notice the people you mentioned before, they were achievers. Thomas Jefferson writes the Declaration of Independence and helps establish political freedom which then enables people to live their own lives and enables the United States to become prosperous. Edison with the lighting system. Galileo with his advances in Astronomy and in Physics. Or Bill Gates who created software that greatly enhances people's life. A hero is somebody who creates and/or defends the values that make man's life on earth possible.
Prodos: Which is exactly what Objectivism is on about too.
Andrew Bernstein: Yes! What Ayn Rand has identified, for the first time, fully, consistently and in a non-contradictory way is that THE MIND is the means by which we create those values. It's not manual labor the way the Marxists think - although manual laborers do a good day's work for an honest dollar - but it's the mind that fundamentally creates those light bulbs, figures out the agricultural technologies of how to grow food, etc. It's primarily the mind that creates those values - not manual labor and certainly not fate or going by your feelings. So what Ayn Rand did is she identified what enables man to survive on earth and that which makes heroism possible: a commitment to the rational mind and to the values that the rational mind creates.
Prodos: Could you talk a little bit about the mind/body split in today's culture (discussed in Dr Bernstein's paper The Philosophical Foundations of Heroism) and what do you mean by it and the effect this has on heroism. For example does it undermine those individuals of heroic inclination?
Andrew Bernstein: The mind/body split is very prevalent in Western culture today. It's the idea that the mind or the spirit comes from a higher dimension of reality, comes from Heaven or from some religious realm. - whereas the body is purely in this world and of this world. So under this world view, developed by the Greek philosopher Plato and certainly embraced by religion, the spirit is higher and better and the body is lower or weak. The way it effects heroism is that since people are taught that the spirit or the soul or the mind is other-worldly then it has no effectiveness in this world. It's Ivory Tower, it just deals with a higher world 'beyond' this world.
Prodos: In other words what's the point of trying so hard?
Andrew Bernstein: Yes, what's the point of being a thinker when thinking is just dealing with 'pure theory' and not about practical matters. Incidentally, a good literary example of this is Shakespeare's Hamlet who's a philosopher and who thinks and thinks and thinks and because he thinks so much he can never take practical action. Shakespeare is operating with that idea: that the mind is purely theoretical. Consequently, what's bunked our concept of heroism is that the human race, to whatever extent it believes in heroism any more at all, notice that almost all the heroes are purely men of great PHYSICAL PROWESS - whether they're mighty warriors like Achilles or Hector in The Illiad or coming right up to the Western movies that Hollywood turned out, the gunfighters like Shane and people like that - Arnold Schwarznegger films - and of course athletes. The overwhelming majority of heroes that the human race admires have been men of great bodily prowess not of great INTELLECTUAL prowess. And that's because the religious world view has led them to believe that the spirit comes from another world and is only good to get you into Heaven - it doesn't deal effectively with THIS WORLD. The mind/body split is also why the Marxists have been able to convince so many people, incidentally, that manual labor is the way that wealth is created - by physical, bodily labor.
Prodos: Is someone like Seinfeld a hero? Could he ever be seen as a hero?
Andrew Bernstein: Once again I have to plead a certain degree of ignorance. I haven't seen enough of his work . . .
Prodos: (interrupting, shocked) You haven't seen Seinfeld!! God!
Andrew Bernstein: (laughing) I know, silly me. I prefer books rather than watching TV.
Prodos: Well I've actually got a BOOK written by Seinfeld (Sein Language) with all his jokes in it.
Andrew Bernstein: (humoring me) Is that right?
Prodos: Oh yes, so you can actually READ him now.
Andrew Bernstein: (laughing) Well that's good to know. Thank you. (getting back on track) Well from the little I've seen of his show on TV - and my wife is a big Seinfeld fan - I have to say that I think he's funny. He's certainly humorous - I don't know if he qualifies as a hero.
Prodos: Yeah, I wouldn't have thought he's a hero - although we don't know what goes on behind the scenes.
Andrew Bernstein: Exactly! That's a good point you're raising. I don't know what kind of obstacles he might have had to overcome in his own life in order to reach the level of success that he has. He might well have overcome all kinds of obstacles and had to put forth tremendous, heroic effort.
Prodos: Well imagine everyone laughing at you all the time - that's pretty tough.
Andrew Bernstein: (all laugh) That's the trouble with a comic or a comedian being a hero. It's that the comedian is making fun of something, whereas a hero is somebody who is serious about promoting the well-being of man's life on earth. Where a comedian could really be heroic is if he stands up, say, in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany or some dictatorship and makes fun of the dictator based on the rational principles that human life requires. If you make fun of Hitler in Nazi Germany that's a very heroic action.
Prodos: Geez. I don't know if 'heroic' is the right word there . . .
Andrew Bernstein: (all laugh) Yeah, it might be 'suicidal' - that might be better.
Prodos: Is there a time in life when having heroes is especially important for an individual?
Andrew Bernstein: I think it's important all throughout life. Certainly for a young person. Of course a hero - as somebody who's relentlessly dedicated to the values that make life on earth possible - is inspiring at ANY AGE, but especially for a young person who hasn't yet decided what he wants to do with his life and hasn't figured out yet how much is POSSIBLE in life. Growing up now in the late Twentieth Century where Western culture is dominated by ANTI-HEROES, by people who are drug addicts or their families are psychologically disturbed, they have all kinds of problems and they just kind of wallow in their problems and nobody ever gets anywhere . . .
Prodos: (interrupting) Hey, I'm getting depressed here!
Andrew Bernstein: Yeah, exactly! . . . Growing up in this kind of culture, this is what you see on television, this is what you see in the movies, this is what you read in books - it can be very, very depressing, just as you say. So all the more so, in our culture, for a young person, to have the sight of a hero, to read an Ayn Rand book or, one of my favorites novels, I don't know how well known it is, the novel Shane by Jack Schaefer which is a Western novel. Shane is a great, great hero. I could see a young person reading a book like that and seeing Shane stand up against the evil for the good the people he loves and putting his life on the line - I could see that being enormously inspiring to somebody even if they don't understand the intellectual issues that we're discussing now. At the very least at the emotional level, feeling: Well if Shane can do that, then what might I accomplish in MY life?
Prodos: Thank you Dr Andrew Bernstein. I'd like to end with a quote from your writings. You've written that:
"The essence of heroism is an unbreached and unbreachable allegiance to the good in the face of any possible form of opposition"
An inspiring quote from an inspiring man!
(Thank you's, farewells, END)
Recorded: Melbourne time: 4pm, Thursday 10th December 1998
Broadcast: 16th December 1998 on the 'Philosophically Speaking' segment of The PRODOS Connection on Melbourne radio 97.4 FM