Heroes Aren’t Saints

Thomas Jefferson

Heroes are a difficult subject for Americans. They aren’t really for me because of years of disappointment. Now I’ve come to terms with the imperfection of all people, which seems like the adult way to think about heroes.

But in politics, we see a lot of people holding on to the perfection of their heroes. People try to gloss over Thomas Jefferson’s many bad beliefs and behaviors. They apparently don’t think it’s okay for a hero to be great in one way and terrible in another.

To be honest I don’t think any of the founding fathers are hero material. They were all just men of a certain social class. There wasn’t anything especially remarkable about them. For one thing, they weren’t the ones getting shot in the field. Just like always, the Revolutionary War was ultimately a poor man’s fight.

Thomas Jefferson

But the bigger issue is that it shouldn’t be a problem to have a hero who is imperfect. Admittedly, Jefferson is a particularly bad case because he was a man who was a slave owner who was very clear in his writings that he understood just how horrible it was. (In fairness to Jefferson, like most of the founding fathers, he was a white supremacist, at least in private.)

Personally, I tend more towards loose cannons when it comes to my heroes. That’s why I like Thomas Paine so much. I don’t have to fret too much about him because the man was not all that interested in holding power. Had he ever had power, well, then he would probably have been a disappointment. But instead, he was a rabble-rouser and he was really good at that!

Interestingly, my favorite thing about Thomas Jefferson is that he was Paine’s friend and he sneaked him back into the country when Paine was widely hated for his book The Age of Reason. Although I suspect that, like today, the vast majority of people hated him because they had been told to; few people would have actually read The Age of Reason.

Low-Budget Filmmaking

But in order to be a lover of low-budget and psychotronic films, you get used to accepting that your heroes will be imperfect. Imperfect?! That’s an understatement!

Getting a film completed is very hard and most of the directors I admire we’re by and large total dicks. It seems to be almost impossible to do it if you aren’t one.

But that doesn’t make their films any less valuable. And the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a racist asshole doesn’t make the founding of America any less valuable.

Heroes and Saints

But I know that Americans by and large want to pretend that their heroes are perfect. It’s because they approach politics in a religious sense. For these people, John Adams or Robert E Lee are not men so much as demigods. Or if you prefer: saints.

But as with most modern problems in America, it’s really all comes down to the fact that we as a people are really stunted emotionally. We act like children.

4 thoughts on “Heroes Aren’t Saints

  1. Part of Paine’s thing was that the other Founders respected, benefitted from, and vastly distrusted his talent; he was given a proverbial “farm upstate.” Which was just big enough to provide him with an income, while not so big that he could relax and get free money from it. It was, as farming always is, a total pain in the plants. His writing slowed down a lot after he got that farm.

    I’ll bet that was Franklin’s idea. “Hmm, agrarian justice, you say? Let’s give him a farm.”

    A fun Wiki thing I just learned — Paine’s dad was a corset-maker. That’s just too excellent. He also spelled his name “Pain,” which is the perfect name for a corset-maker.

    • That’s great! I’ve been meaning to read a biography of him. Or maybe I did. I know a lot of details about his life and with my bad memory, I can’t say much.

      But yes, he was always going to be pushing for more reform. Agrarian Justice is remarkable — not just for its time. Even today, few people understand the argument that he makes. People’s razor focus on property rights without understanding how they limit others explains a lot of why we tend toward economic conservatism.

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