2008 February 09 Saturday
Americans Embrace Heroes Of Suffering Over Those Of Accomplishment

Steve Sailer reports an observation by Gregory Cochran that heroes of suffering have been elevated over heroes of accomplishment.

Greg Cochran points out a profound change in American culture: from celebrating and promoting heroes of accomplishment to doing the same for heroes of suffering. Consider two war heroes-turned politicians. Dwight Eisenhower got the 1952 GOP nomination because of his accomplishments even though he didn't suffer much for them -- he was never in combat in his life. But organizing D-Day and managing the Anglo-American coalition suggested he had what it takes to perform well the day-to-day work of the Presidency during a particularly scary part of the Cold War. In contrast, John McCain is likely to get the 2008 GOP nomination in large measure because of his tremendous suffering during the Vietnam War, although he never accomplished all that much in the military.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are granted Honorary Heroes of Suffering status because of their being non-white males. Moreover, Hillary attained Presidential Timberhood by suffering through her husband's public infidelity.

Similarly, Obama's autobiography is pure emo rock: Yes, I know, sitting on the beach in Hawaii smoking dope may sound like a pretty soft life to you, but it was hell to me because of my"story of race and inheritance." The drugs were just “something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind . . .”

Why this change? One hypothesis: The most accomplished no longer serve as role models because they are too unlike the masses. The most accomplished come from higher social classes and the masses can't identify with their accomplishments. Whereas the masses can identify with those who suffer and imagine themselves as great heroes of suffering. In an earlier era people from very modest backgrounds such as Henry Ford (who grew up in a small farm house) and Thomas Edison achieved great works. Common folks could point at the most accomplished and tell their kids they too can grow up to achieve at the same level. But nowadays the most accomplished are much more likely to come from elite backgrounds (e.g. Ivy League educations and parents who are high status professionals or executives) that remind the masses that the highest levels of accomplishment are not open to most of them.

Another hypothesis: Leftists have discredited real accomplishment. Decades of leftist politics have aimed at discrediting accomplishment as just exploitation by capitalists at the expense of the masses. The very idea of heroes of accomplishment has become suspect as those most accomplished in business are seen as victimizers in proportion to their accomplishments. People who can lay a claim to the status of sufferers then become recognized as heroes who supposedly prevailed against those who rise to the top in business and in other important institutions.

Still another hypothesis: Histories of suffering suggest greater feelings of empathy for suffering by others. This development could be a part of the feminization of politics. Women want to see that potential leaders have empathy. Histories of past suffering could be seen as suggesting a greater capacity to recognize and respond to suffering in others. Therefore people who claim to have suffered seem better bets to count on to be guided by feelings of empathy and to try to help lower status sufferers.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 February 09 09:41 PM  Civilizations Decay

HellKaiserRyo said at February 9, 2008 10:34 PM:

Keep your querulous whining about the leftists to yourself Randall.

What about Abraham Lincoln (whose stories about the poverty his early life were exaggerated) and FDR who suffered polio (although he concealed it)?

What about those religious conservatives who extol the virtues of private charity? Jesus Christ suffered on the cross and died for our sins (Isaiah 53 refers to a suffering servant that many believe to be Jesus Christ) and Mother Teresa emphasized suffering in her missionary work.

And no, I am not a Christian...

kurt9 said at February 9, 2008 11:01 PM:

Most likely, all three hypothesis are correct.

Needless to say, this is a negative social trend. Elevation of victimhood over accomplishment does not bode well for the future advance of at least this country. Of course, the world is made up of many different countries and people, and those that pursue accomplish above all else will out-compete those that do not. Think of it as evolution in action. Nature does not care about how much you suffer. It only cares about what you do to improve your situation.

I am neither a Christian nor a lefty.

Woof-Dog said at February 10, 2008 4:33 AM:

But there is another possibility: people who suffered a lot, can become absolutely ruthless and merciless, whereas it is also possible that some spoiled kids who never had to struggle, can be more altruistic and generous, because they do not have the same fears. Note that both Hitler, Stalin, and had very difficult childhoods.

Bob Badour said at February 10, 2008 4:59 AM:

It's just "equality of outcome" writ large. We dumb everything down and take resources away from our best and brightest to create equality of outcome. Why wouldn't we do the same in the political arena?

I have a bone to pick with your use of "feminization". Recently, I find people using "feminize" more and more frequently when they really mean "emasculate". Women do not seek unaccomplished mates who have suffered. Women seek accomplished mates who avoid suffering. The trend is not a feminization of politics but an emasculation of politics.

PaulK said at February 10, 2008 7:43 AM:

In America, the civil rights movement and the elevation of the Holocaust to become the defining element of Jewish identity have had the effect of making the victim the exalted hero of our age--at least publicly. Privately, at some level, most people still feel contempt for others who complain constantly. We like winners and dislike losers. To have to pretend otherwise is an indication of our societal decadence.

Randall Parker said at February 10, 2008 8:04 AM:

Yes, FDR hid his suffering. It was not an asset. That's the difference.

Your examples don't really fit. Jesus suffered for the rest of us so we won't have to suffer at all in the afterlife. The idea here? Avoid suffering.

Private charity has little to do with suffering.

Leftists: Hey, a lot of bad ideas come from the Left. It is very necessary to point out these ideas in order to lessen the damage they do.

Wolf-Dog said at February 10, 2008 9:49 AM:

Randall Parker said: "The idea here? Avoid suffering."

I disagree. I believe that suffering is the most precious commodity found in the universe. Without suffering, all discipline, organization, and even creativity would disappear. The founding fathers of America created the U.S. precisely because they learned a lot of lessons from the suffering inflicted upon them not only by the tyrants in Europe, but also by the hostile forces of nature.

kurt9 said at February 10, 2008 10:39 AM:

Suffering is the negative feedback signal, a form of operant conditioning, that tells you that "this sucks, try something else". The fact that some people choose to "glorify" what is nothing more than operant conditioning only demonstrates pathology.

JSBolton said at February 10, 2008 4:06 PM:

Victimized sufferers are not less, but more, likely to victimize others. It is those who have suffered least who can afford to empathize and be pushed to do charity for strangers far afield. The hard-bitten are hardened, hard-hearted and hard of hearing regarding tales of suffering. Suffering does not create value, but if you want power such as cannot be reasonably argued-for, it will aid you greatly if you can get others to compete in terms of who is more of a victim than another. Power-seekers do not create anything of value, they redistribute from those who have suffered less to those who have suffered more. When you are the ruler, and you have before you wretched supplicants vying and backstabbing each other for the crown of greater victimhood, your rule is unchallenged.

Kurt9 said at February 10, 2008 4:43 PM:


What you describe is well-known to the police in any major U.S. city. It is well-known that victims of crime are more likely to become perps that non-victims, which is why control of crime is important.

So Very Bitter said at February 10, 2008 8:28 PM:

Just playing Devil's Advocate here, but aren't getting into the Naval Academy, becoming a Navy Pilot and marrying a hot heiress pretty damn good accomplishments?

hrump said at February 11, 2008 4:49 PM:

At the Naval Academy

Getting into the Academy is not much of an accomplishment. Getting in when your grandfather is a dead WW2 4-star Admiral and Academy grad with a new destroyer named after him, and your father, also an Admiral and Academy grad, is the top Navy liaison to congress (must be some interesting stories there). And they both have the same name as you:

- definitely not an accomplishment. The same goes for graduating and becoming whatever you want in the Navy.

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