Heroes for Ghosts

Heroes for Ghosts

I don’t talk politics much.  And this post isn’t about left or right, or “kids these days” (though it might seem like it for a moment), or about how oddly dysfunctional is our current government.  It’s about Pink Floyd.

New neighbors moved into the house next door about a month ago.  I noticed when the old ones moved out because my water bill dropped by 50-75%.  One of the guys next door is the son of the landlord: apparently dad is trying to pull the house out of section 8 because the neighborhood is rising.

This is the face of gentrification. Get off my lawn.

This is the face of gentrification. Get off my lawn.

My new neighbors are recent college graduates.  I know this because of their affection for Pink Floyd and their budding ability to be genial when their next door neighbor says hello.  Whenever they pull off a fairly normal social interaction, I hear one of them remark as they go back to their house that, “That was awesome.”

Adulting is fun.

What got me thinking about the title of this post was the musical soundtrack to my Saturday afternoon, care of my neighbors.  They were working in the garage, things were still audibly “awesome,” and Floyd’s “Wish you were here” was turned up to 11.

“Did you trade your heroes for ghosts?” rang into the rhetorical void of my lawn, and it struck me that yes, we have.

I’ve heard the administration of our current president, whom some of my friends refer to with the anagram “Lord Dampnut,” hold Coretta Scott King, wife of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., up as a symbol of their policies.  Certainly she would approve of their good deeds.

Besides the obvious prima facie absurdity of such a claim, it’s worth acknowledging that the left does the same with Martin Luther King Jr. himself.  King pushed for a great many changes that the left now claims as its own hard-won territory, but they are not the same thing.

I see posts float by on the swollen river of meta-information that is Facebook; posts questioning stalwarts of the left, questioning Black Lives Matter protests, questioning whether anyone, any movement, any shining knight meets our standard of ideological purity.  Is Bernie ideologically pure enough?  Is Warren faking it?  Hasn’t Booker abandoned us all?  I think we forget that MLK wouldn’t meet the standard we’ve set.

During his time, King was more hated than he was loved.  His marriage wasn’t perfect, his children weren’t perfect, and indeed, he was not perfect.  The message he carried with him into history made many people deeply uncomfortable.  But the haze of time has burnished his legacy, polishing down the rough edges, and conveniently forgetting the parts that made him imperfect, relatable, human.  He stands on the right side of history not for his perfection, but because he chose to.

Think again about our founding fathers, about Lincoln, about suffragists, about any “great” men or women in history: we probably wouldn’t like them.  Uncompromising people are easy to respect, but often difficult to like.  Instead we trade them in for a polished-up and dumbed-down version after they can no longer protest.  It’s human nature.

But it begs the question: who today is doing good work?  Not “great” work, or work that is popular.  Who is standing on the right side of history?  Can we as American accept their flaws and stand with them?  The real heroes of the American experience won’t be perfect or flawless.  I’m not sure I would trust anyone who is.

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