1920s >> 1928 >> no-286-june-1928

Hero Worship: A Conversation with a Visitor from Mars.

(Continued from May Issue.)

“I trust your question is not actuated by Martian impishness,” I smiled, “but it is easily answered. As a socialist, my friend, I subordinate the influence of any one person to the mode of production prevalent in society, but I am not insensible to the fact that men obviously differ in ability and talents. I do not deny that Newton had a great brain, or that Beethoven was a musical genius, and I endeavour to appreciate their work—the heritage not merely of these isolated individuals, but of the influences and reactions of the society in which they lived. The healthy thing to do is not to idolise these men and prostrate oneself before them in awe, but to take the trouble to hear what they have to offer, build up upon it, and recognise (as a fellow being, not as a superstitious slave) the fact that they have given of their best to mankind. As Alexander Pope says, ‘The fool admires, the man of sense approves.’ “

“And now, Marty, I must try to outline to you the effects of ‘hero-worship’ on human history, but time and the very magnitude of the subject compel me to be as brief in my descriptions as an English summer.

“Early in my remarks I mentioned the ‘witch-doctor’ or ‘medicine-man’ of primitive societies, and left you to draw the obvious inference that this individual affords the earliest example in recorded history of a ‘hero.’ To the savage mind, my friend, all objects that are strange, powerful, vast or invisible arouse feelings of awe and dread, and are thought worthy of veneration. Sooner or later, however, there arise men who are capable of relegating natural happenings to natural causes, and these men, alone in this knowledge, are able to take advantage of the ignorance and superstition of the tribesmen in order to obtain for themselves power, wealth and comfort. Originally working among his own circle of friends (distributing charms against ‘evil’ or personal enemies, and love potions, etc.), the witch-doctor—known to various tribes as the Mulgarrodock, Shaman, Biraack, Bodio, Nepu, etc.—develops into an important functionary, who administers ‘magical’ rites for the supposed benefit of the community. You will readily believe, Marty, that when this stage has been reached, the position becomes one of extreme danger to the holder, and only the wily impostor, experienced in the arts of trickery and fraud, utterly unscrupulous and ruthless, is able to keep the confidence of the tribe in his power to avert ‘evil,’ to bring rain or sunshine, or to act as mediator between the tribesmen and their gods,”

(To be continued.)

(Socialist Standard, June 1928)

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