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Restoration Project 11:56 -- Hero Complex
The Restoration Project 11:56 is the idea that limitations of modern political and economic systems can only be overcome through an alliance of progressives & conservatives. A hybrid transmodern politics begins with memes and moods that will initially feel odd in their attempt to combine the systemic social vision of healthy progressives with the thematic, aesthetic and symbolic ethical concerns common on the Right. This oddness is a good sign. It means that something new might be emerging.
Have you seen the TV program BILLIONS?
It features the confrontation between Chuck & Bobby — a politically ambitious agent for the New York District Attorney’s office and a highly competent, predatory billionaire investor. Both men are clever and corrupt but one of them represent law and order in our nation while the other one represents the ascendance of financial criminals. It should be an easy moral choice to side with the Law — but it isn’t.
Fans of the show have a fondness for Bobby Axelrod. We know he is a ruthless criminal businessman, who may well have gotten his initial fortune by cheating the victims of the 9/11 terror attack, so WHY do we like him?
He’s sort of heroic.
He demonstrates superior levels of competence, discipline and fun while courageously facing dangers and leading teams into battle. That appeals to something ancient in our human chemistry. It’s the reason that Robin Hood, King Arthur and King David were so famous. It’s the reason fake wrestling soap operas are hugely popular around the world. The same reason that kids love comics and audiences love superheroes. Especially conservative audiences.
If we permit ourselves a bit of hyperbolic generalization, we can imagine that while the cosmopolitan elites are sipping white wine, munching kale chips and perusing the latest complicated cinematic anti-hero, that computers in rural regions are still tuning in to hear about Jesus, Lincoln & QAnon. These are tales about legendary heroes. They exhibit magical levels of competence and promise to fix the nation by daringly standing against vast forces on behalf of a higher sacred power.
This is not a indictment of that psychology. I love heroes too. The Restoration Project 11:56 should be very interested in the role that heroism plays in integrated, hybrid, trans-liberal messaging.
Donald Trump and Barack Obama both played like low-level superheroes in the collective American psyche. Where are the progressive heroes? How do we combine this archetypal need (the conservative need for super-autonomy & magical competence) with an agenda that actually upgrades our society to face the accumulating and emergent challenges of today and tomorrow?
Can you imagine someone like a Bernie Sanders (already pretty popular) who also has an IQ of 200 and karate kicks a mugger at a 7/11? A socialist Tony Stark? I know that many conservatives feel strongly about removing regulations, ignoring climate change and criminalizing abortion but they might give some ground if the presidential team promoting the opposite views was… Elon Musk & Bruce Lee.
It sounds ridiculous. It should. We’re talking about something that is largely unfamiliar to public messaging. The attempt to combine the mythic heroic individual with the collective, systemic agenda for an improved and more secure egalitarian society is something people will have to learn.
There is a commonplace understanding that rural American culture gets angry if they think someone else “thinks they’re better than us” or “looks down on me” or “dismisses our competence.” There is a high level of attunement to hierarchy. For both good and ill. They don’t just have a chip on their shoulder. They also are willing to mobilize on behalf of an inspiring hero. They look “up” to Jesus, Superman, Luke Skywalker, the President, Putin, billionaires, etc. The conservative in all of us is tempted by these evocative resemblances to the defiant, super-competent “winning” epitomes of sacrificial autonomy.
Progressives also have a conservative soul. Think about how excited they got when AOC initially defied Nancy Pelosi. Think about how sad they got when Bernie started supporting Joe Biden. We are all already responding to ancient intimations of heroism or its absence. We are all descended from the traditional worldspace in which the right to lecture other people about morality and social organization derives from supercompetency and valor (“skin in the game") against real threats.
It is therefore not surprising to learn of the high regard among American Republican voters for the podcaster Joe Rogan — even though he aligned with many progressive positions. He’s conservative in tone but borderline socialist in many of his political views. How has he gotten away with that for long? Well, he’s a martial artist, bow hunter, risk taker who stands for himself against a legion of suppressive reactionaries who would love to police his content. He’s a hero.
Washington, Lincoln and both the Roosevelt presidents were, arguably, mythic heroes deploying progressive policies (relative to their time period). We need to keep this idea in mind. The idealistic projection of conservatives upon quasi-supernatural mythic nation heroes CAN be combined with big structural changes that benefit the people.
The 1% is a problem. But it’s hard to fight that problem when I see Elon Musk taking us to Mars, mouthing off (liberty) on twitter and implement cool, driverless, electric cars. Where the labor union heroes? The UBI heroes?? The Green New Deal heroes???
How much more impressive is Paul Watson’s Rainbow Warrior boat facing down whaling ships in the deep ocean — compared to the average talking head pontificating about environmental regulations?
The ethos that the Restoration Project 11:56 is promoting must combine the actual empowerment of the people with the symbolic empowerment of “a” person. This is the same basic proto-aesthetic that I advocated in the previous article on this topic — a synthesis of symbolic conservative emphasis with structural progressive policy. If we do not find ways to start introducing that spirit then we may be doomed to play out the apocalyptic endgame of status quo corporate liberalism.
We need Blue heroes with Green eyes.
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me.
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead,"
"I never died," says he.