Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No Heroes, No Apologists

It's a problem. Writers, philosophers, revolutionaries. How should we judge them? By their ideas or by their actions?

Was Che a martyr, a tyrant or a victim of pop capitalism?
Do we dismiss Ayn Rand for her bad behavior or her bad ideas?
Martin Heidegger: dasein, or Nazi?

Did Nietzsche lay the groundwork for fascism? Was H.P. Lovecraft just a racist who happened to write pulp fiction? Is Gore Vidal just vile? Roman Polanski?

Serge Gainsbourg was kind of creepy. Michel Foucault supported the Iranian Revolution.

Where does it end?

In other words, do people have to be saints for us to revere their works? Do interesting ideas make up for despicable, criminal, or violent behavior? Are bad ideas OK if they're just fiction and not lived?

Is it a left/right partisan thing, or are we all just natural hypocrites?

Are there ideas today that our grandchildren will be apologizing for in a hundred years? Our normative notions of democracy? Our complicity with global capitalism? Our support or opposition to Obama? War of civilizations arguments? Animal rights?

I don't know. But it seems like an inescapable dilemma.

[Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Che Guevara, 1960]