Where are all the heroes and heroines?

[I’m posting this early as I will not be able to post tomorrow or Monday as per my schedule]

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The Cricket World Cup continues and now we have only the final match left. New Zealand versus Australia. The success of the New Zealand team and the reaction to their semi final win led me to think about heroes.

The saying goes that every one likes a winner, and since the New Zealand team has exceeded many peoples’ expectations, the local media are ecstatic. Most ordinary New Zealanders who would not normally be interested in cricket have been tuning their radios and TV to the match commentary or streaming the matches from the Internet.  Indeed it would be fair to say that the whole country is behind the team.

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Interestingly, the New Zealand commentators, who covered the semi final and who were jumping for joy when New Zealand won, were almost as quick to sympathise with the losing South African team. This empathy was probably because it was an amazing game with a breath taking finale, played all the way through in good spirit, and the South African team who so nearly won it called truly be called gallant in defeat.

The match could have gone either way up until the very end, and I think this helped the New Zealand team and the New Zealand public to commiserate with the South Africans. It so nearly was the New Zealand team on the losing end of the match. It was an amazing end, with grown men hugging and grown men crying.

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Being a small country New Zealand doesn’t often have sporting heroes or heroines, but it does happen. New Zealand players have gone to Australia the UK, Japan, France and even the US to play their sport, be it soccer, basketball, rugby union or rugby league. New Zealand doesn’t have the funds to pay professional sports persons that these other countries do.

Somehow or other this doesn’t seem to affect the quality of the sports stars in the local sporting arenas. In fact returning players often find it a little difficult to get back into the top level teams on their return from an overseas period of their career.

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In New Zealand the public has a curious attitude to top sports persons. If a New Zealander were to meet one of his or her sports idols, he or she would probably as likely offer to buy him or her a drink as ask him or her for an autograph.

New Zealanders expect sports stars to be approachable, and in many cases they are. Because it is a small country, a sizeable number of the fans will have gone to school with them, or lived next door to them, or perhaps worked with them when they were starting out, before they became professional sports persons.

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New Zealanders tends to excel in what could be called minor sports. This is probably partially because in the larger countries, the ones in which the sport arose or where it has become very popular the best athletes are attracted to the major sports. When a New Zealander or New Zealand team do succeed in major sports it is front page news ‘back home’.

Even when it is a minor sport (such as Greco-Rona wrestling or lawn bowls) if a New Zealander does well they become well known, at least in New Zealand. New Zealanders realise this full well and wryly comment that something is “world famous in New Zealand“.

English: L & P bottle model in Paeroa, showing...
English: L & P bottle model in Paeroa, showing the label design as used from the 1970s to the 1990s Deutsch: L&P Modellflasche in Paeroa mit dem Label, dass von 1970gern bis 1990gern verwendet wurde. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So we have the likes of Stephen Adams doing well in American basketball, and the average New Zealand man in the street knows that he plays for Oklahoma City Thunder, and the average New Zealand sports buff could probably tell you what his scores were.

Heroes and heroines have been around since people started to form towns and cities and to write down their histories. Back in the times that the Greeks and Romans held sway in Europe, it is likely that total population of the Earth would have been measured in millions rather than the billions that live on the Earth today. Towns and cities of the time would probably have appear small to modern eyes – Rome is believed to have peaked at around one million people at its peak in the second century of the Common Era.

Roman Infantry Edit
Roman Infantry Edit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the populations were so small compared to today it is likely that the heroes and heroines of the time were known personally to a large part of the population. Since the population was so small the six degrees of separation of the modern world are likely to be reduced to three or four. Admittedly the lines of communication would likely be way slower in the ancient world but Julius Caesar was likely be a friend of a friend of a friend of every person in the world at that time.

English: Map of the Roman Republic in 40 BC af...
English: Map of the Roman Republic in 40 BC after the recent conquests of Julius Caesar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given the small population of the time, heroic events would be quickly well known and the heroes and heroines would become household names. Since this would happen mostly by word of mouth, the Chinese Whispers effect would be strong. Intentional and unintentional misunderstandings would mount up and would inflate the story, so that instead of the hero overcoming three others, one at a time, he instead reputedly takes on a dozen all at once.

When you read of Julius Caesar and his legions, I at least get the image of vast armies, but a legion was between 5,000 and 1,500 men. Caesar conquered Gaul with only a few legions, say 10,000 men probably which doesn’t seem very many, but there was little real opposition in numerical terms.

The initials SPQR stood for Senātus Populusque...
The initials SPQR stood for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (“The Senate and the People of Rome”). They were emblazoned on the banners of Roman legions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not as if there were a strong national structure to oppose him, as the tribal structure common in those days might extend to a city or two, or a region and Julius Caesar was able to exploit regional rivalries to take control of the region. He of course had to contend with heroes popping up, like Vercingetorix who unified the previous divided Gauls.

Heroes and heroines have only one fate – they win at first (which makes them heroes or heroines), but eventually they lose and then they usually die. Vercingetorix eventually lost to Julius Caesar at the battle of Alesia, and Julius Caesar cemented his hold over Gaul.

English: Monument of Vercingétorix in Alesia (...
English: Monument of Vercingétorix in Alesia (Alise-Sainte-Reine) Deutsch: Denkmal des Vercingétorix in Alesia (Alise-Sainte-Reine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even Julius Caesar, eventually, lost both his empire and his life, at the hands of his former friends, who briefly became heroes themselves, before quickly losing their lives too.

While modern day sporting heroes and heroines don’t actually die, they eventually suffer defeat and become radio or TV commentators, which may be a worse fate. So I hope that the New Zealand cricket team wins the Cricket World Cup tomorrow, but if they can’t manage it, they have put on an amazing show in getting this far.

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Why do people do evil and nasty things?

The Detective Game
The Detective Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is common in crime dramas on TV for the detective to exclaim “Where is the motive?”.  When the motive is found it goes a long way towards solving the crime. Eventually the perpetrator gives in and confesses or is carried away by the police and the closing credits roll. All good entertainment.

Every crime has a motive of some sort – that is fairly obvious – but some acts in the commission of a crime are very difficult to explain or for which it is difficult to find a motive. A robber may rob a store and on his way out, he may smash something or cause some damage. A burglar may steal from a house and then turn on all the taps or knock holes in walls or do even more obnoxious things.

Suprunyuck photographed with a hammer; the cou...
Suprunyuck photographed with a hammer; the court described the motive of the killers as “morbid self-affirmation.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reason that they do such things is a mystery to me. It’s not as if their original nefarious plans would have included such actions, I imagine, in so far as they had plans anyway. The only thing that I can think of is that it is a throwback to some distant time when an invading force (such as a Viking  band) would rape any women they came across, kill any men, steal any valuable goods, and burn down the houses.

Rape, pillage, kill and destroy. Raping the women and killing the men would ensure that the invaders genes would spread at the expense of the victims’ genes and destroying the houses would demonstrate the invaders’ power and discourage the victims from following and seeking revenge. I’m not sure if this is a likely motive for such ancillary acts in the commission of a crime.

viking (Photo credit: What What)

Mass killers are another group where it is difficult to image what the motive for their crimes is. We tend to think of mass killers as a new phenomenon, but I’m not sure that they are. The earliest one that I can think of is “Jack the Ripper” who operated 1888. He was an instance of a subset of mass killers, a serial killer. Another type of mass killer is the person who open fires usually more of less indiscriminately in a public place. John Brunner’s 1968 prophetic novel “Stand on Zanzibar” calls such people “muckers” from the work “amok”.

2 Bridgewater inmates kill 3 guards: sets fire...
2 Bridgewater inmates kill 3 guards: sets fire to building housing 545. State Farm guards killed by 2 inmates who ran amok in the Bridgewater institution yesterday. Frank L. Weston, Howard V. Murphy and George Landry. – Boston Herald (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)

I suspect that mass killers have been part of the human race for a very long time. In the bible Herod orders the “Slaughter of the Innocents”, which could be considered an early mass killing. Even if the event was made up by the gospel writer it was likely to have been based on some other real event. There is a story in the Old Testament about the killing of the Canaanites (the people who inhabited Canaan before Moses and his followers took over the land), a mass murder or genocide which is discussed (from a Christian perspective) in this article. Whether or not you believe the bible to be the word of God, or merely a collection of folk tales this could be construed to be evidence that mass killings have occurred for millennia.

English: A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, i...
English: A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop’s 1894 “Treasures of the Bible” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After hunting about on theInternet for a while I came across the names of two serial killers,  Gilles de Rais and Elizabeth Bathory. I guess that while these two cases are the most prominent and remembered there have almost certainly been others that have not been recorded, or that I have missed.

de Rais’ motives appear to be purely sexual, and strongly sadistic, since there was no monetary or other advantage to him. Elizabeth Bathory’s motives do not on the face of it appear to be sexually motivated and appear pure sadistic. However, it is hard to tell for sure as I don’t believe that investigations would have been rigorous in those days and rumour and speculation was apparently often taken as fact.

Français : Exécution de Gilles de Rais (gibet ...
Français : Exécution de Gilles de Rais (gibet et bûcher). Armes du président Bouhier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s pretty certain that people like these are not normal, whatever normal is. As such I don’t think that we can guess their real motives, if they had any. They appear to be driven by urges which they were unable to control, and de Rais is supposed to have exhibited remorse, although that didn’t seem to stop him.

In modern times, there seems to be an increase in a particular sort of killing. This is where the perpetrator, usually a teenager or fairly young person, takes a gun into a public place and more or less indiscriminately  starts shooting, killing as many people as he can, before he is killed by the police or commits suicide. Of course, the ready availability of guns and ammunition facilitates these killing sprees – you probably couldn’t kill many people in a short time with a bow and arrow or a spear or a sword.

Boston Marathon 2013 ... Confronting Terror in...
Boston Marathon 2013 … Confronting Terror in Boston — Find ways to help (April 16, 2013 / 6 Iyar 5773) …item 2.. Meditation and Sleep Music — 30 minutes …item 3.. Mail Online – Daily Mail — WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT … (Photo credit: marsmet547)

Many of the perpetrators of these mass killings seem to be maladjusted or social outcasts, who are often fans of guns and weaponry. As outcasts, it is probably to simplistic to assume that their actions were some sort of revenge against society or against people around him, but that could possibly be a factor.

I don’t think that I have really answered the question I raised when I started this piece. People who are not extreme, as these killers are, can’t reliably guess the killers’ motives, I guess. What is apparent is that the killers don’t appear to have much control, if any, over their actions. It seems that the way to stop similar mass killings is to locate the killers before they have killed. It doesn’t seem that short of locking them up, there is any way to prevent them killing. Some potential killers have been given drugs and some killers have previously received drugs, but stopped taking them for one reason or another. All in all, I think that society is a long way from understanding the phenomenon of mass killers.

Forensic sketch of the Unabomber, commissioned...
Forensic sketch of the Unabomber, commissioned by the FBI, drawn by Jeanne Boylan. This copy was found at the url: http://members.aol.com/alvertc/Sketch.gif. According to Encarta, the drawing was released by the FBI in 1987. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this piece. Once I started I was determined to complete it, but I made at least two starts. My first start tended towards being an apologia for Naziism and I definitely didn’t want my piece to be that! The Nazis started from an invalid premise (the superiority of the Aryan race and the consequential inferiority of the other races) and their flawed logic led to the concept of racial cleansing. That together with the erroneous idea that the Jews caused the surrender of Germany at the end of the First World War did not justify their horrendous actions.

English: Adolf Hitler
English: Adolf Hitler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hopefully I’ll hit on a much lighter topic next week.

Sun Rising in Kuakata, Bangladesh
Sun Rising in Kuakata, Bangladesh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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