Jay Livingston has a post over at the Montclair SocioBlog in which he questions the whole hero-making practice in the wake of some Memorial Day wingnut mudslinging. The religio-political response to bloodshed is nothing new; in fact, it's as old as humanity itself. People die, and death makes us anxious. In order to deal with that anxiety, we must make sense of death, that is, we must give death meaning. Being social animals who are constantly surrounded by others, we are especially anxious about intentional death (e.g. homicide or war). When our soldiers die, we feel compelled to situate their deaths within a larger narrative about our collective identity, to fit it into our cosmology. To do otherwise would be to admit that life--and, hence, death--is arbitrary, random, and absurd. That is why all war dead (on our side, anyway) become de facto heroes. If they don't, then we must encounter the meaninglessness of death, life, and existence. Hero-making is always a retrospective practice by which we ritualistically confirm our group status by affirming our shared beliefs. To question the hero-making practice is thus a threat to the existence of our very society and the worldview that supports it. We shouldn't be surprised by the severity of the responses when we question such things--which isn't to say that we shouldn't do it, just that illumination comes with individual struggling and shared conflict. For an excellent summary of this topic, do yourself a favor and read Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War.
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