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The Best Way To Understand The Character Of A Society - With A Free Essay Review
Prompt: “Claim: The best way to understand the character of a society is to examine the character of the men and women that the society chooses as its heroes or its role models. Reason: Heroes and role models reveal a society's highest ideals. Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.”
The character of a society can be well understood only by examining the character of people in the society as whole and not by examining the characters of men and women who are chosen as heroes and role models by the society. I do not agree with this claim and the reason that heroes and role models reveal a society's highest ideas because heroes and role models are not chosen based on how well they follow highest principles and what their character is.
First, it is not necessary that a society's heroes should be chosen such that they represent the character of the society. A person is chosen as a hero by society when he/she does something that other people in the society are expected to do, but they don’t. This means that most of the people in the society do not have the character that heroes have and hence few people who follow good principles, help others or act brave are chosen as heroes by the society. Hence by examining the character of those heroes, one can only know the characters of the heros and not the character a society. The character of majority of the people in the society may not be even close to the character of heroes in the society.
Secondly, the reason supporting the claim that heroes and role models reveal a society’s highest ideals is unacceptable. A society chooses people who excel in various fields like science, medicine, politics, etc., or who are known for exhibiting very good qualities like giving a lot of money for charity, educating children who cannot afford to study etc., as their role models. It is not necessary that these people reveal a society's highest ideals. A person who has been chosen as role model to everyone in a particular field, because he/she has contributed a lot to that field, need not follow high principles or society's highest ideals.
Summing up, a society's character can be understood only by examining the people in the society and not be examining just the role models and heroes in the society as the people in the society will not necessarily follow the same principles and have the same character as the heroes and role models.
Your first argument is that people don’t have the characteristics of those they choose as heroes or role models. This is often true. Heroes are by definition (well, by my definition) exceptional. Still, it does not follow immediately that the character of a society is not revealed by who it chooses as its heroes. After all, the argument is not that many people in society share the characteristics of the heroes it chooses, but rather that the heroes reveal a society’s highest ideals. A society can have very high ideals (freedom, equality, self-sacrifice, wisdom, hardwork, and so) while it is composed largely of greedy, good-for-nothing, prejudiced dunces. One could argue in that case, of course, that revealing the highest ideals of a society doesn’t really reveal the character of that society.
I’m afraid I didn’t find the second argument entirely convincing either. I think the problem is based on a misinterpretation of the cited reason in the prompt. The idea there is that we would, for example, choose to make a hero of the great philanthropists if we valued the ideal of boundless generosity, and so if we do in fact make a hero of the great philanthropists, then that would reveal to observers our highest ideals. Likewise, if we do in fact make a hero of a great contributor to literature, say, then we would reveal to observers another of our highest ideals (e.g., we, as a society, value culture or something). That’s the “reason” in the prompt. You cannot challenge that reason by just asserting that someone taken as a hero might not “follow high principles or society’s highest ideals,” since the reason is claiming rather that the revealed ideal is whatever the hero has in fact done. Now you can of course argue that the premise is wrong, or not always right; that society tends also to make heroes or role models out of people for reasons other than their encapsulation of ideals. For instance, we may make heroes out of those who are selfless or self-sacrificial not because we hold up selflessness as an ideal but because we are selfishly interested in rewarding the selflessness of others. Moreover, sometimes, perhaps always, we are motivated to choose heroes not because we value what they have done but because we want to be perceived as being the sort of society or person who chooses such a hero. When I say, “Einstein is my hero,” am I saying “scientific curiosity and mathematical genius are my highest ideals” or am I saying “Hey, look at me over here; I’m cool because I like Einstein”; in other words, does my hero reflect my ideals or my narcissism? The same kind of question might be asked of society in general.