A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Role Models in the Modern Age

It's often observed that we don't have a lot of heroes to look up to any longer, not a lot of role models we can point to for behavior we can emulate. Part of this is human nature; there's no one who is perfect so there's always someone who disapproves of something you said or did. Another part, and I think it's a big one, is that communication has never been easier and there are cameras everywhere. Little mistakes get picked up and broadcast worldwide in proportion to the extent of your celebrity status. Hell, there's an entire subculture dedicated to celebrity gossip.

So there's no one I could point to and say "I want to be that person. That person is the epitome of a moral role model." But that doesn't mean there aren't people I can admire. Who would they be? Just off the top of my head, here are four of them.

First there's Stephen Hawking. Aside from his academic brilliance, he's a man who was stricken by a debilitating disease that horrifies any thoughtful, independent human being. He's physically incapable of doing anything for himself without significant human and technological assistance. But in spite of all that he's managed to make some of the most incredible contributions to human knowledge and understanding in a generation. He teaches, he writes books and he can do differential equations in his head that make my head spin. There's so much to admire about him, particularly his willingness to overcome obstacles that would crush others.

Then there's Greta Christina, a woman who has dedicated her life in the pursuit of social justice for atheists, women, homosexuals and other sexual "deviants" as well as other groups she's not a member of. She's deeply egalitarian in her pursuit of social justice and she's damned eloquent about it. There's a reason she gets cited in the /r/atheism FAQ on the topic of atheists and anger.

Matt Dillahunty is another individual I admire. He has a similar background to mine and helped found the Atheist Experience broadcasting out of Austin, TX. He has similar attitudes to Greta Christina but he focuses more on debate and examining religious apologetics. He's not a firebrand like Hitchens; his debate opponents don't tend to walk away feeling like they've been insulted, but he skillfully saws away at the foundations of their claims until all that's left is a pile of dust to be blown away.

I also admire Keith Olbermann, even though he hasn't done much of note lately. I remember back when he was still on broadcast television he demonstrated the difference between a journalist and a modern media talking head by publicly announcing he'd made a mistake and issuing a correction. That sort of journalistic integrity is rarely found, and is probably one reason why he's just reporting sports on ESPN these days. He's passionate about what he believes and fearless in his pursuit of the truth.

I suppose if I thought about it some more I could come up with more, but this will do for now.

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