Everyone loves a good hero, but we love no hero as much as a dead hero.
That’s not due to some macabre fascination with death, but more evidence of our self-obsession.
We recognize the inherent dangers in quoting someone still living to support your ideas.
They could change their mind, say something idiotic to destroy their credibility, or explain how your quoting of them misunderstands their point. In other words, they could stop being useful to us.
We like our heroes dead and their quotes out of context. That way we can sand off rough edges that are abrasive to us and our preconceptions.
Living heroes are real, complicated people. They’re not smooth and sterile. The living challenge us and conflict with our ideas.
The dead make for easier quotes to share on social media to prove our political points.
This reveals the real hero in our eyes is not the deceased person we claim to be eulogizing and respecting, but rather ourselves.
We want to wrap ourselves up in the respect and admiration someone else earned through their life and words.
There’s no concern about understanding the real person who died or even their words we’re quoting, we are only interested in using them as a prop for ourselves and our opinions.
Dead villains serve a similar if inverse purpose. They become caricatures embodying all that we reject.
No longer are they actual people with flaws. They’re now sculptures we’ve carved to resemble only the opinions with which we disagree.
If we honestly evaluated many of history’s villains, we’d often find someone uncomfortably like ourselves in some ways.
But by stripping them of their complexity, we keep ourselves at a safe distance and able to avoid any difficult self-evaluation. Evil is back there, not in here.
That’s why you’ll find Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. always agree with our opinions, but the Pharisees and Hitler always disagree.
Even if we have to force it, the hero always agrees and the villain always disagrees. Because they aren’t the point. We are.
In the end, dead heroes become merely mirrors and deceased villains simply blank slates to accomplish our chief goal—elevating ourselves.