Heroes and Villains

Like any other complex organism, a hierarchical society uses
regulatory mechanisms to conserve its order in the face
of the underlying physical tendency to disorder, and in
the face of active threats of disruption of its form and

Just as a physiologist might delve into some details of
the form and function of the immune system, let’s explore
the rationale for, and the pattern of operation of a
societal-level homeostatic regulatory mechanism.

Whereas when studying an animal’s immune system we would
look for essential physical, bio-chemical, and information
communication aspects of the system, when studying a
societal-level regulatory system, we would look for essential
patterns of problem or opportunity conceptualization and
information communication, and mechanisms to influence or constrain
the behaviour of society members; ways of influencing members
to move toward harmless and mutually beneficial behavioral

One such order-conserving regulatory mechanism is the society’s classification of its members or their behaviours into the heroic,
or the villainous, and society’s means of encouragement of the
former, and discouragement of the latter.

What is the definition of a hero? And what is a villain?
It is very simple. A hero is an exemplar of co-operative, civil
behaviour, or is a group builder.

A villain is one who acts selfishly, or acts outside of
or against a group’s laws or norms, which were designed to promote
peace and co-operation. One kind of villain is of particular note
to a group, and that is the traitor; one who acts intentionally and illegally with the aim of destroying the prevailing hierarchical
society, and replacing it with an alternate organization.


Heroes rush into burning buildings to save people at great risk
to themselves.  Heroes do unto others more good than they expect
done for themselves. They are the model of personally selfless
behaviour which if universal, would promote co-operation and efficient, fully aligned and fairly exchanged efforts. Because a frictionless co-operating society confers great benefits on all its members
as we have seen in previous posts,
an exemplary altruistic co-operator; a hero, is revered by all.

When a condition exists in which people “do unto others
as they would have others do unto them”, and even go as far
as altruistic assistance to each other, a high degree of
trust is engendered in the society. The average interaction
between members becomes less conflictual. More efficient
aligned efforts reinforce and resonate with each other,
and organized exchange of effort happens.
Security against threats becomes collective.
Individuals can focus more energy on
their own positive development, and have more left over to
contribute as tax toward ongoing stable co-ordination and
governance of the group.

Therefore societies use stories to encourage the
altruistic form of heroic behaviour,
and reward heroes with both gold and high regard.

Rewards for being a group co-ordinator

Another kind of hero is the society builder; the exemplary leader;
the effective shepherd of the flock.

For example, heroes build philanthropic organizations that assist
many others. Heroes unite disparate neighbouring cultures and clans into larger and more prosperous nations. Heroes resolve conflicts between
factions or nations, allowing a larger hierarchical co-operating
group to flourish.

Every hierarchical society needs leaders; those who will
co-ordinate at each level in the hierarchy. This leadership
is most significant and valuable when it exercised skillfully
at the largest-scale, in top-level governance of the

Hierarchical society, with few co-ordinating many at each level, has a structural incentive system for encouraging members to perform the co-ordination function. Leaders, since they co-ordinate and regulate the
activities of the layer of hierarchy below them,
are able to divert a fraction of the resources harnessed
by their group toward their own personal fortune, whether merely
in the form of the highest salary and personal staff, or in more
under-the-table forms of wealth skimming from the group’s production.
Literally: “Rank has its privileges”. This
provides an incentive toward leadership, and specifically toward
leadership of ever larger groups with larger excess production
to partake in, for those with the abilities.
(Of course this incentive system is self-correcting, and
excessive diversion will lead to discontent and revolt and
replacement of the greedy leader.)

Societies provide additional incentive toward leadership by idolizing and
mythologizing exceptionally successful “heroic” leaders,
particularly top-level “nation-builders” who expand the
society’s bounds or resources, or its productive capacity,
or improve its members’ security in trying times.
Humans naturally care to be regarded well by their peers,
and the highest and broadest regard is reserved for heroic leaders.

Villains steal from others.
Villains do violence to members of their own group.
Villains do not comply with established laws.
Villains do not pay taxes to support the co-ordination of the group.
Each of these behaviours destroys trust within society, and reduces
co-operation and alignment of effort.

Arch-villains form hierarchical organizations of their own,
such as criminal gangs or breakaway factions based on race,
culture, or geography. These outlaw
organizations not only don’t pay taxes, but actively seek to
replace some of the dominant society’s authority structure and
taxation flow and laws with their own; If these acts succeeded,
they could destroy the effectiveness of governance of the
established society.

Villains are freeloaders who take advantage of society’s
energy-saving benefits, but do not contribute toward the
functioning of the societal organism. In fact they are
parasitic on society, and weaken and destabilize it,
with their selfish and antisocial behaviours.
Therefore society discourages villainy
in moral tales in which virtue is rewarded and villainy and
greed punished. And society punishes villains with its
law enforcement arm.

Whether one is a hero or villain may be relative to the particular
group that the person is helping or hurting by their actions.
“Hero” and “Villain” are functional terms: Hero(group),Villain(group).
One who wins a battle for one group loses it for the opposing group.
One who destroys a prevailing regime or nation
creates the seeds of another. Universal heroes, completely
unbiased and selfless good samaritans, who help those entirely unlike
themselves, do exist. They, perhaps, signify
hope for the creation of a global society, by demonstrating
the ultimate form of civilized behaviour.

These observations about society’s treatment of heroes and
villains may seem like truisms, but by analysing the
phenomenon in terms of a fragile order’s order-maintenance
system we have illuminated in some detail
why societies act like this.
The classification into laudable, rewarded hero and despicable,
punished villain is one of the homeostatic mechanisms of the
society as an organism; as an organism vulnerable to
disruption of its internal metabolism of co-operation; as an
organism vulnerable to stagnation of its co-ordinating
hierarchical leadership subculture; as an organism
vulnerable to attack by competing and treasonous individuals and
as an organism which must always have as its first concern
its need to keep itself, and its governing order, together.

Explore posts in the same categories: politics, sociology

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