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Perhaps the idea of 'real-life' heroes is passé or impossible, or somehow considered unnecessary, in a world of digital pleasures so various that every conceivable kind of heroine and hero can be conjured up in a comic book, movie or game. If the idea of real, flesh and blood human heroes is to be cancelled by this new generation, however, it will be a watershed moment, in the move to post-humanity. The cyborgs will have won.

The aim, it seems, more and more, is to seek to achieve autonomously modified human bio-systems that answer to no higher rules or religious strictures, and establish themselves as perfected self-identifying concepts, moving from humanity to something less flawed; and these cyborgs will be without identifying labels except when self-chosen.

With artificial skin now able to feel, and AI on the horizon, as well as gene-splicing, a post-human world within 100 years is more than possible - if the climate overheats, it may be what keeps a sort of humanity going. By 2120, humans made up only of skin and bone may be as old-fashioned as praying to Zeuss.

Heroes, however, have been required for over 2000 years. Heroes, note, are never perfect - they have Achilles' heels. They do represent extreme forms of human ability, usually exaggerated - they can run faster, or think better, or throw harder, or jump higher - than the common man and woman. The Ancient Olympics was meant to locate and celebrate such people, from runners to poets.

In our own time, heroes became political as well as athletic. Perhaps the greatest 20th century hero was Muhammad Ali - a Muslim, African American man who could write and recite poetry, protest racism and war, and also outfight any other living human - he was the epitome of spiritual and physical prowess, an apex of human endeavour, like Jesse Owens (my hero). No one said he was perfect - but he was close. For other, Einstein, a preeminent genius, was a hero - and then, come the radicals - Castro, Lenin, Lennon, and Che - and on to rock stars, poets, actors, and presidents. Dr King, Jr., Gandhi, and Mandela, for millions, came to represent moral mountains - peaks of greatness.

Now, there is call to tear down a statue of Gandhi in the UK, because he espoused some racist ideas. Now, here is where we must recall human imperfection. No human's balance sheet is unblotted or impeccable. On the one side, Gandhi pioneered a concept of non-violent resistance that toppled a British empire, and liberated tens of millions of people; this idea was flawed, and the outcome was destructive to many others, but no social or civil rights movement of the past 80 years operates without direct and indirect reference to this man's tactics, ideas, and example.

Dr. King Jr. cheated on his wife - yet he espoused, and died for, the most important humanitarian ideals. Mandela was at first violent in his plans. Lennon was a drug addict. Castro, a killer and gay-hater. No human hero (and I do not mean religious saints or leaders, like Jesus or other prophets) CAN be blameless, sinless, or guiltless. We see this in our present with former heroines, like Marilyn Monroe, Marie StopesMother TheresaJ.K. Rowling, or Mary Beard, or, for some, Clinton, or Winnie Mandela, Harris or Thatcher. For every person inspired by their life, and their fight for equality, and their works, another detractor can soon uncover offensive and challenging acts and ideas that disqualify them from true sainthood.

In the case of Gandhi, though he was divisive and held tragically wrong ideas about Black people in South Africa and beyond, and also acted oddly around young women he encouraged to lie beside him naked, he was also, in other ways, a moral-political giant. If you tear down his statue, you set a barrier to any future person ever having a statue again - for there will never be any stainless person, even among the new generation of campaigners online and elsewhere; youth may fool itself, but there cannot ever be 100% goodness, or on-topic behaviour, over an entire lifetime. To set a standard that cancels and excludes Gandhi is to destroy human existence, and to set us on a dangerous post-human road, where only humans modified to remove all sin, all error, are accepted.


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