All I can come up with this week is sheer fantasy, and sure enough, a 'spirit' of Hitchens moved me to part of it.
Here, I push back against the fantasy and try to give a plain, even stern report on my struggle or research or history of how to have heroes -- in re that debatable value, Richard Dawkins, whom I think could never be a hero to an Objectivist -- at least not up in the Pantheon with the troika and a few others.
Dawkins alongside Hitchens is a hero to me for his reach, though, as well as his pith and his bitchiness about the torments religion has brought to humankind. I hope after his death, that he be a kind of spirit of the 20th century, a hard eagle eye of reason peering at biology over aeons, as a master geologist maps geology over those same aeons.
And, of course, he is in that class of heroes who have written across the divide between science and me the dolt, that me who hated it in school (fool me) except for dissection (which I pretended to get faint about).
In that class are really only about a dozen, and Hitchens certainly banged out a book. They all wrote a book, or several or many where at one point their message stopped being limited to the outskirts of their town**. They did not sell only an academic or monographic best-seller, which as Robert Campbell can attest, may only run to the high four figures. Each of my heroes did what everyone of a certain class** tried to do, hit a high and hard one out of the field, write a book in which they knew (deluded or not) that they had written a more than satisfactory thing. Aced it. Crushed it. What have you.
Think of Dr Hawking when eight years later he gorped out the last sentence of his Crusher .
They, all my heroes who wrote books, may have all also felt exhilaration if one of their own 'heroes' grunted approbation or backslapped or rang the bells whathaveyou, and perhaps that may have been all the bells that would ring. Sell ten thousand books on your ratty or wonderful or desperately obscure corner of inquiry, get a grunt or two, backslap, toll the bells -- and I think I would feel I had won hugely.
(here I am thinking also now of Rand, when she put that pen down from that last correction or mad banging in the kitchen on the typewriter, when she knew she was done. Maybe that exhilaration was smaller than that which was to come with the Collective, and maybe she indeed was puzzled, hurt and angry about the (non-word-of-mouth) critical reception of a book later -- but I think still there would have been one or two incomparable moments alone when she knew she had succeeded on her terms, knocked it out of the park, Crushed it, etc)
So, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins each wrote a similar but different kind of 'awesome world, awesome science' book, a book both narrow and wide, a book which in no way compared in splendour to the books of my primary hero Darwin, but which grasped the deep import of Darwin's opening of the door. As to many Objectivish folks Rand knocked on and down many doors ... so too I think we (here at OL) know when somebody appears to have smoked it right out of the park. More hits to come maybe, but nothing like that perfect universal drive of a great book.
Beyond selling truly massive numbers of books on a briliant and illuminating set of topics, in a stroke of genius unifying and universalizing the deep story underlying (which as MSK so aptly reminds us, is Power), Dawkins and Darwin and Sagan and a few more pushed that door as wide and as deep as they could, to their limits. My heroes also amplified their appeal (by translation) to many languages, pushed back the darkness, door upon door.
Another hero is a heroine, Susan Haack, who also helped push back my mental darkness, who will never be famous or sell grotesque numbers of books, except in proportion to academic excellence perhaps. She has, like the gentlemen above and like Rand, been translated widely and is as celebrated (in her teeny niche) in Beijing as she is in Sao Paulo and in the world-beat professoriate of philosophy. And none of these ladies and gentlemen do I consider my philosopher.
I, who will sell likely zero books in my lifetime, may have overemphasized a sense of proportion, weight, reach and depth in my dry prose on heroics here among the writer class. There are smaller heroes too. And a hero or nine here on OL. I think any writer/person could potentially be my kind of hero, if that writer person exhilarates me, exhilarates my mind. Helps make my heart and mind sing the same tune, same beat, and so on.
So, Back Off on Dawkins or I will go back to Fantasia, Hitchens, Mother Teresa that bitch, and gawds and death and approaching destruction. Thank you. I too was seduced by Bill Clinton.