Who.Hidden lives

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Hidden lives

At consequential risk, we all rely on celebrity to ease and enliven the burden of judgment. But Fortuna casts celebrity on the wise and the merely fashionable alike, and on others of all sorts: apparatchiks just following orders, provincial political hacks, professional athletic stars rising unpredictably from draft pools.... It brings to power accidental arbiters of truth and justice who can be dangerously arbitrary in coping with unexpected instabilities.

Whatever effects their acts of commission the rule of celebrities may bring, its greatest impact is due to omissions, which obscure, devalue and foreclose manifold possibilities of ordinary lives. These possibilities are the great tidal flats of human culture that absorb destructive forces of storms and effluents (vast would-be superfund sites...), which could nurture wondrous diversity of human achievement in bright, sunny times. Each life matters. Each person merits the fullest possible resources for achieving fulfillment for themselves joyously to share with others.

That is the message of George Eliot's complex novel, Middlemarch, an important depiction of how the middle marches — many intertwined lives, each trying, however dimly, blindly, desperately, to maintain a path towards an inchoate telos, all needing the support of their peers — family, friends, and strangers. The heroes in that great march are singularly unheroic, Dorotheas all, but heroic all the same and needful, like the great, of all possible support and facilitation. Eliot concluded with a reminder for all times:

Our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know. Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature . . . spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.[1]

Bertolt Brecht wrote:

Student: "Happy the land that breeds a hero."
Galileo: "No. Unhappy the land that needs a hero."

Let us contemplate and build upon the accomplishments of these un-honored but honorable giants whose bodies may lie in unmarked graves.

  1. George Eliot, Middlemarch (concluding paragraph).