Variations on a theme: heroic protectiveness

Tiffany Aching has heroic protectiveness:

All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!

Sometimes, there is danger in the world – the welfare of things and people beyond oneself is threatened. Depending on how globalized your society is, it could be a threat to a family, tribe, institution (like a school or large workplace), city, country, planet, or universe.

A hero is someone who:

  1. observes this threat, where others fail to notice it or ignore it;
  2. does their best to eliminate this threat, where others accept it or hope that someone else will eliminate it.

(I think that people who concretely support heroes are something important, but they’re not the thing I’m talking about. People who work as part of a system designed to counter threats are also important and not what I’m talking about. Philanthropists and firefighters matter, and are different from dragon-slayers.)

There’s a few ways to emotionally fuel heroism, once you’ve noticed the threat. Brienne Strohl lists a few, and I’ll add to that list:

  1. You feel that it’s somehow correct for you to eliminate the threat, and are driven by that sense of rightness, purity, and/or universal order. You value order and light. Threats are disorderly: they violate universal rules against violence and destruction.
  2. You feel that consent is important, and that the threat violates people’s consent. You advocate right to die and anti-aging research, because you have an urge to keep things from happening to people without their permission.
  3. You feel that eliminating threats is nurturing and tending to those you care about, and you’re driven by that parental urge. It’s the urge to nourish those you care about, so that they grow and thrive.
  4. You feel that the threat puts people or things in danger which are yours, or under your protection, and are driven by your urge to protect them.
  5. You feel that when a life ends, or when a thing ceases to exist, this is bad. You have an urge to sustain endangered languages, cultures, and species, as well as to sustain human lives.
  6. You feel that beauty – works of art and/or beings that create art – would be lost if the threat won, and are driven by your love for beauty.

Types one/two, three/four, four/five, and five/six are similar to one another. Brienne has the sixth type: she’s an aesthete who loves beauty and wants it to continue in the universe, and who sees human beings as her favorite expressors of that beauty. Tiffany Aching and I have the fourth type. How dare entropy try to take the world from us? These things are ours!

What these types seem to have in common is something close to status quo bias. My definition of heroism excludes people who want to make the universe as empty as possible: negative utilitarians can be motivated by increasing universal order, or protecting those they passionately care about from suffering, but they don’t want to sustain that which is.

Eliezer calls this quality that heroic motivations share something to protect, but it seems like protectiveness is only one of the “flavors” it can have. Heroic aesthetic, heroic maternalism, heroic deontology, and so forth are are all different possible types of protectiveness.

4 thoughts on “Variations on a theme: heroic protectiveness”

      1. Deeply caring about something is basically a prerequisite for interesting heroes or villains.

        “Giving a fuck” is itself a meta-value I consider worth defending.


  1. More heroic motivators: the comment thread!
    You feel a desire to break the pattern. There have been threats throughout history, and if nothing changes, threats will keep winning evermore. This framing is related to 1: it’s a sense that the existent universal rules support the threat, and you intend to break those rules.
    You feel a desire to see what the future holds for your [family/city/universe], and want to eliminate the threat to that end. This is closely related to 5.
    You feel that those put in danger by the threat are your allies, teammates, siblings. They’re awesome, and they would protect you, which drives your urge to stand by them. This is related to 4.


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