Why Heroes Assemble
'Only connect' - Inscribed on the gravestone of author E.M. Forster
The Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Defenders; delve into the universe of superheroes and you can't help but notice that it is populated by an array of unique beings who are inclined to collaborate. In fact, a sure way of distinguishing hero from villain, good from evil, is by applying this primary rule: the heroic impulse is to unite, while the forces of darkness seek to divide us.
It would be easy to misread the motivation that drives heroes to 'assemble'; in the face of swarming robot armies, titanic antagonists and potentially world-crushing events, it makes sense that even those endowed with superhuman abilities might combine forces to stand a chance of prevailing. It also makes for great storytelling, but collaboration is not merely a pragmatic strategy for survival - it is also, I believe, a fundamental expression of the heroic gene.
Just as plants have the impulse to photosynthesis encoded in every one of their cells, heroes are compelled to heal that which is broken and unite those who have lost their way. In an entropic universe, where our life energy and time is ever-depleting, this mission is promethean.
I suspect that deep down, in the pulsing core of the human spirit, we all have a memory of what it is to be whole. We were once connected to the Mother, floating in timeless unity. The experience of birth must have felt like being cast out of paradise. The assault on the senses, the chaotic and ever-changing faces and landscapes was no doubt exciting, but also terrifying at the same time. Our sovereignty comes at a price, a psychic wound is inflicted that we spend the rest of our lives trying to heal.
Even if you are a rational materialist, convinced that only oblivion awaits us when we are dust and ashes, the drive to reconnect can only be a good thing. Most of the wrong in this world would seem to be born of fragmentation and a failure to honour the interconnected nature of our biosphere. When we embrace our complexity as body-mind beings, we tend to be healthier and happier. When we acknowledge and act as both autonomous and interdependent cells within a larger organism at the same time, we create flourishing communities which are models of symbiotic, rather than parasitic growth.
Ever since I was a kid I have been mesmerised by fractals, patterns of ever-repeating feedback loops. Zoom in or out, and a fractal is recursive, the macro and micro echoing one another infinitely in both directions. Trees, rivers, coastlines, seashells, hurricanes, they all point to the same idea that dynamic systems are self-reflexive, so why not humans too?
Most of the world's religions and philosophies have some notion that we are reflections of a divine master code or code maker. In Genesis 1:26, God declares "let us make man in our image, in our likeness ". This doctrine of 'Imago dei' is also to be found in the Koran and in the Hermetic tradition, which proposes the universal law - 'As above, so below'.
Such articles of faith do not assume that our creator, should he or she exist, shares our outward appearance, but rather that we are imbued with many of the same attributes, such as free will and the capacity to love unconditionally. If this is the case, it would follow that the more aligned we are with our divine potential, the more likely it will be that we will live in harmony with the rest of creation.
With this in mind, it is perhaps not too much of a stretch to propose that the hero is the highest expression of humanity, a being who lives in service of others, helping us all to reconnect to that which we have lost or forgotten. The heroic impulse is the clarion call of Nature, and perhaps of God, to assemble and remember who, and what we really are.