Why Do We Root for the Good Guys?

Warning: Lord of the Flies and Game of Thrones (Season 6) Spoilers! 


I grew up watching movies. My favorites were action movies, where the good guy shot up his enemies and performed exciting stunts in flaming buildings in order to stop some evil-doer from doing something terrible. Of course, there were also the classics that I adored, such as Star Wars, a classic good vs. evil story. Back then, I liked to think myself quite the devil’s advocate, hopping to the other side, wondering what would happen if the bad guy won this time, then cheering for them. It made me wonder as a young child: Why do the good guys always win? There are always two sides to the story, so why Unknown.jpegweren’t the villains’ sides considered? No matter whom I rooted for, good or bad, it was always the good who vanquished the bad, who stood victorious in the name of peace and order. This eternal struggle between good and evil, this Manichæan theme, this dualistic battle—it is not just present in cinema, but permeates all of Western culture, from its videogames to its literature to its mythologies to its historiography. This narrative is woven into our daily life. As such, how earth-shattering it is to read Nietzsche: “No one has… expressed the slightest doubt or hesitation in judging the ‘good man’ to be of a higher value than the ‘evil man….’ But! What if we suppose the reverse were true? What then?”—indeed, what then? [1]


Everyone has a Will-to-Power, believed Nietzsche. Deep down, hidden in the unconscious, there is an unkown, life-preserving, exploitative, driving urge that  permeates every living thing. When people act out of this unconscious Will, they are not to be blamed, for this Will is natural. To Nietzsche, it seemed absurd to say that anyone who acted on this Will to Power was blameworthy because, in essence, it is the Will that is intrinsic to them. “A measure of force,” he said, “is just such a measure of impetus, will, Unknown-1.jpegaction.”[2] Therefore, throughout nature, embedded in all our willed, voluntary actions is the Will to Power. The Will to Power is inherent to all animals, which are always seeking not the most happiness, but the most power, and are always avoiding that which prevents power. By power, Nietzsche meant the ability to triumph, to master one’s surroundings and prevail, to exploit to the best of one’s abilities, such that it lives longer, by whatever means necessary. Hence, “[A]n injurious, oppressive, exploitative or destructive action cannot be intrinsically wrong, inasmuch as life is essentially something which functions by injuring, oppressing, exploiting, and destroying, and it is absolutely inconceivable without such a characteristic.”[3] Basically, all actions we judge today as wrong are, to Nietzsche, natural expressions of the Will to Power. In fact, we should not judge them at all, because, as illustrated in the quote above, Nietzsche saw life rather pessimistically, describing life as a dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself competition, where only the strongest survive. One gets the idea from Nietzsche, then, that one can only make it through life if they embrace these qualities, these violent, aggressive, harmful qualities. A philologist and historian, Nietzsche concluded from his studies that ancient man was naturally sadistic: He enjoyed participating in violence and loved inflicting cruelty, deriving a savage pleasure from it. Punishment was an important part of daily life back then, so, Nietzsche proposed, those who were quick to inflict suffering were seen as good, while those who were hesitant, who were slow to deliver punishment for a forgotten debt, were seen as incompetent. This cruelty, correctly, was said by Nietzsche to be the direct product of the Will to Power. He went so far as to say that cruelty is “something to which the heart says a hearty yes.”[4] This sounds frightening. Do we really delight in cruelty, even in today’s modern, civilized world, so distant from our barbaric past? While we may be in denial or firm disagreement, thinking such a sentiment disgusting or repugnant, we must concede that we do take pleasure in cruelty, even if it is minimal. After all, we all know that wonderful German word schadenfreude—the joy we get from watching others’ misfortune. Nietzsche remarked that today, although we do not go around gaily slaughtering each other as our ancestors did, we still enjoy cruelty in other, less explicit Fighting-630x420ways, such as video games and movies and events that have fighting, like wrestling or MMA. In this way, we have not completely gotten rid of cruelty, but have rather channeled it through vicarious means, not directly inflicting it, but still experiencing it. But how many of us would willingly admit that we enjoy watching—or even inflicting—pain? Nietzsche foresaw this, even saw it in his own time: We are more likely to believe in fate or chance or free will than in the Will to Power, the idea of which repulses us and could not possibly be in our psyches. Our unwillingness to accept this exploitative Will, reasoned Nietzsche, leads to what he called “misarchism,” or hatred of rulers and ruling. By this he meant that we hated the idea of power and all its associations. To say that history’s great men were shaped by this Will to Power rather than their cultures or destinies, seems to us impossible to accept. Think of all the brutal, bloodthirsty dictators and authoritarians throughout history! We fear power, to the point of detesting it, and we are worried about its applications everywhere. Nietzsche passionately rejected Darwin’s theory of natural selection, explaining that organisms sought not survival, but flourishing. All organisms are not content with simply surviving. The lion did not survive natural selection only to settle down, feeling himself lucky to have lived out his competitors; he survived to gain more power, to be dominant, and therefore to dominate his environment and prey. Adaptation is more about being proactive than reactive. Adaptation is achieved through internalizing conflicts. Progress is a necessary sacrifice of the weak to the powerful, in Nietzsche’s eyes. He thought that strong could live by themselves. They were autonomous. In following their own morality, they could live on their own terms, unbeholden. The weak hold us back, he wrote. This gives us a picture of Unknown-2Nietzsche’s ideal man. An ideal man affirms, not denies, his Will to Power. Just as the best government has the least laws, so the best man has the least moral values save his own. He follows his own morality, not society’s. He stands out from the herd. He seeks power, not pleasure; those who seek pleasure avoid pain, but pain is inevitable, leading to “pessimism of sensibility,” or conscience. In what Mencken calls “ideal anarchy,” every man does what pleases him, and him alone. The ideal man concerns himself with himself, and no one else. Spontaneous, instinctive, and unconscious, he acts on his Will, embracing what Nietzsche calls his instinct for freedom. Unlike the weak, who experience responsibility for their actions, the strong feel no guilt or responsibility, but act in the moment, unafraid of the consequences, but wholly accepting them.


There are two kinds of people in this world: Masters and slaves. According to Nietzsche, all moralities can be divided under these two classes. In tracing the history of the concepts of Good and Evil, Nietzsche found in early societies a primitive form of this duality, finding it to be between not Good and Evil, but instead Good and Bad. He discovered these two words are linked etymologically to the aristocracy, in which the aristocrats, the rich and powerful, call themselves “Good” and everyone who is not an aristocrat, the poor and powerless, “Bad.” In other words, the idea of Goodness developed from the nobility, from the upper class, which often consisted of the dominant few who had most of the land and owned slaves. They thought themselves the best, superior to everyone else, as they had control over resources, among them, people.[5] Seeing as they were educated and could do whatever they pleased with their property, it was only fitting, Nietzsche thought, that they should differentiate themselves from the masses, whom they considered lowly and base. The nobility possessed what Nietzsche calls the pathos of distance—that feeling of separation Unknown-3between oneself and others, especially of higher from lower, owner from owned. This worldview said that whatever was not aristocratic was bad, so all slaves were bad, in that they lacked everything the nobility had. What distinguishes the master from the slave is power. Thus, anything that goes against power is slavish and therefore bad, meaning the virtues we so often praise, such as temperance and compassion, are bad qualities, to the extent that they are anti-power. A change took place in these societies when religions like Judaism and Christianity began amassing followers, pandering to the masses, particularly the slaves. Suddenly, the consensus was, “The wretched are alone the good; the poor, the weak, the lowly are alone the good… but you, on the other hand,… you men of power, you are for all eternity the evil, the horrible, the covetous, the insatiate, the godless.”[6] Religion created an inversion of the noble morality, turning Good and Bad into Good vs. Evil. There was, accordingly, a twofold inversion: The Bad became the Evil, and it was no longer a coexistence but a competition of values, and there could only be one victor. Through this inversion, the weak made themselves “stronger” than their oppressors. By painting their enemies as Evil, the manifestation of all things contemptible, the slaves managed to get the upper hand, convincing themselves that they were happier than their masters. They aggrandized suffering, rather than dominating. Nietzsche named this approach the ascetic ideal, which he defined as “an attempt to seem ‘too good’ for this world, a sort of holy debauchery.”[7] He says “too good for this world” as a way of satirizing this otherworldly approach, which emphasizes the pure and the heavenly, calling for the renunciation of the appetite, a call to a virtuous life, one that will be rewarded in the second life. These ascetics parade their “holy debauchery,” whereby they take pride in their virtuous, saintly life; in their denial of this world; and in their holier-than-thou comportment. Foreshadowing Freud, Nietzsche theorized that the Unknown-4repression of the Will to Power that took place in asceticism led to “bad conscience,” a concept similar to guilt. Simply, Judeo-Christian morality taught that it was wrong to act on the Will to Power, so its followers repressed, or kept in check, their instincts; guilt arises, then, when one’s instincts turn upon oneself. These built-up instincts, having no output, are accordingly relieved by self-inflicted suffering. This “internalization of man,” Nietzsche diagnosed, is what made the weak appear strong yet remain weak; for the Will cannot be fully renounced after all, but finds its way out in the cleverest of ways. He noted how they paradoxically “use[d] power to dam the sources of power…. [A] baleful eye is cast at physiological well-being, especially against the expression of such well-being,… while a sense of joy is experienced and sought in… wilful privation, in self-denial and flagellation.”[8] It is through the Will that the weak try in futility to deny it. They cast away their inner nature, condemning those who are complicit, who partake in it. A minority, they convince themselves they are right, and the others are wrong, as though they are doing the right thing and are guided aright, while the others are misguided, and they take pride in their apparent pureness, seeking meekly for absolution, as if it is the proper pursuit, a struggle that will, in the end, be rewarded justly in the next life, where those who were tempted suffer eternally in damnation. Psychologically, this results in ressentiment, a feeling of deep-seated animosity or hatred of the oppressed directed toward the oppressor, over whom they have no control. Again, prefiguring Freudian theory, Nietzsche develops an early form of displacement; i.e., redirecting one’s feelings onto an object or person. In this case, the oppressed, who in reality can do nothing against their powerful rulers, fabricate their own mythology, in which the oppressors are punished in the name of the weak. Therefore, ressentiment is a form of catharsis, a release, if you will, of anger, which is relieved through imagined retribution. The slaves, who are by nature weak, bearing their suffering thereby, impute this suffering to the strong, whom they blame for their condition. Pleasing oneself, or indulging the Will, 250px-Temptation_of_Saint_Anthony_by_Bosch.jpegconsequently, is seen as bad. All acts exhibited as Will become frowned-upon, made into crimes: Those who want something and take it for themselves—a quality admired by the noble—are called covetous, and those who please themselves tirelessly, always taking more—self-preservational, and thus symbolic of a master—are called insatiate. Evidently, noble virtues become slavish vices, and noble vices become slavish virtues. The Will presents itself as weakness, which is interpreted by the slaves as strength, so they convince themselves that they chose it, that it is, as Nietzsche called it, an “achievement.” They are excited to have “tamed” the Will! To summarize, “The strong man’s objective is to take as much as he can from his victim; the weak man’s is to save as much as he can from his conqueror.”[9] Without hesitation, without thought, the strong man takes what he wants; the slave denies their Will and represses it.


All this sounds quite abstract and foreign, admittedly, as if it is out of place, which it might seem to most of us at first. However, I shall proceed to highlight some relevant, modern day examples that I hope shall illustrate that what Nietzsche is describing is entirely applicable and can easily be found in Western culture, and not some idle speculation about a different time period, when things were much different. A while ago, I did a blog on Lord of the Flies, wherein I discussed the Will to Power. Based on this discussion, I would ask, Who really won in Lord of the Flies? The answer, undoubtedly, is Jack. Although Ralph may have been saved by civilization, the damage was done, and in an alternate ending, he would have ended up dying at the hands of Jack and his merciless tribe. All throughout the novel, we readers are quietly cheering for Ralph and Piggy, the untainted, the pure, the civilized, to survive and triumph over the brutal images.jpegsavages into which the other boys had devolved. How terrible it would be if those brutes, those aggressive, violent, primitive hunters had the island to themselves! What chaos would ensue! Yet, in the end, Ralph and Piggy, the protagonists, were slaves to society’s morality; they unthinkingly followed the herd instinct. They did not question the morality imposed on them by society, which taught them to behave and to control their impulses, to stifle their Will. On the other hand, Jack and his tribe fully embraced their Will to Power. Channelling the primordial hunter within them, they expressed their instincts through aggression, such as when Jack hunts the pig or when Robert terrorizes the smaller boys—in either case, the boys were accompanied not just by a great pleasure, but a feeling of power, of power over something, exploitation. Whereas Piggy and Ralph were like small gazelles trying to survive, Jack was like a lion trying to predominate. It was the strongest who won.


A classic example of the battle between Good and Evil is the (currently) heptalogy Star Wars. Based on Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Star Wars follows the age-old theme of Light and Dark and the cosmic duel between opposing forces. Interwoven into its narrative is the want for the good guys—the Jedi, in this case—to beat the bad guys—the Sith—so that intergalactic peace can be maintained. So why exactly are the Jedi and Sith at odds? Why are they enemies of each other even though they both harness the same energy—the Force? The Sith, who practice what is called the “Dark side of the Force,” are called Evil by the Jedi because it is known to be tempting and thence corrupting. The learned masters warn their padawan not get drawn to the Dark side, lest they gratify their instincts, no matter how natural or easy they are to gratify. In essence, the Jedi are saying to choose virtue over vice. Sound familiar? The Jedi are the slaves, the Sith the masters. If we further examine the two orders, we shall find even better evidence. Both orders adhere to their respective codes, which outline their core beliefs. Here is the Sith Code:

Peace is a lie. There is only Passion.

Through Passion I gain Strength.

Through Strength I gain Power.

Through Power I gain Victory.

Through Victory my chains are Broken.

The Force shall free me.

Canon_Sith_symbol.pngIt can be gathered from this that central to the Sith philosophy is the idea of a blind, erratic chaos which governs all. There is no order in the galaxy, only disorder. The key to the Sith is aggression, which comes from the Will, and is pure, focused anger. It is through the instincts that power is both achieved and channeled, from which comes victory, after which follows freedom. Accordingly, it is the directing of the Will that sets them free; they engage their instinct for freedom, which the slaves deny. Another part of their code “encouraged the strong to destroy the weak, and insisted on the importance of struggling and surviving”; and the master and his student always sized each other up, for “a weak master deserved to be overthrown by their pupil, just as a weak pupil deserved to be replaced by a worthier, more powerful recruit.”[10] Words like “worthier,””powerful,” and “weak” all can be connected to the master-slave morality, having originated from the aristocracy. From this perspective, the Sith favor the strong, thinking themselves superior to the Jedi, whom they consider, conversely, the slaves. Nietzsche emphasized overcoming one’s struggles through exploitation, sort of like an extreme survival of the fittest, to use Spencer’s term. Therefore, the students of Sith masters, if they were deemed too weak, were replaced to make room for better, stronger, more Willful students. Darth Vader said, “Anger and pain are natural and part of growth…. They make you strong.” Both emotions named stem from the unconscious, the self-preservational, and both are biologically necessary, according to Nietzsche. Today’s Western civilization devalues anger, calling it an ugly, unproductive emotion, and discourages it. To the Sith and Nietzsche, however, anger is a necessary emotion through which the individual overcomes himself and becomes something, someone, better. Now let’s examine the Jedi:

There is no emotion, there is peace.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

There is no passion, there is serenity.

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

There is no death, there is the Force.

Unknown.pngLooking at the parallel structures of the two codes, you will notice the Jedi Code is an exact inversion of the Sith Code! Compare this to what Nietzsche claims occurred millennia ago, when the Judeo-Christian slaves pulled a complete reversal on their masters, thus establishing the slave morality, which was the opposite of the noble values. The Jedi deny any chaos, instead affirming harmony; the Jedi deny the passions, instead affirming asceticism, or a turn away from them. To say someone is emotional is usually not a compliment, as it usually means they are over-dramatic, easily upset, or moody; so when the Jedi say there are no emotions, they are basically denying the Will to Power, eschewing it totally from their worldview, because according to them, emotions lead to chaos, whereas no passions leads to peace. The wisest of the Jedi, Master Yoda—everyone’s favorite backwards-speaking native of Dagobah—has a wealth of quotable adages, among them many attacks on the Sith, one of which goes, “Powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you.” Automatically, he associates “power” with the dark side, for it denotes exploitation, injury, and all the other volitions Nietzsche stated. He also says, “[I]f you choose the quick and easy path… you will become an agent of evil.” Yoda uses the phrase “agent of evil” deliberately here: Make no mistake, he thought his wording through very thoroughly, such that his choice of words is intentional. Recall that through ressentiment, the slaves change Bad to Evil so that it looks like they are being oppressed; similarly, Yoda calls the Sith Evil, whereas the Sith would most likely call Yoda Bad, in accordance with the aristocratic morality. And when calls the dark side the “quick and easy path,” he calls it such because it is easier, he knows, to gratify one’s instincts than to repress them, as he does.


Finally, I shall examine the very popular HBO show Game of Thrones, in which I found much food for thought. As with every narrative, we always cheer for the good side and boo for the bad side. While watching, I asked myself, Why do we like the Unknown-1.jpegStarks and hate the Lannisters? What is it about the two houses that makes one favorable to the other? How is it that our values affect our associating with the characters?  Eddard “Ed” Stark is the first major character with whom the audience starts to feel an affinity. He is the archetypal “good guy” because he is pure, ascetic, and he denied his Will. Compassionate, considerate, fatherly, and humble, Ed is loved by all because he is so virtuous and caring—we would never expect him to burn down a village of innocents, for example: It is not his character to do so. His resistance to his Will made him weak and oppressed, though. Why would we be cheering for an oppressed character? It is precisely because of his weakness that we like him: We feel pity for him, and we want him to prevail at the hands of evil, we want him to succeed, we want him to stand up against the oppressors, we want retribution, we want a David and Goliath story. The weak, we have learned, always blame their oppressors, so we naturally blame the Lannisters and acquit the Starks, who have suffered at the hands of the former. Unfortunately, it is Ed’s purity and refraining from the rampant corruption, dishonesty, and moral bankruptcy around him and his loyalty to a moral code that lead to his downfall. Each time the Starks lose and the Lannisters gain, every step backwards and forwards they take, respectively, the more we love and pity the Starks and hate and abhor the Lannisters, who seem to take everything they want, rapacious, immoral, and exploitative. We viewers suffer from the pessimism of sensibility: There is so much suffering in the show—too much—that we become disillusioned, making us feel like life is unfair, like there is no equality, and so we become disheartened every time the Starks suffer a loss; we suffer with them. We want justice for the cruel acts the Lannisters commit against the defenseless. The Lannisters do anything that will get them ahead, even if it means blurring the lines of what is considered moral, using whatever is in their advantage, cheating when they can. Hence, Unknown-2.jpegJaime and Cersei, heads of House Lannister, are masters. Jaime Lannister has a simple, anthropocentric worldview: He and Cersei are the only two people who are important in the world, and nothing else matters. In other words, Jaime cares only about himself and Cersei, and he is willing to do whatever he needs to so he can protect her. Instead of compiling a list of ethics, Jaime has a simple goal, with no guidelines. Anything goes. He can do whatever he pleases, as long as it is for his and Cersei’s sake. Even when Jaime is the prisoner of Brienne, supposedly making Brienne the master and Jaime the slave, Jaime remains the master after all. Pretty much every action movie I have seen has a scene where the good guy has a captured enemy who taunts them, encouraging them to strike them, to lose their temper and ignite their fury, but the good guy refuses, calms himself, collects his nerves, remembers his values, and does not give into the volatile words. As when in Star Wars Emperor Sidious tells Luke to act on his anger but Luke refuses to surrender to the dark side, so Jaime tries to enrage Brienne, clearly unnerving her, then telling her to release her anger on him, because he knows she wants to; as the fire lights in her eyes and she raises her sword, she then drops it, remembering her promise, and she chooses the “noble path,” the ascetic path. She wants to hurt him, deep down. She wants to be cruel. Unknown-3.jpegBut she resists her Will on account of a “higher order.” Jaime, then, has the real advantage over Brienne. While she may be the one with the sword, and while he may be the one tied up, it is he who holds dominance, who is most powerful. Another encounter, this time with Edmure Tully, takes place in a tent; this time, the positions have changed, Edmure being the prisoner, Jaime being the keeper. Edmure tells Jaime, “You understand you’re an evil man.” After a discussion that leads to the subject of Catelyn Stark, Edmure’s sister and Jaime’s former captor, Jaime states, “Catelyn Stark hated me like you hate me, but I didn’t hate her. I admired her, far more than I did her husband or her son” (S6:E08). Like Yoda, Edmure Tully calls Jaime “Evil” to demonstrate that he is his opposite. While Edmure is Good, a saint, Jaime is Evil, a sinner. One of the characteristics of the noble master, Nietzsche claimed, is that they have a “love of their enemy”; meanwhile, the slaves despise those they call Evil. The strong respect their enemies because they define themselves in relation to them. Without the Bad, there can be no Good. Nobles, therefore, respect those lower than them, because they have power over them. Jaime’s sister, Cersei, also has a straightforward moral code: Unknown.jpeg“I do things because they feel good” (S6:E10). In that episode, Cersei turns the tables against her zealot-captor Septa Unella. She says Unella made her suffer not out of compassion or a desire to see her purify herself, but out of her inner, biological craving for cruelty that comes from the Will. She made her miserable because she loved to inflict pain, which, Cersei confides, she, too, experiences. Cersei does not follow a pre-established morality; rather, she makes her own, doing whatsoever she pleases, whensoever she pleases, if it benefits her, even if it means killing thousands—even if, among those thousands, there are innocents. That is, she does not think before acting, but forms her morality from that. Nietzsche explained that pleasure is not what is good for oneself or what makes one feel pleasant. Pleasure is just a byproduct which accompanies an increase in power. Consequently, whenever Cersei does something because it pleases her, it really means she does it because she gains power, and her Will to Power is fulfilled. When she makes a decision, Cersei does not consider what effect it may have on others, especially the slaves; she only does what will further her cause. Another character who values power is Ellaria Sand, widow of Oberyn Martell, who, after killing Doran Martell, proclaims, “Weak men will never rule Dorne again” (S6:E01). Because Doran did nothing, Ellaria decided to take power into her own hands, stabbing him in order to gain control, such that she could rule Dorne, this time with purpose and conviction. Doran did not do anything. He preferred peace and was thus inactive. And weak. He did not take initiative, did not affirm his Will, and so let his country suffer. Instead of a slave, Dorne needed a master to rule. Two other characters—Dænerys and Grey Worm—ought to be evaluated as well. Danny, the so-called liberator of men, is not herself liberated, but enslaved, not in the Unknown-1.jpegsense of being indebted to another, but insofar as she is dependent on a higher morality, one that demands quiescence of the Will, and which seeks to eliminate the Will in others, the masters of Slaver’s Bay. She is pitiful and merciful, yet at the same time she possesses a certain brutality. As it is, Danny cannot be strictly classified as a master or slave insomuch that she simultaneously hinders her Will and incites it. Her loyal soldier, Grey Worm, has a talk with Tyrion. Tyrion asks, “Why don’t either of you ever drink?” to which Grey Worm replies, “Unsullied never drink.” Unconvinced, Tyrion queries, “Why not?” Grey Worm says, “Rules,” answered by Tyrion, “And who made these rules, your former masters?” (S6:E08). Here, Tyrion remarks that Grey Worm, despite being a freed man, still lives by his old master’s rules, thereby enslaving him. Morality, to Nietzsche, is a herd instinct; put another way, morality is something to which the weak flock, as though they are herd animals, and into which they invest blind trust, accepting it without questioning it, living by its rules without ever stopping to ask why they live by those rules, slaves to tradition, shackled to its ascetic ethics. Grey Worm does not live by his own, self-invented rules; he does not affirm himself; he denies his power and surrenders it to another.


What Nietzsche painted is a bleak, unaffectionate, uninviting, savage picture, in which the strong dominate the weak, and inequality reigns supreme alongside chaos and anarchy. Do I personally agree with what he said? I agree that our Western values have been and are influenced by and even derived from the Judeo-Christian traditions, which valued asceticism and renunciation of the passions, in favor of a virtuous, happy, and content life lived with value. It is not hard to see that this morality is ingrained in our Unknown-2.jpegculture, even in the 21st-century. I agree that we are approaching a time of nihilism, when our traditions are collapsing around us, and we are slowly losing these long-cherished values. I disagree with Nietzsche, however, that it is the strong and powerful who must triumph, that the slave morality is subversive and self-defeating. It is true that Nietzsche never explicitly expressed contempt for the slave morality; he just disapproved of it. Notwithstanding, today’s values have undergone changes within the last two millennia, and they will inevitably continue to change with the ages. The next time you are watching a movie or TV show, the next time you find yourself cheering for the good guy, remember that there are two sides to every story. Our protagonists all have motivations, but so do our villains. As you find yourself lounging on the couch, whether in bed or in Yin-Yang-Black-Gold-Dark-Temple-Small-308x300.jpgthe theater, watching the cosmic eternal dance of Good and Evil, consider what you value and why you value what you value. Was the point of this essay to convince you to start backing up the bad guys? Not at all. It is to get you thinking. It is to get you to consider things from a different perspective—something we all ought to do every now and then. “You are aware of my demand upon philosophers,” said Nietzsche—”that they should take up a stand Beyond Good and Evil.”[11]


[1] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 9, Preface, §6
[2] Id., p. 32, Essay 1, §13
[3] p. 62, Essay 2, §11
[4] p. 52, Essay 2, §6
[5] Aristocrat derives from the Greek aristos, meaning “best”
[6] Nietzche, op. cit., p. 22, Essay 1, §7
[7] p. 81, Essay 3, §1
[8] p. 104, Essay 3, §11
[9] Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, p. 61
[10] http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sith
[11] Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, p. 33
For further reading: On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche (2013)
The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche by H.L. Mencken (2006)
Twilight of the Idols
by Friedrich Nietzsche (2008)
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Technology and Social Media: A Polemic

§1


Much gratitude is to be given to our devices—those glorious, wonderful tools at our disposal, which grant us capabilities whereof man centuries ago could only have wished, the culmination of years of technology, all combined in a single gadget, be it the size of your lap or hand. What a blessing they are, to be able to connect us to those around the world, to give us access to a preponderance of knowledge, and to give longevity to our lives, allowing us to create narratives and storytell; and yet, how much of a curse they are, those mechanical parasites that latch onto their hosts and deprive them of their vitality, much as a tick does. That phones and computers are indispensable, and further, that social media acts as a necessary sphere that combines the private and public, creating the cybersphere—such is incontrovertible, although they are abused to such an extent that these advantages have been corrupted and have lost their supremacy in the human condition.

§2


Technology is ubiquitous, inescapable, and hardwired into the 21st-century so that it is a priori, given, a simple fact of being whose facticity is such that it is foreign to older generations, who generally disdain it, as opposed to today’s youths, who have been, as Heidegger said, thrown into this world, this technologically dominated world, wherein pocket-sized devices—growing bigger by the year—are everywhere, the defining feature of the age, the zeitgeist, that indomitable force that pervades society, not just concretely, but abstractly, not just descriptive but normative. In being-in-the-world, we Millennials and we of Generation X take technology as it is, and accept it as such. To us, technology is present. It is present insofar as it is both at hand and here, whereby I mean it is pervasive, not just in terms of location but in terms of its presence. A fellow student once observed that we youths are like fish born in the water, whereas older generations are humans born on land: Born into our circumstances, as fish, we are accustomed to the water, while the humans, accustomed to the land, look upon us, upon the ocean, and think us strange, pondering, “How can they live like that?”

§3


As per the law of inertia, things tend to persist in their given states. As such, people, like objects, like to resist change. The status-quo is a hard thing to change, especially when it is conceived before oneself is. To tell a fellow fish, “We ought to live on the land as our fathers did before us”—what an outlandish remark! Verily, one is likely to be disinclined to change their perspective, but will rather accept it with tenacity, to the extent that it develops into a complacency, a terrible stubbornness that entrenches them further within their own deep-rooted ways. This individual is a tough one to change indeed. What is the case, we say is what it ought to be, and so it is the general principle whereupon we take our case, and anyone who says otherwise is either wrong or ignorant. Accordingly, following what has been said, the youth of today, the future of humanity, accepts technology as its own unquestioningly. As per the law of inertia, things tend to persist in their given states—that is, until an unbalanced force acts upon it.

§4


What results from deeply held convictions is dogmatism. A theme central to all users of devices, I find, is guilt; a discussion among classmates has led me to believe that this emotion, deeply personal, bitingly venomous, self-inflicted, and acerbic, is a product of our technological addictions. Addiction has the awesome power of distorting one’s acumen, a power comparable to that of drugs, inasmuch as it compromises the mind’s judiciary faculty, preventing it from distilling events, from correctly processing experiences, and thereby corrupting our better senses. The teen who is stopped at dinner for being on their phone while eating with their family, or the student who claims to be doing homework, when, in reality, they are playing a game or watching a video—what have they in common? The vanity of a guilty conscience—would rather be defensive than apologetic. The man of guilt is by nature disposed to remorse, and thus he is naturally apologetic in order to right his wrong; yet today, children are by nature indisposed thereto, and are conversely defensive, as though they are the ones who have been wronged—yes, we youths take great umbrage at being called out, and instead of feeling remorse, instead of desiring to absolve from our conscience our intrinsic guilt, feel that we have nothing from which to absolve ourselves, imputing the disrespect to they who called us out.

§5


Alas, what backward logic!—think how contrary were it to be if the thief were to call out that poor inhabitant who caught them. Technology has led to moral bankruptcy. A transvaluation of morals in this case, to use Nietzsche’s terminology is to our detriment, I would think. Guilt is a reactionary emotion: It is a reaction formed ex post facto, with the intent of further action. To be guilty is to want to justify oneself, for guilt is by definition self-defeating; guilt seeks to rectify itself; guilt never wants to remain guilty, no; it wants to become something else. But technology has reshaped guilt, turning it into an intransitive feeling, often giving way, if at all, to condemnation, seeking not to vindicate itself but to remonstrate, recriminate, retribute, repugn, and retaliate. Through technology, guilt has gone from being passive and reactive to active and proactive, a negative emotion with the goal of worsening things, not placating them. Digital culture has perpetuated this; now, being guilty and remaining so is seen as normal and valuable. Guilt is not something to be addressed anymore. Guilt is to be kept as long as possible. But guilt, like I said, is naturally self-rectifying, so without an output, it must be displaced—in this case, into resentment, resentment directed toward the person who made us feel this way.

§6


—You disrupt me from my device? Shame on you!—It is no good, say you? I ought get off it? Nay, you ought get off me!—You are foolish to believe I am doing something less important than what we are doing now, together, to think it is I who is in the wrong, and consequently, to expect me to thusly put it away—You are grossly out of line—You know naught of what I am doing, you sanctimonious tyrant!—

§7


When asked whether they managed their time on devices, some students replied quite unsurprisingly that they did not; notwithstanding, this serves as a frightful example of the extent to which our devices play a role in our lives. (Sadly, all but one student said they actually managed their time.) They were then asked some of the reasons they had social media, to which they replied: To get insights into others’ lives, to distress and clear their minds after studying, and to talk with friends. A follow-up question asked if using social media made them happy or sad, the answer to which was mixed: Some said it made them happier, some said it made them sadder. An absurd statement was made by one of the interviewees who, when asked how they managed their time, said they checked their social media at random intervals through studying in order to “clear their mind off of things” because their brains, understandably, were tired; another stated they measured their usage by the amount of video game matches played, which, once it was met, signaled them to move onto to something else—not something physical, but some other virtual activity, such as checking their social media account. I need not point out the hypocrisy herein.

§8


I take issue with both statements combined, for they complement each other and reveal a sad, distasteful pattern in today’s culture which I shall presently discuss. Common to all students interviewed was the repeated, woebegone usage of the dreaded word “should”:
—”I should try to be more present”—
—”I should put my phone down and be with my friends”—
—”I should probably manage my time more”—

§9


Lo! for it is one thing to be obliged, another to want. Hidden beneath each of these admissions is an acknowledgment of one’s wrongdoing—in a word, guilt. Guilt is inherent in “shoulds” because they represent a justified course of action. One should have done this, rather than that. Subsequently, the repetition of “should” is vain, a mere placeholder for the repressed guilt, a means of getting rid of some of the weight on one’s conscience; therefore, it, too, the conditional, is as frustrated as the guilt harbored therein.

§10


Another thing with which I take issue is when the two students talked about their means of time management. The first said they liked to play games on their computer, and they would take breaks intermittently by going elsewhere, either their social media or YouTube to watch videos. No less alogical, the other said they would take breaks by checking their social media, as they had just been concentrating hard. How silly it would be for the drug addict to heal himself with the very thing which plagues him! No rehabilitator assures their circle with alcohol; common sense dictates that stopping a problem with that which is the problem in the first place is nonsense! Such is the case with the culture of today, whose drugs are their devices. In the first place, how exactly does stopping a game and checking some other website constitute a “break”? There is no breach of connection between user and device, so it is not in any sense a “break,” but a mere switch from one thing to the next, which is hardly commendable, but foolish forasmuch as it encourages further usage, not less; as one defines the one in relation to the next, it follows that it is a cycle, not a regiment, for there is no real resting period, only transition. Real time management would consist of playing a few games, then deciding to get off the computer, get a snack, study, or read; going from one device to another is not management at all. Similarly, regarding the other scenario, studying on one’s computer and taking a break by checking one’s media is no more effective. One is studying for physics, and after reading several long paragraphs, sets upon learning the vocabulary, committing to memory the jargon, then solving a few problems, but one is thus only halfway through: What now? Tired, drained, yet also proud of what has been accomplished thus far, one decides to check one’s social media—only for 30 minutes, of course: just enough time to forget everything, relax, and get ready to study again—this is not the essence of management; nay, it is the antithesis thereof! No state of mind could possibly think this reasonable. If one is tired of studying, which is justifiable and respectable, then one ought to (not should!) take a real break and really manage one’s time! Social media is indeed a distraction, albeit of a terrible kind, and not the one we ought to be seeking. Checking a friend’s or a stranger’s profile and looking through their photos, yearning for an escape, hoping for better circumstances—this is not calming, nor is it productive. A good break, good time management, is closing one’s computer and doing something productive. Social media serves to irritate the brain even more after exhaustion and is not healthy; instead, healthy and productive tasks, of which their benefits have been proven, ought to be taken up, such as reading, taking a walk, or exercising, among other things: A simple search will show that any of the aforementioned methods is extremely effective after intense studying, and shows signs of better memory, better focus, and better overall well-being, not to mention the subconscious aspect, by which recently learned information is better processed if put in the back of the mind during something else, such as the latter two, which are both physical, bringing with them both physiological and psychological advantages. Conclusively, time management consists not in transitioning between devices, but in transitioning between mind- and body-states.

§11


The question arises: Why is spending too much time with technology on devices a problem in the world? Wherefore, asks the skeptic, is shutting oneself off from the world and retreating into cyberspace where there are infinite possibilities a “bad” thing? Do we really need face-to-face relationships or wisdom or ambitions when we can scroll through our media without interference, getting a window into what is otherwise unattainable? Unfortunately, as with many philosophical problems, including the simulation theory, solipsism, and the mind-body problem, no matter what is argued, the skeptic can always refute it. While I or anyone could give an impassioned speech in defense of life and about what it means to be human, it may never be enough to convince the skeptic that there is any worth in real-world experiences. It is true that one could easily eschew worldly intercourse and live a successful life on their device, establishing their own online business, finding that special person online and being in love long distance—what need is there for the real world, for the affairs of everyday men? Philosopher Robert Nozick asks us to consider the Pleasure Machine: Given the choice, we can choose to either hook ourselves up to a machine that simulates a perfect, ideal, desirable world wherein all our dreams come true, and everything we want, we get, like becoming whatever we always wanted to become, marrying whomever we have always wanted to marry, yet which is artificial, and, again, simulated; or to remain in the real world, where there are inevitable strifes and struggles, but also triumphs, and where we experience pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness—but all real, all authentic. There is, of course, nothing stopping one from choosing the machine; and the skeptic will still not be swayed, but I think the sanctity of humanity, that which constitutes our humanity, ought never be violated.

§12


What, then, is the greatest inhibition to a healthy, productive digital citizenship? What can we do to improve things? The way I see it, the answer is in the how, not the what. Schools can continue to hold events where they warn students of the dangers of technology, advise them on time management, and educate them about proper usage of technology and online presence; but while these can continue ad infinitum, the one thing that will never change is our—the students—want to change. Teachers, psychologists, and parents can keep teaching, publishing, and lecturing more and more convincingly and authoritatively, but unless the want to change is instilled in us, I am afeard no progress will be made. Today’s generation will continue to dig itself deeper into the technological world. They say the first step in overcoming a bad habit or addiction is to admit you have a problem. Like I said earlier, technology just is for us youths, and it always will be henceforth, and there will not be a time when there is not technology, meaning it is seen as a given, something that is essential, something humans have always needed and will continue to need. Technology is a tool, not a plaything. Technology is a utility, not a distraction. Social media is corrupting, not clarifying, nor essential. We have been raised in the 21st-century such that we accept technology as a fact, and facts cannot be disproven, so they will remain, planted, their roots reaching deeper into the soil, into the human psyche. Collectively, we have agreed technology is good, but this is “technology” in its broadest sense, thereby clouding our view of it. We believe our phones and computers are indispensable, that were we to live without them, we would rather die. To be without WiFi—it is comparable to anxiety, an object-less yearning, and emptiness in our souls. How dependent we have become, we “independent” beings! This is the pinnacle of humanity, and it is still rising! Ortega y Gasset, in the style of Nietzsche, proclaimed, “I see the flood-tide of nihilism rising!”¹ We must recognize technology as a problem before we can reform it and ourselves. A lyric from a song goes, “Your possessions will possess you.” Our devices, having become a part of our everyday lives to the extent that we bring them wheresoever we go, have become more controlling of our lives than we are of ourselves, which is a saddening prospect. We must check every update, every message, every notification we receive, lest we miss out on anything! We must miss out on those who care about us, who are right in front of us, in order to not miss out on that brand new, for-a-limited-time sale! But as long as we keep buying into these notification, for so long as we refuse to acknowledge our addictions and the problem before us, we will continue to miss out on life and waste moments of productivity, even if they are for a few minutes, which, when added up at the end of our lives, will turn out to be days, days we missed out on. As my teacher likes to say, “Discipline equals freedom.” To wrest ourselves from our computers or phones, we must first discipline ourselves to do so; and to discipline ourselves, we must first acknowledge our problem, see it as one, and want to change. As per the law of the vis viva (and not the vis inertiæ), things tend to persist in their given states, until its internal force wills it otherwise. We bodies animated with the vis viva, we have the determination and volition to will ourselves, to counter the inertia of being-in-the-world, of being-online, whence we can liberate ourselves, and awaken, so to speak. We, addicts, have no autonomy with our devices—we are slaves to them. Until we break out of our complacency, until we recognize our masters and affirm our self-consciousness thence, and until we take a stand and break from our heteronomy, we will remain prisoners, automata, machines under machines. We must gain our freedom ourselves. But we cannot free ourselves if we do not want to be freed, if we want to remain slaves, if we want to remain in shackles, if we want to plug into the machine. A slave who disdains freedom even when freed remains a slave. Consequently, we cannot be told to stop spending so much time on our devices, to pay attention to whom or what is in front of us; we must want to ourselves. Yet no matter how many times or by whom they are told, today’s youth will never realize it unless they do so themselves. They must make the decision for themselves, which, again, I must stress, must be of their own volition. Until then, it is merely a velleity, a desire to change, but a desire in-itself—nothing more, a wish with no intent to act. It is one thing to say we should spend less time, another that we ought to.

 


¹Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, p. 54

Against Prattle: a Philippic

The following treatise–more of a brief polemic really–is a collection of reflections concerning the ethics of false speech. Referring to it as a Philippic, the written or verbal attack first used by Greek rhetor Demosthenes to denounce Philip II, I have written this as  part-social criticism, part-moral essay. If you would rather listen to and watch the diatribe than read it, click here.

1

The Buddha identifies the misconduct of the tongue as one of the five precepts in the Eightfold path, and this vice, millennia later, still exists as a ubiquitous problem that, like a tick, burrows in the skin of, taints the blood of, and festers in the soul of its victim, unrelenting in its ways, corrupting within our society, and inflicting upon our rationality insipidity and vacuousness, which, in turn, strips us of our communicative and contemplative functions, and over time it becomes all too comfortable as it finds its way into our everyday interactions. We are powerless against this latent evil, and we no not of when we are consumed by it, for we feel the urge to act upon it, failing to consider what we really are doing.

2

Having not yet come to terms with themselves, having not yet established their place with their peers, and having not yet stipulated the trifles whereof they speak, the youth of today have failed incommensurably to understand the importance of that to which they contribute their input. Whencesoever this problem has arisen goes beyond me, inasmuch as the prevalence of this particular epidemic is to be considered universal for this time. It is due, possibly, to the increasing globalization of texting, a form of communication that has undermined the fundamentals of language, both socially and digitally, leading to the utter disregard of and complete ignorance of proper conversation and the destructive neglect of conventions in grammar, which, in turn, has created countless neologisms, limitless acronyms, and egregious shorthand, all of which has stemmed from our technology, since the culture of today is influenced so much by it.

3

So what exactly is the nature of the misconduct in speech to which I refer? To what extent does misconduct reach in relation to the tongue? The prattle with which I concern myself is that consisting of no practical value, of no constructive merit, or, more specifically, language used not for the betterment of the individual, i.e., their character or for their rationality, but for empty entertainment, i.e., the consumption of time or that regarding external matters such as diurnal occurrences or social conference. When speaking of the former, I speak of right conduct, speech used to further one’s morals and virtues or to further one’s thoughts and ideas, as these can be considered constructive, insofar as it provides the interlocutors to engage in discourse that will have a lasting effect, whereas engaging in the latter provides no such resolution.

4

Proper usage of speech, then, consists of structured, formal talk, which will benefit not just the talker but the listener, the useful benefit being the capacity to expand upon ideas, not the capacity to inquire into the happenings of another’s business found so commonly in the chatter of those not practiced aright in the art of conversation. And what is to dissuade us from said prattle? to inspire us to partake in constructive dialogue? Just as it is the job of the mother to nurse and raise her children and not the opposite, so too does conversation stimulate and enlighten and not the opposite; it is a shame when the mother chastises and abuses her young, just like when discussion dulls and deteriorates the minds of its users. We must refrain from reducing ourselves to useless talk, evidently, as it, like a car with no engine, will stall, will remain idle, and will get us nowhere, its only success being a waste of our time, precious time.

5

And what does this look like, exactly? While I hearken to the frivolous matters discussed nowadays, I cannot help but ask why. It is like a burning in my mind, not exactly a physical sensation, but a yearning, a desire for something that will bear fruit, which can be consumed and then digested, and like the natural desire of hunger, it will continue in a cycle. Of what use is talking about the small matters of your day? of talking negatively of those who have wronged you in the slightest offense? of colluding, viciously, behind the backs of your friends? of complaining incessantly of that which has no effect on you, or of that that rests outside of your control? To what end does this lead? So, in my moments of velleity, I ask myself and of my peers: where is the excitement? the passion? Where is the intense fervor we so frequently seek in life? Since this life is limited, it is this time, time of conversation, time of being with friends, that we should exchange not playful persiflage but confrontation, debate, forasmuch as engaging in a unilateral conversation bears no seeds, merely fruits; it is the seed, from which the ideas burgeon, which we desire, for the fruit will, in time come, but it is the journey, not the destination, that matters, so far as the learning, the stimulation, comes directly from the discourse. From conflict comes resolution, not the other way around, insomuch that, like a student, our learning comes not from the finished paper, but the computation of it, which is exactly what we are looking for when we converse. Indeed, a better use of our time would be used discussing big ideas, ideas that will inspire the aforesaid debate, considering it creates a connection between those involved and will hook them. We should be debating philosophy, history, politics, values, psychology; we should be debating the arts of the free man! for we, after all, are free, and thus we desire a fulfillment of our needs. How one should act, ethically, should take precedence over what minor misadventure another has committed one fateful day every time, seeing as the former is practical, whereas the latter is trivial and should be kept to one’s self.

Morality and Suicide Squad

IMG_1167A whole spate of DC and Marvel movie adaptations has recently come out this summer. It is not surprising to see the amount of hype that surrounds these titanic blockbusters. And with the recent arrival of Detective Comics’ Suicide Squad, we are given yet another fast-paced action movie. My overall rating would be pretty high, as there was a genius balance between narrative and exciting sequences. However, there two major disappointments, which I will explain at the end. I had been waiting for this film to come out, and as I watched it, I find a wealth of profound prompts to write on. So, for today’s post, we will explore the philosophy and psychology of the villains of Suicide Squad. Specifically, we shall discuss the rights and wrongs of objectifying prisoners, the ethics of redemption, and the morality of religion and higher/transcendent power (Spoilers ahead).

The one behind Task Force X is a government agent by the name of Amanda Waller. An ambitious and determined agent, she will do whatever it takes, no matter the risks, to accomplish a task. Her great breakthrough consists of recruiting the worst of the worst to do the government’s dirty work. In the case of the DC universe, there are plenty of contemptible and expendable criminals to take advantage of. This is controversial at most, and it brings us to the question of whether or not we should risk prisoners’ lives for dangerous missions. To answer this question, we must first analyze Waller’s motives and her tactics and then the situation and rights of the prisoners. Beginning with the first inquiry, what is Amanda’s main goal and how does she ultimately reach it? We are under the immediate pretense that Waller is supposedly doing us a favor. Her goal is very clear from the start: she wants to protect her nation. How does she plan on doing that? By risking dangerous criminals’ lives to deal with threats. At first glance this seems pretty smart. Not only are we under the protection of trained and specialized mercenaries and serial killers, but, if they die, it lessens the criminal population, thus lowering crime rates, right? Wrong. Note that we are dealing with cold-blooded killers who kill primarily out of either satisfaction or payment. As we will discuss in the following paragraph, these are people, too. They may have killed people, but they have the right to live just like us. Nelson Mandela once explained, “A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” By this merit, we should respect the criminals and treat them like normal humans despite their misdeeds. Again, we are dealing with human beings, not animals. How does Amanda Waller make them do it? Why she makes deals with them, of course. She mercilessly makes them do what she wants them to do against their free wills by threatening to kill them with the bombs she implanted in them. These prisoners have no free choice and must do whatever is asked of them, for their life is at stakes. At one point in the movie, I thought Amanda was dead and thought to myself, “Would Waller’s death be justified?” After some thinking, I have concluded that killing Amanda Waller would be justifiable. Think about it: Amanda is a manipulative and apathetic person who will stop at nothing. Waller even says self-admittedly, “[Because] getting people to act against their own self-interest is what I do for a living.She straight up murders half a dozen of innocents in one scene. This side of Amanda is no better than the criminals. If Amanda is not killed, furthermore, think of how many more people she will manipulate and get killed. It would be utilitarian to kill her, for think of many deaths you could prevent by ending her existence.

We spoke of how a criminal’s right to life should be respected as with anyone else. But this raises another question: Should these villains be granted redemption? Let us look at the situation one more. A select few convicts guilty of countless murders are forced to carry out missions that will surely result in their deaths. I said that these killers are humans, too, and that they should be able to live. On the other hand, we have to ask ourselves whether we should—or can, for that matter—forgive these people for what they have done. Each of these villains, we have learned, has killed numerous people both innocent and guilty. I would like to focus on two of these criminals to decide whether they should be redeemed or not. First off, we have “El Diablo,” a man who happened to be tragically endowed with pyromancy. Right off the bat, I admired this character. Diablo never asked for this to happen to him, it just did, and he had to suffer with it. Immediately, we can give him some sense of salvation. This reluctant hero… I mean villain of ours stubbornly refuses to use his powers lest he cause more death and destruction around of him. Here we have a self-conscious man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like all of us, he too has emotions, and when his anger gets the best of him, he cannot hold it back. After accidentally killing his beloved family, he shrinks into penance. This is a truly human struggle. El Diablo realizes he creates harm and genuinely wants to be forgiven. In the end, El Diablo, like a courageous hero in a movie, sacrifices his life in the name of his family and his faithful team. This man had to suffer all his life, and he gave up his own life to save those around him. El Diablo, I conclude, has been acquitted of his sins. Next we have Floyd Lawton, AKA the sharp-shooting mercenary Deadshot. Give him a large sum of money and he will kill anyone you ask. This is a man who deserves no sympathy, for this man will take the life of another for cash. But deep down, this man is also a respectable human being. In his flashback, we see Deadshot nearly kill Batman, but two things stop him: his daughter and his rationality. Let us further examine these two aspects. Deadshot is, you must realize, a parent, and not a bad one. We all have a weak spot somewhere. Deadshot has some humanity beneath his murderous habits. He is also a concerned parent who will do anything for his daughter. Deadshot could have easily escaped his arrest and could have died serving Waller, but he listened to and cared about his daughter. One of his conditions for joining the mission was being able to see his daughter. This is a man who values family above everything else. The other thing that makes Deadshot an admirable man is his self-control and rationality. On one occasion, Deadshot could have killed Batman; on several occasions, Deadshot had the opportunity to shoot Amanda or Captain Flag when their backs were turned; and on another occasion, he could have easily aborted the mission and gone back to his life of crime. However, in each of these situations, which could have resulted in more killings, Deadshot managed to hold back his impulses and act coolly. While he may not hesitate to pull the trigger on a mission, he is able to maturely act without impudence on important occasions.

Finally, we have the characters of the Enchantress and Incubus, who, in my interpretation, are symbols of the death of religion in the modern age. The book All Things Shining, by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, tells of the declining supremacy of religion and mythology in the 21st century. As a result of this loss of guidance, we have become autonomous individuals who have lost our values and have thus ushered in an age of nihilism. The Enchantress is something like a goddess who is most likely descended from a civilization with a heavy reliance on shamanism. Viewers of the film even compare her to something like that of a Mayan deity. Her brother, Incubus, is released into the world like a ‘god among men,’ having been trapped in an ancient artifact for nearly seven millennia. There is an important conversation that occurs between siblings that supports my claim. The Enchantress says (I do not have the exact quotes), “The humans have turned against us.” Incubus responds, “But they worshiped us? We were gods to them.” It continues darkly with, “Now they worship machines, so I will build a machine that will wipe them out.” Nothing like a god’s wrath, huh? It is true, indeed, that we have entered a new age of idolatry. No longer do we invest our faith in an omnipotent being, we now worship technology and all the powers it has. The foundation of our society has been built upon science. Everything from the creation of the universe to human behavior is governed by the laws of physics and biology and psychology.  The gods have become obsolete in our industrial times. We no longer need a higher being to tell us how things happen and how we should behave. Dreyfus and Kelly wrote in response, “The gods have not withdrawn or abandoned us: we have kicked them out,” and, ”Ask not why the gods have abandoned you, but why you have abandoned the gods.”[1] We have not fallen out of favor with the gods, the gods have fallen out of favor with us. At this revolutionary point in time, we have realized that there is no need for deities like the Enchantress or Incubus. In the ending of the movie, before our protagonists fight the gods, the Enchantress tantalizes, “Why do you serve those who cage you?” She then begins offering the villains anything they could ever want. Here the gods have realized that they are not needed and are trying to convince the homo sapiens to come back to them.  “Why do you worship those who do not care about you instead of worshiping us, the gods, who can give you anything you need?” is what she is really trying to say. God is trying to reassert its dominance, it is trying to regain its relevance in a world gone technological and without faith. To combat their imminent obsolescence, they offer a final deal. After Incubus is killed—I am still not quite sure how a man-made explosive is able to kill a literal god incarnate—the Suicide Squad manages to get the Enchantress in her vulnerable state. She is one bullet away from death. As a final defense mechanism, she suggests she can bring back Rick Flag’s girlfriend. Flag sees through this illusion and kills her, giving a whole new literal meaning to Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is dead […] And we have killed him.” This inevitably leads to the figurative and literal death of religion.

In conclusion, we have gone over several controversial ethical issues ranging from the usury of prisoners to the tragic downfall of religion. We have found that murderers are humans deep down and deserve redemption, that the government should not use prisoners as means to an end, and that religion will eventually become trivial. Beneath this action movie derived from a comic, there is a deeper, more profound lesson, as there is in every film. Because you never quite know what you will encounter, you could unknowingly stumble upon a philosophical moral quandary waiting to be solved.

Personally, I was very disappointed that 1) Deathstroke did not make an appearance and 2) I felt that the Joker was as disappointing Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens. He sadly did not get enough screen time.


[1] Dreyfus and Kelly, All Things Shining, pg. 222

 

For further reading: All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly (2011)

Awakening, Transcendence, and Every Day the Same Dream

tumblr_inline_nh9ci8dC691qgdfuf.jpgIn our generation of sedentary gamers and people generally unsatisfied with their lives, we may just find that every day is the same dream. Such is the message delivered in the flash game “Every Day the Same Dream.” Despite being a 2D scroller game, players of this game have been scratching their heads over the cryptic messages, metaphors, and symbolism hidden throughout the simplicity of the game’s mechanics. After thoroughly examining the wake-up call, I have discovered the five principles to breaking out of the same dream every day: living with nature, awakening to reality, compassion/the circle of life, nonconformity, and mindfulness/transitoriness.

First of all, let us look at the title of the game and a quick summary. The game is fairly simply and plays out accordingly: You wake up and get dressed for work, then you enter the elevator with an old lady (who is important!) before driving to your job, where you work in your cubicle until finally, you go home only to wake up to the same grind. Unfortunately, this may sound a lot like a lot of our lives. We have few goals in life, few aspirations. The only thing that drives us through our day is work, and work alone. What is the purpose? Why we do we waste our lives repeating the same thing with no real result? At some point in our lives we must question the direction of our life. And while it may be nihilistic to say the least, some of us do not know we have a true purpose. Hidden from the individual, this purpose, this value—it is buried deeper and deeper with every repetition. All this repetition, all this lack of perseverance, makes reality seem like a dream. Reality is merely a reflection of the past and what is to come, for we do the same thing over and over, yet it is futile. The old lady in the elevator mutters the same cryptic message each time: “5 more steps and you will be a new person.” For the longest time I was bewildered by this esoteric advice. What exactly was she referring to? Then, as the game progresses, we have the choice to slightly alter the course of our day, and that is when we awaken from our Groundhog Day.

The five principles appear symbolically within the game. My interpretations are subjective and purely based on my conjectures alone. While commuting to work, we have the option to get out and find a cow, approach a homeless man and be taken to a cemetery, go to work naked, catch a falling leaf, and finally, jump and end it all. Let us decipher them piece by piece to find out how to find meaning and faith in life.

Leaving our car to enter a meadow is our first piece of evidence. Everything is so industrialized nowadays, so much to the point that nature no longer receives our love and attention. We, the workers, intent on one goal, must stop following a pattern of modernity and turn to nature sometimes. This cow represents all things natural in life. In a little animation, the character in the game pets the solitary bovine animal. From this alone, I can infer that this man is realizing something. He shows this cow affection and sees this animal as another living being. Just think for a moment of all the animals on Earth, of how many other living beings breathe the same air as we do. It is incredible, really, just how much of an impact embracing nature can have. Unlike the cow, our protagonist has a clouded objective in life, not to mention the countless obstacles that hinder him. This cow, on the contrary, is simply living. There is no grand scheme for the creature. Nature has a way of doing things with ease. As Epicurus said, “The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity”; or in simpler words, everything we need is easy to obtain, but everything we want is purposefully made hard to obtain.

If we take a left from our apartment building, the player comes across a homeless person on the curb. This principle still confuses me a bit, as it has two parts. My first interpretation is the virtue of charity and humanism, like that of the Ancient Greek Seven Virtues. Characterized by benevolence and self-sacrifice, charity is giving to others. This is a leading virtue in living a good life. Showing kindness to others will make us a better person, thus contributing to our quest for transcendence. While we do not actually give anything to the homeless man, we take him up for conversation. Again, compassion and care for others will strengthen us and lead us to a more meaningful purpose. Human beings are social animals, and it is disturbing, frankly, that we treat those who are less fortunate than us like they are below us. An experience like this reminds us of the importance of maintaining a goal in life. We may not succeed, and at times we fail, but who does not? Imperfect and predisposed towards failure, humans must learn and accept failure as part of their journey. The old man ends up responding with an eery, “I can take you to a quiet place.” In a flash, we are transported to a cemetery–indeed, a quiet place. I got a feeling of immense gloom when I saw this scene. Lives are fragile and our time to go eventually comes. But we are all human; we are all imperfect. It should be learned that we must treat others with respect as if it were our last day. We all have a time to go, but we never know when.

My third favorite principle in the game is that of nonconformity and divergence. I can not help but stress how much this century emphasizes conformity and sticking with the status quo. Shackled to commitment, we are only slowing down our own growth. Our talents and our purposes are being chained with us. Society demands conformity, and we, like obedient sheep, follow along. We are told what to do and we do it. Sometimes there is a special type, though. If you could not tell, Nietzsche’s Superman is one of my favorite paradigms, and it helps in this situation. The third step to becoming a new person is to diverge from the accepted way of doing things. The character in the game has the ability to do his daily routine naked. That is right. He breaks a social norm—a construct, really—and does it like a boss! The man’s wife questions his sanity, and as he enters his workplace, his boss is furious and fires him. This firing may not be so bad; in fact, it is a blessing. Formerly constricted by our workplace, we now have new opportunities in life. We were strapped in our chairs and stared at our computers for hours on end. Being fired frees us, literally and figuratively. But that is all it takes. This is not to say we should all strip down for work in order to be nonconformists, no; rather it is saying we should take risks. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” after all. Judgement from others is a complete absurdity. When we break free from the “set” way of doing things, it is interpreted as wrong or inappropriate. Who are they to say what the correct or right way of doing things is? We must rise above Nietzsche’s proverbial herd and be the Clark Kent of our own world!

Our fourth and penultimate step is foretold by a leaf. Before we enter our office, we come across a small, lonely tree out front. It has but one leaf dangling from its poor, wretched branches. In the previous run-throughs, the player most likely paid little attention to this tree, but alas! how metaphorical it truly is. On this second-to-last level, that one seemingly inconsequential leaf manages to fall from its perch. Powerless, it is guided by the air into the character’s hand. Mind you that this is not some sort of epiphany or ultimate enlightenment, it is a reminder to be mindful. Once more we are brought back to nature and to being in the moment. Nature is the easiest place to practice mindfulness. It is in nature that we find our breath and awaken our senses to the world. Noticing the leaf all those previous encounters is an example of this. Taking in our environment and noticing details is easier said than done. Our filled schedules make it near impossible to take into account details as meticulous as a simple leaf. More than that, this leaf not only represents awareness, it also represents the transitoriness of life. Like the seasons, our lives change, and like that leaf, we will eventually wither, too. The leaf goes through immense changes throughout its life. We can learn a thing or two from that leaf: in the spring, it retains its beautiful color and becomes healthy; in the autumn, it changes colors, yet it does not complain about the wind; in the winter, it gets cold, but it does not yield; in the summer, it gets hot, but it does not care about the tan it receives; and at the end of its life, it does not worry about what is to come. We undergo so many changes and overcome so many challenges because we were built to. Fearing death is useless, it will come in time. This is not to say living is without purpose, but we should not be knocked down by the obstacles that encumber us.

Finally, we find transcendence and awaken from our dream to find reality. When all is said and done, when we have attained our touch with nature, our charity, our individualism, and our awareness of life—only then can we awaken from this dream we call life. So far, everything we have seen is a dream. All that time working and achieving nothing has been a waste, truly. We must—we have to—face reality. Waking up is hard; waking up is not splashing water on your face or simply meditating; waking up is like Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. We fear waking up. We have lacked the comfort of nature, we lacked charity in mankind, we lacked faith in ourselves, and we lacked awareness of reality. Standing over that cliff with no idea of what lies ahead, you must make a choice: to jump or not to jump. It is a gamble. It is the most dangerous gamble possible. Are you willing to find your meaning without guidance or will you stay in the comforts of your dream? This is no longer, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you too?” This has now turned into, “If no one has jumped off a cliff, would you do it?” Would you be willing to defy all that is expected to transcend reality and find your true meaning? Doing this means letting go of control. You must have faith to jump off that cliff and find what you have been searching for. There is no return, for this is it. This is reality. In the final level, our 2D friend stands on a railing outside his office and makes this leap. No, it is not suicide. It is waking up. And that is exactly what happens. The final level consists of you walking through your empty apartment, into the deserted elevator, through the car-less traffic, and into the office building devoid of life. True, objective reality awaits you. You have officially transcended life and completed the spiritual journey.

However, the ending is a bit disconcerting for some. Upon awakening from the same dream every day, and after exiting your old workplace, you come across the same railing you jumped from just moments ago. Standing on that railing is a figure that appears to be… you. I will admit, this got me mixed up a bit, and it took some thinking to figure it out. With the help of my friend (his review is the first link down below), I have come up with a solution. Our incarnate doppelganger standing on the railing is in fact us, but from the past. We have transcended this corporeal world and entered a whole new intellectual plane, and we are viewing our transformation–our transcendence from an objective standpoint. After all these dreams we have been dreaming, we have found the dreamer. As per Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, we have established a spiritual awakening and grounded ourselves as the viewer of reality in its whole.

Every day, the same dream occurs. Held in check by a lack of ambitions, an obscure idea of the future, and a predetermined course, we must all transcend this dream and awaken to reality.

Watch my friend’s playthrough of the game
Play Every Day the Same Dream yourself

Breaking Bad’s Philosophy

UnknownEasily one of the best shows in television history, Breaking Bad owns up to its ingenuity through its complex philosophy. The great thing about Breaking Bad is that the characterizations, plot lines, and themes are delicately planned out and are designed to create questions for the audience. We constantly question Walt’s motives and ask ourselves if what he is doing is just. I will be using David Koepsell and Robert Arp’s Breaking Bad and Philosophy to help explain the intricate morals, cumulative transformations, and real-life translations.

Walter White starts out as  a high-school chemistry teacher living with his wife, a son with cerebral palsy, a soon-to-arrive daughter, and overwhelming pecuniary problems. Having left a successful company and settling instead as a teacher, Walt is left dissatisfied. Uxorious and unable to do what he wants, Mr. White’s life is dictated by those around him. He is a man of reason, but he lacks assertiveness and is disparaged by his ambitious DEA brother-in-law Hank. Here we have an excellent setup for the plot. Walter White is a nerdy chemist who cannot stand up for himself. What makes Walt’s characterization so powerful is its shock factor. By going from a very reserved teacher and interim car washer to a devious drug producer, the viewers get interested in Walt’s character. We do not expect this sudden transformation, which makes it all the more interesting.

Speaking of transformations, what is this whole Heisenberg persona about? Faced with cancer and a sudden realization of death, Walter White is detached from his conformed life. No longer concerned with living in accordance with the rules and authorities, Walt is able to choose his own life. Knowing he going to die one way or another, Walter is freed from his shackles to live the life he never had. Walter joins the meth business after observing Hank bust an operation. The large sums of money persuade Walt to produce meth to provide for his family when he is gone. Walt’s complicity in murder and drug distribution leads him to create Heisenberg. It can be argued whether Heisenberg is an alter ego or Walter himself. When he becomes Heisenberg, he is transcending his own morals, becoming Nietzsche’s Superman. At the same time, Heisenberg’s ruthlessness and spontaneity start to take over Walt’s personal life. We watch this rise to power in his everyday actions. Paradoxically, the cancer that limits Walt’s life subsequently opens up new more possibilities. Walt’s motives slowly change from providing money to being in control. Instead of thinking about the present, Walt starts to see life in the bigger picture. Our former chemistry teacher knows death is imminent, so he decides to do something about it. Walt’s carpe diem attitude leads him to do as he pleases without fear. Walter White no longer has to deal with the consequences of his actions, for Heisenberg has it all under control. There is a sort of connection we feel to Walter White. Trapped by the pressures of society and money, we can relate to Walt’s change of heart. A perfectly normal man is corrupted by the problems of our daily lives. When he dawns the black hat, Walt enjoys taking part in the illegal drug business, and it gives him a new meaning in life. Walt is creating a life worth living.

But while Walter is having fun blowing up cars and buildings in the name of his family, are his actions justifiable? Let us start off by examining his motives. Walter constantly tells his wife that everything he does is for her and the kids, and it is true for the most part. Cut short by cancer, Walt’s life is now dedicated to preparing his family for when he is gone. He arrives at the conclusion that he must acquire $737,000. What choice does Walt have? In the first season, Walt pridefully rejects his friend Elliott’s offer to pay for his treatment. Right here Walt could have avoided his life of crime. As soon as he declined the boon, he was destined to break bad. So, is selling meth to pay for his family’s future morally right? Yes and no. While Walter is not killing anyone, he is making the means to do so. Providing people with dangerous drugs is certainly bad, yet Walt is only making it. He and Gale Boetticher reason that people will get meth no matter what, but by creating pure meth, it is right. It is the user’s choice whether or not to do meth, so Walt is not responsible. Therefore, Walt has a sustainable source of money for his family. All the while junkies are dying because of him. But according to utilitarian principles, there is a contradiction: what is best for the people is best for virtue. There is a demand for meth, which, if supplied, will make them happy. On the other hand, people die from it, too.

Walter is responsible for many deaths for that matter. Overall, Walter is responsible for anywhere from 30 to 200 deaths. About ten of them were direct and the rest were indirect. Let us examine how justified these murders were. The first two deaths of Emilio and Krazy-8 were intentional. In a position of certain death, Walter acted in self-defense when he killed the former with phosphine gas at the threat of gunpoint. Krazy-8 is a bit more complex, though. Kept prisoner, is can be argued that Walt’s choking and killing the drug dealer was out of self-defense. Murder alone is immoral, but it can be said from a utilitarian viewpoint that it was acceptable. Think about it: both victims were drug dealers who have certainly killed before. By killing the both of them, Walt has potentially prevented future drug deals and murders. Several of Gus’ bodyguards were killed by gunshot and two dealers were run over by Walt. The first two are inexcusable as they are pure cold-blooded murder. The last, however, must be considered carefully. Walt killed the two dealers in order to save his partner Jesse from being shot. Jesse and Walter are very close so it is understandable why he would do such a thing. Yet then again, Walt did get out of the car and shoot one of the guys point blank. Some of the deaths were not as direct. Gale Boetticher was Walt’s former lab assistant before he was gunned down by Jesse. In this case, Gale was innocent and had no need to be expended. Walt ordered the hit, and in doing so, made Jesse a killer. Prior, Jesse had a (somewhat) clean record. Like his merciless employer Gus, Walt used Jesse as a mere instrument. Here, the blame is on Walt. Jane, Jesse’s late girlfriend, died from choking on her vomit; however, Walter could have easily prevented it. After accidentally pushing the drugged out girl on her back, she started to choke, and Walter just stood by and did nothing about it. Again, this could go both ways. This event could have been avoided had Jane done the responsible thing and not taken heroine. Conversely, Walter White could have intervened and saved her from dying. This one is up to you to decide. As a result of Jane’s death, her father, a now grieving air traffic controller, mindlessly crashed two planes. About 167 people died as a result. Walt inadvertently caused a chain of events leading to this, but it is a long stretch. Gus, Hector Salamanca, and Tyrus’ deaths were orchestrated by both Walt and Hector. While Mr. White supplied the bomb and came up with the idea, it was also Hector’s decision to go through with it or not. Both of them were under the threat of Gustavo Fring, so it was a dual effort. Here we have the same logic as Emilio and Krazy-8. Gus was a sociopath and he definitely deserved to die. Killing him freed Walt and his family from death and prevented further damage.

 

For further reading: Breaking Bad and Philosophy by David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp (2012)

The Avenger’s Internal Civil War

Unknown.jpegRecently I have made it my mission to find either a philosophy or a psychology behind any book, television show, or movie I come across. Marvel’s recent Captain America: Civil War is no exception. Behind all the non-stop action of constant explosions and unearthly punches I pieced together my own deconstruction of the characters’ ethics and mental processes. The civil war faced by these superheroes goes beyond even their powers, for their supernatural strengths are no match for the most complex and powerful weapon–the human mind (Spoilers ahead)!

Let us begin with the titular character, Captain America. The Avengers are given the option of either signing the Sokovia Accords and surrendering their freedom, or going rogue and continuing their missions to save the world. Steve Rogers immediately refuses to sign the act, arguing that the Avenger’s purpose is to aid the world whenever they need it. By being commissioned by the government, they are communicating a loss of power and their ability to make choices. According to the captain, the heroes should be able to do whatever they want whenever they please. Whether this is selfish or justifiable is hard to say. Captain America stands for freedom in the home of the free. Where others want to have control, he says no. In this way, he is a vigilante, as said by the secretary of state. However, later on in the movie when Captain America protects his wanted friend Bucky (the winter soldier) his motives can be questioned. Sheltering a man who–although brainwashed–has killed countless innocents from the government is not a good idea. Further, this man you call your friend has killed the parents of your billionaire friend is a little concerning. Again, is this act justifiable? Most likely no, in my opinion. Perhaps Rogers is right about keeping his freedom, but abetting a criminal who you know should not be alive is a bit outlandish. Despite their long past, Captain America feels it is his duty to save his friend from the world that is trying so desperately to kill him. Furthermore, his actions are constantly manipulated by his dogged resistance. Nearly killing several superheroes, beating the sense out of Iron Man, and causing mass destruction all for the sake of his assassin friend, Bucky.

Captain America is not the only one guilty of wanton destruction. His main opposition, the proponents of the Accords, namely Tony Stark, are just as disillusioned. Tony learns from a despondent mother that her son was killed by the Avengers during the Sokovian incident. This could be considered a turning point in Stark’s decisions. That guilt in addition to his ego leads him to believe that it would be better to be under the government’s control. He has a point: the Avenger’s are dangerous, and preventing further worldwide destruction would make more people happy… and alive. While Iron Man may be right in this way, his ego and determination make him a volatile opponent. Tony Stark suffers from a cognitive dissonance that would inevitably lead to his duel with the captain and winter soldier. Stark admits his ignorance and joins Roger’s mission to save Bucky. When he learns that his parents were murdered by the brainwashed Bucky, Stark snaps. He knows that Bucky did not mean it and that someone else is behind it, but he is too consumed by anger and rage that he ultimately chooses to betray the two. In a vicious battle, Iron Man blasts the winter soldier’s arm off and mercilessly beats Captain America around. Unfortunately for Stark, for it is human nature, anger leads to blindness. Just when he is about to blast Bucky for good, the captain utilizes Tony’s weak point and is able to prevent him from making a mistake.

Lastly, we have the Wakandan prince T’Challa, or Black Panther. The prince is left devastated after Bucky allegedly blew up a conference in Vienna, killing his father. Bereaved, the prince dawns his vibranium suit to take his revenge on the assassin. His mind unwittingly succumbs to vengeance and so he seeks justice for the wrongful act. Avenging his father is his only mission, and nothing will get in his way. Eventually, the Black Panther realizes that he has been misled the entire time and that another man had killed his father. Unlike the first two characters, the African prince is able to let things go. In a very enlightening moment, he stealthily approaches the man who killed his dad. Like the wise man he is, he knows that that Zemo’s intentions to destroy the Avengers from the inside comes from a familiar vengeance. Zemo wants revenge on the superheroes that killed his family. Touchingly, T’Challa notes, “Vengeance has consumed you. It’s consuming them [the Avengers]. I’m done letting it consume me.” He retracts his claws and decides not to kill Zemo even he is the very monster that got him into this situation. I found this moment to be very important. The prince demonstrates the ability to control his emotions and realize that things need to take their path. Instead of dwelling on the past, he must move on. If only Iron Man and Captain America could show similar attributes of righteousness.

Freedom, Ethics, and the Empire of Corpses

2d4aad587e07cd65b78984f85fb028531417110767_fullWe have finally arrived at our final analysis of the Empire of Corpses, an anime that is rich in both fantasy and philosophy. It really is quite fascinating how, despite its action-packed sequences and outlandish plot, the film manages to provide the audience with an underlying message that can inspire thought and discussion. My previous posts on this topic reveal the secret dualism, metaphysics, existentialism, and sociological prompts that riddle the movie. Finally, I have decided to wrap up this trilogy with a look at ethics and a final question.

Ethics is the study of morals: what is right and what is wrong. The two main “antagonists” of the film, Sherlock Holmes and the One, wish to create a perfect society through any means necessary. As the ancient proverb goes, “The end justifies the means.” But what does that really mean in essence? Does this mean we can go around committing immoral acts as long as they are justified by the result? What makes an act immoral? Unfortunately for us as the analyzers, there is no answer. According to Richard Rorty, morality is a very loose and general concept. In fact, he claims morals are purely manmade. Everyone in their daily life makes decisions based on their conscience. I could feel a certain way about a certain topic, but that does not mean you by any means will feel the same way. There is no consensus about what is “socially acceptable.” Because the definition of morality cannot be confined, Rorty asserts that it is completely subjective—and it is. Controversy is inevitable as a result. The question of killing an equal then comes to debate. Why is it wrong? The general opinion is that you should not take someone else’s life; it is just the way it is. However, this answer does not seem to satisfy us. Knowing this, let us talk about the main protagonist of the movie, John Watson. Watson is a young, ambitious scientist who is desperate to give his dead friend Friday a soul. We find out in a flashback that Friday offered his body to Watson to be experimented on in order to find the secret to the soul. Sure, Friday did an honorable thing, but Watson’s actions must be called into question. Given this unrealistic scenario, would you consent to letting your closest friend die to accomplish the greatest feat in history? Even if it meant losing him permanently? Not only does he accept this, but Watson then goes on a wild goose chase to find Frankenstein’s notes to bring his friend back. During the course of his journey, his self-interests lead to the deaths of hundreds of innocent men, women, and children. John constantly covers for Friday, clearing him of all actions in the name of experimentation. What gives John Watson this right? Why must the people around him die just so that he can get what he wants? Selfish to say the least, John could save many people, but he only chooses Friday. And what of the antagonists, you ask. Sherlock Holmes wants to rid humanity of emotions, namely fear and hatred. In doing so, he predicts that Man will live pleasantly without the constant burden of feelings. The One, on the other hand, wants to create a society where the dead and living can live together in peace under a single mind. Neither of these solutions is half that bad, that is until you consult the notion of freedom. Whether you are religious or not, we all have this idea of free will. While some people believe we are in charge of the decisions we make, predestination and determinism state that everything we do has been planned for us. Isaiah Berlin thought of freedom as a magnet with a negative and positive influence. Negative freedom is the removal of constraints, whereas positive freedom is the ability to make choices. Berlin says that no matter what, they will always cancel each other out. We may choose to surrender our emotions in exchange for a civilization with no conflict, or we may give up or freedom to make choices to live under a single entity. No matter what outcome, we may or may not truly have freedom. There is no way of knowing for certainty. What goes on in Watson’s mind differs completely from that in Sherlock Holmes’. In Sherlock’s mind, he is doing the right thing; but the One also thinks he is doing the right thing; meanwhile, the audience is thinking that both of them are insane. Therefore, in conclusion, morality is not an objective truth in this situation. Morality is not reliable. Perhaps the villains are correct for once, and we are the ones who are keeping the world in conflict. Now that I have explained my reasoning, I will end this tertiary analysis with a question: Who is the antagonist? As far as we know, there may be no protagonist after all.

 

For further reading: Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)

 

Human Nature, Society, and the Empire of Corpses

2d4aad587e07cd65b78984f85fb028531417110767_fullWhat do zombies, mad scientists, human identity, and dualism have in common? Why, they are all themes of the movie the Empire of Corpses. This thought-provoking movie, as I explained in my previous post, has many excellent philosophical concepts woven through its fantastical plot line and setting. But while I touched on the surface of human identity and dualism, there are still more topics. In this post, I will discuss identity, human nature, and society.

One thing that never changes is human nature. On the contrary, our societies are constantly changing around us, evolving to fit our needs. Luckily, we can call to the great minds of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and Postmodernism to help dissect Man. One of the main antagonists of EoC is Sherlock Holmes strangely enough. Holmes is a corrupt government agent that wishes to create the “perfect society.” In translation, he wishes to rid mankind of all emotions to obviate violence and conflict. After his plans are foiled the secondary antagonist, the One, will use Frankenstein’s notes to link the dead and living under a single consciousness. We can split this up easily by comparing the One to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sherlock to Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes’ most influential idea was the Leviathan. He explained that humans are selfish and will do whatever benefits them most. To keep everything in order, a collective society would have to be made. Thomas called this society the Leviathan. Perhaps the One is trying to create a single society that would get rid of inequality. Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought the opposite of his British contemporary saying that man was naturally peaceful and able to exist in harmony. It was only when we formed societies that conflict arose. Our strict morals and laws limited our say and freedom. By removing conflict, Sherlock promises equality. Now that we are looking at this in a brighter light, we must further unravel human nature to find out who the real antagonist is. Niccolo Machiavelli, synonymous with deceit and treachery, was a political philosopher who could be described as cynical, for his views certainly were. In the Prince, Machiavelli describes Man as, “They are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely.” Obviously, we can see some rationale for both Holmes and the One. Let us go even deeper by examining Habermas, Heidegger, and Foucault. Jürgen Habermas’ public spheres were conducive to progressions in technology in communication in society. The classes of a society would allow changes and freedom. In addition, Michael Foucault urged the idea that humanity was a social construct and purely of our creation. Our ancestors would not be able to communicate with us, he corroborated. With these two philosophers, we now know that if these two bad guys in the movie were to alter humanity, it would most likely be for the worst. Not only would society retrograde, but it would no longer be able to produce a meaning. Lastly, we must look at Martin Heidegger. Heidegger was an existentialist and expanded upon the meaning of being human. Pretty much, like any existentialist, Martin conceived the state of being as the ability to question ourselves. He also said that as soon as we are born, we have the innate instinct to set goals.

The third and final part of this trilogy will come out soon. The question remains: Who is truly the villain here? John Watson for pursuing his unachievable ambitions and sacrificing the lives of innocents? Sherlock Holmes for wanting to rid humanity of fear and hatred? Or the One for wanting to bring society together?

 

For further reading: Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)

Identity, Dualism, and the Empire of Corpses

2d4aad587e07cd65b78984f85fb028531417110767_fullI am not one for anime movies, but over the weekend, I saw The Empire of Corpses. Surprisingly, it was not half that bad. A quick plot summary is as follows (spoilers of course): The 19th century is dominated by the corpse technology that allows the dead to be reanimated. John Watson, our main character, must find Victor Frankenstein’s notes in order to get his best friend’s soul back. Unfortunately for him and his team, there are others in search of the notes for their own needs. This sounds like your average zombie action adventure movie; however, my friends and I were able to uncover the hidden philosophy dealing with metaphysics and morality behind the film.

Let us first deal with the elephant in the room: why re-animate corpses from the dead? To anyone in their right mind, it sounds like a horrible idea. The engineers dealing in “corpse technology” give the bodies artificial souls which, like hypnosis, are prone to suggestion. So, the industrial revolution is revolutionized with dead laborers. This brings up the question of the soul and identity. Friday, John Watson’s zombie friend, has no soul, so Watson wants to find the notes in order to truly bring back his departed friend. We must ask ourselves, “What makes us us?” Again, we are approached by Réne Descartes, Avicenna, Derek Parfit, and Nick Bostrom’s philosophies. The first three were engaged in dualism, debating whether our identities are determined by our spiritual soul or our physical body. In order to find out if Friday really has a soul, we must explain the mind-body problem. Avicenna imagined a flying man. Suspended in the air with all senses blocked off, Avicenna figured that he would know he existed despite the inability to feel, hear, or taste anything. It is kind of like Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. Both Descartes and the Persian scholar agree that the mind is a separate entity that exists in harmony with the body. Derek wondered who he would be if he and an exact, hypothetical replica of himself were transported to Mars. Derek and John Locke reasoned that although they shared the same memories and bodies, their identities were determined by the different experiences. Nick Bostrom then poses the question of what makes us different from A.I. Is Friday still Friday just because he was brought back to life? Does he retain his memories and sense of identity? According to Bostrom and the preceding profiles, no. As I discuss Nick’s philosophy, replace “A.I.” and “simulation” with “corpse” to better understand John Watson’s ambitions. Bostrom noticed the meteoric growth of technology and began to question whether humans would be replaced by artificial intelligence. He claimed that yes, the possibility of machines replacing us is all too real. Similarly, in Empire of Corpses, the dead begin to replace the living. If Watson were to preserve Friday’s brain and upload it to a computer or another corpse, would it still be Friday? What is the distinction between man and machine? What distinguishes us from mindless zombies? There is no real answer, which is why this question is so prevalent and still plagues philosophers today. Perhaps what differentiates man from machine is the ability to think. Sure, simulated A.I. can solve problems, but they cannot think practically and in advance. Without our ability to think and question, we are all mere machines… or corpses. 

 

For further reading: Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)