Are Villains Necessary?

I’m back in Montana, trying to get my lazy ass to finish this book I’ve been working on for 2 years now. Trying to tie it all together. Mostly, I’ve been looking for the correct answers to redeem the questions I ask. I don’t want to merely diagnose a problem and leave it hanging in the air without at least trying to offer some kind of solution.

Mainly, the question is this: what does one do without a true mythology to structure her or his life? Mostly, his; the subject of this question is the American white male, who is so often the perpetrator of violent acts in this day and age, and in a more general sense, I believe still harbors a violent dissonance that is the source of much conflict in America. And a big reason for this violence is this state of mythlessness, and the resulting purposelessness.

I believe we’re at a crux in our existence, in which real religious mythologies are too unbelievable and negatively stigmatized, and ideologies have taken their place, often in their most extreme manifestations. We’re hampered by a double-consciousness (to reinterpret W.E.B. Du Bois) that both craves a mythological structure and is too smart–or we believe we’re too smart–to buy into one simply, unaware that the content is of secondary importance to the commitment, or the pretense, of investing oneself in vitalizing belief. Or, it doesn’t matter if we are aware of this fact, as our relatively impressive human intellects still prohibit us from becoming card-carrying members of any one justice league. Personally, the prospect of pretending life is meaningful has always unimpressed me as being weak-minded and sheep-like.

But when some buy into an ideology, after much discernment and skepticism, they might discover the pleasure in zealotry, and buy in fully. Even if the membership is only half-bought (6 month plan, perhaps), the risk is of a conversion that I think is too complete. Because, in my assessment, joining the resistance to be a hero is not going to be the solution, but only a source for more violence. Everything calcifies eventually–hardens, rigidifies, becomes unintegrated objective pseudo-truth rather than subjective absolute truth. Invariably one develops what is essentially an idolatrous ownership over the skeletalizing mythology that they have chosen. And at that point, if stubbornness or surety eclipse the willingness to admit ignorance, or the potential to be wrong, then in the macroscopic view of things, from the eye of Kang and Kodos, it doesn’t matter what belief-system  one has chosen. All calcified belief exists in the same atmospheric layer that is a lengthy distance from the Earth; a cold patch where all is coagulated and unmoving. And brittle.

Because all it does is reinforce the us and them narrative on either side, thereby making the groups mirror images of one another and embroiling the country at-large in constant frivolous tension.

Through the journey of writing the book, I’ve been trying to think of what the correct mythology would be to guide the young white American male away from violence and into a more open-eared, receptive character. There are seemingly fewer men of this kind in positions of public veneration than there are on the opposite end of the spectrum–or perhaps they are simply more easily dismissed by younger men, even those striving to be better, because of the ease of their ascription as “sissies” driven by white-guilt and excessive and self-serving apologism (see: “cuck”)

This is an oversimplification, and one biased by lots of internal things in the etched-up inner-topography of the young white man seeking a mythos. But it’s an understandable heuristic. Because from afar, it is a near-impenetrable character, one of which genuine comprehension would require the all-at-once surmounting of all kinds of deeply driven-in white-masculine dogmas on which the basis of one’s entire identity is predicated.

So it will be hard to rely on the guru to guide you on your hero’s journey to a state of awakening that is not the demonstrative, virtue-signalling pretension of “wokeness.” Nor will the deliberate attainment to a deep-left ideology bring about the necessary internal change.

Through my own personal self-investigations and attempts to admit subservience to something–the essential struggle of the young white man in today’s world, a struggle which, far from being solely politically or practically beneficial for the country, is necessary for (or indistinguishable from) a spiritual awakening in the context of being a human being, not just a white male human being–I began to think of the seemingly more benign or neutral sources that lend mythological structure to my life.

I thought–who are my heroes? Who are the men I look up to? OK, I’m going to tell you who was number 1. And you will all ridicule me but I don’t care!

Jon Motherfucking SNOW!

Legitimately, the admittedly fictional hero from Game Of Thrones is pretty much the only person that I, like, revere. And I was asking myself what that means? What this fanboy-ness can teach me about me?

Jon Snow is the “great white hope” to a t, and that’s not a promising persona for the young white American male’s ideal new hero. He is also a simple reiteration of the Christ-like revenant, having been literally killed and resurrected, being the “prince that was promised,” the holy son etc. Unabashedly the writers of GoT have swathed Jon in impenetrable plot armor, clearly visible in his many near-death experiences (the arrows raining from the sky in the Battle of the Bastards miraculously leave him unscathed, his reemergence from the hole in the ice in the damn near suicide-mission up north, and of course, what’s nearer to death than actually dying as he did in Season 5). Interestingly it’s a role that he laments; as the “chosen one,” much in the same way white male self-simulated protagonism can be tempered by a sense of pretended humility that is a less integrated, more ancillary belief in comparison to the egocentric messianism that it modifies. However, if Jon Snow and his unwilling or confused heroism are interpreted slightly differently–not as an emblem of white privilege, but as an emblem of the human plight, the human fight for meaning, then the TV show yields a much more interesting and universal message. For that, you have to look at the conflict in the show that transcends the context of Westeros.

So a couple months ago, I started thinking about Game Of Thrones as a show, and what to me has become a kind of perplexing if not philosophically redolent final plot line in the TV show. Game Of Thrones has always, for me–perhaps with some mixture of intention by the writers and, according to some (ahem, Travis) a modicum of interpretive indulgence on my part–been a show of deeply metaphysical meaning; a show about narrativity, and the intrinsic fictionality of belief systems in real life in the same vain of Shakespearean stories. Dramas like the Tempest, King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing all contain soliloquies about how, no matter what the stakes of any particular human conflict might seem, all terrestrial conflicts are equally illusory; the most grave tragedy and the most lighthearted comedy are equally inconsequential. Or, perhaps that’s the wrong word. Logically it is difficult to relate the importance or unimportance of a worldly happenings using a dictionary that is inextricable from that same world. Perhaps an idiom would be best: the point is, no story, no matter how seemingly meaningful, is the end of the world. 

However, in the final eschatological act of GoT, they are facing the end of the world–the imminent clash between mankind and the Army of The Dead will determine who will inherit the Earth. Is it so simple as a battle between light and dark in the binary style that Americans seem to gravitate toward? Is it Manachaeism in pure form?

In order to properly literarily analyze this shit as I was trained to do so well by my glorious alma mater, we will need to draw some quotes as evidence.

While they’re headed up to the arrow head mountain with the loose and poorly-written plan of capturing a wight and bringing it back with them, Jon Snow gets to talking with Beric Dondarrian. Dondarrian is the most equipped to understand Jon’s dubious status as immortal superhero, having been killed and resurrected himself something like 6 times.

“I don’t think it’s our purpose to understand. Except one thing — we’re soldiers,” Beric tells Jon Snow as they venture North. “We have to know what we’re fighting for. I’m not fighting so some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords…[I’m fighting for] life. Death is the enemy. The first enemy and the last…The enemy always wins. And we still need to fight him. That’s all I know. You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here, but we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves. Maybe we don’t need to understand any more than that. Maybe that’s enough.”

So this is pretty overt on the part of the writers in my humble opinion. Monologues like these, along with the oft-repeated “it doesn’t matter whose skeleton will be sitting on the iron throne if the army of the dead…you’ll be ruling over a graveyard/ashes, blah blah blah, ” etc. pretty much hit you over the head with the notion that our personal destinies are actually quite impersonal; that the purpose with which we have been imbued, while unique to us and necessary–look at the variety of characters and the interweaving of storylines, the diversity of roles that had to be played, from Samwell Tarley with his books to Bran’s journey to become three-eyed raven to Arya becoming one of the faceless men–are nonspecific in their culminations. Or, more aptly, they are all the same: to strive for life. To fight for life. The roles of Berric and Jon, as he sees them, are as “soldiers,” and nothing more. Purposeful, but nonspecific.

When you fight for life, there is no victory, because there is no binary opposition. Death is embodied here in a literal army, yes–but that’s where Game of Thrones self-aware references to its own fictionality a la Shakespeare becomes important. Now the message is not that we are literally meant to fight death by seeking to stave it off with medical technology or something. Death always wins. We are simply meant to strive in the direction of goodness, charity, to fight for life and the living, no matter how hard–“You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here, but we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves…” That means even the unawakened, inveterate, unregenerate–they, at some level, are innocent and defenseless, nonconvertible, at least in this generation. I recall the storytelling trope of a good girl or guy being almost converted to an “eye-for-an-eye” mentality by an edgier half-hero half-villain, only to change her or his mind at the last second. This trope elucidates the struggle for the awakened to avoid becoming embittered and calcified, too driven by worldly impulses like the desire for revenge, or jealous of those who have committed to something, to recognize the truth and therefore beauty of the undefined position that she or he is in. To try to maintain that sense of uncertainty happily, is the best advice possible for an uncertain time. Perhaps, life will even canalize your passage into a narrower avenue of purpose, something discreet; a confrontation with your own personal night king.

Along the way–and even after this definite sense of purpose seems discovered–ignorance must be continually pleaded, again and again. In my assessment, there is no way to keep the mirror so polished that you and your sense of purpose don’t periodically crumble. And that cycle of failure must be endured. Even embraced. That’s the structure that you claimed you wanted in a mythological regimen. It’s the only thing absolutely true that the world can offer right now, and it’s the only way to find real love in being alive. When he is resurrected after being killed by his own men, Jon Snow says to Ser Davos: “I did what I thought was right. And I got murdered for it. And now I’m back. Why?” Davos responds in his fleabottom accent: “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know. What does it matter? You go on. You fight for as long as you can. You clean up as much of the shit as you can.” Jon Snow says: “I don’t know how to do that. I thought I did, but… I failed.” And Ser Davos replies: “Good. Now go fail again.”

The frustrating fact of the matter is that if everyone had this nondescript desire to do good, the world would be immediately buoyed. Not only would our contextual conflicts dissipate but the things that are killing our world at large, like Global Warming–a nice concrete analog to the White Walkers, a threat that exists outside of and unaffected by our petty squabbles–and other dire environmental problems would be greatly reduced, too. But instead, as our awkward condition as half-intellectual, half-physical beings (to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, at a place between rising ape and falling angel) dictates, we succumb to the polar, binary conflicts between our arbitrary groupings, choosing to fight horizontally instead of vertically.

Our duty then is to try. Like JS, to fail, again and again. To clean up as much shit as we can. And to try to remain willing to consider that we are still complete idiots. It might not be what we always wanted, but it’s better. I look back at my days of ingesting comic books as a kid, and I recall tales of Manacheistic justice, a black and white world in vivid, Ben-Day dot coloring, as told by the myth-makers at DC (sometimes marvel). Tales of heroes and villains, bad guys and good. But I also recall the occasional story of Superman saving the world from misfortunes reaped by mankind’s own sewing–like a dam on the verge of collapse–or a natural disaster man did not precipitate. The conflicts with evildoers were necessary to furnish issue after issue, no doubt–just as the conflicts in Game of Thrones between bookends of the White Walker threat were necessary to tell a story worth watching. But the true message of modern myths, I thought for awhile–and archaic ones, for that matter–is that such tales are selected untruths to be integrated cosmetically. But now I’m thinking, perhaps this is the wrong way–perhaps our deficit of definite meaning, this American mythlessness that is the source of a current state of violence–actually yields an opportunity. To live a life of self-sanctity and self-love that is unprecedented in other myth-driven societies throughout history.

Because I think that rather than relying on self-somatized mythological structures in your life–which is dangerously close to believing in villains of disparate essences to yourself–you should believe in the one thing that you know to be true in this world, and that is yourself. A beneficent solipsism, if you will–a state that describes its own dangers in the name. If there is anything divinely incarnated, it is you. And if you believe in that, humbly, not with a commitment to meticulously humble yourself, but instead with the knowledge that hubris will inevitably, recurrently get the best of you, then I believe you will discover pockets of purpose meant especially for you. This way, you have a lesser chance of being waywarded by an ideology or niche path held in too high of regard, and a much better chance of becoming the you that was “intended.”

As a white male who wants to try to do the right thing, all of this, I think, is very important. It can be tempting to side with an ideology, and if you’re not too vigilant or are already bitter, an ideology that is explicitly defensive of the white male identity is probably very appealing. Secretly, the white male American might covet the plights of marginalized groups whose struggles for justice are enviably and unassailably righteous. But that is because he doesn’t see that the struggle as it is externalized–in the form of a righteous, personally-invested crusader, fighting for a just cause–is attached to an horrific history of oppression whose relation to these “crusaders” lives is probably lamented. Not to say they are ashamed–although they have often been made to be, I would guess–only that the effects of things like slavery still cause them pain today. For however much a white male moans and groans that he feels the wanton criticism of “snowflakes” for the sole crime of being white, a black person likely feels a similar burden of criticism, only manifold–not to mention the racism that exists today–for the crime of having melanin in their skin.

The only way to change yourself–or better yet, to know yourself better, to become the vital and better version of yourself and further your personal evolution–is to know that there are no villains. In the real world, I’m not exactly certain what I’m advocating here, because I think that punching Nazis is generally good, but that’s just a practical measure. I am talking about internally, not as a matter of practice in the physical world). Essentially, I think that the message of one of the most popular TV shows and its protagonist is that life is not a TV show, and you are not the protagonist. We all have so, so much to learn, about ourselves first, then each other. About the world, about life. We have a beautiful, brilliant future that we very well might be in danger of throwing away. My solution, for now, vague and deficient of advice for application, is this: strive forward bravely and without the arrogance of the men that came before us. Walk around with an open heart, and though someone might put a knife through it, you will not be killed. You cannot be. Don’t try to be like someone you see as a better man or woman. Jon Snow doesn’t want your adulation (he never asked for it). Be your own hero, instead. Don’t mythologize your life too much. Or do, and fail. But then go fail again. Clean up the shit. Honestly, I don’t know. But that’s OK. Because, while over-belief is dangerous, we can still learn from each other. And I’m OK with taking home one characteristic from the King in the North.

He knows nothing.

 

 

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