Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Heroes and Villains

I like to think I am a genius. I also like to think I look like Sean Connery. But since I am not the first (and can only be the second if someone gives me several hundred thousand dollars for plastic surgery), I've decided it's a good thing if I pay some attention to wisdom that's been around for a few thousand years This is because I don't have the brains to figure everything out from scratch, all by myself.

Unfortunately, my innate intellectual abilities don't extend much beyond analyzing cartoons. Now with them I am a genius. Which, I guess, really isn't saying that much. But then, someone's gotta do it.

Cartoons (the good ones) are just old myths in modern dress. It's ancient wisdom, spinning at a modern 24 frames a second. Some people (who generally aren't familiar with the myths themselves) whine that kids today don't know, for example, the old Greek ones, but I suggest if they want to teach them, just compare the old myths to the modern ones. I tell kids that Brain (of Pinky fame) is an updated version of Ares, the Greek God of War. So now they know who Ares is.

And, heck, if you don't want to read about Beowulf and Grendel, you can always read or watch Lord of the Rings. Beowulf's fight with Grendel is pretty much the same story as the Hobbits' fight with Gollum.

Cartoons and comics generally have a Hero and a Villain. Superman is a Hero and Lex Luther is a Villain. Dudley Dooright is a Hero and Snidely Whiplash, a Villain.

Villains almost always suffer from the same problem: they want to conquer the world. Why? Because they are afflicted with the sin of Hubris, of thinking they are gods. They lie, murder and steal. They are greedy, ambitious and vengeful people who want power over the lives of others, who exist for them only as a means to their ends.

This archetype of the Villain, of the would-be world conqueror, wouldn't exist unless it was based on a certain type of unpleasant and troublesome human, one who appeared in the earliest literature. Think of the Bible, in which one of the trouble-makers went by the name of Herod. The Romans wrote about him as Caligula, and a few thousand years later he went by such names as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.

All were the same; they wanted attention, to rule, and to destroy. All Villains, in essence, follow an inversion of the Ten Commandments. All of them worship that Strangest of Gods, their own monstrous ego.

The Hero, on the other hand, doesn't want to conquer the world. He knows it cannot be done, unlike the deluded Villains. Even if it could, he wouldn't do it, knowing that liberty is moral while slavery is not. Instead of being afflicted with Hubris, he tries to be modest, because he understands he is not a god, and instead as a human, is imperfect and limited. (Underdog, who made his living as Humble and Lovable Shoeshine Boy, comes to mind.)

The Hero does not murder, or steal, or tell lies against his neighbor. He believes, like Superman, in Truth and Justice (and what used to be the American Way). He is not greedy, ambitious or vengeful. He does not see people as instruments for his use.

So if Villains are liars, murderers and thieves who see others as means to their end of conquering the world, who, today, could be these people? It's pretty clear. In the U.S. it is the neocons, people like David Frum, William Kristol, John Podhoretz and Douglas Feith.

For the most part things are a lot simpler than they appear. People often confuse and deceive themselves with the delusions of realpolitik. They pride themselves on their non-existent worldliness and sophistication, which blinds them to their foolishness and vanity. I'm certain the simple wisdom of a cartoon is far beyond their intellects.

There is an old saying: "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." When the achievement of those "good intentions" is attempted through murder and theft (say in an unjustified, undeclared and unconstitutional "war"), the road to Hell is wide open.
Villains understand only violence. Heroes believe in reason, although they understand it doesn't work on the Villains. (Incidentally, the word "villain" comes from "villein," which was "a member of a class of persons who were serfs with respect to the lord but had the rights and privileges of freemen with respect to others." In other words, they wanted to rule, but couldn't, so were cruel to those under them. They also sucked up to those above them.)

Who today are the Heroes? Anyone who believes in liberty, who sees people as individuals and not as means to an end, and who does not murder, steal or tell lies against his neighbors. It's just about everyone who opposes the Villains.

Profound wisdom is embodied in myths, fairy tales and fables. And their modern equivalents. They show us, unfortunately that Villains will always be with us. They also tell us how easy it is to recognize them.

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