Meaninglessness in Wonder Woman

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“Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”

“Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be… or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”

The Raimi Spider-Man movies and Snyder’s Superman movies offer opposing takes on morality: Spider-Man (a human being with human problems and duties) is only good when he does justice to his responsibilities, while Superman (having no limits to his power and no one to be accountable to) is good when he follows his desires.

This is why no matter what he does, no matter how hard he tries, Spider-Man will always have to face the cost of his actions: It is his sacrifices in order to do what is right that makes him the good guy. Superman on the other hand, when he considers what others might think in doing stuff, or when he subjects his abilities to the whims of others (Zod and Luthor, for example) does more harm than good.

Spider-Man follows Kantian categorical imperatives (nerd): what is good is good and it is always rational to do it. Superman is a Randian egoist: what is good is good only if we really desire to do it.

A striking similarity however, and I think what makes their stories a tad simplistic at times, is that it is always clear what they have to do and who they have to fight. The questions tackled are always whether they should choose to do that thing or not, and how they should do it. And the world always hangs upon the balance with them making the choice.

This is, why Wonder Woman stands out. The movie isn’t about whether we should choose to do the right thing, as doing the right thing is a given for Diana. It’s about figuring out why should we do the right thing if the right thing seems insignificant. Wonder Woman does this by establishing Diana as a well-intentioned, capable individual who always wants to do the right thing out of both responsibility and desire and then subverting the trope of the hero getting what he desires at the end.

When doing good doesn’t make things “better”

Much of the film concerns proving to the audience that Diana will always do “the right thing” given the circumstances.

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When she desired belonging back when she was a kid, she “did the right thing” by doing what her community thinks she should do.

When she decided to step out of her comfort zone to achieve her purpose by going to Man’s World and stopping the war, she “did the right thing” by doing what gets her closer to our goal, even if it means shedding off some parts of her identity.

When she encountered what the undeniable suffering of others she “did the right thing” by coming to their aid, even if it means putting off her own agenda.

 

 

But the real drama of the story happens in the last act, where she accomplishes her goal and yet nothing changes. She didn’t get what she was promised.

Wonder Woman did all the right things according to her responsibilities (like Spider-Man), and took joy in doing so (like Superman), but the prize was absent. The War still went on. People were still dicks. Spider-Man and Superman had it easy: they at least got their reward. Diana didn’t, despite losing everything.

I personally find it more relatable as a character arc, because most of the time we know we should do good, we just can’t find a reason compelling enough to do it, especially at times we feel insignificant given the circumstances.

And this is the central question of the film: if the things we did did not yield yhe results we wanted, does that mean that those actions are worthless? Diana’s answer is no. The things we do do not matter because of the results they deserve, but because of what we believed they stand for. In our actions, we communicate the values we espoused by doing them. Sometimes they are not enough to solve the problem or change the situation, but they are important because they inspire others to rally behind a meaningful cause.

Diana may not have ended all wars by killing the General, but she has inspired her newfound friends to go above and beyond their call of duty comfort to stop the genocide of millions. She has inspired others to step up and save the day. And while in the end, she learned that stopping Ares won’t stop humans from killing each other, she learned from the actions of her friends that the capacity of human beings to sacrifice themselves and rise beyond their limitations mean that they are worth saving.

Our good actions may not yield the results they deserve. They may even mean very little to us. But even so, they can mean the world to people who pay attention to the good we are doing, and we may only save the day, but they can save the world.

This makes doing something better than doing nothing. Because while actions may not lead mathematically to desirable results, they can still inspire and move people. We just have to believe in the capacity of people to understand, and do the things needed to communicate the values we want to see in the world.

Previous superhero movies have shown us that our choices matter to the fate of the world. But Wonder Woman shows us that sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it just matters to some people. Yet, getting those people to follow our lead andthe replicate the values we fight for is at times the very thing that can win the war. Superheroes have long saved humanity on their own. What the world needs now are symbols who create more heroes. Hopefully, the film inspired many people to do something other than nothing, especially in these trying times.

Rewatching Batman v. Superman

(We could honestly end there. But I promised my Facebook friends an extended cut. If you find yourself bored after the first few paragraphs, it’s okay.)

As Wonder Woman sheds some insight on Diana’s motivations and her approach to “heroism,” we can watch Batman v. Superman in a different light. I think it is a good mental exercise when trying to learn from movies from a “cinematic universe:” isolate one character and examine his or her journey throughout the films.

This becomes difficult as Wonder Woman has only a few minutes of screentime. We don’t know what changed in her ideals between World War I and the present time. But I think we can learn a lot from comparison, and comparing Wonder Woman’s actions when she was fresh off the boat from Paradise Island to the her actions in the events leading up to the fight against Doomsday tells a lot about how her character developed.

We have learned from the Wonder Woman  movie that the Great War has shattered Diana’s assumptions on the simplicity of morality and resolving conflicts among humans. And as Batman v. Superman clearly paints a picture of a Wonder Woman who is unsurprised and unshaken with a battle between gods and monsters, it seems to suggest that for Diana, it is just another battle in an endless series of battles that is the history of “man.”

Perhaps it is because she was taken out of classical myths that she is not overwhelmed by the idea of flying men and a monster of pure rage. But even if she isn’t, it is not difficult to conclude that it might have something to do with the amount of violence and suffering she has lived through being immortal. In Batman v. Superman, we see a Diana who is burdened by sorrow, far from the idealistic and enthusiastic Diana from the beginning of Wonder Woman. It might be why she chose to live in seclusion (and I would like a film which explores Diana’s further descent into detachment). Or maybe she has remained active during the period leading up to the present, and either she was just that good at hiding it or the world wasn’t just paying attention.

But it is very likely that historical events took much toll on Diana. I can only imagine her pain for humanity during the Second World War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and the ongoing strife in the Middle East. (Disclaimer: I’m not ignorant of the actress who portrayed her’s political beliefs, but I try not to let it distract me. Shittier people have done more movies. I don’t have to like her to enjoy and learn from her films.) If that is the case, then it further emphasizes the earlier point regarding doing good things despite its futility in the grand scheme of things.

If Wonder Woman has lost her initial idealism and enthusiasm, what could possibly she still involve herself in conflict? Where can we find the drive to continue struggling to do good things in a world that refuses to thwart us with meaninglessness and suffering?

It could always be simply her ego. Our drive to do good things could just be a conscious choice out of our desire to do things. And in fairness to Martha Kent, that does not necessarily take away from the goodness of the good things that we do. Yet, I think it is barely sufficient to sustain continuous involvement, especially if you have lived for a long time and have experienced and seen a lot of bloody truths.

Doing a few good things here and there cannot be simply fueled by selfish desires. Neither do selfish desires stop us from doing bad things. Knowing that Superman, if he follows his objectivist mother and his ghost dad, could just be following his own heart in doing the good things that he does gives legitimacy to Batman’s fears in the beginning of Batman v. Superman. I would argue that Wonder Woman is not fueled by selfish intentions given that: 1.) she still finds it in her to save the day even if the situation is not new; and 2.) from what we know, she has not instead turned to abusing her power and immortality (although it does pose an edge in the museum curator job market).

Maybe she is more Spider-Man than Superman in this sense. She still answers the call to heroism because of a sense of responsibility. This would make sense to us if we consider people from our lives who have put up with som much shit and yet, still do the things they are supposed to do because of a sense of duty. We rarely ever see them happy in doing their jobs, and yet, they do it anyway. For these people, even if the desire to derive meaning or joy from the duty has been dissolved by the cost of doing things to one’s ego, time, or convenience, doing the job still matters, because it is something beyond their own well-being. The world is shitty, their job is shitty, but the job is the job and it has to be seen through.

But maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle. Maybe Wonder Woman, in spite of the meaninglessness of helping out in the grand scheme of things, has found happiness in simply helping out over and over again. Albert Camus, using the tale of Sisyphus in his illustration, calls this “embracing the absurd.” Even if our job is pushing a boulder up a hill over and over only for it to roll downhill every time, we can still find purpose and meaning in the job. The absurdity of the job becomes us. We become absurd heroes.

There is, however, another approach to the marriage between doing good things over and over out of happiness and doing them out of the sense of duty, and it is the Aristotelian concept of virtue. Because we do certain things out of habit, it reaches a point where it ceases to be an imposed duty and becomes an integral part of ourselves. And because it is part of our identity, we reasonably derive happiness from doing such things. If we always practice honesty, we become honest people. If we always seek justice, we become just. If we always answer to the call of others, we become heroes. At that point, we don’t do it because we have to, but because it feels natural to us.

Perhaps Wonder Woman has already reached this stage of so-called “eudaemonia.” But if not, I think it is a good direction to take the character towards. If Wonder Woman only ever does battle because she feels obligated despite her acquired cynicism, or because it is the only life she has ever known, or maybe even because she just feels like it, it would be interesting to see how any of these cold and depressing (although real and warranted) motivations evolve into something which gives her happiness and affirmation. That would be an interesting struggle to explore because we all face that at different points in our life: as children, as students, as employees. And people like me, who are tired of involving themselves in a painful and meaningless world but are still compelled by some inescapable itch to do so, really need it right now.

That, or Diana’s arc could just be about a more external conflict. But if it isn’t about her addressing the roots of violence and ending all senseless wars and senseless destruction, then it’s just another meaningless superhero movie where nothing changes and no one grows and nothing is learned or gained by doing anything. If I wanted that, there’s always Guardians of the Galaxy II.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Loving As We Are

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is, without any hesitation, my favorite film. For us to watch it in class and make a review of it is more a blessing than a task. I have been putting off reviewing it for a long time.

The most beautiful thing about it is the fact that its beauty is multi-faceted, almost inexhaustible. There are just so many layers to it and therefore, so many things to be learned from it. It is a hopeful, tragic love story. It is an inquiry to the human mind. It is a letter to science. It is an insight to the human experience.

At the surface, it shows the seemingly overused theme of how love prevails. It prevails over time, circumstances and personal burdens. It prevails over adversary: internal and external. It is a classic trope. In fact, don’t all good movies show that? It perhaps does not give justice to the film to reduce it to a story about how “love prevails.” But if we gain a deeper understanding of what love is and how it prevails, it may be just the review that it needs.

First, however, we digress by looking at it from the Cartesian dualist paradigm (which is the assignment at hand). Looking deeper into the film, we can see an element of Cartesian dualism with regards to how we exist and function as human beings. Descartes believed that there is a divide between the body and the soul, that while we are indeed both soul and body, the body is something external rather than internal. It may be seen in how it degrades as the mind improves through time. It may also be deduced from how some physical urges are beyond our human will, an aspect of humanity which may be more attributed to the mind than the body.

Joel and Clementine, as well as other participants in the Lacuna process, are embodiments of this theme. We spend the entirety of the film inside projection of Joel’s thought processes which he cannot entirely control but merely observe. It is as if Joel’s brain, apart from his mind which responds to the process with emotions of regret, happiness and anger, is a whole different world: a world which, much like ours controlled and manipulated by machinery.

The film, beyond its insights on love and romance, gives us an impression of how we, or at least those who are ardent believers of scientism, view technology and science: they are tools for subjugating nature. And the brain and its thought processes, being part of nature and subject to its rule, can be dominated as well through these means. Through technology, we can manipulate our thoughts, rid ourselves of bad memories and leave rays of eternal sunshine, rendering our minds spotless slates of good and tolerable thoughts.

However, inside the film is also a crtique of this belief. As Dr. Howard Mierzwiak in the film described, the process is “technically brain damage.” Within the film we see the recognition that while technology has endowed us the ability to dominate nature, what we do is in fact perverting it technically. As we manipulate trees by first cutting them down, or cook animals by first killing them, it is by damaging our humanity that we gain control over it.

This is what makes the character of Mary important: she was the one who realized that there is much cost in tampering with the brain and the memories it houses. By giving back the mementos to the patients, she hoped to restore the sanity which precluded pain and bad memories to people like her. In the case of Joel and Clementine, it provided for a chance for them to confront the reality of change and accept each other’s flaws: a epiphany which could not have been possible in a world where we can rid ourselves of memories we don’t fancy.

The movie provides a clear view of how knowledge is presumed to be acquired in a world of science: memories and emotions are triggered internally by association to external objects (another manifestation of the Cartesian dualism) and once those links have been removed, the memories and emotions die away. There is an element of positivism: it is by removing the conscious observer from the observed as far away as possible that the observed, becoming obscure beyond comprehension, becomes irrelevant.

Yet in the end it provides a critique to the paradigm: the thought process, which still exists inside a real independent world, cannot be manipulated independent from the external world. If the universe operates in a way which cares not for the pain we feel, if it moves us forward regardless of our emotions, it will have its way whether we quit halfway through. Joel and Clementine will still end up together, no matter if they find escape in brain damage. It is simple and romantic, and yet tragic and complex: how souls are structurally ordained (in this case, by the story) to be together regardless of how much pain they have caused to each other. And while they may be weeping in the night, there can be joy in the morning.

This may relate to how we perceive life: we are not its center. We, like other things, are moved by it. And to “move” life into a road which better suits our fancy is futile. Science which yearns to manipulate is futile; we are cogs in a machine, granted with a consciousness which enables us to perceive the beauty of the gears moving together in a cosmic harmony.

And when we describe love as just that: a beautiful cosmic force which binds us and moves us in a certain way, we are bound to conclude that love, in fact, always prevails. And “to love” simply means to move as we are made, in relation with others and the world, all the way back to the force which set the gears on course. To believe this enables us to look to the future more hopefully, to the past more respectfully and to the present more realistically: without pretension or the desire to survive or dominate. Scientism, which denies us that by believing that we can move the world in a different direction, determined by us alone, is a lie which distracts us from being in awe of how the world truly works; of how in the end, we progress by merely being true to ourselves: our flaws and shortcomings as well as our perfections and potentials.

Her: Parable of A Disembodied Soul

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My girlfriend makes me do a lot of stuff. Among them is watching movies which slip through my very limited attention span. I trust her with my time though, and so far, her taste has not failed me yet.

I have recently watched the movie Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. I have found it to be both emotionally-touching and intellectually-arousing. The movie is about a man who lived in a time when technology has advanced to a point where our electronic devices are ran by operating systems (OS) which are self-aware, or have their own personal identities and consciousness. This man eventually falls in love with his OS. That, of course, raises a lot of questions. And I think that’s what makes the movie so good. The movie Her got me thinking about a lot of things: what constitutes humanity, what constitutes committed relationships, what happiness truly is about and how valuable are sincere gestures of affection, especially in a time when the boundaries of the virtual and the ‘real’ become blurred. I don’t intend to deconstruct the movie to find the answers to the questions. Even if the answers were or weren’t there, I think the movie has done its part in making us think about it. Watch the movie. I recommend it.

Anyway, a theme that stands out for me in the movie is the phenomenon of people growing apart. This, I think, is a sad and inevitable truth. The fact that we are separate individuals experiencing different things from different points of view leads us to grow more into different individuals in the passage of time. However, being human entails that we are subject to the idea of relying on other people for our needs. And that comprises of demanding that people do not change too much. In romantic relationships, for example, we choose to share our lives with partners who will be with us for better or worse. If we think about how much we can change in a given period of time, we would either realize how relationships are unrealistic and self-destructive or how important a decision entering one is.

Of course the difficulty growing apart presents is not only present in romance. Our relationships with our parents, friends, as well as our lovers are all complicated by the fact that we can’t truly and fully rely on our idea of other people as they, as well as us, are subject to change. Sometimes, even, the change in a person is so drastic and feels so unlikely to happen that we find it hard to resolve if we ever really knew that person. In such cases, we feel betrayed: we wish to have found out earlier about the things we deem to have known too late.

This is not a rare scenario. A lot of failed marriages, broken friendships and divided households are based on things a party has kept from another, be they intentional or not. This leads us to question the whole point of relationships: why trust fickle people? Why love people who are not transparent about their every flaw and imperfection until it is too late?

Here I find the importance of one of the many things which the movie communicated to me: the importance of physical presence in any relationship.

By physical presence, I do not mean how we physically appear, but rather the very act of appearing itself. And perhaps not just “appearing”, but actually being in a particular place at a particular moment physically. Some people might disagree that it is of much importance in a relationship, as people can be physically present but remain emotionally distant at the same time. I do not deny this. Perhaps most people would prefer partners, parents and friends who may not be physically there, but are emotionally and intellectually involved in their lives. But I think it cannot be denied that a simple touch of comfort and warmth can sometimes soothe our most profound sorrow easier than any combination of words may attempt. An embrace, a pat on the shoulder, a kiss: these are not to be shoved aside as unimportant. Human beings, after all, are not just souls, they are also bodies.

We are told that the universe is continually expanding. Things, by and through nature, drift away from each other farther and father apart, perhaps for eternity. The same is true with our minds. For this reason, people grow apart and become more and more different from one another. It is inescapable, yes. But I do not think that this only hinders relationships to thrive, but rather, they also provide the context in which relationships are needed. The fact that people “grow apart” is exactly why we need other people. the more other people become alien to us, the more they may complement us in our inferiority, in the same way we complement theirs. Experiences we spend together, while turning us into different people as we may perceive them differently, also enable us to realize where we stand and where we are needed in the lives of other people. So Woody Allen was right: a large part of succeeding in life, as well as in relationships, is merely showing up. Love, for the most part, is simply being there.

The presence of the people we love: the fact that they are with us, though their minds might be fixed someplace else or their hearts might be feeling things other than genuine love for us is a valuable thing, especially when we consider that they can leave anytime. The fact that they choose to stay and grace us with their bodies is what makes relationships so valuable. They are sacrificing moments and time they can never take back. And somehow, that is more valuable, I think, than having someone who “wishes you well” but is really absent. Or who cries for you when you are sad, but is never there to wipe your tears. We don’t need mere audiences. We need love.

Physical presence is what we may cling to when they seem to be grow farther and farther from our first impressions of them. This is what Samantha could not offer Theodore in the movie even if she tried: the assurance of growing old together. Our bodies are equally as important as our minds and hearts in entering a relationship, as their presence signify the choice to stay and, although one may grow apart from the other no matter how near they may be in proximity, grow old and wear out with another.

We are trapped in time. And experiencing different experiences, knowing different pieces of wisdom at different paces, our minds can go an infinite distance from each other. We cannot help but move farther away from everyone else. But our bodies, we can control. While separating us from one another’s identity, our bodies also enable us to express our longing and desire to be one with another. It may sometimes be hard to control, but it is the only thing we are capable of controlling. And through controlling it right, we are able to inhabit the moment with the people we love, with eyes fixed on theirs, even as our minds drift away farther and farther from them. They can at least rely on our bodies being there, wasting away with them.

Svidrigailov and the Society of Extraordinary Suicides

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Amidst the squalor of Crime and Punishment stood a dark figure who was Svidrigailov. He appears after the main character, Rodya Raskolnikov realized that he was not an extraordinary man, exempted fro,m the rules than govern the affairs of the common man such as morality, decency and religion.
Svidrigailov treads the line between a villain and a sympathetic character. In this sense, he seems to be one of the most complex and enigmatic character’s in Dostoevsky’s Crima and Punishment.

The complexity of his character is manifested in the acts he undertakes through out the novel. He is presented as a generous benefactor to Sonya and her family when her parents died, yet the reader would know that this is only a ploy in order for him to get closer to Rodya, brother of the object of his lust, Dunya. It is unclear whether he is absolved of killing his wife, and it is even more unclear whether it is mere lust or is it a much deeper love which propels him towards asking Dunya’s hand in marriage. His motivations, tainted by base desires and his means, two-faced and vaguely suspicious lead the reader to think that he is a clever mastermind who is ready to do anything to achieve the object of his desires.

However, this theory of an enigmatic but one-dimensional villain becomes weak when one considers the point of the novel. I have already established in a previous article that one of the possible aims of the novel, Crime and Punishment, is to criticize the Nietzsche-an theory of the extraordinary man, a human person who is naturally exempted from the constraints imposed upon him (or her) by society through its rules of morality and propriety. Seen in this light, Svidrigailov may be viewed as the realization of Nietzsche’s hypothetical person.

Svidrigailov, much like Raskolnikov, seems to not be incapable of doing “good” things. The readers see this in his final actions before he “goes to America.” Here he had nothing to gain. He had already been turned down by Dunya, and in no way does this benevolent act help him achieve any diabolical goal. Perhaps, one may say, it is appeasement to his battered conscience. But up to the last moment, we see no regret or remorse in the part of Svidrigailov. We only see a gun in his mouth and his finger pulling the trigger.

Svidrigailov is shown to be a lot of things in the story: a villain with his own motives and clever means, a slave of desire… But in all this, it cannot be denied that he exhibits full responsibility and agency for his actions. Unlike Rodya, he does not turn to some philosophy of some greater good in order to justify his perverse goals and actions. To do so would man he is still subject to some code of morality. He does not even harbour an insecure urge to prove himself above others, unlike the main character. Rather, it seems that he has fully and unapologetically exemplified this fact in his actions. As far as he is concerned he is above it all. And we do not hear from him a monologue justifying how he is. He just straight up does what he wants to get what he wants: disregarding morality and decency in the process.

This is what makes Svidrigailov more of an ubermensch than the main character. But what does his development as a character tells us?

It may tell us that even with his transcendence of the codes that govern human society, the ubermensch is still not an island. The fact that his independence is dependent upon how he exerts power over others means that his overman-liness is dependent upon the individuals he dominates and subjects. This point is seen through how Dunya’s rejection led to Svidrigailov’s eventual demise. The overman’s life and power does not exempt him from his necessity of other people. And in failing to subject other people to his will, in failing to fulfil the point of his very existence, there is no executioner more worthy nor more capable of punishing impotence, the overman’s only possible crime, than the overman himself. Ultimately, Svidrigailov kills himself, for in failing himself, he has commited a crime to the only authority he deems worthy: himself.

Here we may find significant differences in the characters of Rodya, the insecure pseudo-overman, and Svidrigailov, the epitome of the ideal overman. I have already said that while they both have perverse intentions and undertake evil acts to pursue their own ends, Raskolnikov felt the need to appeal to a conception of a greater good., while Svidrigailov seems to be absolved of this. But more importantly, in being thwarted, they both contemplate suicide. They both realize that this is the ultimate punishment for their failure to fully transcend the shackles of humanity and dependence. But only Svidrigailov followed through. Rodya found himself to weak to do it, and in doing so he further proves to himself that he is not an extraordinary man.

Rather than an expression of weakness and defeat, Svidrigailov’s suicide is the culmination of his transcendence over traditional morality. It is his final expression of triumph over the world of the weak. Here we find the ultimate consequence of the overman’s philosophy of relying on himself for a standard of truth, goodness and happiness: self-destruction. And Dostoevsky hits this point even harder with Raskolnikov’s dream.

Raskolnikov’s final dream, like the one he had with the tortured horse, is his soul trying to make sense of the implications of his philosophy, without the insecurity and pride which he is blinded of when he is awake. In his sleep, he sees a society wherein everyone was the final authority on their own versions of truth, and fought tooth and nail to impose it on others. Everywhere was war and chaos and disunity. In a society where there is no morality but one’s own interests, where everyone is exempted from the constraints of decency and propriety and are thus free to pursue their own goals, might makes right (if there is such a thing as right), and things fall apart.

The dream leads Rodya to realize that the independence of the overman cannot be reconciled with the mutual interdependence imposed upon everyone by external circumstances. The overman cannot exist as true master and tyrant over the people on whose existence his power and will is dependent upon. And if everyone aspired to be tyrants, to be masters of our own fate and captains of our own soul, we will all aspire to be lords over other lords, which would only lead to a state of war.

On a personal level, Rodya is reconciled with humanity in realizing his need of external forces, of other people, to fulfil his longing for love and salvation from the tyrant which is his own pride and selfish interest. He is not an ubermensch. He cannot live like an ubermensch. He realizes his limitations and needs and his own hypocrisy, and thus begins his journey back to humanity, the paradise he lost. And the journey begins in repentance.

On Exemptions from Crime and Punishment

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“‘In his article all men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary.’ Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary. That was your idea, if I am not mistaken?'”

This was Crime and Punishment’s main character, Rodya Raskolikov’s belief, as articulated by his primary accuser, the magistrate Porfiry Petrovich, who was investigating the recent murder of a shrewd old pawnbroker.
Rodya, of course, was responsible for the crime, and is in fact haunted by his guilt at the time, when Porfiry, who was rightly suspecting him, confronted him about an article Rodya wrote as a student in the University.
This statement was an admitted oversimplification deliberately made to put Rodya in an uncomfortable position. However, without losing his cool, the antihero was quick to correct the detective in doing so:

“I don’t contend that extraordinary people are always bound to commit breaches of morals, as you call it. In fact, I doubt whether such an argument could be published. I simply hinted that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right… that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep… certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity).“

The philosophy of Raskolnikov is reminiscent of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s belief in the ubermensch or the overman (or superman, in other translations). Nietzsche believes that naturally, there are people who excel everyone else in terms of their ability, resilience and will to dominate others. However, compared to ordinary people, they are quite few in number. Thus, finding strength in numbers, the ordinary men bound together to form ideas such as morality, the law and God to create a semblance of equality among otherwise unequal human beings.
These power structures, at least based on my understanding of Nietzsche, are contrary to what nature has preordained. And so he says that naturally, the overman has the natural right to transcend the obstacles provided by such constraints.
There are minor deviations made by Raskolnikov in his articulation of the philosophy behind the extraordinary men. Perhaps because on the outset, it is really hard to embrace the radical idea of Nietzsche of inequality and domination as the proper state of affairs, and Dostoevsky, while disapproving of the thesis, is just enough to provide a rational justification for believing in such a way of life.
The most significant deviation is that the overman is only allowed to “overstep” the hindrances provided by societal norms and codes in so far as he is moving humanity forward. Overmen, therefore, are really like Siegel and Schuster’s Superman, whose benevolence leads the people to see him as a symbol of hope rather than fear.

“I maintain that if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not have been made known except by sacrificing the lives of one, a dozen, a hundred, or more men,“ Raskolnikov explains, “Newton would have had the right, would indeed have been in duty bound… to eliminate the dozen or the hundred men for the sake of making his discoveries known to the whole of humanity.”

Of course this would be more sympathetic than the murderous, tyrannical overlords we picture from Nietzsche’s philosophy. But the idea remains the same. As Raskolnikov explains further: “I maintain that all great men or even men a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word, must from their very nature be criminals—more or less, of course.”
Of course we know that this is coming from a man who just murdered an old woman. And perhaps, he was just passing the blame of the cruelty of murder to nature, as anyone of us would. Following the story of Raskolnikov, we know that he murdered the pawnbroker and her sister not for money, but to express his transcendence of the moral laws that govern ordinary men. We see his insecurity and shiftiness after the crime, and how he is led to the conclusion that these “weaknesses” manifest because he is not, after all, an extraordinary men.
This leads us to inquire further about the philosophy of the overman. Raskolnikov has said that his thesis was not new, and has been professed a thousand times before. Not only to extraordinary men, but to ordinary men as well.
It has been told to people over and over that they are allowed the right to set aside morality to somehow “push humanity forward.” But even if it were true, that such overmen exist, how is one to know that he is one without trying to exercise his will over others? What if ordinary men believe that, like the overmen, they have the natural right to kill, steal and rape for humanity?
This is not far from reality. We have seen people who act as if they were above the law, as if their interests were to be pursued at the expense of others. In the novel, we see Rodya, who was not driven by the natural urge to ascend to power in killing, but rather the fear of being ordinary.
The belief that there are such people, overmen, urges the power-hungry, proud and insecure germ in us to question whether or not what we have is enough, and whether or not we are entitled for more. And it gives us the license to appeal to nature whenever we overstepped the limits dictated by morality and conscience. And even if most of us think that this is too ridiculous to be true, we know from experience how the animals in us would rather turn to lies and be satisfied, than be confronted by reality and find themselves to be inadequate.
Perhaps there are overmen. Perhaps not. But even if there were, I would much rather live in a world where everyone were gods and had no idea, than live in one where everyone believed themselves to be gods when they are really not.

Truth in Struggle

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Thank you for this food for thought.

The anonymous artist strikes again.

Days ago, I wrote about a writing on a wall I found about Beauty. It is wonderfully poetic that this time, I am to write about one I found on Truth. It is as if I am an allegory for the human soul, which is drawn to Truth through Beauty. Straightaway, like in the last post, I shall outline the thoughts this work of art has evoked. I hope you who read may find order in these thoughts, for that is why I write: for people, including me, to understand my thoughts.

1.) I could not help but inquire upon the goals of this anonymous writer. To dismiss these works as mere vandalism would be to take for granted the profundities they cast light upon. Truth, Beauty, as well as Goodness, are words which describe the absolute thirsts or needs of our soul, though we may be inclined to take them for granted and are seldom reminded that of our need for them.

I am not qualified to argue for or against whether we really need these things, or they are merely words which count for nothing, especially if Reality is nothing but the physical, material world. But if asked what my personal basis that such needs are innate and absolute, I would merely point out the state which we fall whenever we feel the lack of them: loneliness.

What makes us lonely? Is it simply the lack of company? If so, why do we sometimes feel lonely even in the presence of other people – even if they are people whom we love? And why, whenever we feel this loneliness, this emptiness, do we turn to songs or books or the wise words of a friend or confidante?

It seems that sometimes, we do not only feel lonely. We feel empty. And if our souls have this state of emptiness, there must be something which may fill it, just as food fills our hunger or water fills our thirst.

This is why we find joy in beautiful songs and movies, in making sense of our problems, and in the acts of comfort provided even by a stranger. We feel empty. And we are satisfied by beauty, truth and goodness.

2.) What does ‘absolute’ mean? It may be defined as unchanging, or as something complete or pure, or philosophically, as a principle which exists independently of other things. Absolute truth, or rather Truth, may mean any or all of these things.

Now most of us, and I am not exempted from this, may simply dismiss the question as unimportant: “Why even bother?” Truth, even tiny bits of it, do not always bring pleasure. In fact, we are often told that Truth hurts. We ask to “break gently” Truth to us because sometimes “we can’t handle the truth.” Sometimes would prefer by comforting illusions, untrue ideas which are simply pleasing.

To quote Nietzsche: Why Truth? Why not rather the lie? I do not claim to have the answer. I also find solace in ignorance, and sometimes, even reject the truth of a statement just because it does not conform to my way of life and thinking. And to adjust everything for that bit of reality, however real it may really be is just too hard. Right?

However, this attitude may shed light to a possible explanation. Maybe the problem is not that Truth is not important, but rather it is too important. Even if we need Truth, we don’t want it because we foresee endless trouble if things turn out to be real. We find it hard to adhere to certain truths because we are afraid of being alienated, or offending, or being attached or committed to demanding creeds. And so politically, we would rather be apathetic (and/or pragmatic) than conservative or radical. Philosophically, we become subjectivists or relativists or skeptics. Religiously, we become not atheists or theists, but agnostic. We resolve that since Truth is demanding, we should suspend judgement.

This may be enough or this may not be enough. And I, too, am inclined to think that suspending the search for Truth is in fact profitable or practical. You may turn to other things: more pressing matters like bills and homework and romantic relationships. I would even suggest that if the world is neutral and nothing we do ever really does good or bad to others and the world, then we must all be agnostics and relativists and pragmatics.

But it seems that the world is not neutral. We want to experience good and we do not want to experience bad things. Things matter to us. They have meaning. Our feelings, actions and thoughts have consequences, both internally (to our character) and externally (to other people). And these feelings, actions and thoughts are dependent upon how we view the world in general. Therefore, I think that to never have time to question the things that matter the most is not only selfish, but careless.

3.) Where does God come in?

Well, if you’re a Christian, God matters to our search for Truth because He is Truth. His will is Goodness and His nature is Beauty. The emptiness we feel is simply our longing for Him. And so you must, like Jacob, “wrestle” for His blessing because then you will have everything you need. You must, like Job, practice His presence: speak to Him as if He is real, even when you doubt Him. For if He is real and if He loves you, He will answer back. Even if what He would say hurts. There it will only be a matter of pride.

If you are not Christian, or if you suspend judgement, or if you do not believe in God, you must still struggle with the idea of God. And not just the idea of a refutable God, but a God who may exist even without us having certain knowledge of Him: an unprovable God. What if He exists? What does that imply? And what are you doing about it?

Regardless of one’s belief, the search for infinite and absolute and complete Truth is a struggle. That is what wrestling means. To exert all strength. To hurt. To fight. This search will hurt our pride for pride will not win it. It is utter openness and utter humility that would win us Truth, whether it is great philosophical Truths or littler, simpler, but no less liberating truths.

We will be satisfied by Truth, no matter how hurtful or how little it may be for the time being. But we have to want it. If we don’t we will be okay, but we will not be complete. Truth may be harsh and it may be hard to find. But it is Truth. And it sure beats loneliness and emptiness and feeling lost.

Do Humans Exist?

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Before we begin, here is a picture of me in the nude. Enjoy.

Once, two nameless gods found themselves in an argument. This was an odd event, as these gods were not quite like the gods of the Greeks or the Romans, who had business with one another and always found reason to gather.

Also, unlike the other gods, these two nameless gods know themselves to be all-powerful and all-knowing. They almost never found themselves to be needful of each other’s thoughts, except of course for this one occasion, as they found themselves in disagreement.

The two gods were trying to resolve whether or not humans existed. For one of them heard that far away, there lived beings who like them, had reason and power, though it was not unlimited, like in their case. The other could not possibly believe that such being could exist, for it was utterly unnecessary: if it were not so, they would have known, and at least one of them, in their infinite wisdom and power, would have made one.

They argued and argued about the existence of such an entity: where it must have come from; how it may have supposedly acquired its nature, if it does exist; how it goes about its affairs; and what inplications it might signify, supposing it were true.

They had come up with different theories about its existence and nonexistence, but had come up with no final conclusion; until finally, one of them (neither of them would admit to the idea afterwards) suggested that they look for the said being. Fortunately, after searching for it among the vast number of universes that are, they found one. And its name was Socrates.

Socrates was delighted to meet such beings, even with him not knowing what exactly they were: the gods would not reveal their nature to him, for they deemed that his limited reason and intellect may not be enough to grasp the idea if their being. They began asking him a lot of questions which Socrates gladly answers one by one.

After they have exhausted the last of their questions, Socrates found that it was his turn to ask the questions. “Lords, you now know what I am,” said the human. “But what are you?”

The gods looked at each other, seemingly unwilling to answer the question for Socrates’s own sake. Reluctantly, one of them answered: “We are gods.”

Gladness grew on Socrates’s face as he had seen gods, and yet did not tremble, nor die in their glory. “I have heard about you in the myths of the oracles and old wives,” said he. “But I have always wondered – as we were told that you as well as us are ruled by chance and the Fates – what sets the gods apart from men?”

The gods were again taken aback: not only did Socrates have prior knowledge about them, he also was delighted to be in their presence! Yet the gods knew that there must be a misunderstanding about their nature (though it was excusable, as these are mere humans after all): for they were not ruled by fate or chance. They know themselves to be all-powerful and all-knowing, meaning they have the full capacity to define their own existence. This they related to Socrates, who, upon hearing, enlarged his innocent smile.

“What elegant pieces of wisdom I am hearing! This is all too foreign to me!” exclaimed the philosopher. Humbled by such knowledge, Socrates felt the irresistible urge to ask another question: “What then, do the all-knowing and all-powerful gods need my counsel for?”

The gods were growing fond of this young, though scrawny-looking, human, as they had sensed in him not only curiosity but humility. Perhaps this was what humans were for, they thought: to remind the gods of their might and superiority. “Dear human,” one of them said. “We have sought your counsel to settle a dispute on whether or not humans existed.”

The smile on Socrates’s face shrank as his mind grew uneasy. He asked in response: “By humans, what do you mean?”

“Humans,” said one of the gods. “Are lesser beings are rational, but not all-knowing; and while having will, are not all-powerful.”

At this point, Socrates found himself in deep thought. The gods, looking down on him, were curious of what could have been the cause of such change in his disposition.

“In that case,” Socrates slowly said. “If you were all-knowing and all-powerful, would you not have the dispute at the first place right? You would have not found yourselves in differing positions, nor would either of you have required the counsel of another in resolving such a problem, if indeed you were all-knowing. For all Truth is one.”

“Furthermore, you have defined human beings as ‘rational, but not all-knowing; and while having will, are not all-powerful’,” added the human. “From our conversation, I could properly assume that you are rational; for if you weren’t, you would not find it necessary to ask questions when met by ignorance.”

The gods were silent.

“I could also infer that you have will for here you are, looking for answers in the hope of finding them,” Socrates continued. “If you are indeed rational and yet, from my experience of you, are not all-knowing; if you possess will and yet are all-powerful, could it possibly be that you are human?”

It was at this point that the gods felt a surge of anger from the insolence of the human, while it looked as if it were really asking out of curiosity and not arrogance. They were humiliated by a lesser being, and yet their reason cries out: how can this be so, if they were indeed gods?

Bearing this unshakable thought, the gods fled from Socrates. Vowing to never speak of the incident again nor ask the question that led to their humiliation, the two nameless gods went their separate ways and never seek the another’s counsel ever again. They proceeded to rule over their own personal universes with utter indifference towards the universes of other gods, the worlds and proceedings that inhabit them, and most especially, towards humans.

For the gods have learned through humiliation that it would be better to never ask questions and never doubt their being as all-powerful and almighty gods, than to entertain the notion that they might indeed be nothing more than human.

And Socrates? Well, he went to court.

This is what happens when you remind “gods” of their humanity.