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A friend of mine is really into DC comics these days, and he's lent me Last Son of Krypton, co-written by Richard Donner (of the movies fame). And I am enjoying it so far, but there's one moment that struck out to me and maybe defines what my notion of heroism is -- and makes me realize why it's totally unachievable for me at this moment.

Minor spoilers:

An alien boy has landed on the Earth; he seems to be Kryptonian. Superman and the government are taking care of him. Lex Luthor, naturally, wants his share, and he sends the evil Bizarro Superman to take the kid back. And as Bizarro is going in to take the kid, Superman says, "Sorry Bizarro." and as he hits him with his freeze breath, adds, "You can't have him."

It's the "sorry," that politeness, that makes Superman such a boy scout figure and what makes him, or at least this interpretation of Superman, fall somewhat out of favour today. But the basic assumption that goes into this is that it's not a thing to celebrate to hurt people even if they're evil, and even if they're *currently* evil -- but Superman is aware enough (and the situation is unambiguous enough) that he doesn't hesitate to hurt him to save a kid from being kidnapped. Obviously, in real life, situations are rarely that cut-and-dried, but the thing is, even when they are that cut-and-dried, people need to work up furious anger to hurt someone in the defense of oneself or others. I even think that anger is important...and yet, there's something I admire about the ability to get beyond that anger. Superman isn't doing good out of an emotional place, or out of hatred of his enemies, in this moment.

Whenever there's a conflict in my life, there's several points of view going at once, and I have no idea, at all, if I'm right. I mean, I can barely ever remember any times in which I felt that I was unambiguously right -- and on those occasions, I think I still handled it badly. And yet I'm always angry, and I think the reason I'm always angry is that I never know if I'm right, and so in order to build up the "courage" or whatever it is to self-advocate at all, I have to send myself into fits of anger or sadness, because it's only when I feel that I might actually break if I don't at least try to speak up that I feel like I can actually do that. Superman or Captain America, or Jean-Luc Picard or Buffy Summers much of the time, or religious figures, will acknowledge moral ambiguity, but other times they will simply know when something is right -- and that knowledge of right from wrong allows them to be even more compassionate to the people who are doing wrong, than people like me who are drowning in a sea of relativism and moral confusion.

Date: 2014-07-04 02:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sunclouds33.livejournal.com
This is really speaking to me. I feel like have the worst of both worlds in my personality. Deep down, I have a big ambiguity about what is the right thing to do that inhibits me from performing righteous heroic compassion. And yet, I have a temper and out-spokenness that when triggered just right can cause me to unload pretty bitchily. However once I unload, I'm back to feeling guilty over what I said, whether it was the right thing to do, whether there's two sides.

True righteous heroics really requires *staying* power that the person knows their action was right and will follow through. I, for one, can feel righteous in the heat of the moment. However, it's the afterward where I doubt myself. And I'm so used to second guessing myself, that's this "But what if..." is a component of even my decisive moments if that makes any sense at all.

I've been a little tested in that regard recently and I'm happy to find out that I can be a good nurturer and a decent problem-solver when it's just about the nurturing and the caregiving. However, this situation has also demanded taking sides in a controversy and it's brought out my snarky approach-avoidance issues.

Re:

Date: 2014-07-04 02:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] local-max.livejournal.com
Yeah. I think the thing with me is that my basic most cherished insight is something along the lines of, "everyone has their reasons." Which is fine -- but then it leads to being frozen in inaction, because every person's actions are ultimately coming from a place of "I am trying to live my life as best I can." If people are actively being deceitful then the truth should be made clear; and there are certainly instances where someone is so obviously oppressing someone else in their desire to "self-actualize" or whatever. However, at a certain point, it becomes clear that life is sometimes a zero-sum game, and that much of the time the playing field for how a "victor" is determined is not only "not fair," but determining what a metric for fairness would be is itself impossible. Societies are built up of rules partly in order to allow people to understand why it is that they can't have everything they want, or, in some cases, even things they *need* (and people are bad at determining what they want/need for themselves). However, scratch the surface and much of the social order is built up on assumptions that are either not fair, or not even related to fairness. That makes it hard to know how to navigate things.

I absolutely agree that righteous heroics requires staying power. Superman knows what's right in a fundamental way -- and that allows him to act, and continue acting. And he doesn't even have to be, let alone stay, angry for him to do it. I find that my ability to deal with social situations comes down to an approach that is sort of like passive-aggressive -- but not quite.

I was reading an article about assertiveness, which comes down to the idea that you should state openly and plainly what your rights are and not compromise them, and doing so allows you to recognize others' rights. But fundamentally, like, this requires having some idea of distinguishing needs from wants, and, since not everyone's can be met at the same time, distinguishing when one has responsibility and when one doesn't, and...I don't know. It's difficult.

I've been a little tested in that regard recently and I'm happy to find out that I can be a good nurturer and a decent problem-solver when it's just about the nurturing and the caregiving. However, this situation has also demanded taking sides in a controversy and it's brought out my snarky approach-avoidance issues.

Well the former is good! Controversies are really hard though.

Date: 2014-07-04 02:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sunclouds33.livejournal.com
Yeah. I think the thing with me is that my basic most cherished insight is something along the lines of, "everyone has their reasons." Which is fine -- but then it leads to being frozen in inaction, because every person's actions are ultimately coming from a place of "I am trying to live my life as best I can."

It's also something of a scam of growing up. Children are considered advanced beyond their years and instructed to have "everybody has their reasons" mentality. However, once people grow up and start taking on serious responsibilities, society starts demanding righteous bossiness and control over how to do things.

It introduces a question. How much does society really value "live and let live" views? Or does society just want to ensure that children are trained to not enforce anything and instead, rely on adults to make the tough choices. But then young adults are magically expected to know at what age, for what for causes, and on what positions they are suddenly supposed to start acting like The Enforcer i.e. be a good, kind, responsible, and successful adult/leader/parent/caretaker of their parents.

I was reading an article about assertiveness, which comes down to the idea that you should state openly and plainly what your rights are and not compromise them, and doing so allows you to recognize others' rights. But fundamentally, like, this requires having some idea of distinguishing needs from wants, and, since not everyone's can be met at the same time, distinguishing when one has responsibility and when one doesn't, and...I don't know. It's difficult.

Yup. True assertiveness is really tricky. It's hard since the world is hierarchies where there's a limited number of spaces at the top. Often, it feels like being assertive in the work-place feels like crowding someone else out- the opposite of acting to protect *everyone's* rights through assertiveness.

Yet at the same time, I agree with the article that a lack-of-assertiveness and having no practical conception of what people are entitled to damages everyone. Without some reasonable and fair competition from a number of assertive players, people at the top feel even more license to use their power badly and those at the bottom can become bitter and petty because they know they're not living up to their potential.

Date: 2014-07-04 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] local-max.livejournal.com
Yeah, childhood is a racket. Or to quote John Lennon, after they scared you for twenty-odd year, then they expect you to pick a career.

I *gather* that children are supposed to, like, figure out how to be assertive bossy trendsetters by watching their parents and imitating them. Which is a ridiculous idea. First of all because watching other people and imitating them, without actually being given any particular instruction on the rationale behind such behaviours, doesn't work all that well. Second because it seems as if that model even is bound to deteriorate after a few iterations. I mean, what keeps happening is that man-children and woman-children have children, have no idea how to be responsible or assertive, raise those children and are powerless to fight against the world and the children see that, and then the children grow up and are even worse at it. I mean, this little history assumes that there was some time where things were different...which, probably, it was different when children were expected to go to workhouses like in Oliver Twist! So, maybe I'm pining for a different model of child-rearing that is orders of magnitude worse.

Nietzsche has his idea of "master" morality and "slave" morality. The powerful people admire Achilles types -- they admire bravery, ego, daring-do, originality. The powerless admire, or are trained to admire, meekness, kindness, self-effacing...-ness. Nietzsche is kind of crazy, and I think his *prescriptions* for how to deal with this are bad, from what I know about it (I'm very novice). But I think he isn't wrong that there are two separate models of goodness and righteousness, which somewhat contradict each other. The greatest of great heroes can merge the two. But for most of us, you can either be Great in the sense of strength and power, or great in the sense of kindness and meekness. And it's in the interests of the powerful to ensure that the powerless believe that it's in meekness and kindness and bravely bearing the injustices of the world, or, better yet, not even seeing them as injustice.

And absolutely yes to what you say about the workplace. The thing is, it sucks that life is sometimes a zero-sum game, or at least sometimes a situation where one person's gain is another person's loss, but that also is this world. Now, I don't know when it's reasonable to make a push for that. As you say, in an environment in which people advance through competition...abstaining through competition isn't a great idea either.

I mean, I'm talking like *I'm* in some way oppressed, which I am not in any particular way.

Date: 2014-07-04 07:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] angearia.livejournal.com
Whoa thinky thoughts. I totally understand needing that emotional push to get myself out of stasis and into the self-advocating.

I think that's so interesting to consider how by knowing deep down what's right, that certainty can allow for compassion. I'd never thought of it that way before -- perhaps it's because these figures can see how difficult it is to find the right. I feel like Buffy struggles to hold to what's right, constantly questioning it, in ways that the other characters you named don't. And so she has more compassion for those who get lost because she can see herself so easily getting lost, because she feels lost so much of the time. It's why she has so much compassion for Faith (eventually), up to the point that it's a bridge too far.

Date: 2014-07-04 04:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] local-max.livejournal.com
Emmmiiiieeee!

I think the crucial insight is that if you really, *really* know what's right, then you can act on that knowledge, and fight people who are doing wrong, without hating them, and without even "really" holding it against them. Which is *very* different from a purely fundamentalist set of ethics which are just handed down and are rigid and unyielding, because then it's about the person being good or evil rather than their actions.

I wonder if Buffy's ability to forgive is not only because she feels like she *could* easily be lost ("that could be me," as she says in Doppelgangland), but also because her moral certainty (which Twangel tries to undermine) comes from actual experience. She knows what's right in most situations, but it comes partly from divine edict and partly from just going out and fighting and building up a sense of moral intuition. I mean, intuition *might* be innate, and I think that it is to an extent, but I think it's also a matter of practice.

Where was I going? Right. Buffy builds up knowing what's right over time, with work, in addition to a flawed but meaningful foundation from her mother growing up and Giles after she gets in Sunnydale. But because she starts off as a reluctant hero, she knows how hard it is to start, knows how valuable what she *does* have (her mother, Giles, her friends, sometimes her boyfriends) of keeping her grounded.

A moment really similar to the "I'm sorry" Superman moment I mentioned is the way Buffy reacts to Holden -- the "You're not leaving this graveyard." In Selfless, when it's with Anya and it's Buffy's actual friend, Buffy has to clamp down emotionally in order to go do the fight. We see, also, how hard it is for Buffy to build herself up to fighting Angel and (to a lesser extent) Faith -- in Angel's case it is not exactly moral uncertainty, but it's not wholly unrelated. When she does fight them, she ain't exactly quippy gal. But in CWDP, when she says that line to Holden, and switches easily from the knowledge that he has to die and the friendly conversation with him, it's...well, okay, I think some of it actually *is* confusion, because he's tricky and while Buffy is climbing her way back to civilization she's still a little lost. But at the beginning especially, it's the ability to be generous and loving that comes specifically from having no doubts about it.

I spend a lot of time with morally ambiguous characters and I love them best on average. I also really value recognizing that what's right is not always clear. But I'm also in stasis right now and I think I need some greater clarity. I think the model of the hero who knows right from wrong, but also knows how easy it is *not* do and thus has compassion for even her/his/etc. enemies, without being frozen enough not to fight them, is really appealing.

Date: 2014-07-06 05:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pocochina.livejournal.com
Yeah, I wonder sometimes if the urge to see heroes so unruffled is like, if you get angry then that shows you need the burst of power to get angry (which, isn't there a whole evolutionary theory on that's why humans even get angry, for that burst of energy to fight or flee? I defer to your superior science knowledge). And so the ability to work without anger shows even more strength.

I don't know. Personally I'm a lot more nervous around people who do feel so certain.

Date: 2014-07-06 11:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] local-max.livejournal.com
I think for me, it's the loss of control with anger -- like, the fear of going too far or getting hateful. And, of course, it's possible to be cruel without being angry. I guess I'm more scared I'd be cruel and disproportionately hurtful with anger ramping up my usual reactions than without -- which is maybe why I am (occasionally) attracted to the ability-to-fight-without-anger thing. Emotional self-control is not my bag, so I mostly repress and stew.

Of course, in the second story in the book, this sportscaster guy starts assholically hitting on Lois Lane, in a way that annoys both Lois and Clark/Supes, and Clark uses his eye lasers to make the guy fall off his chair, and I immediately thought "what a jerk." Like, on the one hand, the sportscaster genuinely *was* committing workplace sexual harrassment and Lois was legitimately pissed and it's good to defend her. OTOH, she clearly wasn't actually under any real threat from him -- she definitely seems emotionally fine, if annoyed -- and I kind of think secret, alien powers should be used sparingly. So, what do I know, I guess!

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