Why Paul Atreides is the villain of Dune
Let me just start by saying that clearly I, Professor Metal, do not necessarily believe that being labeled a Villain is a negative thing. I myself carry this title with no small amount of pride. They say that no one is the villain of their own story, but I believe that is only somewhat true; I recognise and accept that I am the villain of everyone’s story and I treasure their fear and respect as I would a valued keepsake. Let me also state that the version of Dune I will be discussing is the theatrical release of the movie, though I will occasionally be referencing things from the book. I will state when this is the case. If you have not seen this movie and/or read the books, I recommend that you do. Spoilers do not apply to something as old or older than some of my Philosophers.
What do we see when we look at Paul Atreides at the beginning of Dune? We see a young man, born into privilege, given everything he could need or want for. He has the best teachers, the best training, the most advanced equipment. He has nothing that he needs to overcome. This alone would mean he could not possibly be the Übermensch, the Over Man, for this is a person (should we even dare demean them with such a title) that is defined by what they have overcome. They are of this world, as contrasted by the other-worldness of the current system. I will not pretend that Nietzsche’s ideas are not a blatant attack on what he calls “the master-slave morality” of the Abrahamic faiths, but I shall be setting this fact aside, as it is not relevant to my discussion.
What we see, shortly after Paul’s arrival on Arrakis, that everything is stripped away from him. All his wealth, his privilege, he is left with literally nothing save his mother, her unborn child, and the basic equipment that is needed to minimally sustain life on this hell-planet. He overcomes these limitations, and we see him come into contact with the Fremen, the indigenous people of said planet. And even then there are challenges he must overcome in order to remain within their world. And overcome he does. Eventually he goes on to lead these people. Then, when he has overcome everything put in front of him, he goes a step farther. He takes the water of life.
Now this… this is a moment that defines what it means to overcome. Every male what has ever done this has died, and done so in the most excruciating of ways. And yet even this challenge Paul Atreides, then called Paul Muad’Dib. Overcomes. We see him lead the Fremen against the Sardaukar Guard. A brief note from the book, as the movie did not touch on this about these people: they were the elite of the elite. They lived on a hell-planet almost as bad as Arrakis, their numbers thinned to 6 out of 13, and they were fanatically loyal. These were not people one should fuck with. And yet the Fremen grow up on a planet where the only thing not trying to kill you are other Fremen, and even that was not always true. On Arrakis, called Dune, in the deep desert, you overcome or you die, your water returned to those what gave it to you.
I feel pretty safe in saying we can see why Paul Muad’Dib is an excellent candidate for the title of Übermensch. He has risen above the society he was birthed into, struggled to grasp onto life and he has won over all. He rejects their morality and substitutes his own. He has the power, he has the will, and he enacts that will upon the Known Universe.
Which gets us to why he’s the Villain. He destroys throughout the known universe the system what people rely on to survive. The system they know and love. The system they are trained to obey. And he tears it all down. Does he feel his system is better? I’m certain he does. I cannot know the mind of a human, fictional or otherwise, that achieves that of which I can only dream. But let us not make the mistake of calling him the Hero. To the Fremen, I’m certain he is. They are as he is, without the old moral system. To the rest of the inhabitants of the Known Universe (of which I imagine there are a great many), he would seem nothing more than a super-powered Villain, come to destroy their way of life. And while many may read this and feel his is not the Villain of his own story, or the story of the Fremen (which, going forward, could be argued to also be his story), he is certainly the Villain of the story of the countless inhabitants of the worlds in which he lives.
Spoiler Warning! Breaking bad will be discussed in some detail in this episode.
Sean points out that the show features morally gray characters with complicated mortal structures
By the Terminator Twins we mean the Cousins
Ryver points to a sense of unnaturalness about the twins
Sean brings up Walt Jr. as an example of an interestingly banal character.
Bruce points out that until the 3rd episode from the end of the series Walt Jr. never has to make any moral choices
Ryver points out that in terms of the story he takes very little action
Bruce suggests instead providing a context for the actions of others and goes on to break down what normative ethical positions he feels some of the main characters represent.
Skyler: Value ethics/pragmatism
Hank: Virtue ethics
Sean suggests another analysis
Gomez: Lawful good
Bruce talks a little about how Hanks character develops and suggests that by the end he has shifted to lawful good
In speaking of secondary characters who hold strong moral positions Bruce brings up Tuco Salamanca as an example of a strict rule based morality.
Sean poses a question central to the show; Are violent actions necessarily “Bad” actions?
Ryver brings up a link between violence in WWII movies and Breaking Bad’s treatment of it.
Sean asks if our American culture’s attitudes toward violence in media have an effect on our analysis
Sean goes on to talk about how violence is used to evoke different reactions over the course of the show
Ryver brings up Gustavo Fring as a representation of vengeance
The group discusses a particularly violent scene where in a twist changes our attitudes about the on screen violence as it happens and this leads to talking about how violence is often used to delineate the moral placement of characters in other shows and how that relates to the muddier waters of Breaking Bad.
Bruce talks about the slippery slope of Walter White’s journey into a world of violence.
Sean talks a little about Amorality and Saul Goodman as its avatar.
Bruce suggests that Saul may have some sort of professional ethics
Ryver points out that Saul seems to have some kind of history walking the line of legal but not moral
Sean reinterprets the scene being discussed as a symbolic event to serve his interests.
Bruce offers up Mike Ehrmantraut as another example of amoral behavior but qualifies that he seems to have a code of conduct.
Sean counters that Mike seems amoral but it’s revealed that his actual moral structure relates to his family and a kind of dark pragmatism.
Ryver points out that Mike seems to show a sense of responsibility toward the arrested members of the team.
Ryver brings up Mikes spartan lifestyle and the group discusses what that tells us about his character
Sean points out Mike’s car as a metaphor for his life
Bruce points out how cars are used as a means to relay information about all the characters in the show
Sean talks a little about cars as general metaphor in American television overall.
Ryver brings up Gus Fring again to discuss revenge and relationships as the seat of value.
Bruce suggests that Gus is an example of a purpose driven life centered on his revenge motivation.
Ryver points out that this makes Gus a strong consequentialist in moral terms
Sean talks about how Gus represents an interesting example of a character who is singular in purpose but with a rich personality behind it as juxtaposed to most TV examples of that type of character.
The guys finally talk about the episodes central question of breaking good
The discussion turns to the juxtaposition of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman and how they represent opposing trajectories.
Bruce takes the last word to discuss the relationship between narratives we choose to reiterate in our culture and how we frame the moral narrative of our lives and thinking.
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Today’s show focuses on the intersection of Nietzsche’s philosophy and Batman. To be specific Christopher Nolan‘s “The Dark Knight” Trilogy, the last of which was released in 2012 and, Allan Moore’s “The Killing Joke”. As such there will be spoilers in this episode so be warned if you haven’t had a chance to catch up on your Batman or your Nietzsche (neurosyphilis in the hospital, hold the candlestick). Also the terms Overman and Übermensch are used interchangeably during the episode if that kind of thing bothers you.
Professor Metal starts us out with his definition of the Overman.
Sean explains a little about Nietzsche’s “Doctrine of hardship” as he is calling it.
Ryver gives us some background on Batman.
Ryver and Bruce propose that batman may be a candidate for Overman status.
Sean lays out a first test for any candidate, specifically, that they have overcome hardship and the first proposal that Bruce Wayne (Spoiler alert: that’s Batman’s secret identity) losing his parents represents his seminal hardship.
Ryver rebuffs this by pointing out that Bruce never seems to really overcome this, but instead lets it consume him and shape his life.
Bruce and Sean point out the link to obsession and the dynamics of power between Batman and Alfred.
Sean suggests that Bruce Wayne’s physical and mental training to “Peak Human” levels constitutes a series of hardships which are overcome.
Bruce points Bruce Wayne’s chiroptophobia and his subsequent defeat and embrace of that which he had been terrorized by as significant over-comings for our purposes.
Sean Points to the struggles that Bruce Wayne has to overcome in the social, political, technical, and personal arenas.
These constitute the best evidence for Batman as Overman according to Sean.
But then the cons come in, specifically, his wealth and privilege.
Bruce points out that given his advantages he may not be using these gifts to the greatest advantage for the goal of making Gotham better.
Sean points out that the kinds of crime Batman wants to fight is violent street crime and not white collar crimes and that this is the kind of crime he sees himself as a victim of.
Sean and Bruce tackle the criteria of the Overman creating social standards and derive that Batman’s standard would be a kind of Justice.
Professor Metal tells the philosophers that batman can’t be the Overman because he’s “the Good guy”!
The Professor suggests that Batman just wants to preserve what is already in place and has no interest in changing the system.
Ryver points out that Batman isn’t the “Hero” as far as many of Gotham’s residents are concerned.
Sean counters by pointing out that we the audience are always shown that these opinions are wrong or based on spurious premises.
Sean points to the notion of Batman as “The Dark Knight” as proof. Batman is the dark knight because he’s willing to do the wrong things for the greater good of preserving society. And since society can’t embrace its own destruction in order to be rebuilt the “Good” guy cant really be the Overman.
Sean paraphrases a quote from “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (Here’s the full quote)
“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.”
Sean goes on to suggest the Joker as a candidate for the Overman and points to Joker’s monologue in “The Killing Joke” as evidence of his hardships. (full quote here)
“So… I see you received the free ticket I sent you. I’m glad. I did so want you to be here. You see it doesn’t matter if you catch me and send me back to the asylum… Gordon’s been driven mad. I’ve proved my point. I’ve demonstrated there’s no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once, am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress up as a flying rat? You had a bad day, and it drove you as crazy as everybody else… Only you won’t admit it! You have to keep pretending that life makes sense, that there’s some point to all this struggling! God you make me want to puke. I mean, what is it with you? What made you what you are? Girlfriend killed by the mob, maybe? Brother carved up by some mugger? Something like that, I bet. Something like that… Something like that happened to me, you know. I… I’m not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha ha ha! But my point is… My point is, I went crazy. When I saw what a black, awful joke the world was, I went crazy as a coot! I admit it! Why can’t you? I mean, you’re not unintelligent! You must see the reality of the situation. Do you know how many times we’ve come close to world war three over a flock of geese on a computer screen? Do you know what triggered the last world war? An argument over how many telegraph poles Germany owed its war debt creditors! Telegraph poles! Ha ha ha ha HA! It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for… it’s all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can’t you see the funny side? Why aren’t you laughing? ”
Joker “Batman: The Killing Joke”
Sean suggests that the inability to understand joker as a hero is rooted in our social framework. And that his value is Radical freedom by way of ontological anarchy.
Bruce asks if the Joker isn’t just democratizing the will to power by forcing us all to decide what is most important.
Ryver suggests that joke isn’t really giving the victims a choice.
Sean counters that he is giving Batman a choice and that even the victims have opportunities to escape even if it couldn’t be called a fair chance.
Bruce points out that in some sense Joker seems to be trying to teach something to the people of Gotham by forcing them to embrace their own destructive power. Moreover he seems to feel that its not his place to tell people what to rebuild but only to show them that they can.
Sean points out that Joker is not concerned with “Good” or “Evil” and thus has another mark of an Overman. And that a project of chaos fits with Nietzsche’s philosophy
“”I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.”
from Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra, p.3 Walter Kaufmann transl.
Sean points out that Batman is a rule follower in many ways and that his singular purpose is based in morality which Nietzsche felt we needed to abandon.
Ryver talks about a crossover comic where Joker and Red Skull work together briefly before joker realizes hes working with a Nazi. Joker quickly decides he cant work with Red Skull any more and battle ensues. This suggests that Joker is anti Athouritarian and supports the idea that he values radical freedom. (Link to the book on amazon here)
Ryver points out that this supports the thesis of Joker as Overman because (Despite the inaccurate portrayal of Nietzsche as proto-Nazi in some popular sources) Nazi authoritarianism and perpetual dominance are antithetical to the Overman’s project.
Bruce questions whether the Joker is even really insane due to his high function and general capability level.
Sean points out that even the notion of sanity is a socially derived standard and as such being outside the system might just be a mark of being free from that system.
Sean wonders if Bane may be another candidate for Overman status.
Ryver supports the idea with Bane’s intellectual and physical superiority.
Bruce points out that if tearing down the system is part of being the Overman then Bane is significantly more efficient at it than Joker is.
Sean points out that all of Bane’s advantages are hard won by overcoming hardships.
Bruce points out that even the venom serum that bane uses only alleviates his suffering not extends his ability beyond himself.
Sean suggests that Bane’s very process of selecting henchmen reflects Overman thinking.
Bruce points out that Bane systematically eliminates Bruce Wayne’s many advantages and forces him to fight through the hardship that it leaves to make his return.
Sean Points out that in terms of “metaphor writ large” the Pit is a perfect analogy tot he struggle of overcoming and becoming better for it that Nietzsche describes in the doctrine of hardship.
Ryver points out that Bane falls short of Overman status because he has chosen to be subservient to the will of another, Talia al Ghul who, in Dark Knight Rises, is the true mastermind of the films events.
Professor Metal take the Last Word to discuss what it means to be a villain, his own personal philosophy, and the influence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.
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