Sunday, August 15, 2010

Spanner: With Great Power...

Last entry, I brought up one of the major themes of Spanner: the never-ending conflict between those who try to raise ordinary people to their level and those merely content to oppress them. That's the basic conflict, and I'll write a few more things about it later in this post. The theme I'm concerned with, though, is closely related and should be familiar:

With great power comes great responsibility.

As a thought experiment, think of yourself as one of the story's "Free Agents". You're no mere ronin; you have the freedom to work for anybody you want, or simply for yourself. You find yourself in the middle of a conflict between, say, some small business owners and a huge conglomerate. Both sides want to hire you: the small businesspeople want your help in saving their livelihood from the rapacious conglomerate; the conglomerate's chairman wants you to help suppress or betray his targets, and he has the resources to pay you in near-infinite amounts of anything you desire. Will you go for the easy score at the expense of people who may be very close to being thrown out on the street to starve? Or will you choose conscience over greed and take on the conglomerate and whatever mercenaries it has at its disposal?

This turns out to be an easy choice for Spanner, here hiding behind the mask of a costumed "Free Agent" called "The Civet". She chooses to do the heroic thing. Not just because she hates the corporation or (as it turns out) its chairman, but also because from an early age she was educated in ethics (her mother, the first Mayor of Metropolitan Seattle, made sure of that) and has learned, by experience as well as in theory and by example, the great power entails great responsibility.

Contrast another Free Agent, the far more mercenary Frank Becket (major character Debbie Longmuir's brother, and a major villain in Bad Company). He is what people in Spanner's world call an "Egoist", someone who lives to score his own advantage no matter what harm he has to do to others in order to score it. (Egoists are not to be confused with Nihilists, who either believe in nothing or hate everything, and thus are out simply to destroy. Interestingly, a recent biography of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong reveals him to be not a fanatic like Stalin or Hitler, but a pure Egoist under the influence of Max Stirner, author of the infamous manifesto usually known in English as The Ego and His Own (and an influence on Carl Schmitt, Ayn Rand, the Existentialists, and possibly Friedrich Nietzsche). Stirner's philosophy of extreme egoism, based on absolute amoralism, created the two great ideologies of crime, Egoism and Nihilism. The leaders of the Becket clan of Corporates are devout Egoists, and the most amoral of them is Frank Becket. Now that you know his stance, you know which choice he takes. It's not a choice, really: he takes the money from the conglomerate without a second thought.

Shira Thomas acts on the principle of "great power entails great responsibility". Frank Becket, more extreme in his Egoism than most Corporates but otherwise fairly typical, acts on the principle, "Whatever is, is mine to take by force." The actual outcome of this confrontation rests on a typical bit of trickery by our trickster heroine: she insinuates to the corporate brass that Frank's real intention is to betray and defraud the conglomerate itself after it forces its monopoly on its small-business targets, because such criminal behavior is required by the anti-ethics of Egoism. Then she defeats the conglomerate without having to strike a blow.

One thing Shira knows is that whenever she uses her powers responsibly, she becomes a target for irresponsible people of power, above all those who rule the Cartel. Another thing she knows, and takes full advantage of, is that Egoists can never, ever trust each other; her most important strategy against a team of Egoists is to turn them against each other, using rumor to turn these temporary allies into mortal enemies. Egoism (in Stirner's amoral nihilistic form) is an extremely paranoid philosophy. There can be only one Einziger, after all.

She knows that humans are a social species, that human nature is inherently social. Egoistic philosophies (including not only Stirner's, but also Rand's) are almost always in denial of this fact and all too frequently has the effect of making people outright antisocial; one might even call it "social denialism". (Rational egoism, properly speaking, takes into account the social aspect of human nature.) She tries to make friends with the people she helps, or at least bring some benefit to them. However, woe to the client who turns on her, due to fanaticism (i.e., being a "hater") or treachery: haters and Egoists are precisely what she fights against, because they are antisocial. (This does not necessarily mean she's a socialist: a free market relies above all on that most social of all emotions, trust; it is lack of trust that leads to the tyranny of Corporatism.) She knows that, in fighting the Cartel, that (in Benjamin Franklin's famous words) "if we do not hang together, we shall all hang separately."

I should point out that the principle of "great power entails responsibility" is especially important for catalyst heroes like Shira. A catalyst hero is someone who strives to convince others to become heroes themselves. The catalyst is the best kind of hero to defend a fragile democratic system against hostile authoritarian systems like the United Corporations or the American Empire.

The moral/ethical principle of responsibility is what distinguishes the heroes from the villains. Villains are, by definition, hostile to this principle, or are responsible only to their own egos or such extended egos as corporations, crime syndicates, and fundamentalist religious groups. One thing I (and my heroes) point out in Spanner is that anyone can be a hero or villain, by being responsible or irresponsible. Everyone has some power.

Why does great power entail great responsibility? Because, as Lord Acton famously said: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." That's the theme for my next entry.

Back to Spanner’s World...

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