Tag Archives: good

Sith Vs. Jedi: Points Of View On Good And Evil

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video essay revisits a galaxy far, far away and delves into the Philosophy of Star Wars. Through every comic, game, and movie trilogy, the notion of good and evil is a frequent refrain. It often draws clear lines between the Empire and the Republic or the Sith and the Jedi. But what actually goes into drawing those lines?

Where does this notion of good and evil come from? In multiple movies, as well as the books and games, it often comes back to a certain point of view. And in this video, I explore the merits and substance within those views. Enjoy and may the Force be with you all.

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Villains vs. Anti-Heroes: There IS A Difference

Go to any message boards for comic books, movies, TV shows, or Twilight fan fiction and you’ll hear any number of twisted interpretations of certain characters. Everybody has their own opinions, but let’s face it. Some go out of their way to melt their own brain in an effort to interpret a character in a particular way.

Talk to certain Harry Potter fans and you’ll find takes on Voldermort that are creepier than all the clown makeup and anime porn in the world. As a noted comic book fan, I’ve certainly had my share of twisted interpretations, as well as heated debates on message boards. I understand that these debates are about as productive as spitting into the ocean in hopes of causing a flood, but it also reveals how broad our interpretations can be.

I bring this up because in my many discussions about evil, villains, and recent trends in villains, I knew there was going to be one major complication to this discussion that was sure to piss off certain fans of certain characters. Given how much time and effort some people put into dressing up as certain characters, that’s not an anger to take lightly.

For many of my discussions about Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” I referred to him as a villain. I even fit his narrative into the context of the “Villain’s Journey.” When I watch Breaking Bad and assess the story, I believe Walter White to be a villain.

I did this knowing that there’s a sizable chunk of Breaking Bad fans that refuse to label him as such. To these fans, and they’re not entirely misguided in their assessment, they see Walt as an anti-hero. They see what he did and why he did it as not being fit for a true villain. Never mind the problem with calling any villain “true” in the era of “alternative facts,” it’s not an unreasonable position.

Walter White is not Dr. Doom or Lex Luthor. He’s not Wolverine or Dirty Harry either. There are any number of debates fans can have, and there have been many, on this issue. I don’t want to have them all. My blog, if not the entire internet, simply isn’t big enough for that debate.

However, if I’m going to talk about villains like Walter White, Magneto, and Dr. Doom, I need to address the influence of anti-heroes. I hope to do another more in depth exploration of anti-heroes in a future post, but for now, I’ll keep it in the context of how they relate to villains.

First off, I think I need to make clear that villains and anti-heroes are not the same. Granted, they can be easy to confuse, but they are very different in terms of narrative, motivation, and personality. It’s possible for an anti-hero to be a complete asshat and still be heroic, as Wolverine regularly proves. It’s also possible for a villain to be endearing, as Freddy Krueger movies regularly prove.

So what’s the difference? What sets an anti-hero apart from a villain? Well, it doesn’t help that the definition of an anti-hero is somewhat vague. Even Wikipedia struggles to answer it. The simplest definition it offers is this:

An antihero, or antiheroine, is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality.

It’s not overly ambiguous, but it’s lacking in that it uses what a character lacks to define them. Unless you’re diagnosing personality disorders, that’s just not sufficient. Anti-heroes are as old as Ancient Greece, Don Quixote, and a time when Clint Eastwood actually had a successful acting career. By any measure, this concept does have roots.

Being a comic book fan, there are plenty of anti-heroes occupying my list of favorite characters. Wolverine is probably the most notable, but there are many others like the Punisher, the Hulk, Deadpool, and John Constantine. Some of these characters, like Deadpool, go out of their way to make clear that they’re not a hero. However, they do have some distinct qualities that set them apart from villains.

Anti-Heroes, especially those in superhero comics, still battle injustice in a larger world, just like traditional heroes. They fight criminals. They protect the innocent. They’ll even save the world from an invading alien army. The main difference is they’re just more willing to be assholes about it.

While most sane people have an innate aversion to assholes, we are willing to overlook a certain amount of assholery if it serves the greater good. Aristotle might have been a racist, anti-woman, douche-bag by most standards, but his contribution to western civilization was pretty damn important for our progress as a species.

There is a limit to just how much douche-baggery we’ll tolerate for an anti-hero, but core sentiment of the character remains. They still want to help others. They still want to save the day. They still, and this is critical, will do the right thing even if it doesn’t serve their best interests.

It’s that last quality that helps unblur the lines between villain and anti-hero. When faced with a chance to do the right thing or do something that’s self-serving, an anti-hero will most often do the right thing. They may be a total dick about it. They may even kill, destroy, or cuss like a hung over Quentin Tarantino. They’ll still do the right thing.

A villain will, at the end of the day, mostly favor the decisions that serve their interests. At the moment in the comics, Lex Luthor is a member of the Justice League and Dr. Doom is the new Iron Man. It’s a long story as to how this happened, and some of those stories are pretty damn awesome, but the sentiment of the characters is still the same.

Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom are being heroes because it still serves their interests. It’s not about doing the right thing for them. They may claim they want to redeem themselves, but that’s really not that altruistic when you think about it. They want to be perceived as heroes. They want to have that kind of adulation. On some levels, it’s inherently selfish.

Compare that to Wolverine or Deadpool. They couldn’t give two whiffs of a wet fart about how they’re perceived. They still do things their own way and their decisions aren’t always self-serving.

By this standard, Walter White is far more in line with a villain. He let Jane, Jesse’s girlfriend, die rather than save her when he had the chance. He poisoned a little kid as part of an elaborate plan to take down a rival. There are all self-serving decisions. These are, by most measures, morally abhorrent. That’s what makes him a villain and that’s what sets villains apart from anti-heroes.

I understand there are still arguments to be made about Walter White’s status as a villain and an anti-hero. I’ll save those arguments for another post. In the end, it’s still somewhat easy to confuse villains and anti-heroes. However, when you break down their character and what motivates them, the line isn’t as blurred as we think.

There’s a place for villains. There’s a place for anti-heroes. I imagine there will be plenty of debates about which is which and who is who, but it’s these very conflicts that help bring out the best and, necessarily, the worst in these characters.

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The (Sort Of) Problem With Evil

I’ve decided to take a break from deciding whether music form boy bands and burned out pop stars counts as love or obsession so I can focus on a far more relevant issue. It’s relevant in that it affects more directly than the annoying songs we have to endure. It also affects me as an aspiring erotica/romance writer because it’s an important component of every character, be they protagonists or sidekicks.

Yes, I’m talking about evil again. My first post yesterday ended up covering so much that I quickly realized I’ll have to stretch this out to cover the full range of the topic. Make no mistake. This is an important topic. Evil, whether we believe in it or not, will impact us in some way and I’m not just talking about the kind that gets shows like Firefly canceled.

Our understanding of good, evil, and the morality that governs both is an important part of our civilization and our species, as a whole. It’s one of those things we all acknowledge, but can’t quite agree upon. It’s not unlike George Clooney. We all agree he’s sexy. We just don’t agree why.

This directly ties into the so-called “Problem of Evil.” Anyone who has endured a debate between an overly atheist and an overly religious type is probably familiar with this concept. The “problem” is that evil exists and, as a result, it undermines a lot of theological and ethical issues. It’s something two people can argue about for days on end and not accomplish a goddamn thing.

For me, personally, I have a big problem with calling evil a “problem” in the first place. It’s not that I think it’s unimportant. It definitely is. I just take issue with use of the word “problem.”

While I was in college, one of my professors did this lecture where he said one of the most brilliant things I ever heard from any human being not inspired by George Carlin. He started by saying this:

“We don’t deal in problems. We deal in dilemmas. Problems are easy. Problems, by definition, have solutions. Dilemmas don’t have solutions. Dilemma’s are harder to manage because they often require compromise.”

There are a lot of amazing things I remember from college. Not all of them have to do with how willing some people are to get naked at a party. The professionals there really had some smart things to say. This, more than almost anything, really stuck with me.

I think it nicely applies to the concept of evil because its a concept that’s so diverse and ambiguous, at times. At one point in history, marrying someone from another tribe is considered evil. At another, admitting to owning a Nickelback album is evil. It’s fluid, overly vague concept that keeps moving the goalposts.

As a dilemma, evil can’t have a solution. It can have various understandings. There can be compromises along the way in which the idea of evil skews towards or away from a certain direction. That’s why concepts like slavery took so much time to fade into that special domain of evil and even then, we still have problems eliminating it.

More than most concepts, the dilemma surrounding evil has many religious connotations. Nearly every religion, including those that involve chakra, crystal energy, and aliens, tries to address the source of evil in some form or another. Some use it as a means of proving their particular theology. Others use it as a means of disproving that very theology. It’s a never-ending argument that rarely ends with someone changing their mind.

Even so, it’s an important concept to explore. Even if I do take issue with the use of the word “problem,” it is a concept that reveals many facets of evil and how we see it. Rather than try to break down every one of those facts, knowing that would require more posts than anyone is comfortable reading, I found a very helpful YouTube video that nicely sums it up.

This comes courtesy of Crash Course, a very helpful YouTube channel in terms of explaining complex issues in a simple, basic way. This is basically a 101 class, one that does not get into the finer details of an issue. This reveals the forest without scrutinizing any of the trees. For those who want to learn more about the “Problem of Evil,” this video breaks it down nicely.

Whether you’re religious or non-religious, both sides of the problem/dilemma should give you pause. It certainly has for me. I’ve even seen it in my writing. I’ve had to mold “evil” characters to make the stories in “Skin Deep” and “The Escort and the Gigolo” work. It’s challenging, but it’s an important part of a larger narrative.

The presence of evil raises questions about what we believe spiritually and how we see ourselves as a species. The simple fact we can’t be certain in both the theological and scientific analysis of evil reveals just how complex this issue is. When neither science nor religion can offer a clear-cut understanding, you know it’s a hell of a dilemma, if that’s not too fitting a term.

So what does this mean for evil as a whole? What does this mean for evil in a religious, scientific, and philosophical respect? Well, these are questions I hope to keep exploring. Right now, I want to use the “Problem of Evil” to create the right context.

We live in a world where we can’t help but acknowledge that evil exists, but can’t agree on the source or mechanisms behind it. With every evil act, there seems to be more and more complexity.

The evil of today is not always the evil of tomorrow. Evil characters in novels today can easily become heroes and/or anti-heroes tomorrow. We don’t know when or how this will manifest. We just know it’ll continue to confound and conflict us in our minds and souls, however we define them.

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The (Non-Monetary) Root Of All Evil

What is it about the human race that makes some people amazingly generous while others become sickeningly depraved? It’s a question we’ve all contemplated in some form or another. What drives the person who helps out at a soup kitchen every week? What is it that drives the person who throws cherry bombs at mailboxes just for kicks? How can one species have this much variation in terms of evil and altruism?

As an erotica/romance writer, and a writer in general, I have to contemplate these questions more than most. In every story I write, whether it’s a sexy love story like “Holiday Heat” or an erotic thriller like “The Escort and the Gigolo,” I need to understand on some levels what makes people tick, for better and for worse.

Questions about evil aren’t new. In fact, they’re among the oldest questions that we, as a species, have asked ourselves. It’s right up there with questions about why aliens haven’t landed yet and why some insist on using anal probes. It’s an existential question as much as it is a scientific question. It’s one of the few questions that both science and religion work hard to answer, albeit with different methods.

In western religious traditions, which primarily involve the big three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there are certain assumptions about human nature that are intrinsically tied to the faith. In this tradition, human nature is believed to be inherently evil and in need of redemption. Anyone who spends more than two hours watching reality TV will probably find some merit to that argument.

Then, there are other traditions like Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism that don’t make the same assumptions. In these traditions, there are other forces that make human beings good or evil that aren’t necessarily innate. To be evil by nature is too simplistic in these traditions. There’s a whole host of factors, divine and otherwise, that contribute to someone’s capacity for either.

Neither tradition can be completely right, but that doesn’t mean both are wrong. Scientific studies on human nature are quite varied, but come to some intriguing conclusions. According to a Scientific America article from 2012, the current body of research suggests that humans are innately good and evil is more of an aberration.

That doesn’t mean that we humans should be thumbing our noses at the rest of the animal kingdom though. This research, like all scientific research, is incomplete and subject to change. New research could emerge tomorrow that concludes that every human being has a depraved, psychotic asshole lurking within and we’re doing just enough to keep it at bay.

These are very difficult questions to answer and many of those questions don’t have clear answers. I look at the concept of good and evil the same way I look at what makes something sexy. The line is not clear and constantly shifting. In the same way we find strange things sexy for stranger reasons, we see the line between good and evil as an exceedingly obscure sea of gray.

Everybody has their opinions on what makes someone good, but I’ve noticed that people have stronger opinions on what makes someone evil. It happens every time there’s a heinous crime, like a mass shooting. Everybody has their theories as to why someone does something so evil.

Some claim it’s bad parenting. Some claim it’s a product of poverty. Some claim it’s a product of abuse. Some say it’s genetic. Some say it’s a learned behavior from someone’s environment. Some just claim that some peoples’ brains are wired poorly.

The most frustrating part of this issue is that to some degree, every one of those theories might be right. Some people become evil due to bad parenting or a rough environment. Some become evil through severe mental illness that makes it difficult for them to make sense of right and wrong. Human beings are erratic, diverse creatures. We’re never content to just have one reason for doing something.

This becomes even more pronounced when you apply it to fiction. As an admitted comic book fan, the distinction between superheroes and supervillains is a cornerstone of the genre. Most people can pick up a comic and know who’s who. You see a comic with Superman and you know he’s the hero. You see a comic with Dr. Doom and you know he’s the asshole who will make people miserable.

However, recent years have given more emphasis to the villains, as opposed to the heroes. I like to think of it as the Walter White effect. We now expect our villains to be more complex and multi-dimensional. It has lead to developments like Dr. Doom becoming Iron Man and Lex Luthor becoming Superman. It’s as crazy a concept as it sounds, but believe it or not, it works.

It’s a strange era with respect to our understanding of evil. On one hand, our most cherished traditions say we’re intrinsically evil. On the other, science says we’re intrinsically good. What do we make of this? That’s a question nobody, especially not an aspiring erotica/romance writer, is equipped to answer in a single blog post.

It’s still a question that I find myself contemplating more as I prepare my next round of projects. In every major story, there are protagonists and antagonists. It’s not too hard to put a lot of energy into what makes a protagonist tick. They are, after all, the lens through which the story is told. The antagonists, on the other hand, present a different challenge.

For the most part, I haven’t had a chance to flesh out complex antagonists. The two most notable examples I’ve had, to date, are Warren Irvine in “Skin Deep” and Madam Felicity in “The Escort and the Gigolo.” In both cases, I made a concerted effort to give layers to these characters. I think I did the most with what I could, but I do feel there’s room for improvement.

For me, this means seeking a greater understanding of evil and what makes evil people tick. It’s a potentially scary subject, but I survived high school and puberty so I think I have the stomach for it. If it means being able to write more complex, well-rounded characters, I’ll gladly take that chance.

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