Thursday, February 25, 2010

R.I.P. Honor, Truthfulness, Courage, Valor.

Last weekend, we conducted an impromptu marathon of Peter Jackson's trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1 2 3)—the extended DVD version—just because we could, I guess. I suspect that this viewing was partially responsible for bringing to the fore my pissed-off-ness at the state of things in the society around me.

Yes, I know—and I have said so on many occasions to those idiots who think they can 'perfect' humanity—societies, all of them, are inherently imperfect, seriously flawed; and most have aspects to them that are outright disgusting. That's par for the course. Even the 'great civilizations' of history—and the present, insofar as there is anything qualifying for that appellation extant right now—exhibit(ed) dark nooks and crannies. Very dark ones. Nasty, mean, disgusting stuff that people do and which the society as a whole tolerates, for whatever reason.

In many ways, the situation and characters depicted in LoTR—the movie, if not so much the much-less-interesting novels—seem to map pretty much onto the world of the living.

Most people, I've come to conclude are like Hobbits, only that nowadays it's becoming socially respectable, and even I think expected, to have a far lesser proportion of individuals who rise above the level of those who exhibit the Hobbits' 'lesser' qualities. Frodos are probably impossible to find, and the likes of Pippin and Merry are being bred and educated out of existence slowly but inexorably.

Politicians—our lowest life-forms, who are rapidly establishing new standards of intellectual, ethical and moral devolution into decrapitude—come either in the Hobbit-variety, or in something slightly different that approximates less-powerful versions of Saruman. Every single one of them, without exceptions, would take the Ring, do their worst with it and have their dislikeable aspects magnified to Gollumesque proportions.

Imagine a whole horde of Gollums crawling over the buildings of the parliaments of the Western Democracies! Well, actually, I'm not sure that, apart from appearances, they're not already there...most of them. Our current crop here in Australia, at state and federal level, are a pretty horrific and pathetic sight to behold.

Our heroes a questionable lot. Not per se and as individuals, because at so many levels those—well, some of them—that are being elevated to 'hero'-status, like sports people, do actually achieve something of note. In personal terms, for them, it may even be something that they can rightly be proud of. And then, since they, in international contests, represent the nation of their origin, they'll make said nation proud by proxy.

But that's hardly 'heroic', is it? It's a personal or tribal validation exercise, but hardly anything more.

Other types of—far less adulated—heroes, like scientists, also hardly qualify as such. They may be people of achievement; but 'heroism' surely has to be more than a label for 'achievement', if the term has to have any significance that hasn't been reduced to the level of currently fashionable blandness.

Other terms whose very use tends to make a lot of people either cringe with embarrassment of just having someone say it, or whose utterance will invoke the indifference of those whose life-fire has been dimmed to a terminal and soon-to-be extinguished glimmer, include those listed in the title of this blog. The consequences of trying to follow them are, after all, likely to bring those attempting to do so into situations sufficiently complicated, confrontational or even dangerous, that surely the legislature would be instantly prompted to consider measures to outlaw them. That's because honor will always be challenged by, and be constantly confronted with, the dishonorable; truthfulness will offend the self-serving liars who have slithered into positions of power and influence; courage will only be tested under fire; and valor will usually result in social castigation, because society as a whole runs on non-valor, which is its lowest common denominator.

LotR is, of course, a tale of heroes. Meaning that there are also those by comparison with whom the heroes are accentuated. But heroes are at the focus. Frodo and his buddies; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli; plus those with lesser impact on the tale, but who exhibit the qualities outlined above, like Boromir and Faramir, who, though flawed and initially misguided, do come through and grow to be heroes.

They all have in common a quality that's missing from so many of the heroes of other movies. I'm not quite sure what that quality is, but it's of the kind that you know when it's there. The kind of quality one would wish—futilely, to be sure—that people would know how to detect when it stares them in the face. That way they might have something worthwhile to work toward.

But people are, by and large, like Hobbits. Mostly, they don't even see the real heroes. And, though occasionally, usually briefly, adulated, those real heroes soon fade from the radar or interest of the dull populace; to be replaced by the common, base and vapid.

Was it always this way? Maybe. Quite possibly so. But the sad thing is that it hasn't changed; that we haven't become any better at seeing it. Which tells us a lot about the evolution of our societies, which measured on any scale, is probably indistinguishable close to zero—and which might, is some ways, be a negative quantity.

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