Tuesday, September 9, 2008

To Every Season, or, The Jade Warrior

Landon and I have both been discussing the limitations of the word "hero," and will have thoughts forthcoming on that...but one of the thoughts is that traditional heroes carry a certain "baggage" and a new kind of hero is needed. However, sometimes, in order to go forward, it's helpful to go back, so with that in mind...

Some critics of heroes decry the violence used...this finds its ultimate argument in the prohibition against superheroes carrying guns (usually someone like Batman, Captain America, Superman, or even the Ninja Turtles!). Yet all these characters still employ some kind of weapon, such as batarangs, super-strength, or nunchackas. The difference is the level of lethality.

There is an interesting dialogue in the graphic novel KINGDOM COME, where Wonder Woman gears up for battle with a mystical sword. Superman tells her that he's "uneasy with the blade," to which she replies, "Not all of us have heat vision."

That dialogue shows the hypocrisy of those who want justice and defense without the idea of violence. They want the results, but not the means. Some heroes are even painted as being "too dark" for using those means. Witness the reaction of Batman himself in THE DARK KNIGHT, who says that what Gotham needs is a "white knight," such as Harvey Dent, people who keep themselves above the fray. (This seems to set up a false dichotomy, that, in order to inspire hope, one must have some kind of aversion to violence. But just as in religious stories, when the pantheistic gods gave way to monotheism, the light and dark became opposites who define each other, it becomes clear that Harvey Dent cannot offer hope for light without the force that has been relegated to Batman's dark psyche. (Yes, very Jungian....in fact, most of the heroes, according to "Jungian" Joseph Campbell, follow a route from heroism to despot, or otherwise, depart into exile, unable to re-integrate into society after their deeds: witness the departure of Frodo from the Shire to the Blessed Realm, or the archetypal cowboy "riding off into the sunset.")

I'd submit that Wonder Woman's "olive branch and sword" mentality is closer to an integrated policy. But just as she represents an ancient Amazonian ideal, that idea is reflected in Asian culture as well, in the idea of the "Jade Warrior."

I first learned of the Jade Warrior through the music of the band...Jade Warrior. According to the Friends of Jade Warrior website, "Jade Warrior was the term used in Japan to describe Samurai who expected to be artists and poets as well as deadly killers. It was chosen by Jon Field and the late Tony Duhig to describe the contrasting and apparently conflicting musical styles they wished to blend." (Red Hot Records press release).

There is some debate about the actual origin of the band's name, but the idea remains, that one need not be a warrior or poet exclusively, that being a warrior does not doom one to a life of shadows, as in the Dark Knight. This seems to be more a product of Western dualism, whereas the Eastern philosophy is known for it's "yin-yang" qualities. There are instances outside of Eastern philosophy, though, that share the same idea, one example being a passage from Ecclesiastes, better known as the lyrics for the song "Turn, Turn, Turn!" : "A time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to kill, a time to heal." Then there's the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who argued against false dichotomies to begin with, and whose heroes were not only creators but defenders. Rand argued for the rights of individuals as ends in themselves, and that right included the right to self-defense. Her characters did what had to be done, but also embodied the ideal of the Jade Warrior. There heroic deeds were not ends in themselves, but served as a defense in order to pursue those creative goals.

Interestingly enough, Ayn Rand never defined, explicitly, what she meant by the word "hero," though her implicit use of the word suggests something more that the established etymology suggests, without dropping the basic criterion. Landon and I will be discussing this in the future as part of our pursuit to transition the hero from altruistic servant to something more sustainable.


Landon Erp said...

Like the introduction of the concept Joe. This seems like a very good starting point for the big discussion.

After we get done posting our 9/11 pieces this week the redefinition of the hero is probably the next big project for SB.


madmax said...

I don't know if you are familiar with this but here is a link to Andrew Bernstein's essay on Heroism:


And here is his definition:

"...an individual of elevated moral stature and superior ability who pursues his goals indefatigably in the face of powerful antagonist(s). Because of his unbreached devotion to the good, no matter the opposition, a hero attains spiritual grandeur, even in he fails to achieve practical victory. Notice then the four components of heroism: moral greatness, ability or prowess, action in the face of opposition, and triumph in at least a spiritual, if not a physical, form."

Joe Maurone said...

Hi, Max, and thanks for sharing this. This is familiar, I'm not sure if I read it or not, but it certainly deserves a place here. Shame on me for not paying better attention to it before, if I did see it. I will say that I like it! I do agree with Bernstein when he says that the dictionary definition is "woefully inadequate," which is why I went to the etymology. Bernstein offers his own definition, but unlike most who use the term sloppily, he appears to have gone to the etymology, when he writes: "The hero is the man dedicated to the creation and/or defense of reality-conforming, life-promoting values." (Defender being the core idea.) But Bernstein takes it further, in the spirit of Ayn Rand, and really fleshes it out. I'm something of an etymology fetishist, but I do realize that staying strict to the source is not always the best idea. Bernstein has me beat here: The concept of "heroism," like so many others, is a high-level abstraction—it is primarily a moral concept—and requires a rational philosophical system, including the principle of mind-body integration, as it proper base. Without such a basis the concept can be neither rigorously-defined nor adequately-understood."

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THIS! This article will be in our Hero Hall of Fame.

madmax said...


I'm glad you found it valuable. I remember reading it years ago and when I started reading your blog posts in which you were delving into the essence of heroes, I thought you would find it of use.

BTW, I'm loving your blog. There is so little on art and movies that is of value coming from the Objectivist Internet universe. I look forward to your analysis on heroes and all things aesthetic.

Bosch Fawstin said...

Joe, good stuff, I particularly found the 'jade warrior' idea very interesting. Pigman's creator, Killian, has to be far more than an artist in the book, ready or not, as his work, which is seen as fearless, places him in danger, a danger he has to be prepared to face. This idea of a new kind of hero really resonates with me, especially in my work. I'm simply writing a story and the hero's will be revealed by their actions, but this new hero has to be brought into the light, discussed, defined, etc.
Sure, through fiction, but also, in essays, books and such, showing the clear contrast from the fully evolved hero and where he evolved from. It's worth a book and far more, has it crossed your mind?

Landon Erp said...

Joe's pretty frazzled right now but I think I can answer your last comment. We've talked about just about all the things you mentioned in your last paragraph but right now we're just taking it a step at a time.


Joe Maurone said...

Hey, Bosch, thanks for asking. (Landon, thanks for having my back!). Quick answer: A book? Not exactly, but I did think have a daydream about collecting the best relevant essays from the site into a book. My concern lies with copyright issues, since we mention licensed characters. Doesn't mean it's out of the question, though. But personally, I do well with essays, but not with full-length books; I seem to work best in a non-linear fashion (music composition excluded.) I do hope that all this lights a spark in people to take up the good fight.

Incidentally, after reading the Bernstein piece, I think he's done a lot of the work for us in explicitly...not redefining, but refining the definition of hero.