Dave Sim's blogandmail #90 (December 10th, 2006)
And when Balaam sawe that it pleased the YHWH to blesse Israel, hee went not, as at other times to the meeting of inchantments, but hee set his face toward the wildernesse. And Balaam lift vp his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents, according to their Tribes: and the Spirit of God came vpon him.
And he tooke vp his parable, and said, Balaam the sonne of Beor hath said and the man who had his eyes shut hath said:
Hee hath said, heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almightie, falling, but hauing his eyes open:
How goodly are thy tents, O Iacob, thy Tabernacles, O Israel!
As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the riuer side, as the trees of Lign-Aloes which the YHWH hath planted, as Cedar trees beside the waters.
He shall powre the water out of his buckets, and his seed in many waters, and his King shall be higher then Agag, and his Kingdome shall be exalted.
God brought him forth out of Egypt, he hath as it were the strength of an Vnicorne: he shall eate vp the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce thorow with his arrows.
Hee couched, he lay down as a Lyon, and as a great Lyon: who shal stirre him vp? Blessed hee that blesseth thee and cursed hee that curseth thee.
And Balaks anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together: and Balak said vnto Balaam, I called thee to curse mine enemies, and behold, thou hast altogether blessed these three times.
Therefore now, flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee vnto great honour, but loe, the YHWH hath kept thee backe from honour.
And Balaam said vnto Balak, Spake I not also to thy messengers which thou sentest vnto me, saying,
If Balak would giue mee his house full of silver and gold, I cannot goe beyond the commandement of the YHWH, to doe either good or bad of mine owne mind? What the YHWH saith, that will I speake.
Hey, kids! Here's a first! Dave Sim talking about comic books on the Sabbath! From Steve Ditko's introductory text to Mr. A (1973)
So, by his actions, a man has the power to be a protector, to be indifferent, or to be a destroyer of life—of others' and his own.
I found this interesting. In terms of morality, Ditko often developed theories with a hard and soft option and something in between the two. One of the reasons that he rubs liberal fur the wrong way so badly is that the middle course is seldom defined as being admirable or framed in flattering terminology. The average liberal who sees him or herself as neither a protector nor a destroyer is not apt to see viewing themselves as "indifferent" to be a viable option. They prefer neutral terminology like "moderate" and if you frame your argument in unflattering terms, they're apt to just kill the messenger and have done with it. Personally, I think the distinction between any given man as being either a protector or a destroyer raises an interesting point in that you can't protect everyone in the world in need of protection even if you were inclined to. I can "adopt" a child in the Third World through World Vision or a similar agency and provide for them to one degree or another, thus "protecting" them from starvation or similar deprivations which might otherwise "destroy" them, but I can't "adopt" all of the children in the Third World. However, I could sit down and calculate the costs of my basic necessities, subtract that from my income and savings and then divide the resultant amount into World Vision sized monthly amounts and find out that I'm capable of protecting, say, 400 children in the Third World for a five-year period if I subscribed to Steve Ditko's inclination towards Absolutist ethical positions where you are either a "protector" or a "destroyer" (which I tend to, I think, more than most). In those frames of reference, a persuasive argument could be made that anything that I do which falls short of protecting those 400 children amounts to destroying the children that I'm not protecting and would classify me as "indifferent". Maybe "less indifferent" than you because I have adopted A child through World Vision, but in Absolutist Terms that would still leave me 399 children short of being able to definitively classify myself as a protector.
This also intrudes upon questions of the degree of my faith in God. If I cash in all of my savings and income and give it to World Vision, why would I not have absolute faith that God would provide for me? It is certainly one of the core attributes of a secular society that it is naturally assumed that everyone is "graded against the curve" when it comes to ethics and morality. Most of the statistics I've seen about charitable giving in Canada indicate that the average person gives maybe a hundred or two hundred dollars to charity in a given year. If our own choices are measured against the average, then all I would have to do is cut back my donations to $300 a year or so and forget about it. Personally, I can't do that so, in effect, what I am doing is betting that Right Behaviour is defined by giving something less than everything I own to the poor and something more than what the average person gives. The only thing I am certain of is that everyone can choose to be more generous when it comes to charity no matter who they are. And I think creative works like Mr. A when viewed properly can force us to really examine those sorts of issues which are all too easily overlooked or swept away. Even if you're not an Absolutist, measuring yourself regularly against Absolutist yardsticks is, I think, a useful enterprise and a valuable habit to adopt.
"Protector", "Destroyer" or "Indifferent".
It seems to me well worth examining.
Life is man's most valuable possession! It is the unique phenomenon that gives man an existence and his existence a meaning. Every man is aware that his life cannot be lived by or through another person—that his life, his existence is individually his own. Life is the property of the possessor, and it is the owner's responsibility to act to protect, sustain and to fulfill its potential with actions devoid of fraud and force. If a man cannot claim ownership of his life and mastery over his choices and actions, WHO CAN? AND BY WHAT RIGHT? If a man's life and actions are not his responsibility, WHOSE ARE THEY?
Well, here is where Steve Ditko and I part company. Since life as constituted—physical incarnation on planet earth—is, to me, completely illusory, I think life is man's least valuable possession. His most valuable possession is his soul, in my view. As the Synoptic Jesus put it, "What shall it profit a man to gain the world and lose his own soul? And what would a man give in exchange for his soul?"
While reading Dr. Strange these last few nights, I got into the habit of reading aloud from the Koran afterward just as a way of confirming which team I'm on and one night I didn't. I had what I assume was meant to be a horrible dream where I was both in the gas chamber of a prison and in the electric chair and I was about to be executed (presumably for not being a feminist). Oh, I thought, well, this will be it, I guess. And I started reciting my prayer. There was a guard there who dropped the cyanide capsule into the sulphuric acid (or whatever combination it is) and made a face about the smell. I had a momentary doubt when I remembered reading that you're supposed to inhale deeply in the gas chamber, the more poison you take in, the quicker your demise. Hang on, I thought. Doesn't that constitute suicide of a kind? That is, shouldn't I just breathe normally in order to make sure that I'm being killed and that I'm not killing myself? Another guard indicated that the electric chair was malfunctioning and at least half the time the prisoner's chest virtually explodes into flame because of the flaw in the wiring in the backrest. I mulled that over and thought, Oh, well, one way or the other it will all be over in half an hour or so. Then I noticed one of the guards looking at me in a concerned way and I just sort of smiled and gave him the "thumbs up" with my shackled right hand and went back to praying. Then I woke up.
I think it would be nice if "every man is aware that his life cannot be lived by or through another person—that his life, his existence, is individually his own," but I don't think the evidence supports that contention. In fact, I would say that it's far more common for men to live for and through their wives, for and through their children, for and through their pets or whatever else they choose to live for and through. As the Koran says, "Your wealth and your children are only a temptation" (and even adds wives in a particular passage) and I think most men succumb to that temptation repeatedly or in perpetuity. "Life is the property of the possessor and it is the owner's responsibility to act to protect, sustain and to fulfill its potential with actions devoid of fraud and force." We converge a bit here. This reads like a pretty fair description of personal jihad, the action that one takes in response to a visceral understanding of what one is required to do in order to fulfill one's responsibilities. I see it as the urge Godward, the impulse of my soul towards what I deem to be good actions and away from bad actions in order to find favour in the sight of God. I would assume that Steve Ditko sees it as a comparable visceral impulse but without the "God-centred vector". The only way I can see fulfilling my potential is by finding favour in the sight of God. That's the only real potential that I can conceive of, whereas I suspect that Steve Ditko's view of his own potential would include a lot of earthly things that I would largely see as illusory. I didn't freak out in the electric chair because what I was about to lose wasn't anything that I deemed to be important. On the contrary, I was on the cusp of passing from an illusory to a real (or perhaps just less illusory) state of existence. Either one constituted good news for me.
"If a man cannot claim ownership of his life and mastery over his choices and actions WHO CAN? AND BY WHAT RIGHT?" Here the chasm widens again. I could maybe be persuaded that a man has a custodial role to play in his own life, but taking care of the Empire State Building is very different from owning the Empire State Building. I think the proper owner of each man's life is God since it is God who gives a man life but I think that's the core of the decision that faces each man. God gives you life and the only sensible thing is to choose to devote that life—or the vast majority of it—to God. Sensible in a self-preservationist sense. If you devote your life to God, you won't get into anything that could be described accurately as serious trouble whereas if you devote your life to anything else, all you're ultimately going to find is various kinds of serious trouble. That's been my experience, anyway. But I think the key point is that even though God has the greatest claim to ownership of a man's life, He only claims ownership of the lives of those who have chosen Him. I have never had any sense of coercion on the part of God whatsoever. God is someone you can choose to be with or someone you can choose to be without and, as far as I can see, He leaves the choice entirely up to the individual man. There are certainly a lot of priests and imams and rabbis who tend not to look at it that way, but as far as I can see, that's the way God looks at it.
"By what right?" would God claim ownership of a man's life? By virtue of being man's Creator. But, as I say, I don't think God looks at it that way. It's your life to do with as you please with all of the rewards and punishments that entails.
"If a man's life and actions are not his responsibility, WHOSE ARE THEY?" Back to complete and total agreement. Each man is responsible and culpable for his own life and actions.
ALL LIFE is conditional! Survival is not automatically guaranteed to any living entity. For a form of life to survive, it must fulfill the needs required by its specific nature. For man, it is his nature as a rational animal.
Since rationality is a potential and not an automatically guaranteed actuality, man must choose to live as a man—RATIONALLY! The choice is also not automatic, but one that must be continually made and sustained.
Life is given, survival is not! The desire to live as a man demands a conscious choice, a conscious effort, effective knowledge and proper action with no guarantee of success.
A man has a right to denounce his life—to do with it as he wants. But no man, or no group of men, can claim the "right" to ownership, use and disposal of another's life without the other person's UNCOERCED CONSENT!
"ALL LIFE is conditional! Survival is not automatically guaranteed to any living entity. For a form of life to survive it must fulfill the needs required by its specific nature. For man, it is his nature as a rational animal." Here we part ways again. Man is man and animals are animals. There's no such thing as a rational animal. Only man is capable of reason and I think reason is part of man's specific nature which is in the nature of a "need required". Men need reason the way all living things need air and water. Reason, to me, is the urge of the soul Godward. We are separated from God but through reason we can urge ourselves away from the illusions of physical incarnation and towards Him and into alignment with the nature of His Reality.
"Since rationality is a potential and not an automatically guaranteed actuality, man must choose to live as a man—RATIONALLY! The choice is also not automatic, but one that must be continually made and sustained. Life is given. Survival is not! The desire to live as a man demands a conscious choice, a conscious effort, effective knowledge and proper action with no guarantee of success." This, of course, mirrors my own thinking if the rational choice is God (which in Ditko's case I suspect it isn't), the conscious and rational choice to act upon visceral awareness of God, to do what's right and avoid what's wrong and to realize that the odds are that you're going to be very far from being 100% right 100% of the time and that all you can do is work to improve yourself and hope for the best on Judgement Day.
"A man has a right to denounce his life—to do with it as he wants. But no man, or no group of men, can claim the `right' to ownership, use and disposal of another's life without the other person's UNCOERCED CONSENT."
You might be able to mount an argument that there exists any number of forms of coercion that might compel a man to consent—in a forensic sense—to allowing his life to be owned, used or disposed of. A lot of husbands end up doing things they don't want to do because they have to feed their families but you'd have to go a long way to find anyone (besides me) who tends to see families as a form of coercion for that reason. If you marry and procreate in good faith and then find that your responsibilities compel you to make decisions and take actions that you personally deem unethical and immoral or if you allow your love for your mother, let's say, to compel you to do things you don't think are right (or, more to the point, Right), a consequence issuing from the choice to do wrong is still a consequence of your own decision-making in one sense while it can also leave you "trapped (in a conscious sense) in a world you never made". Forewarned is forearmed and if you're looking for someone to denounce the idea of educating young men as to the extent to which relationships can lead to very bad decision-making and unethical and immoral choices in the long term, I'm afraid you're going to have to look elsewhere.
There was an article in the National Post this morning that points in the same direction. A man with two small daughters and a wife is awakened by a sound downstairs. He goes down to see what it is and finds an inebriated sixteen-year-old has entered his house and he proceeds to beat crap out of the kid. Now, Canada being Canada, people are calling for him to be prosecuted for assault. Question: would the guy have whaled on the kid that badly if he didn't have two infant daughters and a wife to be concerned about? If it was just him living in the house, what are the odds that he would have just kicked the kids ass out and told him if he saw him around there again, he's beat the living crap out of him? Question: Does the more violent response constitute a form of coercion implicit in marriage and fatherhood?
Okay, that brings us to the end of Steve Ditko's introductory text piece to Mr. A. Tune in tomorrow when I take a look at the Mr. A strips themselves.
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