On Human Motives, Violence and Understanding
Random Acts of Violence is an excellent movie displaying the nature of the psychopath and the deranged mind that acts on impulse and rationalizes his actions as he goes along. An excellently made and executed movie, it stars Ashley Cahill (spelling?) as a British pseudo-intellectual complaining that New York is too “white” and safe; stifling the creativity that he believes requires instability and horror. The film is actually categorized as a Horror picture ludicrously enough, when it’s clearly a vaguely philosophical comedy which small segments of drama – that is tension when you’re uncertain what’s going to transpire and the comedic elements aren’t present, not “Drama” in the sense of Soap Opera Will Love Prevail? Drama. That may be an inaccurate description for it then, but to otherwise describe the seriousness of it would be to classify it as a Thriller, and it doesn’t have the type of action, mystery or build-up to classify it as such. But enough on that note.
The film also functions as an effective satire on the logical end of the Nietzschean/Social Darwinist line of thinking of society becoming too weak and complacent, and stark inequality and a certain indifference to certain kinds of suffering is required if not deemed commendable; as well-as killing those who are disrespectful or offend you as Nietzsche took a hyper-defensive view of slaying those who slight you. However this is only his main rationalization of being a Leopold and Lobe type psychopath who simply has the impulse to kill others and justifies why as he goes along. This is seen in him pompously saying that one must be “philosophical” when killing people, and deeming himself somehow above Dahmer, Bundy and others. He then murders his friend Alex and her boyfriend because they’re playfully insulting his cooking skills. He actually believes the things he says, he isn’t lying, and of course that’s the nature of rationalizations.
This is also seen in Walter White with his justifying being the head of a Meth Empire as an attempt to build a fortune for his family before he goes. However as the show develops it becomes more-and-more obvious that this is only a rationalization for living a thrilling life of money, power and a sense of referral and purpose that he didn’t have when he was a teacher to apathetic High Schoolers. He clearly is a fundamentally good person, even when Jessie wants to see him dead or in jail he first tries to reason with him when Jessie believes partly due-to paranoia, partly due-to sound judgment that Walter is merely trying to coax Jessie out of hiding so one of Saul’s men can execute him. An intelligent man with a love of science that wishes to expand his knowledge unto others, he attempts to gain his meaning from teaching, but the students fail the passion for Chemistry that he has, so he cannot feel his career has much purpose both in deriving Existential satisfaction from it and it actually serving any common good. Once he realizes he has cancer, he subconsciously realized he’s always been “the nice guy” that’s done the right thing and lived for others (whether it be his family or society through teaching) but he feels like life has not rewarded him and his efforts have a marginal if any positive impact. So he instead moves into a “career” that is derived solely out-of his personal interests, desires and fundamentally is a business that decreases the net utility of society in obvious ways. He ultimately confesses his true motives behind his actions, when Malcolm is too deranged to see anything but his own poorly constructed rationalizations and sense of grandiose purpose and inherent “rightness” he has.
Malcolm is clearly a Narcissist who cannot take the slightest degree of criticism whether it’s the correction of his confusing 1984 with Brave New World, or his own motives of wanting to start random acts of violence – hey that’s the title of the movie! – when his colleague mentions that it is in-fact what he wanted when his girlfriend Sophia is injured. He cannot of course accept this, because all anything is to him is a source of pleasure. At that given time, Sophia made him happier than even his bloodlust and the fulfillment of ego that he obtained from killing that he now finds satisfied out of Sophia’s love. That is why he was willing to let the two bound victims go even when it very-likely meant the end of his freedom and the execution of his “manifesto” which he derives a sense of meaning from. However, Malcolm is psychologically a Nihilist, confessing in a scene that he believes in nothing (which isn’t tantamount to Atheism as morons believe; also I hated Sophia after her idiotic rationalization for her belief in God disbelief in Evolution, and frankly hoped she would be killed after that scene) and functions on nothing but his own craving for validation through killing, literature, romantic affections and people appreciating his pasta sauce.
Though most people clearly wouldn’t go as far as Malcolm does both out of psychological restraints existing in the mentally healthy and fear of being caught, most are like Malcolm in craving satisfaction and fulfillment in a non-Existential or way and creating rationalizations of it in terms of ethics and purpose later. Most people do what is merely convenient or pleasant to them, whether it be Hedonistic pleasures or the myriad of psychological pleasures that are either innate in the individual or conditioned into them. This could include having a family, their religion, love, their career, their friends and essentially any facet of their existence. They either derive joy or comfort from these things, or in-terms of a job one hates, performs them as a necessary-evil to obtain their sources of pleasure. Later however, some rationalize a greater purpose or ulterior motive to their actions rather than the comfort, pleasure or sense of psychological fulfillment it gives them.
Contrast this however with Marv from Sin City. Marv is brutally honest to compliment his brutal nature. Before he meets Goldie his life is in effect meaningless because he has yet to assign a true meaning to it. He gets drunk, has bar-room brawls with drunken idiots disrespecting Nancy or any of the other strippers or other employees of Katy’s and would have sex if his face prevented him from sleeping even with prostitutes. He loves sad Country music because it reflects the despair and Schopenhauerian essence of life being either a banal or painful tragedy he feels in his being. He hates uplifting music or pop music because though he lacks the intellect to describe this sentiment, he views such music as existentially ingenuine and cheap attempts to delude one’s mind in a state of false and superficial consciousness to avoid the realities of human existence. I feel a similar way in my love of Punk music and its mocking of stupidity, consumerism, religion, right-wing politics, apathy and Hedonism through satire. Let the stupid, weak-willed and utterly contemptible escape in the refuge of pop-music but leave us respectable punk-enthusiasts in peace! I was playing off a line of Schopenhauer’s for those ignorant of his Essays on Pessimism. Read a book – YA and horror novels don’t count.
However, once he meets and fucks Goldie and discovers hours later she was murdered, he assigns an “objective” meaning to his life to catch, torture and kill her killer; as opposed to the cheap ad-hoc rationalizations of people assigning meaning to their lives after the fact of achieving pleasure or comfort from what so conveniently is the purpose or meaning in their existence (e.g. Family, love of God, career, etc.). He is willing to suffer any degree of pain and ultimately death to achieve his goal, and though he takes deep sadistic satisfaction in his actions it isn’t the main motives for his actions. Though he may be unaware of this (I suspect he could be half-aware of this strange fact) Goldie dying after a night of drunken passions is very-likely the best thing that could have happened to him. Goldie went to Marv out of a need-for-protection, not love; and they would have parted ways that night and Marv would have been left in his meaningless existence which he defines as Hell. Goldie performing him an act out of self-interest that still brought him great joy and then being murdered gave him something in life he could assign meaning to.
It too is a rationalization, Goldie isn’t a particularly noble (Not that that makes her death not a crime. It’s simply that while Marv is an ethical person, he wasn’t creating vendettas for anyone before Goldie, and Goldie isn’t exactly the exceptional person to begin to go to the ends of the world to avenge.) or meaningful person to Marv, at-least outside of her giving him something to define his life on, but it’s a different form of rationalization. The rationalization of the Hedonist or Nihilist seen in Malcolm is to bring meaning or add justification to their actions and life that is performed for the reasons I’ve already described. The rationalization of the Existentialist, of Marv however, is the craving in life of objective meaning, true meaning though there isn’t one. So because we live in a Universe devoid of meaning, they rationalize and define a meaning to their lives at-times by whim. The distinction being that the achievement of their goal becomes something that they wish to achieve for both for its own sake and the knowledge of achieving their self-prescribed goal – you could argue this is merely another form of psychological pay-off, but I believe it’s of a radically different kind.
Marv dies happy because he “did right” by Goldie, but his happiness is secondary to achieving what he sets out to do. If Malcolm no longer felt the urge to kill he wouldn’t. Marv however is killing to do something he deems noble and meaningful. He escapes Existentialist Hell by doing something truly great – bringing down a corrupt Priest who is aiding a mute cannibal Hobbit – for the sake of achieving his end, and the joy he reaches amongst the suffering he endures is created by achieving his sense of purpose – not the other way around as it is for Malcolm, Walter and nearly all of us. True meaning is achieving what one has set out to do for its own sake or for the sake of a grander more abstract ideal like justice, equality, freedom, etc. If the Ego becomes involved or personal pleasure above the fulfillment of the thing-itself then it is at-least in-part either a rationalization for said pleasure or means of achieving the comfort of self-worth or purpose, which also is a type of Existential craving, but a weaker more shallow form of it that merely wants the pay-off of achieving meaning and more essentially validation or vindication, rather than the achievement of whatever task being the main thing first-and-foremost.
When a Hero in any epic tale goes on a journey or grand quest, he is in-effect playing the role of Marv who is willing to set-aside his own personal pleasures or desires for something that he will gain meaning and purpose from, but said meaning isn’t the motive of his actions. Though these heroes usually have some gallant mission to undertake, while Marv’s is simply avenging a dead hooker which unintentionally (in-that he isn’t concerned bringing down a incredibly unethical and corrupt religious figure and dissolving his hold and influence over the citizens of Sin City) leads to the demise of a respectable figure doing heinous things through controlling a large network of crime syndicates – which I personally find incredibly brilliant and adds to the Existentialist nature of his ethical actions. He doesn’t care about politics, economics or philosophical justifications for anything, he just knows in his heart that Goldie was kind to him (though for her own ends) and that she didn’t deserve to die. And yet simply by avenging her death he helps countless lives and increases the net-utility of those living in Sin City (at-least potentially) and thereby performs an ethical action in numerous ways. This really is one of the most brilliant portrayals of Existentialism I’ve seen in some time.
Finally, though I won’t go into great detail, it should be said that rationalizations have a close relationship to Rationalist Epistemology. Whether it’s Descartes arguing for the existence of God because God is by definition perfect and perfection necessitates existence or it’s Leibniz arguing for this reality being the “Best of All Possible Worlds” which inspired one of the greatest satires in human history seen in Candide, Rationalism creates a validation for the psychological impulse to believe that what is reasonable or personally desirable is true. When our knowledge of human history and reality shows such is not the case. Quantum Indeterminacy is something that defies reason, and yet there is at-least some evidence for its existence. The very existence of the Big Bang and Existence having a “beginning” (though it’s certainly possible that something existed before the Big Bang either in “this” space or in another Universe) is something that defies reason; and yet Edgar Allen Poe (though he had many relatively small errors in his essay where he precursors the discoveries of 20th Century Physicists) somehow, at-least in some sense, proved more right than the Philosophers who claimed it was self-evident that existence and the world are eternal. Now of course Poe didn’t gather this conclusion from empirically gathered data, so one could make this an argument for Rationalism, but the fact is that we “know” or have evidence of our Universe’s creation from data, and should not take Poe’s word on it though it is astounding that a poet and novelist could make correct claims on astronomical affairs. Just as though Democritus and Epicurus are geniuses and should be regarded in far higher esteem than Plato, we should not take their word on the existence of atoms and particularly not their specifics – Democritus believing that “salt atoms” would taste salty.
One might argue that “atoms” or basic building blocks are a requisite for existence with things in it. I would be inclined to agree but then I come across our new understanding of the path of atoms and “pure chance” and not merely our failing to understand the outcome of things creating probability. It would seem nothing but an obvious necessity of existence for cause-and-effect to create a Determinist framework where all existence is caused by the interaction of parts the moment before it and the laws that govern them; but this too though not necessarily disproven to my understanding is under reasonable scrutiny regardless. Though reason is a crucial tool paramount to proper judgment and execution of said judgment, we must remember that is a tool evolved from mere chance of the development of our frontal lobes and it seeks pattern and order where there is none. Though it is capable of performing feats far outside the realm of immediate biological preservation and continuation of lineage, though it is one of the most wonderful things in all of existence conjoined with the human trait of imagination and human capacity of love, we must remember that it is based on the laws of human experience and senses which are clearly not-objective. The senses conjoined with reason are what allow us to prove both our immediate senses and cognitive faculties wrong, creating new degrees of understanding and new thoughts as well-as questions to further the human degree of awe and bewilderment.