SMALLVILLE: "An Orgy of Self-Sacrifice," or, The "O-Face" of Altruism

Jmaurone's picture
Submitted by Jmaurone on Sat, 2009-10-31 21:01

(Originally published at Superhero Babylon)

"Clark, just stop, ok? I mean, your willingness to sacrifice yourself for others is a great strength, for sure, but when it comes to your own happiness, it's definitely a weakness." -Chloe Sullivan, Season 9, "Crossfire"

A line like this just makes me wish that, despite its virtues, the show will end sooner than later. The implications in that line alone just goes to show how philosophical confused this society really is. Do the writers not realize that self-sacrifice means the sacrifice of one's SELF, happiness and all? This is what you THINK you get:

But before you make your "O-Face*," consider what you REALLY get:

Some might say I should feel slightly forgiving; after all, Chloe does urge Clark to work towards his "own happiness." Glass half-full? No, because the implication is still that self-sacrifice is the noble ideal, which, if followed to its ultimate conclusion, will undercut any attempts at personal happiness. Or, better said by Ayn Rand, "The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing." (And if one swallows the pill of "duty" as prescribed by Immanuel Kant, one would choke on that half-full glass, since any attempt to find personal happiness in sacrifice will undercut the good deed.)

And if Chloe is soooo smart, why can't she reason through her contradiction? Because it's not a matter of intelligence, but evasion. Consider the following quote:

We have never made an effort to understand what is greatness in man and how to recognize it. We have come to hold, in a kind of mawkish stupor, that greatness is to be gauged by self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice, we drool, is the ultimate virtue. Let’s stop and think for a moment. Is sacrifice a virtue? Can a man sacrifice his integrity? His honor? His freedom? His ideal? His convictions? The honesty of his feelings? The independence of his thought? But these are a man’s supreme possessions. Anything he gives up for them is not a sacrifice but an easy bargain. They, however, are above sacrificing to any cause or consideration whatsoever. Should we not, then, stop preaching dangerous and vicious nonsense? Self-sacrifice? But it is precisely the self that that cannot and must not be sacrificed. It is the unsacrificed self that be must respect in man above all. -Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead

Besides, why drink from a half-full/half-empty glass of drool, when you can have a nice clean, full glass of non-contradiction?

* "You know what I'm talking about..."


Jmaurone's picture

Human, all too human.

Even Jesus Christ....

Leonid's picture

"But even Superman's had his moments..."
Even Jesus Christ’s had his moments. In "Jesus Christ Superstar" while surrounded by multitude of sick and helpless people he cries in despair" Help yourself!" So even supreme altruist has his limits. But obviously in altruist society it will not hold. Main stream culture will reject rational egoist superhero. It simply wouldn't sale.

Altruism is dominant philosophy

Leonid's picture

Altruism is dominant philosophy, so it's little wonder that all superheroes from Superman to Jeddah knights act on the premise of self-sacrifice. When I'll see the first superhero who's rational egoist I'll know we have a chance.

Steve Ditko and "Must There Be A Superman?"

Jmaurone's picture

Leonid, it's been tried, and it hasn't taken hold. Steve Ditko's post-Spider-Man characters, the Question, Mr. A, and others, were based on Objectivist principles (and was mocked by Alan Moore for doing so with the character of Rorschach in WATCHMEN.) Guess who won that culture battle?

But even Superman's had his moments; there was one particular story called "Must There Be A Superman?" This story was criticized in the article link for being "right wing":

"Because of these inconsistencies, this story has been criticized over the years as advocating a Right wing, every-man-for-himself, don't look to higher powers for help philosophy. It makes me wonder exactly what seed were the Guardians were planting? Thank heavens it didn't take root."

From the article:

In space, there is no sound, but thoughts echo inside Superman's head like angry screams. "For years, I've been playing big brother to the human race. Have I been wrong? Are they depending on me too much, too often? Maybe I have been interfering unnecessarily. I decide what's right or wrong and then enforce my decision by brute strength."

Entering earth's atmosphere, a confused Man of Tomorrow performed a power dive over central California and streaked across the fertile plains. His super-hearing picked up a violent argument and investigating, Superman came across a migrant worker crew-boss assaulting a young Latino who had spearheaded a strike at an orchard. Everyone had agreed to strike for more equitable treatment but ultimately only the boy, Manuel, stood his ground. Once Superman arrived though, the workers felt a new sense of confidence and joined together behind Superman. "Let him have it, Superman. Give it to him good," they screamed. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, Superman turned to the crowd and asked, "Why don't you handle it?" Angrily, he told them that they were the ones that should settle these disputes and not to turn to him for help.

His behavior toward Manuel, though, was compassionate. Putting his arm around the boy, he led him through the crowd that parted as they passed, and asked the boy to tell him what had happened. As the boy told Superman that his father had sent him to California from Mexico for a better life, images of Jor-El placing him in a spacecraft flashed before Superman's mind's eye. "But here I am," continued Manuel, "just a field picker and life is the same as before." "You were the one with the courage to strike," said Superman, and lifting Manuel into his arms, he flew the boy to the migrant camp. At first, he was shocked to see the horrible conditions in which the workers live, but when the people ran to him and pleaded, "Now you have come to solve all our problems," Superman flew into a rage and told them that he was not there to do anything. "Nothing. Nothing at all," he yelled. "Whatever help you claim you need must come from yourselves."

Suddenly, a flock of birds rose into the sky, and the ground shudders beneath their feet. An earthquake began, shaking the very fiber of the people living into the decrepit village. Acting without thought, Superman bored beneath the earth's surface, smashing rocks to dust to absorb the pressure of the earth's shifting plates and reduce the damage. When he returned to the surface, he saw that the quake has reduced the shacks to rubble. Superman is unsure of what he should do only for an instant, and then rebuilt all of the houses in the blink of an eye. The people were overjoyed and ran to take a look at their new homes almost forgetting that Superman was there.

"Come back here, all of you," Superman yelled. "Let's get something straight. I rebuilt your houses but that was because an earthquake is something that you can't handle. But you must not count on a Superman to patch up your lives every time you have a crisis or disaster. You don't need a Superman. What you really need is a super-will to be guardians of your own destiny. Now, I have work of my own to do."

Wiping the tears from Manuel's eyes, Superman told him to remain strong, and lifted off setting his course for the WGBS building. As he approaches the building, Superman used his telescopic vision to read a bulletin coming across the teletype that a pleasure cruiser was endangered by a water spout in the mid-Atlantic. Instinctively, Superman reacted to the new emergency, streaking to save the boat.

Altruism is dominant

Leonid's picture

Altruism is dominant philosophy, so it's little wonder that all superheroes from Superman to Jedda knights act on the premise of self-sacrifice. When I'll see the first superhero who's rational egoist I'll know we have a chance.

What I'd prefer...

Jmaurone's picture

means jack-squat in the larger scheme of things...(I don't think I'm THAT solipsistic in my writing...). I write in the hope that the blog will offer a counter-argument to what's being said out there.

There's no *necessary* dichotomy ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Smallville could be SO good. As it is, it's vile. It's the Robert Campbell sense of anti-life writ large. Why would one depress oneself by watching it? One need only look at Campbell's face for a misery-fix.

High D? Easy-peasy. I can give you Jose doing a High E-Flat. But something tells me you'd still prefer your heroes in comics. Fair enough. They truly ain't the same though.


Jmaurone's picture

Let me know when they hit a high D, and we'll talk. Laughing out loud

Of course, there's no dichotomy; "art is food for the soul" and all that.

I don't doubt it Joe

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I keep telling you you'd be better off with real heroes. Their B-Flats are real too! Eye

Sittin' in the corner with razorblades...

Jmaurone's picture

There have been a few episodes where it's just about come to that... Sick

The only reason ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... I ever tuned into Smallville was Tom Welling. Philosophically/psychologically it was HORRIBLE. Relentlessly, mirthlessly, indulgently neurotic. Dripping in angst. I never watched a whole episode for fear of wanting to slash my wrists at the end of it.

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