The unwholesomeness of ‘goodness’

Everyone who has watched The Incredibles (and pay attention to its dialogues) know one thing about the film: it denounces the elitism of superheroism.

Well, the villain does that. In the film, every single superhero character was born with their power. It us undeniable that elitism based on something biologically innate is unfair. Those superheroes obtain an unjustly earned special status. They are almost treated as Gods. The villain has a point.

Of course, you may argue the superheroes have actual contributions to the societies they live in. Without them, who is going to protect the citizens from the bad guys? Who is going to bring the collective sense of security?

Well, The Incredibles 2 answers the question: the ‘ordinary’ citizens should be the ones who have help themselves!

The villain equates superheroes-worshipping with consumerism. Superheroes are extremely handy products the ordinary citizens become too dependent on and the dependency discourages them from doing anything to improve the societies they live in.

Improve the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies, make use of the armed forces for domestic purposes (instead of constantly sending them overseas), enquire into why the crimes exist in the first place. The ordinary citizens should have done those. But, as those require self-introspection and acknowledgement of unflattering truths, they prefer to do the easy thing: sticking to the status quo. Once again, the villain has a point… and one of the good guys is naive.

As heroes-worshipping is liken to consumerism, heroism in the sequel does not parallel to heroism in real life. For me, it is more of a commentary about our misguided approach regarding making the world a better place; it reminds me how some people still think social media can bridge the gaps between different human beings, still unaware the problem lies on humans’ sectarian tendencies, not on technological limitation.

In the first film, on the other hand, heroism is liken to undeserved elitism. That has a direct parallel in real life… which can be extremely contentious to point out, even in very liberal societies. I am thinking about soldiers.

I am proud to say I was never guilty of the ‘all-soldiers-are-heroes’ mentality. Not only it feels like worshipping conceitedly unprogressive institutions, it also does not make sense. Somehow, simply joining a formal and rigidly-structured collective instantaneously make you worthy of any honourable titles associated with it. Your labels determine your worth.

Yeah, no.

Many soldiers in some parts of the world are conscripts; in countries without alternative services, the citizens only have two options: enlistment or jail. Soldiers have the right to benefits which are reserved exclusively for them; poverty is enough to motivate people to enlist. It is also no secret that soldiers have committed countless human rights violations; it is either they become desensitised by violence or they were already suffering from bloodlust in the first place. Not to mention that even in relatively small countries, soldiers are huge collectives of distinct individuals. Believing heroism exists in every single one of them betrays facts and reason.

Of course, as it is the case with unreasonable creatures, those military worshippers also suffer from cognitive dissonances. My mom is a big admirer of the military; she was a military brat who was born merely a few years after Indonesia’s independence, who was a teen when the Indonesian-Malaysia Konfrontasi occurred, who thinks Indonesia was absolutely way better under the authoritarian rule of General Soeharto, who thinks soldiers only care about doing service for their countries.

She also wants me to enlist for the financial benefits, manliness and social status. No explanation needed for the first two. With the third, it is both baffling and frustrating. Baffling because she somehow thinks that I, her disappointingly rebellious and underachieving son, will easily climb up the ranks. Frustrating because it is a reflection of her irrationality and classist tendency. Not once she expresses a desire for me to be a patriot; she only cares about the so-called perks of military life. In the US, however, there is a cognitive dissonance worse than this one.

Being loud and obnoxious about their so-called love of soldiers also means ridiculing PTSD-suffering and/or homeless veterans, supporting budget cut for VA, dodging conscription during the Vietnam War era and worshipping those dodgers. When they say ‘support the troops’, they refer to the dead ones… and any pro-military ‘patriots’ who never enlisted and will never have the desire to.

The older I get, the more I realise how ‘goodness’ and any can related concepts damaging; in many cases, ‘goodness’ is meaningless. I believe it is rooted in our debilitating upbringing. At least, that’s the case if we use my anecdote.

Since I was young, I have been bombarded with guilt-tripping rhetorics about the greatness of virtue and the sin of not falling for those guilt-tripping rhetorics. That’s one of the many ideals I was indoctrinated to. For many years, I fell for it. The indoctrination climaxed when I became an internet addict. Not long after I reached adulthood, I started to realise how questionable this mindset is.

Instead of encouraging genuine altruism and social consciousness, it champions self-righteousness, reward-seeking open-handedness, the unfounded belief that artistic preferences and our level of ‘wokeness’ are inherently correlated and the mindlessness that makes us exploitable enough to fall for meaningless articulation. It also puts off cynical humans from seeing the beauty of benevolence and earthly cognisance; eventually, their cynicism intensifies, not subsides.

To exacerbate the nauseous feeling even more, those loud and self-praising zombies have the gut to direct the heroic light on themselves! Unfortunately unsurprisingly, they see themselves as the enlightenment the unkind world needs and does not deserve. They are literally one of those humans who unknowingly make living parodies out of themselves! Instead of invigorating the world they supposedly love, they only give it more burdens to bear!

This is why I love entertainment where morality is depicted a grey entity. This is why I have a strong inclination to admire aloof, crass, cynical and/or sarcastic public figures.

It is lovely when popular entertainment subtly encourages the audience to rethink their stances regarding good and evil, when it cunningly reminds us of our own ill-defined reality. The two The Incredibles films are great examples.

Those unpleasant individuals may not be unpleasant as we think they are; even though it is not always the case, we may be able to identify courtesy, down-to-earth intellect or even heartfelt virtue once they uncover their true colours… or once we actually pay attention. Felix Kjellberg, the most subscribed Youtuber and the media’s favourite Youtube punchbag, is probably one of the best examples.

So, to sum everything up: characters, NOT labels, should be the basis of our judgement of fellow human beings! Of course, like everything in life, it is easier said than done. But, I have some inadequate, anecdotal and scientifically unproven tips that may or may not improve your perceptiveness.

When a film you just watched seems to have extremely kind protagonists and a perfectly happy ending, be suspicious. Re-watch it, pay attention to the characters, dialogues, settings and plot.

Once you notice the small details, you will realise how our beloved main characters are shrouded in unexpressed sinfulness, the ending only serve them and the villains may not as bad as they seem. This can be a result of deep OR shallow thinking on the filmmakers’ behalf. The subtext betrays the film’s true nature.

Yes, a scripted film involves fictional characters. But, that can prepare you to be more observant and critical when assessing the facade of your surroundings. Obviously, using real humans as our ‘subjects’ is a lot better.

When a public figure attracts your attention, try not to let his/her public image clouds your judgement. Instead, try to enquire about him/her yourself.

If he/she is known for his/her obnoxious and unsavoury personality, watch and listen to his/her interviews; if he/she acts surprisingly nice and polite, it is possible you just encounter his/her real personality.

If he/she is known for being open-handed and moral, investigate him/her; research about the charity he/she has supposedly accomplished, find out if any of his/her claims have factual and scientific validity, break down the soundness of his/her philosophies and find out if he/she practices what he/she preaches. More of than not, such public figure habours unmistakable yet ignored ungodly qualities.

While both individuals intentionally manufacture their public images, they are driven by different objectives. One believes in the ‘bad-publicity-is-good-publicity’ mantra while the other wants to build a strong, highly-devoted following and a pristine, almost saint-like persona, disfiguring the wholesomeness of ‘goodness’.

Guess which individual is more menacing.

I am such a hopeful person, am I not?

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What? 2

I don’t know why. But, I don’t always enjoy shopping for groceries, even though I love to eat. Not to mention that my mind used to be plagued unnerving thoughts while shopping.

At the ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetable sections (In urban Indonesia, fresh produce is not bountiful), I often looked at certain vegetables and thought, ‘there are people who use these as sex toys!’. I don’t know why I had that thought in the first place, considering food sex is not a kink of mine and I hate wasting food.

At the fruit, vegetable and frozen meat sections, I often looked at the produces and thought, ‘I could people with these. I could use them to beat people to death with this!’. This violent thought lingered a lot longer.

One hour and forty-five minutes later.

My mind loves to go everywhere. Instead of thinking about continuing the previous paragraph properly, I prefer to focus on the music I am listening right now (John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine) and to smell the food someone is cooking right now (flour-coated deep fried shrimps and stir-fried broccoli and carrot).

God, now I am distracted again because I am listening to the orchestral rendition of a musical composition written by a Brazilian.

Three days later.

I love to let myself distracted by everything. Foods, music, Youtube videos, life in general. Maybe it’s ADD, maybe it’s Maybelline. I try my best to not be distracted…… and that’s why I am playing an MP4 video right now on my computer instead of typing. Slow claps for me.

I have to pause it now. The video is an almost two-hour-long PBS documentary about Darwin’s evolution theory. It talked about how even Darwin himself didn’t know how evolution happened. But, he knew it happened based on his observations about the physical world, which in this case were the finches on Easter islands.

I hate how people use the word ‘theory’. A theory is not a guess. A theory is something that we come up after the research, not before. A theory is something that can be supported by further researches. When people think about theory, they actually think about hypothesis. Wait, no. Even a hypothesis should be followed by research. It sets off the research; it is not the ending. So, when people think about theory, they actually think about mindless guessing.

As annoying as it is, this ain’t surprising. People love to think scientists are professional guessers because they are projecting. They love to make mindless guesses in their daily lives. To justify that flaw of theirs, they accuse scientists, the so-called educated people, of doing the same. They want to feel good about their horrendeously imperfect selves.

I hate it when people romanticise each other. When certain public figures become more famous because of their good deeds, we love to make Gods out of them. It is unthinkable that they can commit any sins. In fact, we will guilt trip anyone who don’t follow those celebrities’ footsteps, anyone who refuse to admire them. This is reflected in our pop culture.

More of than not, you will encounter lots of highly-moral protagonists, so moral that they are unrealistic. The more critical-minded among us will be repulsed by such unnaturally perfect beings. The villains and anti-heros are more real. Apart from their flaws, they also possess positive traits that can be useful for the good guys.

Traits like the ability to see the shades of grey in life. The villains and anti-heros often have more nuanced outlooks. Not only they are more real, they are more competent! Like it or not, that is why those dark characters can still have large fandoms, sometimes bigger than the ones for the good guys.

What?

I am typing right now on my laptop. Both my chair and my table are dining chairs. The socket is too far away from the actual dinner table. Because of its faulty battery, my laptop must be plugged at all time if I want to use it. Oh, and my house’s dining room has become my living room.

That just made think: what if chairs and tables are just the same objects, albeit with different heights? I mean, I can use the dining chair as a table. But then, my back constantly hurts because I always need to bend forward. Other people in the house are pissed every time I spend too much time in my bedroom during the day.

What I do with my laptop? Well, I write….

Two Hours Later

…mostly rants and film reviews. “Reviews”. I am not sure if they actually are as I often analyse them for their thematics, using my personal points of view and them only. I almost never bother to be as objective as possible. It is miracle that I can finish one university course.

I am a horrible student at all stages of formal education. And yet, one ambition of mine is to obtain a PhD in a highly-interdisciplinary studies. A part of me wants to be an expert in various humanities and social studies disciplines. A polymath. But, I also hate the rigidity of formal education, hate how grades are the only acceptable methods of measuring intelligence.

If grades really measure how good students are, then my fellow students in junior and senior high schools were better students than I was because they had higher scores in national exams, despite the fact that most of them cheated. In Indonesia, genuine virtue is a sin. A fellow student said I was a know-it-all who overestimated my ability, my mom said I was a self-righteous asshole, simply because I refused to cheat.

Even to this day, at the old age of 25, I have yet to received any compliments regarding my success to pass the exams without cheating. That experience makes me scoff at the idea that simply having jobs give our lives meanings. Well, jobs give us money. But, meaningful lives?

I am suspicious that people who possess such belief are actually insecure about their jobs. Maybe they want an excuse, no matter how baseless it is, to make their jobs look better than they really are. I am also sure those same people are also the ones who rant about so-called ‘real’ jobs.

For some time, I didn’t know why people believed in ‘real’ jobs. Then, one day, I noticed those same people mocked Youtubers for not having ‘real’ jobs and implied that they wished Youtubers lost their ‘fake’ jobs. Now, I know what they meant by ‘real’ jobs.

A ‘real’ job is a job that is conventional and widely-accepted, is almost risk-free, encourages absolute conformity and discourages any forms of personal expressions. Youtubing is the complete opposite of that. Maybe those so-called ‘real’ jobs advocates are insecure about their orthodox jobs and jealous of people like Youtubers. Yes, I know it can sound childish and dishonest. Well, sometimes. My accusation is not that nonsensical once you can see people beyond their facades.

Sometimes, I just hate politeness. Don’t get me wrong. I think it is important for us to set boundaries when interacting with colleagues and strangers. But, people often use it to justify their unwillingness to be honest, use it to justify their tendency to back-stab anyone in their paths. Politeness has become the thing that hinders us from moving forward.

Many of my friends in high school had Sumatran upbringing, aka raised with almost no manners. I felt annoyed when inviting some of them to my house. But, their impolite nature also made them honest about my own flaws. They kept calling me out for my horrible behaviours. Even though I have stopped interacting with them for seven years (and I don’t know why I stopped), I credit them for preventing me to be a much shittier person.