I love Supervillains

I love supervillains because they make stories interesting. If you have a shitty supervillain, you’re bound to have a shitty story with a hero that doesn’t amount to much. It’s the Joker that made Batman so great. It’s Thanos that made the Avengers so compelling. It’s Q that made Pickard so deep.

Lately, I find myself relating to villains in an odd way. Of course, the hero is the person that we all want to win, because of the values and humanity that we all hold dear. But villains, especially well written ones, fascinate me because they have a vision of the world that they want to exact. They are ambitious about making the world a better place and have provocative principles about how things could be.

For example, I recently went to see the Lion King musical with my family, and I was struck, upon a second viewing how the story played out. Mustafa, the monarch, is killed by his ambitious brother, who wants to assert a new society. Simba, after embracing a devil-may-care philosophy with his friends, Timon and Pumba, eventually returns to reassert the previous world order and monarchy. Scar’s project, although selfish and destructive, is an attempt at something new and ambitious.

This pattern is quite common across most of the supervillains that you will see. They challenge a status quo and the hero comes in to return things back to the way they were or should be. It’s classic Joseph Campbell stuff.

But what you have to admire about the supervillains is that they are attempting to change the world in the first place. Indeed, as a new friend of mine mentioned, the super villain is principled. By contrast, it’s not that the hero is principle-less, but that in order to be interesting, they must grapple with their own moral dilemma to decide what is right. The hero discovers what is right. The villain, on other hand, is blinded by what they think is right. They are thus driven, by any means necessary, to assert that on the world, at any cost.

This is what I really love about villains though, they have an idea or guiding principle that they attempt to assert on the world. It’s the villains that have grappled with the philosophical questions. It’s Hollywood that assigns a judgment call and dramatizes it. Those poor villains, they get a bad rap! Victims of Hollywood’s fake news. After all, history is written by the victors and in the movies, the victors are always the “good guys”. The superheroes are the writers of all these superhero movies. Supervillains would write different stories.

What would a Buddhist politics look like?

In my previous post about my objections to Buddhist philosophy, my newly minted PhD friend Danny pointed it out to me that my question wasn’t refined enough. And that there was much to potentially dig into. Instead of objecting to potential Buddhist impotence as far as political philosophy is concerned, I should rather direct my enquiry towards what could a Buddhist political philosophy look like. But embarking on this query is likely a multi-year endeavor that asks me to not only dig deeper into my understanding of Buddhist philosophy and its more political moments in history, it also asks me to understand the intricacies of politics.

So, here are the questions I’ll be ruminating on:

Given disarming concepts in Buddhist philosophy like emptiness, not-self, and impermanence, what kind of political system would come out of this? Especially since these are counter to fundamental ideas in the capitalist world view.

Ideas of agency, how are they different? Do Buddhist consider agency in the same way a Abrhamaic follower does and a capitalist does? How is it different and how do they create legal systems differently as a result.

What do successful Buddhist political entities look like in history? From Akbar, who converted to Buddhism after experiencing a life of bloodshed, to Emperor Wu of Liang, who promoted Buddhism in China, and the founding of Japanese society on explicit Buddhist principles molded with Confucian ones, there are plenty of examples of Buddhist politics in the past. What light do they shed on modern politics, especially when modern Buddhism encounters modern ideas.

How does the monastic order, its rules, systems, and especially intents, translate into modern secular society. Can a society be built on similar principles? More importantly, what is the Buddhist approach to leadership? Especially given that masters are respected, ideally, for the level and quality of their realization. Is this at all different from the Platonic philosopher king?

What role does meditation play in building a political system? Does it prioritize meditation as a prerequisite to rule? Or a key part of diplomatic and policy decisions? How does it thus view other governments without this priority?

These are just a few of the questions I’m curious about as I explore this large area. There are certainly books pertaining to Buddhist ethics, economics, and even politics, but I believe there hasn’t been a concerted effort in the books that I’ve seen, as study of Buddhist thought by Westerners is still nascent.