Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Macho Response: Rorschach (Wiping That Cultish NewAge Smile Off Everyone's Faces)

"The moral center of Watchmen, both the original graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and the new, much-discussed movie based on it premiering today, is a curious and prickly masked vigilante who goes by the name Rorschach.

The surface meaning of the name is visually obvious—his mask contains swirling black blots on white that remind one of the psychological testing mechanism. But applied to his character, the name is both appropriate and ironic.

It’s appropriate in that the character is obsessed with stark duality—black and white—and ironic in that the mushy “it’s whatever you see” vagueness opposes his very definite vision of what’s what in the world:

There are good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys deserve to get it, good and hard. Rorschach’s mission, from which he will not diverge, is to give it to them, no matter what the demands of law, government, or social mores. He lives by his objective understanding of right and wrong.

...Rorschach’s sense of justice may make him hate most of humanity—he brags to himself at the beginning that if mankind begged him to save them, he’d justly say “no.” But by the end he sacrifices himself in the name of avenging the deaths of millions who he doesn’t know. He does it for another reason as well, one of particular holiness to the Objectivist: the truth, the facts of reality. Whether or not the villain’s scheme might result in some “higher good,” it did so at the cost of Faking Reality—a cost no Objectivist will bear. We don’t know if Rorschach’s attempts to set the record straight will do any good—but he’s willing to bear any burden, let the very heavens fall, to stay square with reality.

To be the kind of man whose highest value is to “have lived life free from compromise,” as Rorschach says, makes that man “unreasonable” in the colloquial sense—that is, you aren’t going to be able to talk them in or out of much. You are going to find them abrasive, aggravating, and in circumstances like those the characters in Watchmen find themselves in, mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Rorschach seems driven to madness by his ideology; a radical Objectivism forges a character that seems obviously damaged in unpleasant ways.

Yet he’s also the only man around who stands up for everyone’s right to be judged individually on the basis of their character and actions, their right not to be a means to someone else’s higher end—no matter what one might think of that end. He knows what it means to be human—that’s why he has to condemn those he kills as having betrayed the essence of man qua man, relegating them to the status of dogs to be put down."
-- Brian Doherty, describing the crime fighting hero of these NewAge times, in Reason Magazine.