Quote of the Day
“I hate you,” I say slowly. “Everything you do makes the Mayor respond with something worse.”
“I did not start this war–“
“But you love it!” I take another step towards her. “You love everything about it. The bombs, the fighting, the rescues.”
Her face is so angry I can even see it in the moonlight.
But I’m not afraid of her.
And I think she can tell.
“You want to see it as simple good and evil, my girl,” she says. “The world doesn’t work that way. Never has, never will, and don’t forget,” she gives me a smile that could curdle milk, “you’re fighting the war with me.”
I lean in close to her face. “He needs to be overthrown, so I’m helping you do it. But when it’s done?” I’m so close I can feel her breath. “Are we going to have to overthrow you next?”
She doesn’t say anything.Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer
It’s Snow and Coin, all the way down
[There are spoilers for the Hunger Games series below.]
As I’ve been reading The Ask and the Answer, I’ve been thinking about Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series. The two leaders on either side of the war in The Ask and the Answer (Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle) represent the same forces as The Hunger Games‘ characters President Snow and President Coin. The tyrant and the resistance leader who becomes a tyrant in the name of fighting tyranny.
Lots of the big popular dystopia YA series have this tension in them, and in YA terms it’s kind of read as: the adults build and perpetuate atrocity so it’s up to us to stop this cycle. I haven’t gotten to the end of Ness’s series yet, so I don’t know how he resolves this tension in his books, but in others I’ve read, it’s usually kill the crazy makers making everyone crazy: Snow and Coin.
You can easily extrapolate the metaphor of Snow and Coin to represent the current state of the American political parties. Under the rule of both people will be exploited. Certain things will be worse or certain things will be better, but the same people overall will keep winning and the same people overall will keep losing.
Better the devil you know.
I wonder why the only choice is twixt two devils, tho.Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer
This is pinging on my Jungian-trained brain. One of the key ideas in depth psychology is individuation. A resolving of opposites. Mother / father. Dark / light. Good / evil. Hope / despair. We call this devotion to opposites that we all naturally tend toward “black and white thinking.” Something that is good can’t be evil. Something that is evil can’t be good. But of course that isn’t always true, especially in the case of people.
We really run into black and white thinking problems when we decide a thing is one way. I have to keep this job. Why? Because if I don’t I’ll run out of money and be starving and homeless. So there are the opposites. I either keep working at the job or I’m starving and homeless. If that’s what I believe, keeping this job feels like the only sane answer, because the only other option is being starving and homeless. Except it’s not objectively true.* Objectively, I could look for another job. Start a side hustle. Go back to school. Move in with my parents. Move to a new country. Marry someone rich. Sell my house to buy a piece of land and homestead it. That’s resolving the opposites. That’s finding the third way. The resolution doesn’t always have to be complete life upheaval or a brilliant scheme, it’s just letting go of whatever messed up conclusion we came to about life when something bad happened to us that made us stuck in the heart of that opposite and not able to see any way out.
Right. So, the Snow and Coin problem feels like a resolving of opposites. You have a tyrant and a rebel fighting each other. They just keep fighting and fighting, and nothing is ever resolved, the atrocity just keeps mounting. Everyone is forced into picking a side. The only way out is to do something different, something besides what Snow and Coin tell you to do or manipulate you into doing. Like killing them. Resolution! The End.
Except…..are Snow and Coin opposites? Sure they are on the opposite sides of a conflict, but the YA stories make it clear they are both tyrants. Two tyrants fighting each other isn’t being stuck choosing between good and evil (like for example in Star Wars)–as the text makes clear, it’s choosing between evil and evil.
So is the resolution the third way? Or is it a manifestation of the opposite of tyrant?
Or is assassinating two tyrants just turning yourself into a third devil?
What if it’s just Snow and Coin, all the way down?
What is even the opposite of tyrant, anyway? The opposite of tyranny is freedom. I looked it up, and the antonyms are…weird? Thesaurus.com says democrat, which doesn’t feel right. Mirriam-Webster won’t even take a guess. Powerthesaurus.com has some interesting stabs: fair, victim, peasant, submissive, tolerant.
Victim. Peasant. So the real dichotomy here, the opposites are the tyrants and the victims. Snow and Coin / everyone else in the novel. And then the protagonist(s) overthrow the tyrants by murdering them, turning themselves into a tyrant, replacing Snow and Coin…..
So there is no resolution. There’s being a victim, and then turning yourself into the right kind of tyrant to “win”. Human nature.
Which brings up what I just read in The Uninhabitable Earth yesterday while I was taking notes:
…the dilemmas and dramas of climate change are simply incompatible with the kinds of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, especially in conventional novels, which tend to end with uplift and hope and to emphasize the journey of an individual conscience rather than the miasma of social fate.David Wallace-Wells
What is a true resolution to the tyrants / victims opposites? And can it even be told in a story that feels satisfying to us who are so used to and invested in individualistic stories where the hero saves the day?
(Now I want to keep reading The Ask and the Answer right now to see Patrick Ness’s solution…..)
*Note on the above
Sometimes the duality is objectively true. A good mental attitude is not always enough to overcome the external conditions of life, and some people are not privileged enough to have the resources behind them to have lots of options.
(But they should have them. They should have those options….)