Sunday, July 10, 2011

LOST Redux: S2 Special Edition The Key to Locke

(At the request of a reader, I will be reposting old editions of my LOST column as they no longer appear on the internet. I will not be making any edits to them, so please be aware that they represent a moment and time--my thoughts and analysis after watching an episode's initial airing.)

What’s up, party people? I’m Jayemel and I’m here to provide you with your LOST fix for this hollow(ay) week. You see, I’m not John Locke. I’m not going to follow you, steal your stash, and hide it in a secure location that only I have access to (Hmm, I wonder if that’s where the WMDs and Natalee Holloway are…). Nor am I going to claim I could ever be more entertaining than an episode of our holy program. What I am going to do is explore the depths of one of the show’s most complex characters in order to increase my and, hopefully, your enjoyment of future episodes. If all goes well, perhaps I will attempt similarly themed columns during future hiatuses. (For a little preview, one subject I desperately want to write about is the apparently shared assumption that Jack is the “fairytale hero” for Kate while Sawyer is the dark side of life and by going with Sawyer, Kate would be giving into her own dark side.)

That hiatus, however, is far off in the future. Right now, what we have to deal with is this awful one week break after three new episodes. What’s the point really? I’d rather a five week break later and no break now than a one week break now and a four week break later. Maybe the producers want us to take a deeper look at Fire + Water or maybe, just maybe, they wanted us all to focus on the world’s only Repunklican’s dissection of John Locke. Well, who am I to deny such brilliant minds? Let’s begin our journey into The Midside…


Like our Locke (who will henceforth be referred to as such as to not confuse him with the philosopher John Locke), we must first regain our ability to walk before we can run. In other words, what is the point of this inquiry? Isn’t Locke an easy to understand character? He puts his faith in the island and makes all his decisions based upon that faith. On a simple level, yes, but if that is all you care to think about John Locke then, you are missing much of the arguably most important character on the island.

The source of my inquiry is an apparent philosophical incongruence between the ways our Locke approached two situations in the last two episodes. The first situation is when he allowed Michael to run into the jungle after Walt. Jack was determined to stop Michael, but Locke insisted that Michael had the right to do what he wanted, even if he was taking a stupid risk. The second situation is when he didn’t allow Charlie to keep his heroine. He followed Charlie to his stash and proceeded to steal it against Charlie’s protest. My question is; why was Michael allowed to make his choice, but Locke made the choice for Charlie? Clearly, Locke’s end is not personal freedom. So what is Locke’s end?

For much of my column I will be referencing the following URL about the philosopher John Locke: . You might be wondering why I would rely so heavily on one website when the internet is notorious for misinformation. My reasoning is two fold. First, I have an understanding of the philosophy of John Locke, as I was a philosophy minor and college and thus visiting that site merely served as a refresher for me. Secondly, that link is to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford is in the Ivy League and is one of the leading institutions of higher education in the United States of America. It’s safe to say that their website is trustworthy.

Ah, yes Mr. Snerdly, that was very astute of to notice how I slipped the comparison between our Locke and the philosopher Locker under the radar. The comparison has been stated so many times, I don’t feel it is important to state its existence anymore. I do, however, feel the comparison has not ever been properly enunciated and it is my goal in this column to highlight the most important comparisons between our Locke and the philosopher Locke. The two most important elements of our Locke’s personality, his past and present, directly correlate to two important elements of the philosopher Locke’s, um, philosophy, antiauthoritarianism and Natural Law.


The cry uttered in Walkabout would surely be our Locke’s catchphrase if he ever were a professional wrestler (though, after Sunday night’s pay per view, we know he could never compare to the greatness that is the 2006 Royal Rumble winner Rey Mysterio Jr.). Initially, it seemed slung in defiance to the oppression that he felt. He was a smart unassuming man who was unfairly (we assume) crippled in a tragic (once again, we assume) accident. Fate’s cruel hand caused him to be berated daily by his boss, Randy, while he spent his lunch hour trying to amuse himself in a game of Risk. (Remember Risk, I think that moment was important symbolism concerning our Locke.) The defiance to oppression is important because who oppresses but authority.

In his flashbacks, Locke is oppressed by everyone. Randy, a supervisor at a box company, completely mocks him. His father steals a kidney from him. Helen tries to tell him what he should do. Everyone meddles Jack-style in his insignificant life. The big mystery to us, the viewers, is, how can a man who acts so important on the island be so unimportant off the island? I’m not sure Locke ever saw himself as unimportant the way we do in his flashbacks. Rather, he felt he was being made into some cruel cosmic joke and was determined to buck fate.

The Stanford website says the following in its introductory paragraph: “Much of Locke's work is characterized by opposition to authoritarianism. This opposition is both on the level of the individual person and on the level of institutions such as government and church. For the individual, Locke wants each of us to use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition.” Roughly translated: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” This antiathoritaristic edge to Locke is the reason he appears to be at odds with Jack. On the island, Jack is the government. Likewise, Locke’s tenious relationship with Eko is born from the fact that one the island, Eko is the church. To Locke, these two characters infringe upon his ability to reason.

An example of the limitations Locke feels Eko impresses upon him is the scene in which the pair stitches together the reels of film. Locke eased into his zone and was going on about how it was quite amazing that these two strips of film were found by the two groups of flight 815. He went as far to say if it makes you wonder if it was meant to be. Eko replied, “Do not confuse coincidence with fate.”

I know Mr. Snerdly, it appears that Eko is the one relying on reason and Locke is the one relying on faith, but we have to look at it from Locke’s perspective. Eko was simply claiming there was no fate in this situation, dismissing the situation as coincidence, a random turn of events. Locke, on the other hand, believed he was deducing a pattern in events to reveal what the island “intended” to happen. These two differing perspectives come from their different beliefs. Eko’s Christian based faith states that God gives human’s free will, so in his perspective, the uniting of the films happened the way it did because of the paths the 815ers chose. The aforementioned website explicates Locke’s view on reason versus faith:

“Locke remarks that all sects make use of reason as far as they can. It is only when this fails them that they have recourse to faith and claim that what is revealed is above reason. But he adds: ‘And I do not see how they can argue with anyone or even convince a gainsayer who uses the same plea, without setting down strict boundaries between faith and reason.’ (IV. xviii. 2. p. 689) Locke then defines reason as ‘the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, as it has got by the use of its natural faculties; viz, by the use of sensation or reflection.’ (IV. xviii. ii. p. 689) Faith, on the other hand, is assent to any proposition ‘...upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God, in some extraordinary way of communication.’ That is we have faith in what is disclosed by revelation and which cannot be discovered by reason.”

Thus far in LOST there are two moments when Locke believes he was contacted by God. The first is when he saw the “monster”. The second is when he had the vision of a bloodied Boone repeating, “Theresa falls up the stairs. Theresa falls down the stairs.” The first seems to have caused him to trust the island so intensely, while the latter resulted in Boone’s death. (Perhaps the vision is the reason Locke kept the statues after stealing them from Charlie. He believes he was meant to take them from the plane.) Interestingly, Eko has also seen the “monster.” However, it would seem Eko’s lack of fear in the “monster” stems not from the fact that he believes the island is God, but that the creature is a creation of God. Thusly, Eko’s experience was less powerful, for it meant less to him to begin with.

Locke was relying on reason in the film strip scene because he was not contacted by (his conception of) God. He believed it was up to him reason what the events meant. By why should the events mean anything (Eko’s point) and why does Locke rely so heavily on the island? The answer is simple. For Locke…


No, literally, the island is the state of nature. Flight 815 crashed and the survivors were returned to the world, devoid of their possessions and future technology. Some things remained (guns!) some things did not (combs?!), while other technology (a washer and dryer) has been reintroduced through plot elements such as the Hatch. The state of nature is a concept most philosophers have written about at some time in their life and the philosopher John Lock was no different:

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions...” (II, 6)

What the philosopher Locke is refering to in this quote is natural law, as he understands it. The law states that we are all equal and cannot harm other people’s life, health, liberty, or posessions. Among other things, this outlaws such commonly agreed upon immoral acts such as theft, assualt, and murder. Yet, in the state of nature, there is no Sheriff, there are no juries, there are no judges, so how is natural law supposed to be upheld? One solution is to introduce government. This solution shows how Jack and Locke, while they appear to be very different on the surface, are very alike and will most likely turn out to be steadfast allies. It is the reason Jack also yelled Locke’s catchphrase. Jack is anti-anyone-else’s-authoritarinism because he believes he should be the leader. Locke understands the need for government and that is why he steps back from Jack sometimes. The Stanford article states another solution:

“The victims, then, must enforce the law of nature in the state of nature. In addition to our other rights in the state of nature, we have the rights to enforce the law and to judge on our own behalf. We may, Locke tells us, help one another. We may intervene in cases where our own interests are not directly under threat to help enforce the law of nature. Still, the person who is most likely to enforce the law under these circumstances is the person who has been wronged. The basic principle of justice is that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. But when the victims are judging the seriousness of the crime, they are more likely to judge it of greater severity than might an impartial judge. As a result, there will be regular miscarriages of justice. This is perhaps the most important problem with the state of nature.”

This understanding of natural law gives us a different lens in which to view Locke’s interaction with Charlie in Fire + Water. Locke felt Charlie was a threat to the rest of the group, especially, Claire and Aaron, and thus nullified the threat by removing the dangerous element, the drugs. When Locke eventually beat down Charlie at the end, he was acting as the literal arm of the law, punishing Charlie for kidnapping Aaron in the middle of the night. Michael, on the other hand, was comitting no crime when he decided to go after Walt, he was only endangering himself, so Locke had no reason to stop him.

Still, Locke’s reasons for being so harsh on Charlie run a bit deeper. The article states, “The chief end set us by our creator as a species and as individuals is survival.” Not only was Charlie commiting a crime, but, in Locke’s perception, he was seriously endangering the survival of the group. When the Hunting Party found Zeke and his friends, Zeke was sure to mention the importance of children. Let’s look at this situation from Locke’s perspective. Living off the island, off of nature, will aid their ultimate survival on the island. Clearly Zeke and his friends have been on the island longer and logically they know what is important to survival on the island. If they are placing such an emphasis on children (especially considering they are kidnapping them), the children must be important. Factor in Locke’s bond with Walt and you can see what Locke why would be so protective of Aaron. He believes Aaron is essential to the 815ers survival on the island, and since survival is the ultimate end, by being so harsh on Charlie, Locke was following God’s (the island’s) will. On the other hand, letting Michael go after Walt in no way harmed the survival probablity of the group (except losing a mere single person).

Something still needs to be explained though. There is still one more side of Locke’s personality that can’t be explained through studying the works of the philosopher John Locke. It is best understood by returning to the image of Locke playing Risk and by starting a new section.


John Locke is the Richard Hatch of LOST. I’m not saying he’s the star of the series the way Hatch was the star of the first Survivor. What I am saying is that he is the first one to play power games. The reason Hatch won the first game of Survivor was because of his personality. He fancied himself as a man among men. He was the power player and no one else was. His recent troubles with the IRS show he lives his entire life that way. John Locke is no different except that, outside of his island, he was confined to a wheelchair making him almost useless to our capitalistic society. Instead of being able to participate in such power games, he was forced to call himself Colonel and play Risk. Now that he has his legs back, he can run around the island manipulating everyone with his goals of survival and natural law in mind.

I can think of two major examples of such manipulation. The first is his entire relationship with Charlie. At first, it was important for him to have as many of the 815ers on his side (the more influence you have, the more you get your way), so he acted like a sage to Charlie, helping him overcome his drug addiction. This led to Charlie telling Jack he’d trust his life with Locke. Following the children revelation, Charlie became a threat to Locke. Locke needed influence over Claire so he could have access to Aaron. In Fire + Water, the rift between Charlie and Claire left the perfect opening. Locke stepped in and tossed Charlie aside, no longer having any use for the has-been. Charlie probably realizes how manipulative Locke is now, but who’s going to believe the most hated 815er?

The other major example of Locke’s manipulation is his scene in Outlaws. He ran into, probably not so coincidentally, Sawyer and Kate. Kate told him how Sawyer thought the boar they were tracking had a personal grudge with him. Locke then told the tale of his sister falling off the monkey bars and a golden lab staying with his mother until she died years later. His mother believed the lab was his sister. Sawyer then asked Locke if he was saying the lab was his sister. Locke replied, “Now that would just be silly.”

Locke knew that if he said that the lab was his sister, both Sawyer and Kate would dismiss him as crazy (especially Sawyer). Based on his beliefs, it is more than safe to say that he coul have very well believed that the lab was his sister and that the boar was personally pursuing Sawyer. So, rather than seeming crazy, his response was tailored to resonate with Sawyer and Kate. They then believed he was rationale and thus he could spout some sage wisdom and win influence over them. He manipulated their perception of him in order to gain power of them. Now, think of how manipulative a person would have to be to not only pull one over both Kate and Sawyer, but both Kate and Sawyer AT THE SAME TIME.

Locke’s manipulative edge is something the producers constantly tease us with. Every once and awhile, they zoom out the metaphorical lens by throwing in eerie scenes where Locke seems to be watching and waiting. It is almost as if he is, as the wrestling fans say, on the verge of a heel turn. They then zoom back into the 815ers perspective and Locke manipulates us along with his fellow survivors. Now though, you have been warned. Locke is the leats trustworthy 815er.


I suspect that when we eventually see Locke’s accident, it won’t be as much of a tragedy as we’ve conceived it to be. Everytime we begin to question Locke, we’re roped backed in with a heartwrenching flashback. Locke may even have brought the accident upon himself. Whatever happens, I don’t think he’ll completely be the victim.

I also suspect that there will be a growing dissonance between Locke and Eko’s two different versions of faith that will utimately end in them being the two players, one light, one dark. Eko’s faith is clearly Christian based and he would surely define Locke’s faith in the island as a false idol. (Faith is where our Locke and the philsopher Locke diverge. I believe the writers chose to make our Locke put so much faith in the island because of the obvious symbolism of Natural Law.)

Well, what you’ve read is what you get. I’m all tapped out. I think I’ve accomplished what I set out to and I hope you enjoyed it. I certainly have a better understanding of Locke (and thus will never trust his actions again) and hope you do too. And remember, if you disagree with anything I wrote about Captain Picard:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

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