Monday, June 22, 2009

Post I Made in the LOSTpedia forums regarding Sawyer in S6

Recently, for whatever reasons, I started reading the LOSTpedia forums. I found that the idea that Sawyer would die in S6 because it was the only way for him to be "redeemed" to be prevalent. Thus, I started a thread countering this idea. You can see it here or read the text of my post here:

The possibility of Sawyer dying exists, but if it occurs, it will not be of his own will in a move of "heroic self sacrifice." If it occurs, it will be tragically at the hands of another person, similar to Rorschach in the movie Watchmen. It is my argument that if Sawyer were to sacrifice himself for "the greater good" it would contradict everything the writers have done with his character (and arguably the entire show).

Sawyer's journey is not one of "being a jerk" to "being a hero." That interpretation is both simplistic and uneducated. Rather, his journey is about realizing he has a moral sanction to live or, in other words, from self hatred to self love (and the moral responsibility that loving yourself carries).

To better understand this journey, we have to turn to the philosopher that wrote most in depth on this concept out of anyone in the history of mankind, Ayn Rand. A famous work of Rand's is "The Virtue of Selfishness," a book that unpacks the commonly accepted belief that altruism (living life for others) is the best morality to live by and challenges it by properly defining "selfishness" as the best morality to live by. The writers of LOST have extremely intentionally incorporated Randian philosophy into Sawyer's story (and arguably the story of the entire show). I could point to many examples, but there are five main points I feel prove my case. The first three refer to Sawyer specifically. The final two refer to the Season Five finale.

1. In Season 2, Sawyer was reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand while sitting on the beach. The novel follows its hero Howard Roark, who lives his life selfishly or for himself, and contrasts him with what Rand calls "secondhanders," people who live life secondhand or for other people. However, Sawyer has read many books. Are we then to assume he is getting his period for the first time like the titular Margaret in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

No, what makes the appearance of The Fountainhead so important is that Damon Lindelof specifically mentioned it in the Season 3 DVD special feature "The LOST Book Club." In it, he said he thought Sawyer would identify greatly with Roark. It is since clear how much Sawyer did, and how much Randian thought has influenced him.

2. The Season 5 Dharmaville confrontation in Namaste between Sawyer and Jack was a Randian critique of his personality type and philosophy of "Live Together, Die Alone." Sawyer's key statement was as follows:

I heard once Winston Churchill read a book every night, even during the blitz. He said it made him think better. That's how I like to run things. I think. I'm sure that doesn't mean that much to you because back when you were calling the shots, you pretty much just reacted.
This idea of thinking vs reacting is straight out of Randian, um, thought. For Rand, what makes humans humans, to put it very simply, is our ability to think. Every animal has some unique trait that differentiates it from other animals, our is our mind. Thus, to be human is to think, as you are doing the thing that is uniquely human. A key quote spoken by Roark in The Fountainhead explains this point better than I could:

When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life.
But what does this idea of the importance of thinking have to do with Sawyer's arc and the idea of selfishness being a virtue? First, let's look at the latter half of that question. The statement "I think" begins with the word "I." Therefore, in order to think you must acknowledge yourself first. In other words, no one else can think for you. It is impossible to live as a secondhander. Now, consider the fact that Sawyer made that exact statement in his argument to Jack. This man who hated himself so much that he used his rhetorical skills to create a bad public image for himself made the ultimate statement of self love! (Does this mean Sawyer's arc is over? I don't believe so. The importance of love to his story and Randian philosophy will be unpacked in Season 6.)

But aren't I reading too much into this dialogue? Maybe the idea of self worth and thinking being tied up together with Sawyer and in Rand's philosophy is merely a coincidence? The following points will address that critique.

3. Upon Kate's return to the island in Season 5, the writers were sure to point out the real reason Sawyer jumped out of the helicopter in the Season 4 finale. Whereas the majority of the viewers believed it was a heroic action (because it was for other people), it was actually extremely cowardly out of self hatred. Why did Sawyer jump? Because, as he told Kate, he didn't believe he would be a good boyfriend to her or father to Clementine. In other words, what he wanted was to leave the island, but the fuel tank getting shot to give into his fears (or The Doubt as I like to call it). As bitter as Cassidy was in The Little Prince she was right about Sawyer's cowardice.

It is apparently obvious from this understanding of the helicopter scene, that Sawyer's journey is all about self worth, and that the writers were very much critiquing the heroic action of self sacrifice by pointing out that it is not actually done for other people at all (but that is an entire other discussion of the motivations of secondhanders).

"The Incident" continued these Randian themes through the corruption of Locke and the low self esteem demonstrated by many of the characters, most notably Ben and Jack.

4. Something Rand critiques greatly is religion, as she believes many people use it to live secondhand lives, allowing a more powerful being to provide them answers rather than their own thought. To be completely truthful, she is an atheist and believes the secondhanders live their lives based upon the "Mystics," those who claim to know about the mystic ways of the world. The manipulation of Locke by Eddie (or Essau or Anti-Jacob or whatever name you use) was only possible because Locke lived his life based upon "The Island." In other words, from the moment Locke arrived on the island, he was living a secondhand life, substituting his own will for the will of the island. It is apparently obvious this substitution occurred because of Locke's low self worth (he tried to substitute his will for his Dad's or Helen's off the island). We now know that for the entirety of the first five seasons, the island's will was really Eddie's, as he was manipulating Locke and Ben into being his loophole. This arc is a completely Randian critique of faith and religion. Notice how throughout the first five seasons, several characters acted as Mystics for Locke, most notably Ben and Richard (and, ironically, in Season Five we saw how Locke was a Mystic for Richard throughout the series).

Though LOST appears religious on its face, this Randian critique of mysticism runs through the series. I'm sure you can think of many examples, but I'd like to point out that, for awhile, a main character was a fake priest!

5. For my final point, I'd like to turn to my signature, and two characters in "The Incident": Ben and Jack. Both make the same error as Locke for the same reason: low self esteem.

I don't believe I need to cut and paste Ben's entire speech to Jacob here. We all know the content. However, the end is important. Ben's low self esteem prevents him from thinking about what he is about to do. Rather, he asks, "What about me?" Jacob responds, "What about you?" Sure, Jacob is egging Ben on so Ben will murder him, but he is also making a point. You’re focused on Jacob, Ben. What about the decision of whether to kill or not to kill? Ben never faces that decision. Because of his low self esteem, he reacts and stabs Jacob, giving Eddie the seeming victory.

Likewise, Sawyer makes a similar point to Jack, getting Jack's ultimate explanation for wanting to set off Jughead. What's Jack's reason? He wants Kate, but can't get her because "It's too late for that." How did we reach this point? Sawyer made the following statement to Jack:

I don't speak destiny. What I do understand is a man does what he does because he wants something for himself. What do you want, Jack?
A man does something because he wants something for himself. Could that statement be more Randian? What Jack wants is Kate, and he believes he's so incapable of wooing her, that he needs to set off Jughead. Jack's self esteem is so low he wants to detonate a nuclear frickin' bomb to reset time so he can get a girl!

(It's also interesting to note that Juliet literally dies because of her low self esteem. She reacted to a look, a look, in a way that eventually ended with her at the bottom of an ultra-magnetic pit hitting a rock against a nuclear bomb. I can't tell if that's more or less crazy than Jack.

Anyway, as you can see from my above points, an act of self sacrifice on Sawyer's part would not be heroic, not only in reality, but in the story the writers have crafted. If Sawyer does die, which he may, it will be in a tragic moment meant to drive home the dangers of altruism. However, I don't believe he will die. In fact, I believe that Jack will inevitably sacrifice his own life in a futile act of faith.