You’ve seen it in the movies, or read it in a book. It might be called a happy ending, but really, it’s more than that.
It’s the Death Star exploding while the Rebels speed away. It’s Joker hanging upside down, handcuffed and fettered. It’s Indiana Jones finally getting a good punch in on a Nazi. It’s the final scenes, where Andy finds his freedom and the Warden shoots himself in the head.
In the Western world, we love the topic of good vs. evil. It’s our obsession. And we are always rooting for the “good guy” to win. Even when the hero or heroin is an anti-hero, we want them to put aside their character flaws, rise to the occasion, and overcome evil. But, should we really hang on the edge of our seats? Maybe, evil sets itself up for failure LONG before the hero arrives. Maybe, just maybe, there is something in the way evil tactically positions itself which exposes it’s own weakness and allows the hero to enter, stage-left, hit the right buttons, and bring it all down in an inner collapse?
The issue begins, and ends with power. In fact, it always comes down to power. Who has the most power and how are they using it? Whether it’s money, sex, drugs, or rock and roll (joking…unless, maybe, you’re this guy), evil is only manifest in how it uses the power these things offer. There are certain standards and strategies by which evil expresses and systematizes power, which continually exposes it as:
1. Being evil (believe it or not, sometimes it’s hard to tell).
2. A vulnerable entity with a tender underbelly.
Evil and evil movements continue to cycle through human history, but they are always defeated and here’s why:
Remember the dragon Smaug in L.L. Tolkien’s The Hobbit? The only way he could be beaten was by slinging an arrow into a small, scaleless, soft-spot on his underside. It took a Hobbit, a few Dwarves, and one well-placed shot to bring him down.
Just the same, remember the Death Star? Although a massive military might, it only took a well-timed proton torpedo and a little help of Obi-Wan’s ghost voice to bring it down.
Remember the Nazi’s and a quest for eternal life as found in the Holy Grail? It only took Indiana drinking from the humble cup of a carpenter to crack the earth open and swallow them up.
What about the corrupt, abusive, and unjust federal prison (Shawshank Redemption) Andy brought down in one night, after years worth of determination and well-crafted accounting?
Do you see the pattern? It becomes more and more clear once you hold these stories up to each other…bad guys form a mass following, overtake good for a moment, establish an empire…..enter a hero, hero finds a small “insignificant” weakness, pulls the right string, the empire collapses, end story and credits roll with the destruction of all (or most, depending on a potential sequel)of the bad guys and evil ways.
Here is the formula, embedded in the one of the last scenes of Star Wars, A New Hope as they are planning an attack on the Death Star:
General Dodonna: The battle station is heavily shielded and carries a firepower greater than half the star fleet. Its defenses are designed around a direct, large-scale assault. A small one-man fighter should be able to penetrate the outer defense.
Gold Leader: Pardon me for asking, sir, but what good are snub fighters going to be against that?
General Dodonna: Well, the Empire doesn’t consider a small one-man fighter to be any threat, or they’d have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It’s a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station. Only a precise hit will set off a chain reaction. The shaft is ray-shielded, so you’ll have to use proton torpedoes.
Wedge Antilles (Red 2): That’s impossible! Even for a computer.
This dialogue distinctly highlights what it is that makes evil so vulnerable, and thrilling to beat. Evil organizes it’s power sources in a way which ALWAYS leaves their Achilles heel, or weak spot open and exposed.
Evil uses power in a specific way. It absorbs, vacuums, and/or demands it. Usually, in an evil paradigm, power is given to a single individual, or sometimes an elite few. Typically, a dictator or leader rises to power among the people, and this leader exposes their intentions as evil by beginning to point all power sources as theirs and theirs alone.
This leader (or, sometimes, leader[s]) absorbs energy like a black hole, without any redistribution back to the people. Therefore, they thrive on the power given to them, and demand executive, all-encompassing decisions be granted to them alone. They begin to shape the power structure in the shape of a pyramid…with them on top (of course), and all of the common public at the bottom.
Because evil intent revolves around this kind of charismatic, manipulative, and malevolent type of leadership, dark forces begin to take on similar characteristics:
- They amass military might to keep “order” among the people. In reality, this “order” is really an executive overreach to quiet any dissenting voices.
- They use physical force (through the militarized state) and psychological manipulation to influence and quiet people (aka, they rule by using fear as leverage).
- All power bends towards them, the one ruler, or the elite few, and there is where it stops. Therefore, all people underneath the power pyramid live to serve and follow their leader’s will.
- They become hyper-focused on rules and regulations which preserve their pyramid of power. Often, they will bend rules in hypocritical fashion out of the belief that the empire serves them and is an extension of their own person.
- As the voice of dissent and counter-culture is quieted within society, the leader/dictator(s) become falsely secure of their own mortality and begin to expand and grow through the use of militarized might. (Bigger is ALWAYS better in the perspective of a deviant mind.)
So, in other words, evil acts very similarly to cancer. It begins to take over the body, dominates, grows, and mutates in a way that destroys the rest of the organs…truly, if there was a proper way of personifying cancer, it would be as “unbridled, foolish self-absorption of the human cell”.
So, how do you destroy evil and it’s empire?
Destroy the evil leader, right? Not really.
The answer depends on how satisfied, or dissatisfied, the people are under the empire’s rule. If there is a general sense of content, or sedation, or at least a complete universal and unilateral sense of fear, physically removing an evil dictator may not do any good. Typically, the “more” evil the leader, the more they vacuum attention and power towards themselves, and the more oppressed their people become. All revolutions in history have been a backlash of the few withholding power from the many… some of the bloodiest revolutions (for example, the French Revolution) have come from some of the most oppressed and diametrically polarized economic and social situations.
So, just taking down the ruler is NOT a silver bullet. However, taking down the system is.
Notice, in all the examples given, the hero doesn’t eliminate the ruler, they defeat them by exposing the weakness in the ruler’s power system, and exploiting it. Indy doesn’t kill Hitler, he just uses his wisdom and knowledge to choose the right cup to drink from. Andy doesn’t kill the Warden, he waits until the right moment to expose the prison’s hidden corruption (in fact, his true act of defiance is fleeing, or escaping). Luke doesn’t take down the Emperor, he appeals to the good in his father to do it for him.
If the system is structured or dominated by an evil source, destroying, exposing, or gutting the system creates the longstanding environment for good to thrive. Otherwise, as we’ve learned from our wars in the Middle East over the past 15 years (and should have learned from Cuba, the Congo, Vietnam, Korea, etc.), forcefully cutting off one head will only give cause for two more to appear.
Change the system of power, change history for the good.
So, what does GOOD look like, and how does it build it’s kingdom differently than EVIL?
Good builds up leaders, power, and powerful resources. It channels that energy in a diametrically different way than evil. Two descriptive nouns define any good leader or entity:
Good movements have leaders, saints, knights, and hero’s, but, they differ from the villain, mainly, in that they take the power given to them and redistribute it back out to the common people of the kingdom. That’s what makes them truly heroic. Redistribution and empowerment are their distinguishable guides for policy, platform, and position. Power, for the hero, moves in circular, not singular fashion, and the systems they create exist to serve ALL, not just the elite.
Need an illustration?
In the painting Resurrection, by Hans Memling (c. 1485-1490), the process by which good utilizes it’s power sources is beautifully demonstrated.
In this tryptic (3 piece), the resurrected Christ stands dead-center, having risen from the grave (His most powerful moment), the surrounding scene, with guards sleeping, the presence of angels, and the tomb opened. As in many Renaissance depictions of the risen Christ, he holds a staff and/or flag as a symbol of victory, his wounds still evident in his hands, feet, and side.
While many paintings depict the resurrection as an isolated event, this piece put’s it in a timeline, or narrative. Instead of reading from left to right, it reads from center, where Christ’s figure stands, to right (Christ’s ascension), and back again left ( martyrdom of St. Sebastian by arrows.) *(In the timeline of history, the chronology of these three events are: Jesus’s death and resurrection, his ascension 40 days later, and St. Sebastian’s martyrdom almost 300 years after Christ’s ascension.)
Notice the red robe and it’s movement through the painting. Starting with the risen Christ, Memling then places it slightly lower, yet front and center in the painting of the ascension. In the piece depicting the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, the red robe has been thrown to the ground at his feet and is no longer a center point or focus for the eye.
It’s a beautiful and powerful narrative, and the hallmark of any good and benevolent leader. The depiction of power and how it’s redistributed back to the people (also, how in return, it’s offered back to God). Power, moving from one to the many. Everything we usually understand about leadership turned upside down on it’s head.
If you want to know whether someone is operating under malevolent intent, look to how they absorb and/or distribute power. Take note to what effect things like money and notoriety mean to them, and how they use the power of such things to benefit themselves or others. If they act in a blind, “lesser than, greater than” fashion, their end is bitter darkness. But, if they treat all men and women of all tribes and nations as equals, and learn to distribute power in that way, they will reap the fruits of justice and righteousness, as will all those under their leadership.