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4th August 2016

X-MEN & Violence: Watch the Deep Culture!

In a recently published video, Olly Lennard, the equally dedicated and productive philosophy scholar behind the youtube channel “philosophytube”, delved into one of the elementary topics the Galtung-Institut is most preoccupied with: the pluralism of violence. To support Olly for his indefatigable dedication, consider becoming a patreon supporter of his here.

Regrettably, Olly did not elaborate on what in our view is the most important reason to explore violence in the first place: Namely the motive to identify how to prevent the harm and hurt to both the physiology and psychology of sentient life in general and human life in particular. Olly’s video has been viewed 16 662 times at the moment of writing this reaction. His insightful vlog is of particular relevance to us, since he cites and references two of Johan Galtung’s seminal papers on direct violence:

Had Olly approached the subject from our epistemological and praxeological angle, he would not have asked whether the notoriously bipolar psychopath Magneto were justified in his militarist embrace of mass category destructive killing. Rather, he would have investigated and explored which of Magneto’s goals could be considered legitimate from the point of view of Basic Human Needs (nope – not Maslow’s but Galtung’s) and the various codified Human Rights declarations and covenants in place on this our planet in this 21st century. In particular, the line of questioning would have explored Magneto’s capacity to comprehend the inevitable traumatic implications and psycho-social externalities which are known empirically to be inseparable from the use of violence – any form of it. We’ve come a long way as a species capable of ranking our behavioural and policy options by separating our spontaneous limbic impulses of fear and insecurity emanating in the amigdalae – which prompts us to fight, maim, destroy, kill or bounce – from the more sophisticated and compassionate reflections on future consequences of current actions as processed via the supramarginal gyrus, that liminal part of the cerebral cortex linking the parietal, temporal and frontal lobe: We have a choice.

This said, the argument presented here is neither an appeal to some form of ethical consequentialism, nor a submission to neuroscience but rather a call for the thoroughly sociological “Solution-Indicative Conflict Transformation” approach to overcoming conflicts as taught at the Galtung-Institut; an approach to skillfully shaping conflict dynamics, which Stan Lee’s creative Marvel-Universe seems to be entirely oblivious to. Time to upgrade the Marvel-Universe by adding a mutant with the special gift of Solution-Indicative Conflict Literacy? How about a Conflict Transformation Specialist mutant? Maybe the folks at NerdSync know a character that comes close to something more akin to Master Yoda, that other archetype from that other million dollar franchise peddling dualistic narratives by eternally pitting good against evil – though it must be noted, that Darth Vader rose out of Anakin Skywalker – a character development which has more than just a little element of Yang in the Yin unfolding and tipping over the balance. In what follows, Theresa Sing further explores the axiological assumptions underlying the entire X-Men narrative (and not only that one). The question we pose at the Galtung-Institut after watching Olly’s excellent educational video, is not so much “whether Magneto is right“, but rather: how are the authors behind the profile of that fictive character thinking?


TheresaSing-240x300Theresa Sing

Conflict Transformation Specialist [CTS] Trainee – specializing on intercultural economics and questions of “Deep Culture”

2016 YADIP-member

Young Academics for Diplomacy and International Peacebuilding Training Program at the Galtung-Institut

Olly Lennard’s video zooms in on the opposing standpoints of the estranged lead-characters Professor X and Magneto. While Prof. X adheres to the liberal idea that reform in the Marvel-Universe can be realized through the negotiated betterment of the system, Magneto aspires to fostering a polarized revolution because in his point of view the system always changes for the benefit of humans and thus by definition against a future which is good for mutants. For him, the ongoing structural violence is unacceptable and direct violence is legitimate to fight it. In Prof. X’s view, direct violence is to be rejected for the sake of changing the system because the latter can be changed through other means.

A look at the X-Men narrative from the point of view of comparative cultural studies in general and Johan Galtung’s “Deep Culture” perspective as elaborated in “A Theory of Civilizations (ATOZ) – Overcoming Cultural Violence” in particular, would identify the following: The mutants have gained their superior power through special genetic codes. Thus it is nature herself challenging the assumed superiority of humans. The narrative underlying the X-Men universe seems to posit that natural phenomena which are not under the control of human beings have to be: subjugated. The point being that “Humans > nature” is one of the basic tenements of the Occidental civilization – defined in ATOZ as the abrahamic religions comprising judaism, christianity and islam. What also transpires from the X-Men narrative is that the immortality of certain mutants appears to be perceived as specifically dangerous to the prevalent occidental code of the humans in the Marvel-Universe. Mutant immortality, from a Galtungian perspective would imply that time – as experienced by the immortal mutants – introduces an “unbounded” temporality into the cultural realm, a position on temporality starkly absent from the occidental stance which conceptualizes a necessary and inevitable finality, an Endzustand, epitomized and brought about either as victory or failure. Immortality as such, even if not deployed to suppress mortals, is narrated as a threat to the aforementioned existential assumptions.

Furthermore, occidental society which seems to be the template in which the X-Men evolve, is structured vertically and an equal status between humans and mutants is not in accordance with that basic assumption of verticality. Magneto aspires to destroy that system which consistently posits humans on top and mutants below. His revolutionary goal is to reverse that hierarchy by gaining sovereignty – hegemony – domination for mutants. Considering the personal losses Magneto has suffered himself due to such dystopian illlusions of grandeur – namely losing his parents in the Nazi-crime of Auschwitz – we may ask: Why isn’t Magneto revolutionary enought to aspire to a sytem based on a cosmology encoding horizontality rather than verticality and more life rather than death? As a carrier of subconcious Occidental codes, such an ambition is unlikely. How about creating an episode in which Magneto dedicates himself to study the assumptions of Buddhic civilizations? The ideas of partnership between humans and nature, horizontal societies or an unbounded time-conception might yield inspiration for a new coexistence of humans and mutants. Such a venture would become even more attractive by looking at further dimensions encoded in Occidental scripture.

The mutants, a functional minority in human society, are conventionalized as “evil” otherness, marginalized and peripheral; worthy of containment, far removed from the norm and located at remote places away from the central human habitats. Political dominance gained by mutants would necessarily invert this spatial assumption of human governments which are depicted as adhering to an extreme “Chosen People” archetype, thus legitimizing their sense of superiority over the mutants. This assumption mirrors the singularism and universalism traits of the Occidental cultural construct. The above elements of the Marvel storylines suggest an inevitable outcome: both the superiority of mutants and humans, or even equality between humans and mutants would mean contradiction within the framework of self-perception the authors have ascribed to their characters. And contradiction means conflict.

Hence, the conflict between humans and mutants will be consistent as long as it is “fought” within the Occident’s cosmological realm to which the outlined conflicts are instrinsicThe mutants are not challenging the system by questioning the cosmological script in a direct way. The mere fact of their existence and strengths are constructed as otherness that challenge the cosmological assumptions of the Occident as articulated in the narrative of the comic book’s world. Otherness here, is supposed to be evil, not equal. The latter assumption should be maintained from a dramaturgical point of view, if the writers are mainly interested in offering infinite conflict between humans and mutants to their readers and spectators. If this is not the case, the creation of a Buddhist Magneto might be worth an attempt.


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