28 February 2018
In the second act of the movie Gladiator, we find the character Maximus at the lowest point imaginable. His jealous brother Commodus, who idolized him, sought to destroy him and everything he valued, rather than learn from him.
Maximus is beat down and we question whether the former ideal man still lives within him.
Maximus: “That man is dead, your brother did his work well.”
And yet, when pressed, aspects of his former character awaken, and just as before, those around him, can’t help respect that which commands respect.
Having to construct himself anew, Maximus initially lives merely for the ideal of survival, Maximus is made to fight in the gladiator arena, where his supreme competence once again becomes apparent, and people again rise to their feet in honor of that supreme competence. Maximus despises what he’s being made to do in the arena, and calls out the crowd for their warped taste for blood, and still, they cheer him.
Learning that his capability could earn him the chance to be presented in front of the emperor, now his hostile brother, Commodus, Maximus’s ideal turns from survival to revenge.
As word of his ability grows, admiration begins to grow, in the men around him, and even in the youth, such as the nephew of the emperor.
This is the story of Joseph of Egypt, the story of how when you try to destroy the ideal man and even thrust him into slavery and the lowest dungeon, an eventual and inevitable collision of opportunity with competence will rocket him back to the top, because of a certain attitude that kind of man possesses toward life.
Maximus’s achievements place him right back before the emperor Commodus, who is unaware he still lives, and Maximus considers killing him, then and there, to achieve his vengeance, but his principles awaken and get the best of him. Instead, he lives according to his ideals, and lets the consequences follow, just as before.
As the deadened parts of his character begin to resurrect, everything begins to restore itself. Men honor Maximus wherever he goes. And his motivations slowly transform from seeking vengeance to the nobler pursuits of sacrificing himself to the higher ideals.
Commodus is incensed with internal conflict and rage. He plans a final manipulation where he mortally wounds Maximus before pretending to challenge him to battle in the arena to prove his strength and valor and gain the admiration of the people.
But Once again Commodus misjudges the nature of being, he misjudges the ways that the ideal man has contracted with being with a certain attitude, that in the long run, however unexpectedly, ensures him the favor of life.
Both Commodus and Maximus suffered tremendously in life. Both Die at the end of the story, as we all will. But Commodus dies having lost everything he ever valued. While Maximus dies having gained all he ever valued. What was the essential difference, the key of wisdom separating these two opposing brothers?
“If things are not laying themselves out for us as they should be, then we cannot curse God, we have to look to ourselves. Well, and you think, ‘why not curse God?’ Because maybe it’s his fault. And that’s a really good question.
One of the things I’ve tried to figure out over the last 30 years is, well why not just curse God? Because there is this arbitrary element to existence, and we are vulnerable, and there is plenty of suffering and things are unfair. There’s problems, right? There’s injustice and unfairness and all of these things, and endless suffering, so why not just lay it at the feet of God? (Whether or not God exists in some sense or not, by the way, with respects to the metaphysics of this particular discussion, is not relevant. The point remains the same either way.)
And the answer is, as far as I can tell, is that if you refuse to take on the responsibility yourself, and you attempt to lay it at the feet of either society or being itself, then you instantly start acting in a way that makes everything much worse—not only for you, but for everyone else and maybe even for being itself. It’s not helpful.
Now if you decide that it’s you, you’ve got the problem, maybe that’s not even true. Maybe you are someone who’s being tortured by the bet between God and Satan, and too bad for you if that happens to be the case.
But it still seems to be the appropriate thing, for a human being who’s standing on his or her own two feet, in a proper manner, to take the responsibility on for themselves, regardless of the counter-arguments that might be made against it. And that’s really something.”
—Professor Jordan Peterson