I’m no psychologist, but . . .
On the recommendation of a guy at my local comic book store, I picked up the trade paperback “Green Lantern: Rebirth.” I don’t usually go in for DC stuff, but I thought I’d check this one out, and I liked it. But it got me on this train of thought:
The Power Rings of the Green Lantern Corps are fueled by willpower. Early on in Green Lantern‘s publication history, writers specifically associated the attribute of willpower to the color green. A contrary force, the yellow energy emanating from the rings of villains such as Sinestro and the Sinestro Corps, has been associated with fear. Until recently in publication history, green Power Rings were ineffective against all things yellow.
So here’s what I got to thinking: We think of the color green as a combination of the colors yellow and blue. In the DC Universe, particularly in the Green Lantern context, green=willpower and yellow=fear. What would happen if you had a power ring that emanated a particularly yellowish shade of green, or if you tried to use a green ring against a greenish-yellow threat? If there are shades of color in the DC Universe as there are shades of color in reality, then are there not also analogous shades of psychological states. Is there room in the DC Universe for a spectrum of Power Ring colors? If there are green and yellow, how do we differentiate the two, and how do we define the two? And if we can define either color, we should be also able to define the analogous mental state for that color, shouldn’t we? If there is a spectrum of green (which may overlap the spectrum of yellow) then are there overlapping spectrums of “willpower” and “fear”?
And what about blue? It seems reasonable to propose that if there is “green energy” then there should be “yellow energy” (as we have seen) and also “blue energy.” Why not energies, and therefore power rings, in all the colors of the visible spectrum? And what attributes do these energies have? Perhaps, as yellow and blue are components of green, so are the mental states of the yellow and blue power rings components of “willpower.” If that is the case, then what can be added to fear to make willpower?
It turns out that Green Lantern writers have addressed some of these issues in the last few years since the publication of “Rebirth.” In this story arc, Superman and Batman are compared to each other, and although they are both heroes, Superman is specifically associated with hope while Batman is associated with fear. They are frequently portrayed as opposite sides of the same coin in this way. If Batman and Superman are opposing identities on the same team, can we use this example to imagine an opposite of yellow that could also be defined as a component of green? In other words, what about a blue Power Ring fueled by hope?
Does it make sense to say that hope and fear are components of willpower?
One may consider that hope tempered by fear is courage, and that fear combined with hope is caution. It is not, I suspect, unreasonable to suppose that courage and caution are two concepts that are even more akin to willpower than hope and fear. A spectrum becomes plausible: hope to courage to will to caution to fear. Will is deliberate, whereas fear and hope can and frequently are impulsive responses to a given situation.
As it turns out, Green Lantern writers have associated other colors with other emotions as well. Red is rage, orange is avarice, indigo is compassion, and violet is love. These being the case, I wonder if “rage” is the best word to characterize the nature of the red Power Rings. If red and yellow are components of orange, then are rage and fear components of avarice? If red and blue are components of violet, then are rage and hope components of love? It seems that it would be more appropriate to substitute “passion” or “aggression” for “rage” in this case. Arguably, fear mixed with a sense of aggression will result in selfish, greedy behavior. Hope combined with passion can certainly be thought of as love. But the answer is not clear, and I wonder about the true nature of anger. How are rage, passion and aggression distinct from the attributes of the other colors, and from the seemingly more inclusive concept of “anger”?
Some preliminary research has led me to the idea that anger can be described on a field with three axes. One axis is a measure of intensity or activity, with passive behavior being on the low end and aggressive behavior at the other extreme. Another axis is a measure of motivation, with proactive/compulsive behavior at one extreme and reactive/impulsive behavior at the other. The third axis measures the status of the cause of the anger relative to the individual feeling the emotion, i.e. you may be angry at a power that you perceive to be greater or lesser than yourself. The result is eight mental states that can all be thought of as forms of “anger.”
We may call passive reactive/impulsive anger directed toward a perceived greater power “frustration.”
We may call passive reactive/impulsive anger directed toward a perceived lesser power “annoyance.”
We may call aggressive reactive/impulsive anger directed toward a perceived greater power “rage.”
We may call aggressive reactive/impulsive anger directed toward a perceived lesser power “wrath.”
We may call passive proactive/compulsive anger directed toward a perceived greater power “resentment.”
We may call passive proactive/compulsive anger directed toward a perceived lesser power “contempt.”
We may call aggressive proactive/compulsive anger directed toward a perceived greater power “vengefulness.”
We may call aggressive proactive/compulsive anger directed toward a perceived lesser power “malevolence.”
We may also think of the last four – resentment, contempt, vengefulness, and malevolence – as forms of hatred.
More on this later…