Long Island Recollections: What Shakespeare Teaches us of Superheroes.

This weekend I had a great conversation with my good friend Ellis who is a tremendous fan of the show Smallville, which is about Superman as a teenager. We got to talking about the publication histories of major characters, the intents of the characters’ creators, and the effect that time had had on the development of the depth and significance of great characters such as Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. I mentioned that I believe there are probably a finite number of basic archetypal characters from which all superheroes are derived. Ellis pointed out that these three in particular represented three basic archetypes: Superman, the hero who is born with super powers; Batman, the hero who has no super powers; and Spider-Man, the hero who suddenly gets super powers at some point in his life. Later that weekend, I remembered a line from Shakespeare‘s Twelfth Night.

“…some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Back in the day, William Shakespeare keenly observed that among heroes, some such as Superman are born great, some such as Batman and Iron Man achieve their own greatness, and some such as Spider-Man and the Hulk have greatness literally thrust upon them.

More on this later…

Language Oddities: the spanish word “compromiso”

This is something that has bugged me for a long time.  The spanish word for “commitment” is “compromiso.” This leads to many native spanish speakers, upon trying to translate their thoughts into english, saying things like “I’m sorry I have to leave early, but I have a prior compromise.”

The difficulty is that the spanish word for “compromise” is also “compromiso,” something I didn’t actually realize until just a few days ago. In english, “commitment” and “compromise” are two totally distinct concepts, but to spanish speakers, they are apparently linked.

How could this be? It appears that the word “commitment,” or “commit,” derives from the latin “com,” meaning “together”, and “mittere,” meaning “to send.”  The suffix “ment” turns the verb into a noun (specifically an act or process.) Similarly, the word “compromise” breaks down into “com,” meaning together, and “promittere,” or “to send forth.”

So “committment” seems to mean “the act or process of sending together” while “compromise” seems to mean “to send forth together.” If I commit to something, then I am entering into a pact with someone else (or myself) to do something, or to go forth and do something in the future.  If I reach a compromise, then I enter into a pact with someone else to put a course of action forward that is mutually agreeable, in other words, we send ourselves forth together. Both words involve the idea of “sending together.”

It may sound like a stretch, but it’s not as though I’m making this up. These are the derivations of the words, and their connection is borne out by the fact that, in the Spanish language, they meet to form the same word, “compromiso.”

It may be useful, therefore, to consider that to commit is in fact to compromise, and to compromise is to commit.

Categorization, Taxonomy, Ontology

I am interested in these subjects. I would like to learn more about them.  I’ve done a quick search of college courses that teach these subjects outside specific biological or computer science applications and haven’t come up with many promising results.  I’d like to learn as much as I can about the science, theory and philosophy of categorization in a very broad sense. I’m happy to work with specific applications, but I want to start with a general overview. Anyone have any suggestions? Reading material? Sources of information?

UPDATE: Here’s two books I found online that seem to address what I’m interested in:
Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, David Weinberger (2007)
Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star (1999)

Comments still welcome.  Thanks.

Green Lantern vs. Spinoza

Compare my initial attempt at a taxonomy of anger to 17th century philosopher Baruch de Spinoza’s “Definitions of the Emotions” as described in his Ethics.

 Click here if you prefer a more organized analysis and presentation (but in the original latin).

The Green Lantern and the Taxonomy of Emotion

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… 

Can the measure of a man be found in song lyrics he wrote in his early 20’s?

So, in the shower this morning, I remembered a song I wrote when I was 20 or 21.  The particular verse that came to me goes like this:

“I don’t want your life, and I’m
Far too scared to let mine go –
Still afraid of saying yes,
Terrified of me I guess.

Please don’t ask why
And sit and cry like you don’t know.
Accept that there’s uncertainty
In everything surrounding me,

And I need to see that you don’t need me.
I need to see that you choose to let me be me.”

© Ivan Velasco, Jr. 1998

 I wrote this at a time when a large amount of responibility was suddenly thrust upon me by someone, and I was coping.  Upon seeing these lyrics now, they seem harsh.  Am I saying that I’m unreliable?  Am I stepping out and saying I refuse all responsibility because I value my independence too much?  And how much of that attitude do I carry with me today?  Is it really immature to say “I want you to let me be me,” or is that a difficult but necessary requirement of stable adult living?  And what about the imperative “Accept that there’s uncertainty”?  Am I saying that I will never be a known quantity, essentially that I can’t be counted on, and that those close to me will just have to live with that.  That hardly seems fair or mature.  To what extent do I still feel that way, and to what extent do I use it as a defense mechanism – because that’s what I think it might be.  I’m afraid I have a fear of failure, which leads to a fear of letting other people down, which I guard against by – in extreme circumstances – trying to keep others from counting on me in the first place.  And maybe I disguise it all by asserting a right to “individuality,” which in this context is perhaps more accurately a disguised form of individualism.

 Clearly, this deserves more thought.  More on this later….