Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in dating, relationships, success, and fulfillment, and explore the psychology of masculinity. Now, here's your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I'm David Tian, your host, and in this special episode, I will be attempting something that I thought I would never do, which is to make an episode analysis on a TV series that has 10 episodes and each episode being an hour long.
Two weeks ago, I did She Hulk. I’ve been getting emails, YouTube comments, comments elsewhere to do House of the Dragon, and I’ve been trying to get from the commenters and the emailers what it is specifically about the House of the Dragon that they'd like my thoughts on because the thing is so big. Just like any good TV show that spans 10 hours, it should be pretty rich, and I already spent 30 to 45 minutes on a two-hour movie thinking about how much time I'd need to do justice to a 10-hour TV show. That's one of the reasons I never attempted them until She Hulk, and, partly, that's because the episodes were so short and there were only nine episodes. [01:18.5]
But here we go, we're going to do the House of the Dragon. The way I'm going to do it so that it's manageable is to focus on one major theme, and even if you watched House of the Dragon and didn't like it or have no interest in watching House of the Dragon, hopefully, you'll learn something from this episode because I'm just using House of the Dragon as a jumping-off point to explore a much bigger theme, a theme that I’ve been waiting to explore for a number of years.
It's abstract, it's philosophical, and it is not directly or obviously related to one of the main concerns of my current audience, which is dating and women. But, hopefully, now with the House of the Dragon, I have an entryway into it, and if it's a theme that you'd like to hear more on—moral philosophy, morality, good and evil right and wrong—let me know, because there's a lot more that I can dive into and expand on. [02:13.6]
If you are planning to watch House of the Dragon, there are spoilers ahead, so you should probably pause this now and go watch that 10-hour season and then come back to this. It pains me to have to say that. I know how much more trouble it is to watch an entire season rather than a movie. But House of the Dragon is incredibly entertaining. If anything else, it's entertaining. It goes at a very quick pace.
It seems like everyone else in the world immediately compared it to another TV show that came out around the same time, which was the billion-dollar Amazon series that was like a prequel to The Lord of the Rings and that was really slow compared to House of the Dragon, and I'm a huge Tolkien fan and I was really rooting for that show and I still haven't been able to get through it. I plan to eventually force myself to get through it, but House of the Dragon, I was reluctant to go to it because, like many people, I didn't like how the Game of Thrones final season ended, but this House of the Dragon from the first episode just caught me. [03:17.0]
One of the things I really appreciated going off the theme in She Hulk, which is appreciating the woman's point of view, is like She Hulk, House of the Dragon has a lot of women writers and—again, major spoiler alerts. If you're just still listening to this and you want to watch it and you haven't, stop this now and go and wait until you watch it—House of the Dragon has a surprising number, a lot of graphic birthing scenes that end tragically.Having, last year, watched my own wife give birth to my son and having taken a birthing class that was two and a half, three months long, this was pretty realistic. One of the things, after going through the birthing class and getting ready for the birth of our son, that annoyed me in TV shows and movies is how quick the pregnancy scenes are where they give birth and it's like, argh, a little pain and then, pop, the baby comes out, and it is never that. [04:14.2]
It might be that way if you're on your third child, sometimes the second child. It's a lot quicker for the later children, but that first child and, very commonly, childbirth, in general, is incredibly painful and labored, and you see this in the birth. Now, obviously, with birth trauma, in the past couple of years, I have had friends who have miscarried tragically at late term, and then plenty of friends early-term miscarried over the years.
They definitely should issue a birth-trauma warning, a trigger warning at the beginning, because maybe you're just sitting down to be entertained with some popcorn and the next thing you know, you're going back into your trauma. I know a lot of dudes who are immature don't get why there are trigger warnings, but if this triggers trauma that you haven't or are currently dealing with and didn't want to deal with while you were just kicking back and relaxing, there are quite a few of these birth-trauma triggers in this season. [05:09.3]
I believe they do birthing justice and they're not, I don't think, gratuitous. These are major plot points and there are a lot of things happening, themes, symbols, foreshadowing and so forth that are happening during the birth scenes, and I think it's a woman's touch and a perspective and eye that allowed us to see that, because that's a pretty gutsy call to have those such extended birthing scenes that are quite traumatic in there.Also, I appreciated the women's perspective on the sex scenes, the brothel scenes, taking—I think she was at the time supposed to be about 16 years old—the girl into the brothels and that whole scene, that whole sequence was quite tastefully done versus just porn-style sex. For the guys who are interested in psychology or learning about psychology, there's plenty of material in there for you with House of the Dragon, but it's also just really entertaining. [06:07.8]
There's also plenty of incest and the children as a result of incest don't seem to have been suffering any genetic mutations. Hey, early on perhaps, in this world perhaps, or maybe just earlier in history, it wasn't as much of an issue, but that's there, too, in a pretty heavy-handed way, even more so than in Game of Thrones.
But I'm going to leave all those issues, plus all the other themes aside, and I'm going to hyperfocus here on the theme of evil and good versus evil. One big difference between House of the Dragon and the Game of Thrones that I noticed and a big difference between House of the Dragon and the Lord of the Rings movie series and the TV series, I assume, I haven't watched the whole thing yet, is in my opinion, a much more mature, nuanced, sophisticated, realistic portrayal of good and evil, right and wrong. [07:04.1]
Sitting back now and reflecting on the 10 episodes that I watched, I really appreciated how every single major character had deep flaws. There wasn't anyone who was flawless, and it might seem that way at the beginning. We were really rooting, for example, for the Princess and she was like the one sort of Disney heroin style, one-dimensional kind of innocence and goodness, and then that started to get muddled or muddied up once she got to the brothel and tried to make out with her uncle, and instead seduced the knight who was her guard who turned out to be the sort of equivalent to the incel. In the show, to me, there wasn't a clear villain. At the end, the way it was filmed, everyone's rooting for Rhaenyra Targaryen. I had to just look that up because there's so many similar names, it's very annoying. But anyway, Rhaenyra Targaryen, and rooting against Aemond Targaryen because his big-ass dragon just ate an innocent-looking little boy and his little dragon. [08:11.6]
But, hopefully, you're mature enough to see there are no innocent parties here. Whereas in the Game of Thrones, there were just these White Walkers and they were the personification of pure evil. There was nothing redeeming about them and they just wanted to kill. I mean, these were just sort of unthinking zombies types of villains, so there was a pretty straightforward good-versus-evil scenario set up. Most of the Stark characters are more or less on the innocent side of things and you root for them, and it's easy to set them up as the good. In that sense, House of the Dragon is actually a much more mature TV series.
Now, we know there are a lot of men in the world who are angry because they see themselves as being victims of culture, of cultural trends, gender politics, evil warlords of apps that have created algorithms or systems that work against them. They see feminism as an evil thing that's against them. [09:14.8]
This anger comes out of fear, a fear that they will, as a result, become insignificant or won't get love or connection, or even just sex, won't get their basic needs met, and it's tempting to paint the other side as evil and irredeemable, and to sink even deeper into that victim mindset. But if they do that, the result is further alienation from the culture, from the world at large, from progress that's actually happening. No matter, whether you like it or not, it’s happening.This is a theme that I brought up, this is a point that I brought up in She Hulk that the culture is already moved on and these men are holding onto something that is not even there anymore. But because of their algorithms of their content platforms, they're under the impression that everyone thinks the way they do. [10:12.3]
I know this because when I was researching negative reviews of She Hulk, because it was through Google and other straightforward searches, it was actually really difficult to find intelligently critical reviews. It was more or less just forums where users would just go raging on them. But I wanted to see someone who was a professional. Of course, I did find them on YouTube. There are people who do movie reviews. They're almost all right wing and they have a clear, obvious agenda. You can just read it from their thumbnails or their titles, and I wanted to give those a listen to hear what their side was and I listened to a few of those.
But as a result, the algorithm thought that that was what I was looking for, so the next time I logged into YouTube, it was just inundated with far-right reviews of movies that I haven't even watched that I have no interest in watching and it just flooded my feed. [11:07.3]
I lived with that for a few days because I was continuing to research this underworld, the subculture, and after a while, it just got really annoying and I had done and finished my research, so I cleared the search history, cleared the watch history, and voila, it went back to a blank slate in a way, and now Facebook and YouTube are showing me things based on channels I’ve subscribed to, not just stuff I’ve watched in my research.
But so quickly, literally in the span of a day or I guess, really, just in the span of a few hours, YouTube learned or thought it was learning that that's what I wanted, and then everywhere I clicked, that was all there was. I can imagine someone who is not too savvy to how social media or these content platforms work where they're trying to zero in on your profile to keep serving you the things that you like and, as a result, you end up in this bubble. [12:02.0]
Hopefully, you all know that now about social networks, about how content algorithms work. Unless you've trained yourself to purposely look for what's popular, because you assume that you are into stuff that's not popular, like me. All the way growing up, I was into stuff that's not popular, into jazz music, not pop music. I was into nerdy stuff, even now learning how to write well. I wasn't reading any fiction. Mostly, I was reading textbooks, so I got a very skewed view of what good writing is and so forth, and I was used to it, so I just knew that about me. When I went to find out what the youngins or what everyone else out there likes, I will have to go look that up, like top 100 songs or top books that people are buying, because I want to know what the masses are thinking or into.
But most people don't think that way, most people now, because they're uncritically on these platforms and just passive viewers of content, of course, they're actually unknowingly feeding the algorithm to give them more of what triggers them. [13:03.0]
Unless you take active efforts to get out of the bubble, you are in a bubble, and if you know that you're being presented with this curated view of the content and the amount of what's on the internet is so gigantic that you're just getting a tiny, tiny slice of it, what I do is I train the algorithm like I would Spotify to show me what I like and I know that.
If I ever need to periodically, every couple weeks or so, I need to do research, I clear off the search history and watch history and I’ll use a private browser or do things like that. Then I’ll actually have to actively type in searches for what's trending and et cetera to find out, to get a finger on the pulse of pop culture. Most guys don't do that and they don't realize how ensconced in their views of what's harming them and how righteous they are that they lose track, they lose perspective of what's actually going on. [13:58.4]
One of the pernicious myths that are getting passed around among them used to be teenage men back in my generation—teenage boys would buy into it because it's fun and so on. I'll get into why—but then now it's dudes in their fifties and sixties, and it's all across the board, it seems it's quite common for the myth of pure evil to be self-perpetuating in the worldviews of many men and this is causing them a lot of pain. It's blocking their access to love, especially unconditional love.
It's also creating a lot of fear and, as a result of fear, there's anger because there's a protective mechanism going up psychologically and sometimes physically. As a result of this barrier, this armor that they put up out of their fear of pure evil, it blocks love from getting in. It blocks genuine emotional connection and intimacy, and it prevents them from accessing the vulnerability that's required to be actually able to love and to receive love. It also makes it very difficult for them to access their higher self. [15:03.2]
I, personally, am not optimistic that this will change. I, in fact, think this will just accelerate and the world will further polarize, and this is part of the cycle of world history, but I can do my own little personal best to point it out to people and to you, dear listener. One of the reasons I chose this theme was because of a comment from Zeke. Zeke commented this on the She Hulk episode and I'm going to just read out some of the comments so that we can get some context for it, and then I will share about the myth that I was talking about, the myth of pure evil, that if you subscribe to it, it will end up blocking your access to your true self, your access to love flowing from you and being able to receive it, your access to authentic, genuine, intimate connection.
Okay, so this is the first comment from Zeke. There are two comments here. “I saw the other comment to bring up House of the Dragon and I got a scene” - Was it House of the Dragon? I kept thinking it was House of Dragons like Game of Thrones. That would've been a better ring to it, but okay, House of the Dragon, you're right. [16:07.2]
- “and I got a scene in mind when it comes to today's need to alter a woman character to fit our society's standards rather than let the story take place as it should. The older woman, Rhaenys Targaryen, honestly, gets on my nerves. I don't know if me being annoyed by her is justified or me being part of the men who gave She Hulk bad ratings. On the second to last episode, at the end of the episode, they created a new scene for the show that wasn't in the books.” As a side note here, I want to point out something that's very important, because especially with the She Hulk episode, I got a lot of comments about here's some interviews with such-and-such director or writer or something like that who said this was what we were thinking when we were doing this.
Those are fun to geek out on, but when it comes to producing art, once the art is out there, it doesn't really matter what the artist's intention was. When the art is out there, it now lives on its own, and many times, with good or great art, the art is smarter than the artist. In this case, the story is smarter than the writer, and that's normal. [17:07.1]
There's guys trying to shame writers of movies or books, saying this is a reflection of their own psychology. Of course, it is. It always is and that's why you, as a reader or viewer, I, as a psychologist or therapist, can watch what's going on and see a lot more that's going on there, perhaps into the unconscious of the writer than the writer knew, and that's fine. That's actually my prerogative as an interpreter of the art.
That's part of what makes art awesome. You throw the art out there, whether it's a song, a movie, a play, a book, and then you see what the readers or viewers take from it, and whatever you take from it as the viewer or reader is also legitimate, because, obviously it's your own interpretation of it. Whether the writers intended it or not, it doesn't really matter. What matters is what they actually put out, so in good writing, the writing is often smarter than the writer. [18:03.6]
Now, in addition, you've got to notice that just because it wasn't in the books, it's not a big deal, because here I looked this up, the Game of Thrones show was adapted from 4,200 pages of A Song of Ice and Fire saga, which spans about three years’ worth of events in the timeline of this fictional world. By comparison, the House of the Dragon story stems from only about 250 pages from the Fire & Blood companion, and rather than three years, that material spans three decades.
While Thrones had about 1,400 pages of source material per fictional year, the House of Dragon will have an average of fewer than 10 pages per year, so almost all of the finer plot points are completely written up because this was actually taken from, as I read, some history books that were giving the backstory. With all that said, it doesn't matter whether it was in the books or not, because very little of it was actually in the books, literally speaking. If we just adapted what was in the books, the thing would be over in one episode. [19:05.6]
Okay, reading on.
“She pops out of the floor with her big dragon and is face to face with the antagonist of the story.”
Now, here's part of the problem. You've already picked sides. You're already seeing it as good versus evil, and that's part of what you've lost. I also saw these people who were talking about She Hulk and saying they didn't like the villain and I was like, Wait, there's a villain in She Hulk? I was thinking, Who are the villains? There's another woman and she was Tatiana, and they depicted her in such a way that if you have any maturity at all, you would just feel compassion for her and kind of sorry for her, right? Then there were the incels at the end, and you also, hopefully, if you're mature enough, you just feel sorry for them.
There wasn't any villain per se and that's part of what makes it the part of the female, the woman's perspective. You don't require good guys versus bad guys, good cop, bad cop, heroes in villains. That's such an immature teenage-boy perspective on things. Hey, it's fun, I enjoy those as much as anyone else. You can turn your brain off and just sort of fall into this easy fantasy. It makes life very simplistic, but that's not real life and it's also not the way of the more the feminine approach. [20:19.2]
I brought this up in terms of philosophy, how philosophy is done between men, a more masculine approach, which is just debating and combat, right? The war is fought on paper or in debate, but for the feminine or feminist philosophy, they have—and there's plenty of books written on this—a more nurturing aspect or a more nurturing approach to philosophy where it isn't about argument or counterargument, but more about exploring ideas and nurturing those who might be shy or might have the seed of an idea and just need to have that cultivated out so that it can grow, and this is a perfectly legitimate and, in many cases or in some cases, at least, some context, a superior approach to getting closer to the truth. The House of the Dragon is more Shakespearean in that sense where it presents to you the backstory of all these different sides, so let's set aside needing to have a hero versus a villain. [21:15.0]
Then he continues. “She has the moment to burn them all alive, but she just leaves. I was so enraged by this.”
I asked him, “So, you were enraged that she didn't burn all these people alive?” Further down he says: “The showrunners admitted that the scene was to give her more of a strong female moment. I don't mind that, but I think it made her character incredibly stupid. Their excuse is ‘When she sees Alicent protecting her child from the dragon by going in front of him, she was thinking that she could not hurt another mother.’ Again, this made me mad. If she truly cared about mothers, kill the four people on that podium and save the thousands of mothers she doomed to dying in a war. It makes no sense, I hated it.” Let's just pause there and notice the anger, the frustration. Later on he calls it his annoyance. Angry, annoyed, not angry, violent, but just angry, mad, and hating it. Just pause there. Notice that reaction to what you see. [22:11.6]
There's a really great character that they wrote that I didn't see coming. I'm not a fan, I haven't read any of the books, so I didn't have any backstory, not that it would have mattered that much since it was the backstory or the source material on this was supposedly a history text. But there was a guy named Ser Criston Cole, who at the beginning seemed like a really upstanding guy and you're rooting for him. Then he turns totally this other way where he is super triggered by what he believes is evil and he must defend the innocence of the good side, and of course, he's depicted in such an extreme way that I don't think anyone-- it's going to be difficult to have sympathy for him. Yet here we have this reaction of “I saw her not killing people and it made me mad. I was in a rage,” and I don't want to pick on Zeke here, but just as a teaching moment, Zeke, perhaps you can just pause and notice that in yourself. Now notice how you can now understand Ser Criston Cole. [23:08.7]
Then he goes on to write: “Yeah, I can see some women trying to be all defiant and ‘strong’, and I quote ‘strong’, again in quotation marks, because I find it annoying in real life, too. I once saw a woman go off on her husband with the portrayal of being all strong, then she loses it and starts banging her own head against the door. I was young when I saw this and it completely made me think psycho, but I often see this now in women as faking being strong.”
Okay, let's pause there. What does he see? This is so common among boys, right? You see someone becoming emotional. So, here she is, the real life portrayal, and this is much more important than your interpretation of the movie, which is just a symbol of what's really happening. Real life example, “I once saw a woman go off on her husband.” What does that mean? I'm just assuming she's getting mad at him, raising her voice on him, and “with a portrayal of being all strong.” I'm not sure what that means exactly, but I can imagine she is arguing with him and speaking like a tough woman or something, a tough guy. [24:10.1]
Then here, she starts banging her own head against the door. Why do people do that? I'm going to back out and this might be too advanced now for Zeke to understand, but maybe he is. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. What's happening when someone is banging their head against the door is because they have chosen not to bang their head against the husband. Okay, so this is very important. Criston Cole doesn't make that choice. He literally bangs somebody else's head and kills him. It would've been better off, if you have this aggressive energy, instead of hitting the other person, you have nowhere else to take it, you can hit your head against the wall. It also can be a manipulative move of saying, “Look how much this is affecting me. I want you to be affected by it, husband. Show me that you care about me. That's really what I'm asking for. I don't really give a shit about the argument itself, whether you took the trash out or you forgot the damn milk. That's not ever the real issue. The real issue is whether you're present here and whether I can feel that you care and you want to connect with me.” [25:14.7]
When she or a man, it's also common for men to do this, they just don't talk about it, where they take that energy instead of putting it against their friend or the woman, their wife or their mother or whatever, he hits the wall instead, right? The woman instead head-butts a door. Instead of head-butting the man, she diverts the direction of the anger and aggressiveness elsewhere, and from herself to something that is repairable like the door. Now, he's thinking psycho because he is afraid of it and that's totally normal. Young children don't know what to make of it, so if you're a parent, you want to avoid having these scenes that just are, to a child, incomprehensible and therefore unpredictable and therefore scary. But for an adult seeing that, hopefully, you have the wherewithal to realize that this person is in pain. [26:07.8]
This woman is in emotional, psychological pain and she doesn't know what to do with her anger, just like you don't really know what to do with your anger, and she's, instead of just holding it all inside, what she's probably been doing for a long time, it's already at the edge because she's talking it out now. Instead of directing it in a violent, aggressive way at the person, the husband, she redirects it against the door and, hopefully, you in your rational logical sense, can see why that would be actually preferable. But, of course, she also is doing it in a way to show that she's hurting and she wants to see if the husband will tell her at least to stop doing that and give her a hug, which is really what it's about and starts from and requires. Of course, if you stay in your head about the logical bullshit of the actual argument, you're going to lose. That's why most guys lose it, because they don't understand the emotional wavelength that women and mature people are actually communicating on, and they don't understand how to make sense of her banging her head against the door. They simply label it as psycho and want to run away from it, and he calls this faking being strong. [27:15.7]
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Actually, no, repressing your emotions isn't strong. It's a fearful response. That's what Criston Cole was doing. All the way through, he was repressing, repressing, repressing, until he couldn't repress it enough and then it had its outbursts at random moments based on his self-righteous view of the world of a clear black and white. “I need an antagonist. I need a protagonist. I need good, I need evil to make sense of it,” and that's where we get the myth of pure evil. [28:24.3]
Part of it is you see this thing that you can't make sense of and you just label it as psycho, in a way, labeling it as crazy, chaos, therefore, evil or bad, and, therefore, weak. When a toxic man or an immature man labels something weak, it is, therefore, also evil, because if you stay with weakness so long, the weakness will eventually lead to evil, right? It’s a sin, lust, temptation, and these are all the things that they are pushing back. They're repressing so hard with their willpower and that is living life with repression that is toxic and acidic from the inside eating you up. [28:59.4]
Now, Zeke ends his comment with something wonderful. He says: “I am sorry if I seem horrible for saying all this, but maybe it goes into what you said about me not understanding fully female logic, and you're right, because more often than not, I see their train of thought as kind of dumb.” Okay, yeah, that's exactly the problem, right? Great, you sense that. You suspect that and you are right in your suspicion. Zeke's follow up comment is also very revealing, and he mentions here: “I'm not mad that she didn't kill people. I'm mad she didn't do the most logical thing for her scenario. She literally busted out of the floor killing hundreds of innocent people, who some were mothers, but not the four people on a single podium who stole the crown, and by doing so, guaranteed war to happen just because one of those four happens to be a mother. The logic in all of this is what makes me mad.” Okay, so let me explain a better interpretation of that scene and why that scene is so much more powerful than you think, and I haven't watched any of the behind the scenes or interviews with showrunners or any of that. It's art, so I'm not really interested in what they intended, and, often, it's much more simplistic because they're just doing it for fans. [30:08.0]
But here's why that scene was so powerful and what was really going on, in my opinion. Again, this is art, so you’ve got to interpret it however you like. To me, what was happening for Rhaenys Targaryen, the older woman, she comes busting out of that and, you were right, kills off just to get out of there, just to clear the space for her dragon to take off and escape because she was being held hostage, basically. She ended up killing a whole bunch of innocent people and she didn't give a fuck. She didn't care. She did, however, come off looking totally badass, and in the whole season up to that, she did not look badass at all. She looked like some old lady. She was being held hostage. She was talking about getting to her dragon. Then in the whole scene leading up to that, she was lost in the crowds getting shoved around like an older woman would, and I was just wondering, Man, is she just going to die being trampeded on by the masses? Because that's how vulnerable she looked and that's why they're setting up this contrast like, Oh, damn, that's why everyone's kissing her ass and trying to get her on their side, because look at her, she's on this giant dragon, and this is one of the largest dragons, I geeked out and googled it. [31:16.0]
This is one of the larger dragons and one of the most powerful. This dragon that she's riding is the red dragon and it's a special dragon, and she's in full-gear armor and she looks like she's going to kill them all and that's how powerful she was. That was establishing her power. It was also establishing that she plays games. She's Machiavellian, like all of them are. They're all playing politics. They're all playing these games. Zeke, she is not a good guy. There are no good guys. There are also no bad guys. Depending on which episode or in which point of the season you drop into, there are going to be some more annoying and antagonistic type of people and then some more innocent-seeming people, but it switches and that's one of the beautiful things about House of the Dragon. It's a lot more realistic than comic books. [32:02.8]
Then she looks at them on the podium there and she gives that look, and it says, “Let's see what happens.” She nods at them and then flies off. She hasn't decided for either side yet at that point. That's why it was so important for her to fly out, and then she's testing. She’s testing Rhaenys to see how she'll handle this news. Then she's stuck around for the council meeting and it was in the council meeting when she threw in with, because then she goes back and consults her husband, who is also a very complex character, and she tells her husband that you should have Rhaenys stand up to a whole council room of men who were campaigning for war, pushing for aggression, and she was the only reasonable voice there, reason to voice there and urging for caution. And how badass that was to be able to resist all of these aggressive council members, right? [33:00.7]
It was as a result of that, that she then sided with Rhaenys. You've forgotten the conversation that this older Rhaenys had with Alicent when Alicent was trying to convince her to join her side. She told her, “You keep playing for men. You keep being their pawn,” and Alicent chose to stay their pawn. What Rhaenys clearly wanted was to back a strong female leader, but Alicent was not that. She chose to be behind the scenes, whereas Rhaenys was leading from the front and in a compassionate way—in a feminine way, just like the distinction I just made in this episode and in the She Hulk episode about feminine or feminist philosophy. There are different ways of approaching getting to the truth. This old woman, when she came out of the earth with her giant dragon, was making a statement to those in power. “I haven't chosen which side I'm going to be on, but don't mess with me and don't think you can control me. I'm my own person and now we're on mutual ground,” right? That’s that nod as she takes off. “Don't come after me, don't try to punish me for breaking out.” [34:11.0]
That scene was important to not only establish how powerful she is as a person, but also how she's just the same as all the rest. They're all playing the Machiavellian games of accruing the most benefit to themselves and their families. The closest to a good guy, in this case the heroine is Rhaenyra—and you're siding with her because she's this innocent child pretty much for the first three or four episodes—and then here, at the end, she is the only source, the sole voice of calm and restraint, and thinking about the people that she governs, right?But then when her son gets eaten at the very end, they show that shot and you know that's over with. She's going to prioritize herself and her family now, just like all the rest. That scene is so powerful because she was the one left, the only one left who wasn't completely given over to the Machiavellian games, but now she has. [35:09.3]
Just noting that she's the last one who is still alive by this point, my wife and I were quite disappointed that Harwin Strong, the one healthy father figure in the whole thing, was killed off, as was his father, the Hand, who seemed to be a pretty decent Hand with integrity. They were both killed off by the super creepy incel guy, Larys Strong. Harwin Strong was the one who stood up against the other incel, Ser Criston Cole, when he was bullying these little boys, Ser Harwin Strong's sons. Just to note, the little boys don't get off any better. You hate Aegon at the end, but earlier in the season, he was the one being bullied and you felt sorry for him. The daughters come off pretty well, but that's probably because we didn't really get to know them. They didn't have many scenes. I mean, they didn't really flesh out those characters, and Harwin Strong wasn't around for very long. It's almost like they come off relatively well like morally-good people, but that's probably because we don't know them very deeply. [36:11.0]
I really appreciated the moral ambiguity, the moral realism of House of the Dragon as opposed to the more black and white, unrealistic, good versus evil, comic book, that appeal that appeals to the more immature, especially boys. It's likely because we males heed that call, the call to the hero’s journey, and watching this sort of black-and-white heroism calls us and reminds us to take this hero's journey. But part of the journey of maturity is recognizing that these black-and-white terms, seeing the world in just good versus evil as Criston Cole did is naive and doesn't accord with the facts. [36:57.2]
I originally wanted to use the House of the Dragon as a jumping-off point to explore the myth of pure evil, which I was just alluding to here. However, we're pretty far into the podcast already and I guess I geeked out too much on the House of the Dragon. As I expected, I would need to dedicate in another episode or more to this exploration of good and evil, moral philosophy and ethics. But I will leave you with this because I did want to get to this the most important theme, in my opinion, of House of the Dragon, especially for a podcast like Masculine Psychology. On the myth of pure evil, I think still the most articulate and thorough treatment of it is Roy Baumeister’s book, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty.If you don't know who Roy Baumeister is, Roy Baumeister is one of the world's most preeminent research psychologists, if not the most eminent. He is one of the world's most influential and most cited psychologists. He's published over 700 scientific works, including over 40 books. [37:59.8]
In 2013, he received the highest award given by the Association for Psychological Science, the William James Fellow Award, in recognition of his lifetime achievements. He's been president-elect of the International Positive Psychology Association. He's also the author of the best book on the myth of pure evil, and I'm going to read out some excerpts for you to just give you a general idea of what this myth is all about. If you're interested in hearing more about this, let me know so that I can dedicate another episode to it. On Page 70 in the section entitled, “The Myth of Pure Evil”: “Two psychologists, Petra Hesse and John Mack, made a detailed study of taped versions of children's cartoons … Specifically, they identified the eight most highly rated cartoon shows at the time, in the late-80s, taped 20 episodes of each, and then spent a long time carefully analyzing their content to understand how they presented images of evil, enemy figures.” [38:53.6]
“Their conclusions are consistent with what we have already seen in movies and religious depictions. The villains have no clear reason for their attacks. They seem to be evil for evil's sake, and they have been so all along. They are sadistic: They derive pleasure from hurting others, and they celebrate, rejoice, or laugh with pleasure when they hurt or kill someone, especially if the victim is a good person. The mere wish to inflict pain for the sake of doing so was aptly captured by a phrase repeatedly uttered by the evil villain Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe: ‘Let’s reach out and crush someone.’ The nonspecific ‘someone’ suggests that the main point is just to inflict hurt, almost regardless of who is hurt. “Apart from the joy of creating harm and chaos, these villains seem to have little motive. Even when they are depicted as wishing for money, power, and war, these wishes are not explained. They already have plenty of money, and it's not clear what use they would have for more. Likewise, they often seem driven by a fierce and implacable hatred of the good guys, which is also not explained.” [40:00.0]
“Evil is presented as being inherently the enemy of peace and order, as well as of beauty. ‘If it were not for the enemies, the world would be at peace,’ as the researchers concluded. The protagonists and heroes want to live in peace, and they only become violent in self-defense against the attacks of the bad guys. The villains want war for the sake of war, and they claim to enjoy destruction and chaos. In some cases, they find beauty threatening and make a point of trying to destroy beautiful things. “A few additional observations by these researchers are worth mentioning. First, the evil figures tend to speak with foreign accents, unlike the heroes, whose speech is nearly always perfect American English.” I'm skipping down to the second.
“Second, they tend to use oppressive techniques to enforce their power, such as torture, mind control, and arbitrary dictatorship. Third, they tend to lose emotional control from time to time. In some cases, the loss of self-control contributes to their undoing, because they make errors that allow the heroes to defeat them. Their anger, in particular, escalates until they lash out blindly and thereby perform self-defeating or self-destructive acts (such as destroying their own resources, weapons, or allies).” [41:07.3]
This was such a great section here because he quoted Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe, and I remember watching almost every single episode religiously as a kid and I totally remember the Cobra Commander depiction and it's kind of hilarious now looking back on it. I'm going to back up a few pages here to the beginning of the section on the myth of pure evil and I’ll be reading out just this short section here. “Given that there is so much evil in the world, why do so few groups or individuals name themselves in positive affirmation of evil? As we saw in the last chapter, most people who do evil do not think of themselves as doing evil. Like ‘Monster’ Kody Scott, most of them regard themselves as good people who are trying to defend themselves and their group against the forces of evil,” like Ser Criston Cole. “If we talk to their enemies, however, we soon learn that the enemies also see themselves as the good guys fighting against evil. The world often breaks down into us against them, and it almost invariably turns out that evil lies on the side of ‘them.’” [42:12.5]
“In one sense, then, the face of evil is no one's real face. It is always a false image that is imposed or projected on the opponent. But the image of evil is familiar to everyone today, just as it has been familiar to everyone for thousands of years. How can we be so familiar with something that doesn't exist? How can so many different cultures and peoples all over the world come up with roughly the same image of evil, if it is not founded in reality? Or, to turn the question around, how can the image of evil survive so well if it is a mistake? “This chapter will explain the perennial image of evil. I will argue that the image of evil is not confined to archaic superstitions and quaint religious theories. Indeed, it has been an important force in the twentieth century. The purpose of this chapter is to understand what psychological needs or forces sustain this image despite its weak relationship to empirical reality.” [43:04.3]
“The most pervasive and compelling image of evil has pretty much the same characteristics wherever it appears. Actual events are then often distorted, misperceived, or otherwise twisted to fit this image. The image survives in the eyes of beholders everywhere because it satisfies several important needs and reassures people about their own goodness and innocence. “This image requires a name, because it will come up repeatedly. For convenience, the myth of pure evil approximately captures the main implications.” I had planned to share more excerpts from this book. The podcast episode is now over-time, so let me know if you want to hear more about the myth of pure evil and I’ll be happy to expand on it and give more of my views. Now, one caveat that I know from many conversations and discussions and explorations I’ve had with others about this is that we're not saying that the concept of evil doesn't exist. Of course, evil as a concept exists. It has to in order for goodness to make any sense, and, of course, you could label acts or behaviors, or results, as evil, or motivations or intentions as evil. But what we're getting at is whether anyone is purely evil or whether anyone can be identified as the instantiation of the concept of evil. [44:25.7]
Whether you buy into the myth of pure evil has a lot to do with how successful you will be in your therapeutic process. There's an amazing book by Richard Schwartz, which I highly recommend as the first book now that people read or study when it comes to IFS Therapy, and that book is called No Bad Parts. It was recently published, I think this year or last year, and as you can probably tell from the title, No Bad Parts, one fundamental assumption—and it will be proven out as you open up to the process—is that there are no parts of you that are fully evil. [45:00.7]
To just give you a better idea of how these concepts are related, the myth of pure evil and the work of IFS Therapy and the therapeutic process, in general, I'm going to read out a couple paragraphs from Richard Schwartz's book, No Bad Parts. This is from Page 62 of my edition. “As discussed in the introduction, the view of humanity that has dominated the western world trends toward the pessimistic. In order to justify slavery, white Europeans started to differentiate themselves from other less civilized cultures. We might all struggle with primitive impulses, but according to that paradigm, some, typically darker people, were not as skilled at controlling their irrational bestial parts. This veneer theory of controlling the primitive can be applied not only to impulses, but also to people. “One theme of this book is that how we think about and relate to the inhabitants of our inner worlds translate directly to how we think about and relate to people. If we live in fear of and strive to control certain parts of us, we will do the same to people who resemble those parts. This veneer theory suggests that civilization forms the protective layer necessary to contain and hide all our primitive instincts that are constantly wanting to break through.” [46:14.6]
Historian Rutger Bregman. There’s a great book by Rutgers Bregman called Humankind. It's a little bit overblown because he writes like a journalist, but he presents some excellent research. On this, by the way, there's another, a really great book by Dacher Keltner. The spelling of the first name is D-A-C-H-E-R, and the last name is Keltner, K-E-L-T-N-E-R. The title of the book is Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, and Keltner is a prominent psychology researcher at UC Berkeley. Back to Schwartz's book. [46:54.3]
“Historian Rutger Bregman asserts that, in contrast to the veneer theory, people are basically good. He debunks the research of notable thinkers such as Richard Dawkins, Philip Zimbardo, and Stanley Milgram, all of whom held highly pessimistic and extremely influential views about people. When Bregman took a second look at the methods and data from their famous studies, he found enough rampant distortion and falsification to discredit them outright.
“Bregman’s argument is that we have organized all our institutions based on this selfish view of people, and that if we realize that was not true, everything would change. Once we shift paradigms to the knowledge that, at their essence, everyone is decent and kind, we can reorganize our economic systems, schools and prisons. He offers many examples of successful institutions and programs that are based on the positive view of human nature. “Clearly, our veneer based approach of control and contain is not working. What if it were true that there are no bad parts, only burdened ones frozen in the past that needed to be unburdened rather than punished? What if, at their essence, everyone was a self that could be accessed quickly? How would the world be different?”
Then the next section is entitled, Why the Negative View Doesn't Work. There's so much more I want to share from Schwartz’s book, but we're getting over on time, and I just want to conclude with just making clear what the myth of pure evil is, so coming back to Baumeister’s book now on Page 72. What is pure evil? [48:13.3]
“First, pure evil involves the intentional infliction of harm on people. I began this book by noting that evil is in the eye of the beholder; now we can add that these beholders are generally people who suffer harm. They see the agent of evil as someone who harmed them. Moreover, the harm is intentional. Evil seeks to do harm and does it deliberately. At least, that is how people think of it. “Second … evil is driven primarily”—or pure evil is driven primarily—“by the wish to inflict harm merely for the pleasure of doing so. By and large, evil is not understood as something that reluctantly uses violence as a means to an end. Rather, the harm inflicted by evil forces is gratuitous.
“Pure evil is sadistic: Pure evil people enjoy the suffering they cause, and they inflict harm to get this enjoyment. Sometimes evil is seen as driven by cravings for power or money, but these are not well-articulated motives, and such desires are certainly not part of some positive scheme (such as the wish to gain power in order to make the world a better place). If evil wants money and power, the money and power are often seen merely as means toward further evil.” [49:16.6]
“This lack of a comprehensible motive behind evil is strikingly similar to the research findings about ordinary interpersonal conflicts that I discussed in the last chapter. When people have been angered or victimized by someone else, they tend to describe that person's actions as having no coherent or apparent reason.” I'm skipping around here just in the interest of time. “Third, the victim is innocent and good. The forces of evil may occasionally turn on one another, but for the most part they try to attack good people. Victims are usually good people who are going about their business decently and appropriately. They are set upon out of the blue and for no reason by evildoers. Such victims deserve the utmost sympathy and support from all decent people, because what happened to them could happen to anyone … [49:56.7]
Fourth, evil is the other, the enemy, the outsider, the out-group. Evil does not exist by itself but only in relation to the good. And what usually happens is that the conflict of good versus evil is often superimposed on the conflict of us against them. The pattern of having cartoon bad guys speak English with foreign accents, even among themselves, which is absurdly unrealistic on the face of it, reflects this underlying assumption that evil attaches mainly to people outside our own group.
“Fifth, evil has been that way since time immemorial.” This is very Lord of the Rings. “Evil is not a matter of well-meaning, decent people turning bad in response to traumatic, difficult, or otherwise unpleasant experiences. Evil is steady and relentless and, for the most part, unchanging. Maybe once long ago there was a turning to bad, a fall from grace, an evil awakening, a new recognition, but throughout all of recent history, evil has been just that: evil. With individual people, the same is true: They were always evil, at least since childhood. Generally, they are born to be bad, as opposed to starting off good and turning bad in response to some decisively influential experience.” [50:59.7]
“Sixth, evil represents the antithesis of order, peace, and stability. The normal world, the good and peaceful world, is stable and predictable. The intrusion of evil is essentially a disruption of the normal pattern of things. Evil is not just harm; it is also chaos and irrationality.”
And I should add as an aside, you might notice if you buy into the myth of pure evil, if you fear chaos instead of being able to be courageous and strong enough to face it.
“Hence the common tendency, especially in a slightly more superstitious past, to think that earthquakes and other natural disasters are evil, because they bring both harm and chaos. “Seventh, evil characters are often marked by egotism … “Last, evil figures have difficulty maintaining control over their feelings, especially rage and anger … “Taken together, then, the other features constitute the myth of pure evil. A force, or person, that seeks relentlessly to inflict harm, with no positive or comprehensible motive, deriving enjoyment from the suffering of others, is pure evil. It maliciously and gratuitously seeks out unsuspecting, innocent victims from among the good people of the world. It is the eternal other, the enemy, the outsider who despises the orderly and peaceful world of the good and seeks to throw it into chaos.” [52:12.2]
This is an amazing chapter. He goes on into the “Pure Evil in Modern Life” and the depiction of pure evil in movies and in the news, and so on. If you would like to hear more, let me know because there's so much more to say and to explore on this.
I just want to point out, I was hoping to do more on the myth of pure evil in this, but I geeked out on the House of the Dragon. If you haven't watched the House of the Dragon, you shouldn't have been listening to this, but if you have watched it, sit back and reflect on the moral realism that's in this TV series that was absent in the earlier fantasy series like Lord of the Rings, like Game of Thrones that came before.I think that's a positive sign that society has a deeper or more sophisticated understanding of human psychology and trauma and therapy, and, hopefully, has a more open-minded and compassionate understanding of concepts like good and evil, and people being labeled as good or evil. [53:15.7]
Thanks so much for listening to this episode. I went way over time. Let me know if you want to hear more about the myth of pure evil and moral philosophy, and good evil and all that. Let me know what you think about this episode. Leave a comment. Leave a like, and if you enjoyed this, please share it with anyone that you think would benefit from it. Thank you so much for listening. I'll see you in the next episode. Until then, David Tian signing out.
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