Discussing The Watchmen

Short Stories

Two friends walked barefoot down a beach. After a startling sunset, night was making its way across the horizon as droves of beachgoers headed to their cars, afraid of a cool wind blowing sand lazily into the air, creating what seemed like a mirage or dream-like sequence. Albert and Leo, already deep in discussion hardly noticed the flock of people leaving the beach or that little by little the sand and ocean grew darker, wrapped in night’s protective embrace. From the pier overlooking the beach and the ocean, Leo and Albert were two progressively receding blips on the horizon, ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Soon they would be swallowed by sand, becoming altogether indiscernible in the distance.

“What did you think of Dr.Manhattan,” Leo was asking. “As the story went on he became less and less able to connect on a physical or emotional level with the human race. He realizes this especially at the end when he decides to leave Earth for good. Sure he is a supreme being but is omniscience worth the loss of humanity? I just don’t know. On the one hand he is the only Watchman who actually has powers, and is in a sense what most people wish to become. Think about how many people grow up wishing for the kinds of powers Dr.Manhattan has… but nobody seems to consider the implications. It seems to me that ultimate powers can only be fully enjoyed if you are still able to remain tied to the human race, but I believe one precludes the other.

If you could ask Dr.Manhattan I would bet he wished to return to life before the accident, where he could actually enjoy his wife, feel the tenderness of her kiss, feel her touch. I don’t pretend to know the author’s meaning but if I had to guess I’d say that the existence of Dr.Manhattan in contrast to the other Watchmen is to show us that heros and heroic deeds can be performed by anyone and that ultimate power can be attained only at the destruction of one’s humanity. Really, we should cherish our humanity and celebrate it.” Albert gave a long pause while Leo sat silently in thought. They had stopped walking and stood motionless overlooking a narrow stretch of water cutting through the now-black sand.

“I wonder if the author read a lot of Nietzsche. Dr.Manhattan reminds me a lot of what I envisioned his ubermensch would look like. Then the question is – was Nietzsche right. Man’s ultimate goal is to transcend himself, overcoming all the wills; the will to happiness, truth, power, etc… but overcoming oneself essentially eliminates the humanity from that person. Nietzsche never tells us what the ubermensch looks like or how exactly to get there, but what he hints at would be something akin to Dr.Manhattan. He would be a being who has overcome the human and become ‘super’. So here we can take it to mean that Nietzsche believes that humans are a low form of existence and thinks that to reach a higher order we must transcend our very selves. If Dr.Manhattan represents an ubermensch then we must cal Nietzsche’s philosophy into question. Either that or we must make a choice. In my opinion though, I would rather be mortal than have Dr.Manhattan’s powers – I feel bad for him. His abilities are amazing but throughout you get the sense of sad isolation. Dr.Manhattan tore apart the life of his wife but could barely even feel. He even envies people for their ability to love, even at the painful emotion of bad memories. If Dr.Manhattan himself wishes for humanity then isn’t Nietzsche’s claim for an ultimate desire to overcome humanity false?”

To Nietzsche we are vile creatures with almost no redeeming qualities. His despair when looking at the human race translated into the philosophy of the ubermensch. The Watchmen shows us that yes, humans are ugly and despicable, and it might not even be worth it to live in a world with an understanding of the human condition – as Rorsarch believed. However, we can also see a reason to live and a reason to love humanity despite our faults. What I got out of the Myth of Sisyphus can be applied here too; namely that to cease to exist eliminates any chance at human pleasure and even one chance makes sustaining life worth it, even if life is as monotonous as rolling a stone up and down a hill.”

Leo gave a slight cough as he began to speak; “well I don’t think that Dr.Manhattan cared. He said he envied humans but he was not human. For example, we can envy a bird’s ability to fly but does that make us inferior to birds? I think you have to weigh everything out; perhaps Dr.Manhattan envies some of our emotions (human) that he can no longer experience but at the same time he has other traits and can even create his own life. Perhaps he will create form of life that he can connect with, perhaps there are other Dr.Manhattans in the universe he can befriend. There are too many variables to look at before we can call Nietzsche into question. I’d rather live a life of solitude with Dr.Manhattan’s abilities than live a full and happy life but be otherwise completely ordinary.”

“Ah but a full and happy life is one of the most extraordinary things isn’t it?” Albert interjected.

“… it might be, I guess it’s just a choice. Too bad we don’t have any ubermensch to ask. Anyways, I think that the ubermensch is not an actually attainable ideal but rather an idea to force a person to work towards perfection. Maybe we can never be more than human, but we can be the best human possible.”

“Enough about Dr.Manhattan – Adrian. Right or wrong?” Albert paused for a minute, looking out at the ocean now lightly illuminated like liquid silver by a moon that was slowly climbing through the sky. There were few stars in the sky, but he could point out the big dipper and the North Star glinting like a cosmic wink of understanding – the sky itself interested in their talk. Albert said that Adrian was wrong to which Leo asked why. “Well, I don’t think it was his place to orchestrate the death of millions to save billions. He turned the world against Dr.Manhattan who had worked diligently for people, he toyed with the emotions of his only friends and for what? If we learned anything from the Watchmen it’s that humanity is something that should be generally despised but there are flashes of beauty which make it worthwhile. How can we assume then that the peace Adrian created would last – in fact all the evidence would point to the breakdown of peace at some point. So there would be a worldwide cessation of hostilities for a brief period but was it worth the cost of millions of lives?

And what about poverty, corruption, disease, and all the other truly admirable qualities of this place. Despite being the smartest man in the world it seems to me that even Adrian was in a way removed from humanity; his mind can’t comprehend us, and he overlooked so many variables. He prevented a nuclear holocaust but killed millions and overall changed nothing. So I can’t in good conscience say he was right.”

“You are right,” Leo began, “about Adrian also being removed from humanity. As with most geniuses, he was unable to understand or relate to people. But he, like Dr.Manhattan chose to make a sacrifice for what he believed to be a greater good. Very likely many people would make the same decision in his shoes. When faced with the prospect of billions dying, and one man can prevent it – is not the death of millions worth the risk? Anything can happen, if you sacrifice one person and save ten… what happens if those ten die a week later? Was your sacrifice then null and void? Would you still have made that sacrifice? If anything I think this just shows us perhaps that there is no glory in real heroism. Adrian has the blood of millions on his hands, but in the process he might have saved the world. There might not be a good or bad here. Christianity of example: its critics say that more people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason, the church is decadent, corrupt, and at times has been evil. Is Christianity then bad? If your answer is yes, then how do you account for the billions it has saved, and continues to save. The man who wishes only for suicide before finding solace and purpose in the Church, or the food it gives to the poor. Like everything, even humanity itself, it very well might be that the majority is cast in darkness, but to have even a faint glimmer of light shine in that darkness is what makes the existence of the universe meaningful. In this way I would say that Adrian is right.”

“An interesting comparison, but this begs the question; are these institutions necessary? Why do people like Adrian or the Church have to tamper with humanity? Would evolution and the natural course of history not suffice to eliminate evil in the world? Marx says that we are not ready for communism precisely because our institutions and current evolutionary state are so vile. Humanity can’t handle utopia – so why would Adrian think his plan would succeed? Marx would say that only through a natural progression will man be ready to embrace utopia and yet Adrian is attempting to force the hand of history, despite the fact that empirical evidence suggests this idea to be flawed. As such these institutions perhaps do more harm than good. The church has saved billions, but killed billions. Is an eye for an eye worth it, or will it make the world blind? I’m inclined to believe the latter. I admit though that I’m weird – I have principles and values that stand above all else, like Rorsarch. He preferred death rather than accepting the reality of a doctored peace.”

“Well, since you brought up Rorsarch,” Leo started, looking straight up at the moon now at the height of its nightly luminance. Strangely the night was not cold and they had sat with feet buried in the sand, far away from the humanity which had long since went to sleep. He picked up again after his brief pause… “he killed others but held to lofty principles. This I don’t understand. True he only killed criminals in the name of justice, but the taking of life is murder no matter how one looks at it. Rorsarch recognized the cruel reality of the world he lived in, recognized that innocence as an ideal was dead, and yet could not accept Adrian’s killing of millions to save billions. To me he just seems hypocritical. You can’t kill and then object to others killing because of a difference in scale, and likewise it is difficult for me to grasp how he would think Adrian killed innocents when all of humanity is guilty – he said it himself. I think his perception of reality was warped and his line of work had broken his sanity, to which he partially admits. How can one who has submersed himself in grime come out clean? The reality he faced every day skewed and jaded his views to the point where his perception about morality, while not inherently good or bad, was illogical. His problem was being unable to let millions die without exposing the sham with a disregard for the ensuing peace.

I think his desire for death also was an admission of being removed from humanity. Like Dr.Manhattan and Adrian, Rorsarch could not escape the loss of understanding, but hi remedy was death; partially because he knew he was just as guilty as those had killed also.”

“Well I’m glad you think my values are skewed!” Albert joked, “but seriously, let’s actually take a look at this. Rorsarch was devoted to the idea of the Watchmen, he saw the decadence of the world and gave his life trying to fight a losing battle. Unlike the others, he accepted his oss of humanity, I think because the night he brutally murdered the child killer destroyed any ounce of humanity left in him. He became a creature almost without a purpose, humanity was doomed and his work would not save it. In the end he chose death because the values he were dead. And truthfully, he is I think the most human of all the Watchmen because he is an idealist at the same time he has stooped to the lowest rungs of the ladder of human waste. This is where many people, the author leads us to believe, are currently situated. Knowing this and his own guilt, he opts for death. IT’s not a graceful or noble death but a quick flash that will be quickly forgotten and washed away by the snow in which he died.”

The two friends sat in silence for a long while, absorbed in thought and reflection. Neither of them knew what time it was, how long they had been talking, or how far they had walked. They looked now at a moon preparing to set and make way for the main performance. Stars had vanished from the sky, a quiet earth rolled around in slumber, toying at the sheets and pulling them tightly. A few bird could be seen overhead flying, deep in thought and silence. The black of the sky began to change color, like a giant bruise of purple and dark blues. Albert and Leo knew the sun soon would rise and life would continue as it always did; humanity as Sisyphus rolling his stone up and down a hill without fail and sans fatigue.

The two friends got up and continued to walk into the night which was about to end; a cool wind blew over the sand where they had sat and in moments all traces f them had ceased to exist.

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