Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

300 Spartans

Posted by Jerry on March 22, 2007

[Note: Some minimal spoilers follow. I don’t believe reading this post will ruin your experience of the movie, but consider yourself warned.] 

I watched 300 last night. I had not seen anything more visually spectacular. My friend Dexter captured my own thoughts when, after the movie, he said: it’s like, whatever you imagine is on the screen.

While the movie is primarily about the battle at the hot gates between the Spartans and the Persians, which occurred sometime around 500 BC, the movie also included a good measure of some lofty, abstract, philosophical punchlines. It should be fairly easy to recognize that the lofty ideas espoused by the characters were neither necessarily fully consistent with each other (some ideas being flat contradictions) nor were the principles consistently applied in practice. For example, given all the anti-mysticism proclamations, I was rather confused with why the Spartans were required by law to seek the counsel of the priests and the Oracle in important matters of war, and why did the Spartan King Leonidas even bother to comply by this mystical law at all?

Nonetheless, I shall not gripe about this movie because its positive qualities–the stylized cinematography, action choreography, slick editing, incredible CGI effects, bone-chilling musical score, and impressive directorial choices–far outweigh the minor, nitpicky issues in 300.

However, there is one dialogue from the movie that I would like to especially highlight [and here, I get into a slightly more philosophical tangent. For those of you not so inclined to participate in such a discussion, my review of the movie ends here; basically, it’s a visual feast. Go watch it!]:

The deformed Spartan hunchback, who was refused permission by King Leonidas to fight alongside the 300 spartans due to his physical deformities, approaches Xerxes the Persian king with the proposition of betraying Sparta as a form of vengeance. In exchange, the Persian king offers the deformed hunchback clothes, money, women, and sexual pleaures. However, Xerxes wants one thing from the deformed creature:

Xerxes says, “Cruel Leonidas demanded that you stand, I only require that you kneel.”

This statement, to me, concretizes the opposing abstract, philosophical positions of egoism and altruism, pride and humility, heroism and cowardice, reason and religion.

Egoism requires that you never sacrifice yourself for others nor others for yourself, that you engage with others only in the trade of values; in other words, egoism requires you to stand on your feet with your own abilities, and use the abilities of others only to the extent at which they offer it in exchange for a price you are willing and able to pay. In contrast, altruism demands the sacrifice of yourself and your happiness for the sake of others; hence, altruism requires that you kneel and submit to the wishes and desires of others.

Reason requires the best from men, their best integrations, inventions, innovations, ideas, and insights. Religion only requires men to kneel before some mystical Being and wait for revelations. Reason promises you nothing more than what your own honest efforts can acquire. Religion promises you many things in the future–the unearned, undeserved, unimaginable, and impossible; but it requires that you submit what you own today–your mind, your money, your values, your freedom, your reason.

In a recent post, I argued that it is morally superior to champion the intellectually bright and the best in society because of the far-reaching influence of their brilliant minds in handling the problems of the world.

300, the movie, dramatically illustrates the point that when in battle–and when man’s survival is at stake–one is morally obligated to demand only the most able-bodied warriors; settling for anything less than the ideal, let alone a deformed and incapacitated hunchback, simply out of sympathy or pity or due to a moral obligation towards the weak in society, is literally sanctioning one’s own death; it is a moral, ethical, and literal act of suicide. 

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15 Responses to “300 Spartans”

  1. frayednerveendings said

    not related to the post but, 😦

  2. Sinus said

    At least we still have the blog… 😦

  3. Avadhut said

    Don’t know where else to contact you (I don’t do phones). So download GTalk and come online to chat you oaf!

  4. Ergo said

    Avadhut! My hot crush! So happy to see you comment on here! 😉

  5. Eww!

  6. Tim Wikiriwhi said

    Hi Ergo sum,
    It’s the Kiwi Libertarian Christian again!
    I loved the 300 and wrote a small review about how it was more Christian in symbolism than objectivist on another objectivist blog and they deleted it instead of arguing reasonably against it! The blog was called “A miniature American flag for others” and they were discussing the movie ‘300’ I think they are a disgrace to Objectivism!
    (You may want to check them out for yourself)

    Anyway I loved the movie!
    Here is my take on it in relation to Christian symbolism vs Ojectivist symbolism.
    I admit I am sharp on my words yet I will give it to you like I did that other Objectivist blog and see what your comments are.
    You will no doubt disagree with it yet I will be interested to see if you too simply delete it or whether you answer it (Esp in the light of our previous talk on free speech!).
    I hope the latter!
    Here it is!…

    Movie review: The Christian symbolism of ‘300’ vs Objectivism by Tim Wikiriwhi
    I laugh at the idea that Objectivists could claim the story of the 300 represents ‘their struggle’, even if it has been fictionalized by an Objectivist!
    For starters Objectivism is Anti self sacrifice! They hold their own lives to be the only standard of morality and so the traitorous hunchback truly represents the Objectivist!
    That he kneeled before the tyrant is no proof to the contrary as the Objectivist holds that they don’t owe anyone the truth and so they can excuse their submission as a necessary lie!
    The truth of the matter is this movie really embodied Christian principles of doing what is right in spite of devilish mysticism, and resisting Satanic Total states where the king is god!
    Leonidas was like Christ when he rejected power and the kingdoms of the earth rather than bow down to ‘Satan’ and like Christ Leonidas sacrificed himself for mankind!
    It is the Christian that holds mystical/theological truths as justice and freedom above their own life and in fact believes that to live for these mystical concepts is what gives human life it’s full value and superiority over brute nature!
    Leonidas said to his men tonight “we dine in hell”, (their heaven) meaning he believed in the soul and would survive death.
    The symbolism of this movie is so much more Christian than Objectivist it is a joke to claim Leonidas represents an Objectivist! (but typically Objectivists make absurd judgments to falsely accrue heroism, rights, justice, and reason as their own!)
    Rand is the ultimate second hander so why expect less from her worshippers?

    The reality of Sparta was they were anti-capitalist communist slave mongers.
    That not withstanding the real event is a tribute to a great King who gave his life for his country.
    The Objectivist would run like a coward! Or take the loot!
    John Galt was such a coward!
    The reality is that Xerxes is a real character of BIBLICAL history!

  7. Tim Wikiriwhi said

    Dear Ergo sum,
    I Like your review on the 300 and I can see how you arrive at your main points. I would like to talk about a few of your comments.

    That Leonidas went to the oracle is actually good history as that is exactly what the Greeks did in those days! That he was said he had too go was also an essential of the plot (so he could use reason to reject the mystics!) In the limited context of Greek mythology I agree with that as we Christians are told to hold to God’s principles (Reason) and not to heed ‘oracles’. If the Idea is that reason is intrinsically at odd with all things mystical then it is a fallacy.
    That he was said to have to go to the oracle by law could mean that all good kings submit to laws rather than rule by caprice.
    It also could symbolise how False religion can have formidable political power, and the laws of a country can be perverted so as to give the priesthood dominion, and that ultimately bad laws must be ignored by a brave man and overcome with reason based upon higher principles. (The separation of church and state for one!)

    Regarding what you have perceived to be the definitive moment regarding the Standing of the egoist vs the submission of the Non-egoist. I say that my own review I posted earlier was based upon debunking your argument.
    It is interesting that you see egoism as the ultimate defense against Statist tyranny where as I see faith in higher principles that are so important that life without them is not life at all and willing would sacrifice myself as Leonidas did. One of those principles is the altruist love of my fellow man. I say Rand has deceived her followers into thinking altruism is intrinsically collectivist when I say when it comes from the heart and free will of the individual it is definitively the highest statement of individualism! force has nothing to do with true altruism! It is the principle of ‘the self’ making the ultimate stand for his values!
    Also I argue that such values as Freedom, reason, justice, only find their true vindication in Theological transcendence not in atheism materialist reality!
    This is why the egoist will not sacrifice himself!
    These concepts are mere arbitrary values for the atheist who knowing he has no better reason to live up to these values than expedience will not take them to be ultimate truths worthy of his own death unless he has some fetish for Glory in succeeding generations which is definitively second hand in nature!
    This is how I have arrived at the very opposite view of you defining moment!
    I say *mysticism* is essential to resist kneeling and that atheism ultimately has no strength in it! (The Christian ought to kneel to none but God Almighty and justice!)
    Rand was very contradictory in all of these senses and very second hand in he motives! her books may have given the impression that she was impervious to the criticism of others and did not function on seeking the praise or sanction of others yet in real life she was fanatical about leaving a legacy of fame! (Roark didn’t even want his name on the drawings! he just wanted to build things!)
    I say Rand stole the most lofty concepts and principles of theology (like Individual dignity and rights) and then created a whole atheist lie around these in an attempt to hide her theft!
    She did not start with atheism and arrive at individual rights or the reverse. She merely engaged in sophistry disguised in rhetoric and grand notions of heroism to such in those people who have no philosophical understanding of what she was doing. (even her idea of the heroic is divorced from reality as if you check out history most of your real life heroes will have been altruistic and even theists!)
    These are my comments on your review.
    Kind Regard
    Tim Wikiriwhi

  8. Ergo said

    Tim,

    I cannot understand the bulk of your rambling comments. They are filled with illogical non-sequiturs and falsehoods. It is very clear that you know nothing about Objectivism–that your “criticisms” of Objectivism are in fact adolescent arguments against your own concoction of a hedonistic “philosophy.”

    But what is more revealing–and embarrassing to your self-image–is that you know nothing about Christianity either! Here, learn from an atheist:

    Christianity is founded on the principle of altruism, self-sacrifice, pacifism, and promiscuous love. Jesus said, thou shalt not live by the sword, for if thou dost so, thou shall die by the sword. Love your ENEMIES, for loving your friends is meaningless and valueless–anyone can achieve that. A true test of virtue is to love those whom you so desire to hate. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also to him. Those who seek to be first in this world shall be the last in the kingdom of Heaven. God’s kingdom is not of this world. Jesus said, if I were of this world then wouldn’t my soldiers come and secure my freedom? But I am not of this world, nor is my kingdom. Jesus said, what value is it for a man to have gained the whole world but to have lost his own soul?

    And there’s much more…

    Now, the movie 300, and King Leonidas–whom you so foolishly want to claim as the representative of Christ–is all about THIS world, the bloody and gory fight for THIS life in THIS world. The fight by the sword to live by the sword as warriors and DIE by the sword as brave soldiers. The movie is call to vehemently reject the notion of “love your enemies” or love the Persians or love Xerxes… it is the resolve to KILL the ones threaten your own life, end their very existence in order to secure your own. It is a movie that glorifies valor and bravery in battle, NOT pacifism and turning the other cheek.

    My dear Tim, why you do insist on being seen as foolish so publicly on this site. I’m sure you are not as you come across as being. Please, refrain from this act (which is what I hope it is, for your own sake, quite altruistically) 🙂

    And, just as you would object to my coming into your home and loudly claiming that Jesus was just some cheap troublemaker who had some paranoiac illusions of grandeur and his apostles were nothing more than ragged, aimless, thugs, I object to your voicing of your vapid opinions of Ayn Rand on my property–that is, on my blog.

  9. Tim Wikiriwhi said

    Dear Ergo Sum,
    Thank you for your response to my comments and thank you for not censoring them in spite of the fact that you find them derogatory and nonsensical.
    Please do not think they were written for the sake of small minded ‘blasphemy’ of Rand. Like you I enjoyed the movie 300 (for the reasons within my own review) enough to take the time to put my thoughts in words and was surfing the net looking for discussion on that movie and was very happy to find that you were interested in that movie too and had your own opinions on it. Thus I did not hesitate to post you my thoughts, nor did I water them down even though I had received a very spiteful response to them on another Objectivist blog that had invited comments and alternative views, because I thought I would do you the decency of speaking my mind plainly without bother of Political Correctness. I am disappointed that you have chastened me and discouraged me from speaking plainly on your blog as if I had my own blog I would never chasten you for speaking plainly on it as long as it was not wholly perverse language. (the odd swear word I can handle. I do not have my own blog due to my sub standard English language skills.) Thus I am disappointed you discourage Non-Objectivist commentary on your blog and will not post anything further here unless you say that it is cool. In this case do not think silence of opposition is proof of Rands irrefutability but simply a fact of your policy that discourages those of us who do not worship your Goddess.
    As for your comments re my posts, you have failed to answer my points regarding Altruism as being definitively Individualistic, and also failed to vindicate Rands sophistry, but have chosen to attack my intelligence, my knowledge of ‘Objectivism’ and even my knowledge of the Bible and Christianity. In this you show no originality or ability to address the problems of atheist impotence in the face of death. I how ever will answer your false view of the bible and Christianity with facts.
    Christianity is not founded in the Jewish ministry of Christ but in the Gentile ministry of St Paul who commanded us that while we are to propagate our faith only by free speech (Which was the topic of my first post to your site in which I praised your own defense of free speech against catholic Statist Oppression of decent) yet St Paul also said “If it be possible, As much as lieth in you live peacefully with all men” (Romans12vs 18) and from this the History of Christianity can be understood which is not passively letting Satanic God Kings impose their Idolatry upon us or our children! Thus it can be understood why the Christian Nations crushed Hitler and resisted Communism. In fact you cannot have a very good grasp of history esp American history and the theory of Individual rights, the Declaration of Independence and the resistance of tyranny not to understand the Christian ethics upon which these great liberation forces are founded.
    Thus I call upon history to vindicate my position regarding Leonidas fighting Xerxes not some fictional character like John Galt!
    The Bible is Dispensational, which means it must be rightly divided into it’s correct context of Time past-But now- ages to come. This is why it is wrong to take Christ’s kingdom message with his tests for the Jews (turning the other cheek) and blindly ignore why The apostle of the Gentiles (St Paul) who says very different things as the Church age (Christianity) is not about the establishment of Gods kingdom on earth, but a time of grace to the Gentiles.
    This will suffice to answer you without treating you like a fool. If you only seek your blog to be an ego trip for yourself with people saying lovely things about you and worshipping Rand, well I will honor you and never post again here.
    If you actually would enjoy some serious discussion on politics philosophy etc that is truly free thinking and not parroting Rand then please say so and I will happily return and give you my input and would do so with more sensitivity than I have previously thought necessary.
    I hope you choose to have alternative views presented here as in my mind they add and not detract from your blog and present you with the benefits of dialogue rather than monologue ie they are an opportunity for you to practice your philosophy. Should you desire that I go elsewhere with my mind, I will do so.
    Regards
    Tim Wikiriwhi

  10. Ergo said

    Tim, this is not intended as a personal insult: I seriously cannot understand–or follow the logical chain of thought–in much of your comment reviewing my post. Therefore, I am unable to intelligently respond to them. All I see is a string of words that individually make sense, but as a whole they are like static noise.

    As for your criticism of Rand, they are literally “vapid” in the most non-derogatory, literal sense of the word. You tackle no legitimate Objectivist principle and refute them. All you state are intellectually empty remarks like “Rand’s sophistry,” “secondhand motives,” etc. Further, what adds to the confounding nature of your comments is your use of opposing concepts such as “altruism” and “individualism” in order to fuse them into some mutually compatible ideology. Moreover, your appeal to “higher theological principles” are meaningless to me because I don’t know what you are referring to when you say that–higher where? Higher than what? Which principles? Which theology?

    As for your claim that “Christianity is not founded in the Jewish ministry of Christ but in the Gentile ministry of St Paul,” I will not argue that with you because you will have your own fellow Christians to respond to with such a remark. I only wonder why Christianity is not christened “Paulinism” or “Paulianity” or some such thing. Why use Christ’s name when the religion is FOUNDED upon the “ministry of St. Paul”? I assume you reject the explicit teachings of Jesus Christ–when he said to love your enemies, do not live by the sword, turn the other cheek, be the last in this world, renounce everything in this world and follow him, etc.

    Anyway, I’m not interested in a conversation of such kind. If you choose to reveal some semblance of intelligence in your subsequent comments here, then I shall gladly engage in a dialog with you.

  11. Tim Wikiriwhi said

    Dear Ego Sum,
    Thank you for leaving the door open to me on your blog.
    I can appreciate the fact that you have no personal interest in the issues I have raised nor am I surprised that my connection of Altruism with Individualism strikes you as strange as it is contrary to what Rand expounds. Do not feel obliged to vindicate yourself, (I have read Rand’s arguments) all I ask is that you think about my proposition that self-sacrifice when voluntary is the highest form of Individual integrity standing up for what he values. This is my own original view not something I have picked up from some communist. All I hope is that one day it will dawn on you that I am right and that Rand is wrong.

    You are completely right that the majority of Christians will condemn my doctrine of distinguishing the teachings of St Paul from the teachings of Christ and would call me a heretic. All I can say is I proudly stand as a heretic with St Paul whose fellow Pharisees sought to kill, And Jesus himself who was murdered for ‘blasphemy’, and all the great ‘heretics’ since like Martin Luther, and John Wycliffe who was so despised by the church that they dug up his bones and cast them into the river! Christ said “Many shall come in my name and deceive many” and also “Broad is the way that leads to destruction and many there be thereon. Narrow is the way that leadeth to life and few there be that find it”.. thus while the great masses of Christians will condemn me, I do not fear as I have assurance in myself of my path. I am a Non-conformist. I do not go to church. I follow my own heart. One final plug re:‘300’
    Let me add that Christians were fed to the Lions for not worshiping the God kings of Rome.
    I will go to bed now grateful to still have the opportunity to come here and read your thoughts and give you mine.

    Let us both take the fight to those who oppose freedom!
    Thank you. Keep safe.
    Tim Wikiriwhi

  12. Ergo said

    Tim,

    You said: “self-sacrifice when voluntary is the highest form of Individual integrity standing up for what he values.”

    That is not a new idea. Rand’s formulation of selfish egoism subsumes such an idea. However, because you have yet to understand the meaning of the concept “sacrifice” and “rational self-interest,” you are confusing the two.

    Rand was very clear in making the point that it is the most selfish thing in the world to pursue your values–values that add to your happiness, with life as the standard of judgment. This entails even willing to die for your values–not pursuing death as such, but holding to resolve to LIVE with your values and enjoy those values.

    Thus, the pursuit of ones highest value–say one’s romantic partner–properly requires one’s full commitment. This is not self-sacrifice but *self-interest*. It is in MY SELFISH interest to pursue a life with my romantic partner and do everything in my power to continue the relationship. If my partner’s life is physically threatened, it is in my *selfish interest* to protect him–even to the point of my own death–because life without him (him being my highest value) will be unbearably miserable. This is NOT “voluntary self-sacrifice” because sacrifice demands the giving up of a higher value for something lesser.

    The concept of “sacrifice” is just one of the many concepts that have been corrupted by the altruist religious philosophy–it has changed the meaning of words in order to change the ideas and beliefs carried by these words.

  13. Tim Wikiriwhi said

    Ergo,
    I am well aware of the fact that Rand wrote her own glossary of terms with the express purpose of preloading the dice in her favour. I have no desire to get into a semantic argument with you.
    I do know Rands idea that sacrifice is expending a higher value for a lower one, which is an absurdity.
    Nobody ever did that.
    Lets talk psychology. Ask yourself why is it that Rand is Anti-altruist self sacrifice if not for the very fact that she was hell bent on destroying Christianity?
    I say this is her motive to her crime. She was not a creator but a destroyer and panders to those who hate Christ and the idea that they will be judged by God. (that is they deny absolute objective morality in favour of their own subjective inventions)
    Thus I say she was primarily driven not by reason but by psychological/pathological hate and Narcissism.

    Let us accept your description of rational self interest.
    Then I say Altruism can be rational self interest and again Rand is found to be wrong.
    I say if we use your concepts that Christ did not sacrifice himself.
    He exercised his rational self interest. (Do you see how nutty redefining terms to suit your self becomes?)
    You cannot via Rand praise Leonidas yet blaspheme Christ.
    Christ was taken by force for contradicting the religious order and murdered for standing up for the truth rather than submitting to the priesthood.

    Ask yourself what Rands motives are.
    She was a fanatical Atheist.
    She was not an indifferent logician.
    And it is rich for her to suggest that Christianity wrongly defined such terms and that Rand may rewrite them at her whim and that the whole world pre-Rand must therefore be written off as delusional and illiterate and that those of us of the present and future must submit to her pre-loaded semantics.
    She is attempting to become Christ…the central figure of human history! BR-YHW (Before Rand-Year of Her Worship!)
    Oh wouldn’t that appeal to her rational Egoism!
    One of the most telling truths about Rand is she escaped an Atheist system that claimed a rational scientific basis… to a Christian Nation of freedom and yet had the audacity to try and undermine the foundations of that freedom with an anti-Christ Atheism founded upon the same premises of the system that destroyed her own homeland.
    If you read Marx and Lenin and Stalin they could happily sit with Rand and speak of the evils of Christianity! They were all in agreement on their basic notions of ultimate reality.
    That is their First principles are one and the same.
    That she dupes her followers into thinking that Communism is mysticism has to be either the greatest sophistry ever perpetrated or her followers must be the most gullible of followers. This was a necessity to distance herself from communism.
    Think about it. Marxism is atheist not mystical.
    Rand was an egotistical fiction writer. Nothing more, nothing less. Believe her fiction at your own peril.

    P.S From your last post I take it you are a Homosexual. Is that right? I got this from your context of saying ‘Him’ several times regarding your lover.
    I ask because I am interested in what makes you tick. I myself am heterosexual, and Married to a beautiful and loving wife and have two teenage children to a failed earlier relationship. I do not judge myself to be ‘Mr Holy’. I ask this question simply to understand who I am talking to. I hope I have not upset you.
    Cheers!

  14. Richard said

    Does the phrase “tonight we dine in hell” mean that spartans believed in hell? and how is that possible?

  15. S Freedom said

    Surely, these are the echos of a conversation long past, however, I’d like to add one distinction for any who might wish to return here:

    Selflessness and selfishness are not mutually exclusive states. It is just a fact that some people lack a kind of development, about which they will never come to know. The wise men know this and realize that and so categorize men into 4 attitudes: stupidly sincere, cleverly sincere, stupidly insincere, cleverly insincere.

    A wise person will not directly engage stupid people directly. He will, instead, create conditions that will either attract, or repel, them according to his aims and whether or not they can be used to fulfill them. There are, however, clever people (not to be mistaken for mischievous) with whom the wise person can reason. These types he can bring to a new understanding of themselves and the world in which they find themselves.

    People who are of low understanding need not be troubled with… they are under the law of accident and will live and die on its pendulum. It does not matter one iota what they do. It is the wise men who run everything and who do not interfere except where wisdom reveals it is needed. They have both a high degree of purity and a corresponding level of knowledge regarding the laws that govern the universe, and humanity, their heirarchy and the laws of how they manifest and proceed. Without that knowledge, there’s just reactive guessing in the pursuit of self-comforting.

    When one reaches a “higher” understanding… an understanding that includes both the aforementioned knowledge, combined with a high degree of purity, the “self” that one imagined one to be, is no longer adhered to as the true self… and thus, the wise person’s experience of everything changes.

    Splitting hairs over terms is useless. Being able to understand what kind of man you are and what kind of man you are talking to is not…

    Grab your sword, or grab your plowshare and go be the best gardener or warrior you can be.

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