It starts with five simple words:


And then it comes. The music builds. Lightning from the sky strikes the man with the upraised sword. Does it hurt him? Just listen to what he says next:


You remember. Electric bolts of pure energy crackle around his muscled body. Hands that can punch through solid steel grip the sword that transformed the bumbling prince into the most powerful man in the universe. You remember the way it felt to grab hold of a plastic sword or a stick or even empty air and say those same words: I have the power.

We all want the power. But the world seems to be short on magic swords these days. Believe me, I've checked. (You think I'd be writing this if I had a magic sword? No way. I'd be out battling shadow beasts and seven-headed monsters, saving nubile red-haired maidens from guys with skulls for faces.)

So what do we do? Well, I suppose you can grow a mustache and build weapons devices and adopt an orphan who grows up to be captain of the guards. But let's face it. Not everyone can grow mustaches. And even if you can, do you really want to? Basically the only people who can have mustaches without looking silly are those who've always had mustaches. (Having a mustache attached to a beard doesn't count, by the way. It's still just a beard. That's a whole other story.) It's something set from the time of adolescence, something you have to choose. Either you're a mustache guy or you're not. Once you've decided, it's locked in. (It works both ways, too. Suddenly you shave off your mustache and bam! You've got a lip coming from nowhere. Scary.)

Okay. You don't have a magic sword, or a mustache, or skill with weapons or space technology in a barbarian sorcery world. You can't be He-Man or Man-At-Arms. I'll assume that, like me, if you can't do any of the above, you also cannot fly, ram into buildings with your head, or transform into a mystical falcon. Is this reason to despair? Will your life be meaningless from now on?

The answer to all of these questions is: NO! You can have the power without the magic sword. No, I don't mean you'll be able to pick up Castle Grayskull and throw it into the air using your bulging muscles. I'm talking about the real power that He-Man wields. His morality.

Fast forward to the end of the show. The battle with Skeletor was fought and won. Old skullface runs off, shaking his hands in the air, vowing eternal revenge. Like we're scared. Next time we'll just beat him again. No matter who he brings along! (By the way, who has a skull instead of a face? How can he even see without eyeballs?) After all that the show should be over, right?

Wrong! Now comes the most important part. The moral.

You've heard the expression, "the moral of the story." No doubt your 11th grade English teacher had you combing all the pages from "Call me Ishmael" to "Finis" so you could explain, in your own words, just what Moby Dick really meant. He-Man would never lead you on such a pointless chase. At the end of every single episode, He-Man (or one of his faithful and heroic friends) tells you plainly and simply what you should know about how to live a good and happy life. That knowledge, my friends, is real power. With it you can master the universe. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Deception - Good and Bad

Evil-Lyn has any number of powerful magics at her disposal, but the one she uses to greatest effect is her power of deception. Specifically, she can transform her appearance into anything from a sweet old lady to a defenseless young maiden. She’s used this trick on more than one occasion to fool a hapless Eternian or even a member of the royal family into divulging secrets or going along with one of her evil schemes (unwittingly, of course). Deception is one of the most powerful tools of the forces of evil. Deception allows evil to take advantage of the unsuspicious before they can put up a defense.

We must remember that the forces of good also use deception, mostly in the service of keeping secrets. The biggest instance, of course, is Prince Adam’s secret identity. (CAUTION: Spoiler Alert. Prince Adam is ACTUALLY He-Man! I know, right? Didn’t see that one coming.) Adam keeps this secret, he says, to protect the well being of those closest to him, like his mother and father, and his friend Teila.

Teila also has a secret. In her case, she’s not in on the secret; it’s being kept from her. What secret? Her true parentage (her mom is the Sorceress) and her true destiny (eventually taking over the job of the Sorceress, which seems to consist in being a dispatcher for He-Man). It is Man-At-Arms, her adoptive father, who keeps this secret. And why? To protect her well-being, of course. Man-At-Arms and the Sorceress want to wait until Teila is “ready” to handle her destiny.

So both Adam and Man-At-Arms are keeping secrets for the same reason: to protect the well being of others. Whether this is the case or not (I for one favor telling the truth in both cases) we can at least see the difference between the forces of good and evil. Evil-Lyn keeps her identity a secret so she can do harm to people and Prince Adam keeps his secret to prevent harm to people.

Clearly, there is a difference. Again, whether it is acceptable to lie to someone for good reasons (i.e. to protect the well-being of someone) and if so, in what cases, is an old debate that has many positions. Plato, writing for Socrates in the Republic, his treatise on the nature of justice, says

Aren’t there times when it [a lie] is useful and so does not merit hatred?
What about when we are dealing with enemies, or with so-called friends who,
because of insanity or ignorance, are attempting to do something bad? Isn’t it a
useful drug for preventing them?
(The Republic, 382c5-10, C.D.C Reeve
Translation, p. 63, c.2004 Hacket publishing company.)

Sometimes we may even lie to help someone experience pleasure, like lying about a surprise party. Parents and other moral educators may find themselves loath to mention such exceptions to merit-less mendacity because the lure to lie may already be so strong that the slightest excuse will be used unwarrantedly by children.

As soon as there are good but hard-to-define exceptions to important rules, plenty of people will line up to exploit those exceptions in cases where they don’t really apply. Imagine a case of aldutery: “Of course I wanted to tell you about the other woman, dear, but I didn’t really want to hurt your feelings. I was only thinking of you.” Boy, I hope the person telling that whopper wasn’t married to Teila. I don’t think she or her mad sword skills would be very forgiving.

So yeah, there’s a difference between Evil-Lyn and Prince Adam when it comes to their acts of deception. Sure, maybe Adam is over-estimating the dangers lurking in wait for the parents of He-Man. Or maybe he’s right about the danger, but wrong about the relative importance to his parents of them knowing their son’s true nature versus their relative safety. It gets complicated.

My advice is this: beware of endangered young maidens and kindly old ladies. They may just be an evil sorceress in disguise.

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