The Wary Cannibal

I was reading Hannibal Rising today when I realized that Hannibal Lecter, film’s most famous cannibal, is a Wary Guerrilla.

Wary Guerrillas are altruistic super-punishers. They accept absolute losses in order to avenge perceived injustices. They believe that society should speak in one voice and follow an eternal ethical code.

Hannibal Lecter is a particularly artistic wary guerrilla. Indeed, his orientation isn’t so much societal or political as it is aesthetic. Hannibal reacts strongly to violations of decorum and etiquette, often eating those he fiends bestial. While we often talk of the aestheticization of violence, Hannibal applies violence in the interests of a true, universal, and eternal aesthetic.

Interesting, no?

7 thoughts on “The Wary Cannibal”

  1. some people think Hitler had similar motivations. kinda sorta. at least his ideology had an element of aesthetic judgment and the world he thought he was creating was meant to be a sensual rather than a moral masterpiece.

  2. Fascinating!

    This is what makes the blogosphere so great — post some random idea, get feedback, and suddenly things makes sense. Thank you.

    I hadn't thought of integrating morality and aesthetics, but it makes sense. If there really is this split between Absolutist and Contextualist thinkers, maybe there is no reason to think the split is particularly political.

    I wonder if you could thus predict someone's political beliefs by looking at their preference in art… If art styles that reflected an eternal code might imply political desire for an eternal code…

    A lot to ponder… thanks!

  3. I believe there IS a connection between what I think you're calling absolutist political thinking and a tendency to apply criteria of judgment, such as aesthetic criteria, where they do not belong. Somehow, absolutist political thinking and extreme forms of beauty worship share a quality of being, or perceiving themselves to be, beyond the gasp of conscience and morality. Some people, though able to get big ideas, are not able to judge their proper scope, and so apply them indiscriminately to everything.

    The usual commentary on this question, especially WRT Hitler, is that aesthetic judgment stands in conflict with moral judgment. The murder of jews, gypsies, homosexuals and halfwits is justified because they are ugly and beauty trumps morality.

    Interestingly, it calls to mind a previous post of yours discussing the ultimatum game. In the ultimatum game, attractive people are both offered better terms and expected to offer better terms to others. Beauty is elevated, ugliness is despised.

    So it's not just the sociopaths who have these tendencies. It's all of us to some degree.

  4. Wasn't there a John Cuzak move send in the aftermath of WW1 in Germany, with Hitler as a character?

    If I recall correctly, inthis film his paintings and the like were not being accepted, so he turned his artistic drive and ambitions fully toward the Nazi movement. In essence, that became his art.

  5. I saw an interview with David Gelertner (relatively famous Computer scientist who got bombed by Unabomber in the 90s) and he had the interesting line “All engineering values are aesthetic values”. I think this thread is going towards a unified field theory…

  6. Re purpleslog's comment on the Hitler movie: It was called Max, and it delves into Hitler's artistic-political psychosis. Certainly, aesthetics was an element in his (nutty) worldview, and there are plenty of ingredients (Wagner, Leni Riefenstahl, Albert Speer). And unlike many people, Hitler was able to integrate art into a wider (if dysfunctional) political philosophy.

    The problem with “Max” is that it both says way too much about Hitler's aesthetic sense as being a cause of his political ambitions, and too little (what really was the source of his mental illness? the movie leaves the naive viewer in the dark). At any rate, it's an utterly fascinating topic. Go here for a review of the film, written by me when I was using a pseudonym:

  7. This thread is everything a blogosphere discussion should be. A great combination of regular commentators and new ones, great combination of theory and art, and I am learning a lot. Wow!

    Purpleslog & Karl,

    How would you compare “Max” to “Downfall”?


    Hmmm…. It does seem that engineers tend either to be on the political right or else in favor of an explicitly “engineering” (Planning) approach to society's problems. It would be interesting to try the Wary Guerrilla detector [1] on engineering students and see what one comes up with…


    Jumping from what you're saying, I'd guess that “absolutist orientation” should exist to a high degree among artists. Probably far higher than “conservative beliefs,” as the abstolutism would be applied to aesthetics. Indeed, the selection pressures of the art world might weed out those who apply their absolutism towards politics while encouraging those who apply it to art. Like with what I said to Steve, that would be fascinating (and useful) to test.

    This thread rocks!


  8. This isn't quite on topic, but I'm reminded of Eric Hoffer's thought that failed artists are the most receptive for fanatacism.

    To Quote From the True Believer:
    The most incurably frustrated – and, therefore, the most vehement – among the permanent misfits are those with an unfulfilled craving for creative work. Both those who try to write, paint, compose, etc, and fail decisively, and those who after tasting the elation of creativeness feel a drying up of the creative flow…are alike in the grip of a desperate passion. Neither fame nor power nor riches can still their hunger. Even the whole-hearted dedication to a holy cause does not always cure them. Their unappeased hunger persists, and they are likely to become the most violent extremists in the service of their holy cause.

    (Found here )

  9. I've been reading an excellent book, “The Birth of Fascist Ideology”, and it mentions the cult of violence that emerged within Western culture in the early 20th century. A belief among some that there was a beauty and sublimity to violence and war; that violence and war could lead to a higher morality. Here are some quotes from the book:

    “It was likewise from Sorel in particular and the Sorelians in general that fascism borrowed something else: the idea that violence gave rise to the sublime…”

    “To this combination of revolutionary revisionism and integral nationalism was added, in about 1910, a third element: futurism. This total synthesis infused fascism, giving it its character of a movement of rebellion and revolt: of cultural revolt , and afterward, political revolt. One can hardly exaggerate the significance of the avant-gardist element in the original fascism, the importance of the revolutionary aesthetic it contained…”

    “The Fascist synthesis meant that aesthetics became an integral part of politics and economics.

    “The Fascist style, striking in its aggressivity, well expressed the new ethical and aesthetic values. The style expressed its content; it was not simply a means of mobilizing the masses but represented a new scale of values, a new vision of culture. All the futurists had the cult of energy, of dynamism and power, of the machine and speed, of instinct and intuition, of movement, willpower and youth. They professed an absolute contempt for the old bourgeois world and praised the necessity and beauty of violence.”

  10. Purpleslog — Downfall blew me away. It was amazing to see characters interact with each other and then learn they were this or that historic personage. Very good movie.

    Steve French – Fascinating quote! I wonder, though, if perhaps politics is merely a complicated sort of artistic medium. I bet, for instance, that a fair number of flash artists are frustrated photoshop artists whose talent laid elsewhere, just as a fair number of photoshoppers are failed watercolorists…

    Abu Nopal & Phil – I really wonder what encourages the suffering. If you take brainscans of wary aesthetes and wary guerrillas during their sacrifice, etc, would you see similar patterns (within and between the groups). I don't know, but science has progressed to where we can use physical obserservations to help answer psychological questions, and that's great news.

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