Thursday, August 1, 2013

"The crooked timber of humanity"

I have enjoyed watching Breaking Bad simply to see how Walter is going to get out of this situation or that—and there is humor, too. But perhaps there is more. Rich Lizardo writes "In Defense of the Antihero" about Walter White, among others:
For fans of the hit show Breaking Bad like myself, the premiere of its final season (well, technically, its second half of the final season), scheduled for August 11, can’t come soon enough. The show centers on the slow but sure downward spiral and moral decay of a former high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin. ....

In the case of Breaking Bad, we see all the rationalizations as well as all the irrationality that bring Walt to make bad decisions. And we see those decisions becoming worse and worse with bigger and bigger consequences.

Sure, I don’t know how the series will end, but I have a hunch it won’t end well for Walt. That being said...these shows still provide us with a moral compass. That moral compass might not show us virtue and what to emulate, but it clearly shows us vice as vice and as something not to emulate. ....
And Jonah Goldberg in the current National Review (behind a subscription wall) explains:
When we meet Walter, he is a wildly overqualified high-school chemistry teacher who works part time at a car wash for extra money. (In what becomes a crucial plot device, Walter worked for a tech startup but took a stupid buyout for $5,000. The company went on to be worth billions.) In the first 20 minutes of the first episode, he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Impeccably decent and upright, Walter is confronted with the horror of leaving his wife, teenage son (who has cerebral palsy), and unborn daughter destitute. This medical and financial crisis leads Walter to a moral crisis. He gets the idea that he could use his skills as a scientist to cook methamphetamine, a.k.a. crystal meth. And not just any crystal meth: The once-promising professional chemist knows how to make meth better than anyone else. ....

The change that then takes place in Walter is so gradual, so human, that viewers are hard pressed to relinquish their fondness for him, even as he inexorably grows — transforms is probably the better word — into a monster. Gilligan calls it a “slow-motion wolfman story”: The Dr. Jekyll of Walter White slowly turns into the Mr. Hyde of his street name “Heisenberg” (not coincidentally, an homage to the author of the uncertainty principle). ....

What begins as a kind of play on the Thomistic principle that it is moral for a man to steal bread to feed his starving child grows into a painfully realistic tale of how a good man becomes evil. .... Once you step outside the borders of morality and the law, self-interest becomes self-justifying. Indeed, this is how pragmatism unchained from moral principles simply becomes a Nietzschean will to power. ....

...[W]hat is evil if not the ability to delude yourself into believing you are the sole arbiter of what is right and wrong based on your self-interest? Freedom itself is not evil, but freedom devoid of conscience — rightly formed conscience — is very close to the definition of evil. The bully is free to do what he likes simply because he is stronger and it pleases him to do so. It does not matter that he tells himself his cruelty is warranted. ....

Long before one gets into the partisan or ideological precepts and dogmas, there is at the irreducible core of conservatism the idea that human nature is what it is. Nation-states, technologies, cultures, even religions come and go, but what remains is humanity. Breaking Bad is one of the great novels of our age because it grapples with the crooked timber of humanity as it is, and painfully demonstrates that, once you choose to break out of the cage of civilization, you are not so much free as lost.
The first four seasons are available on Netflix.

The American Spectator : The Spectacle Blog : In Defense of the Antihero, Life and Death on Basic Cable | National Review Online