Monday, May 20, 2019

Game of Thrones, Conservative Manifesto

Spoiler alert! I'm going to speak freely about the final episode of the series. I do apologize to anyone who's slogging through said series now, trying to avoid all water-cooler conversations (or wherever such conversations take place now), but I sat there watching the last episode with my mouth hanging open at the fact that HBO was willing to let it be made.

I'm overstating the case to say it was a "conservative manifesto," I admit; there was still a lot of throwing out of babies with bathwater, which we conservatives think is a bad idea. And nobody is going to like it as a piece of storytelling, because (as my recent college graduate son said) "they were so busy trying to write endings we didn't see coming that they gave us endings nobody wanted."

But let's set storytelling aside. I want to address (here come the spoilers) the end of the Daenerys/Jon arc. Jon is the forces of conservatism; can there be any doubt of that? (Ans.: of course there can.) He follows the rules, questioning them only at the margins; he serves where and as needed; he Does the Right Thing even when that Right Thing comes with a cost - either a personal cost to him or a larger cost that nevertheless must be paid. Now, I expect the real, non-fictional forces of what I'll call "progressivism" (I reject the term "liberalism" for this political stripe - not crazy about "progressive" to describe what are so often regressive policies and ideas, but I don't want to make up a whole new word and I don't want to demonize the other side, only to point up its weaknesses) don't see him as conservative; I think they see him as:

  • brave
  • noble
  • quixotic
  • therefore certainly a Hilary! voter in the last election, except that because of our backward system he can't vote in an American election
  • forced into awful action for which he will forever suffer because of his passionate commitment to Goodness
  • and of course dreamy.
But that's because they have such a hard time ascribing good intentions to a conservative. Daenerys is the forces of progressivism - seen by the real forces of progressivism as:
  • brave
  • noble
  • populist (um... sort of, if we gloss over her continuing to live as an absolute monarch despite her "break the wheel" rhetoric)
  • therefore Hilary! herself
  • in a sex-positive, un-scoldy way
  • but tragically undone by the depth of her passionate commitment to Freedom.
And we the forces of conservatism see her as:
  • strongly "in touch with" and, more importantly, motivated by feelings
  • apt to let those feelings rule over sober thought, whether the thought is her own or her advisors'
  • not great at seeing forward from action to consequences
  • and not very likely to alter her future behavior on the basis of those consequences, because after all her intentions haven't changed.
So what happens? Daenerys doesn't go mad with power - not exactly. That would be too easy. Tyrion lays it all out (I was most impressed with whoever wrote his monologue to Jon - how'd they ever get it past the wokeness censors?), saying that again and again she freed enslaved people, and her supporters cheered; again and again she punished - cruelly punished - those who had enshrined the institution of slavery, and her supporters cheered that too. With each victory, with each punishment, she grew more powerful and (here's the critical part) more convinced of her own rightness, because she took each instance as a referendum on her opinion, her feelings, and the voices of her supporters were unified each time in admiring support for what she chose to do. She grew to understand that her feelings about rightness and goodness were what mattered, not the effects of her actions. And her feelings led her to burn King's Landing to the ground, killing a(n unlikely) million people, almost all of whom would have accepted her as queen just as readily as they had accepted Cersei.

Tyrion acknowledges his own hubris in thinking he could have led her down a different road while still supporting everything she did. But the monologue is Tyrion as Greek chorus. Jon does the dirty work of removing the monstrous evil Daenerys has become through her coming to believe that her intentions are all that matter.

That scene is also a jaw-dropper, as the writers let Daenerys actually say things like (in response to Jon's question, "But what about all the other people who think they know what's good?"), "They don't get to choose."

Now, they do make her seem a tiny bit crazy-eyed when she says that. But not so power-mad that it's obvious to the great mass of her supporters that she'll eventually turn on everyone she once valued. They all still support her and are bereft by Jon's regicide. 

The analogy, to a conservative, is obvious: Daenerys, like progressivism, is in thrall to her intentions. She's so caught up in "doing good" that she doesn't notice, or doesn't care, when her actions result in tragedy, or even when her actions themselves are evil; she's just breaking a few eggs, after all, to make her beautiful utopian omelet. 

Okay, it's possible for a progressive to see this story arc as a battle for the soul of progressivism instead: Jon is just as idealistic and socially conscious as Daenerys, they may reason, but has a useful sense of proportion that Daenerys has lost. Jon is Joe Biden; Daenerys is - well, any of about twenty of the other 2020 Democrat Presidential candidates, or the redoubtable AOC. But - especially given that the series ends with the creation of a House of Lords, for goshsakes - I see conservatism prevailing against progressivism. 

Maybe one of these days I'll write about Sansa as the progressives' version of a conservative.

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