Caryn’s 23 things – and then some

Racing into Library 2.0 with LOL and others

Craven

I just finished re(re-re-re…!)-reading CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I first read it in a high school Sunday school class, probably 11th grade, and have read it about two out of every three years since. As with most of Lewis’ work, many of these readings reveal something new.

I’ve also been watching Battlestar Galactica for the past couple of seasons. It’s not really odd for me to see this remake of the classic ’70s series, because I never watched that anyway. It has some excellent characters, the least attractive of whom is Gaius Baltar. I understand that his character wasn’t permanent in the original series, and it’s kind of too bad that they didn’t continue that in this iteration. He reminds me of Dr. Smith of Lost in Space, only more so. Baltar is the most fully-realized craven I’ve ever encountered in literature/TV/etc. You see cowards fairly often, but they usually either die or come through at the last moment, but an actual craven, whose wits are sharpened enough by threat that he is able to follow the thread of self-preservation no matter what it makes him do, is much rarer. He’s intelligent, and can be charming (only in his own interest, of course), but there is no depth of selfishness to which he won’t sink, no betrayal he won’t commit, to save himself. It’s kind of fascinating. That type is probably much more common in real life than it is in art, but it’s the kind of character no one could want to identify with.

The connection to Screwtape is that one of senior devil Screwtape’s pieces of advice to his nephew, Wormwood, is about cowardice. He tells the first-time tempter that, “Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful – horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember…. We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. Whenever we have almost succeeded in doing so, the Enemy [i.e., God] permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone, and there is still at least one vice of which they feel genuine shame.” Gaius is the only character I’ve ever seen whose cowardice is so strong it can outweigh even the shame of having it, and keep doing so every time an opportunity for bravery or death is offered. A good bad example, and one that should, perhaps, be in the back of our minds in case we’re caught in a situation like the one this past week at Virginia Tech – it might take only a second to decide whether to push the person beside you behind you and away from the shooter, or in front of you to shield you from the shooter, but that one second would define your character. For the rest of your life, whether it was just a few more seconds or many more years, you would have your answer to the question, “What would I do in that situation?”

April 21, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I just re-read Screwtape as well; and I tend to disagree with Lewis on his description of cowardice. Perhaps it was that way at the time, but nowadays, the Adversary has managed to eliminated a lot of the negative aspects of the vice. You can hear quite a number of people who actually acclaim cowardice as a virtue. Of course, they give it a different name, “looking out for number one”, “self-preservation”, “genetic survival trait”, “ethical pacifism”, “opposition to X” (X being a convenient excuse to support their cowardice, usually described as the “real reason” behind a war or other difficult situation), and so on. Some still retain some shame regarding it, which is clear from how they express it; but it’s just as clear that many do not. That they actually consider it a positive trait rather than a negative one.What’s worse, is that many of them even manage to disguise it as courage. “Standing up in opposition to an unjust war” is a common phrase these days. But if you really listen to what most of these sort of protestors are saying, it’s clear that they’re only protesting because it’s the popular thing to do within their personal circle. They’re more afraid of not being thought “progressive” or “liberal” or a “supporter of peace” by those they associate with. They all parrot the same rhetoric without truly understanding its origin or meaning. They only show up to the protests because so many others are doing it. If no one else did, they’d forgo protesting rather than stand their alone. Not one in a hundred is acting out of a solid moral or ethical principle; they’re simply being fashionable.I’ve heard many others who strongly support banning firearms claim that it’s far preferably to allow muggings and rapes than to “respond with violence” because “that will only escalate the situation” and “create a culture of violence” that will “encourage violent crime”. And that getting rid of firearms will “end the cycle of violence”. They also seem to fully believe that they police and government will be able to protect them anytime they need it, and they have no responsibility to protect themselves and their families. (Interestingly, these are often the same people who refer to the police and military as “jackbooted thugs” and “baby killers” out of the other sides of their mouths.)I tried to watch the new Battlestar Galactica. I purged myself of associations with the old series (which I loved) and watched it on it’s own merits. I simply could not stand it. There were no characters that I did not fully despise by the end of the pilot miniseries, Gaius Baltar the most. In the original, Baltar was a coward, and a traitor; but he still retained some streak of humanity, and even nobility, however hard he tried to suppress it. He was still capable of redemption, had the series lasted long enough. He was, as Lewis would have said in Out of the Silent Planet, “bent”. He retained his humanity, but in a twisted and distorted form. The new Gaius Baltar has nothing noble left in him, he has truly abdicated his humanity. He is not merely bent, but “broken”, with nothing left except his instinct for self-preservation; and “is now only a talking animal”. But there was really no one with any real nobility in the entire show. They were all venal and self-absorbed, more interested in their own petty personal problems than the catastrophe they faced. And the Cylons acted like nothing more than hormonal and rebellious teenagers.

    Comment by Hardrock Llewynyth | April 30, 2007


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