That Man

Author: Dom Rottman

Who is That Man?That man, or woman, is constantly pursued by one who wishes to emulate or surpass that man in some way or some skill, perhaps in combat, or perhaps they just want to be a generally better human being than that man.

The curious thing about that man is that he is understood–insofar as he is that man–not from his own perspective, but is rather understood almost entirely from the perspective of his pursuer. Thus, that man is not so much a character trait as it is a brainchild, a projection of the pursuer onto another individual. An analysis of that man is not an analysis of one individual but an analysis of a relationship between two.

What the pursuer feels towards that man is not ressentiment, the particular form of resentment in which the other, perceived to be in a state of supreme dominance, is blamed for the woes of society and self. The pursuer does project on to that man goals, purpose, value, meaning, etc. while the individual in ressentiment not only projects, but deflects. The resenter, in projecting power, dominance, and right onto the other in the same motion also deflects his or her own shortcomings and flaws by assigning blame to the person of power. The one pursuing that man, to his or her credit, at least does not deflect responsibility for being inferior to that man.

Both cases are however cases of bad faith. Just as the resenter wrongly believes the other is responsible for his or her own shortcomings and flaws, the pursuer is also in bad faith by believing value lies in his or her standing with respect to that man, and usually only in a particular way. It is not important that the pursuer triumphs over that man for some greater or other cause or good, nor does it matter the inherent value of the act of triumph, rather, the value is wholly in the result of triumph itself.

By now the reader has perhaps come up with examples of pursuer and that man. Liquid Snake plays pursuer to Solid Snake in the original Metal Gear Solid, as does the Black Knight to his mentor Griel in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance.

That man is purely, and necessarily, a fictional construct. Rarely if ever is that man there in our lives. Indeed, we often compare ourselves to others, but we are also often told–correctly–how unproductive such comparisons are. Nor can we in our sincere hearts truly believe that we even could be totally inferior to another, on account of human uniqueness. In any form of fiction, that man can exist because the infinite dimensionality of human uniqueness is forcibly limited, and thus it is possible to conceive that another is seemingly totally superior to on then, but an allegory for the relationship between ourselves as we are and the self that we’d like to be? For if each individual is unique, who else could be totally better but oneself?

One of the most authentic portrayals of that man therefore is Riggan Thompson in Birdman–he pursues himself, or rather, another self. Riggan fancies himself a prestigious actor who is–perceived–to be the master of his craft, transcending an association with a blockbuster superhero. By seeking to be percieved as such and not actually wanting to cultivate and master the art of acting–one does not become a master actor by turning away from lucrative blockbusters and then putting on a self-written and self-directed stage adaptation of a short story, but one may well perceived to be one–Riggan unconsciously transforms any potential into a superior self image: that man. His pursuit of that man, his self image, is only destructive to himself and the people around him.

The fact that we can project hopes, dreams, and goals into a future version of ourselves is an envisioning of individual potential, and is therefore used properly as a directional and motivational guide, not a milestone of value. What is in fact done, potential actually realized, is the thing of value. Setting value wholly in a goal and not action has destructive effects. When we fall short of a goal or a better version of ourselves that we imagine, we tend to feel frustrated at a perceived failure while losing sight of the value of what was done–and what was done must have some value, otherwise, why would we choose to do it? Furthermore, a goal-oriented value system allows one to justify destructive and harmful means–for if the value is only in the goal, who cares how it is reached?

What that man teaches us then is a cautionary tale on perspective: to not lose sight of the inherent value of action and to not place the whole of meaning in ends and goals. For action, in addition to having a quantifiable value equivalent to the result it yields, has an unquantifiable inherent value conferred onto it by human choice.

Image: Caspar David Freidrich, “Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog”