Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Berk, the Thing Upstairs and the Nature of Servitude

Not blogged for a while. Here is a chapter of something I'm working on for a bit of fun! Enjoy!

Ètienne de La Boètie postulated that the only reason a tyrant has any power is because those beneath him give it to him. This is somewhat reminiscent of Nietzsche's `will to power'. La Boètie suggests the conclusion that the reason behind mankind's compliance to obey is due simply to ignorance or greed on behalf of the slave. Those who know freedom treasure it, those who never have covet more material things. This seems like a very simplistic view of the problem. It seems that way because it is. One need only look at the history of La Boètie's own country to see that people have their limits of oppression beyond which they will rebel. If one truly wishes to understand why people choose to place themselves into servitude, one need look no further than The Trap Door.

1. Berk and The Thing
Going back to Nietzsche for a moment, nowhere is the will to power more obvious than in the relationship between The Thing Upstairs and his over worked servant, Berk. At first glance, it appears that all the power lies with The Thing; he issues orders to Berk regularly which Berk does his best to obey without question, he is preened and pampered by Berk, he need do nothing for himself. In reality however, nothing could be further from the truth. Once an issue is ordered by The Thing and the episode begins, he is then the one creature who has no power over the events that pass subsequently. In fact, The Thing appears to have no input into any event, ever. He lives vicariously through his servant, never leaving his castle, never moving at all as far as can be made out. If the world of The Trap Door is represented by that which is presented to the audience then The Thing Upstairs plays no part in it whatsoever.
This makes The Thing the perfect metaphor for religion. He is a threatening disembodied voice for which Berk feels a great deal of fear but which has never shown any real ability to punish or reward Berk for his actions. All the power The Thing has is perceptual. Berk perceives this creature as thing to be revered and feared despite the singular lack of evidence that The Thing can have any physical act on his person. This is just like all modern religion, with Gods that issue commands from an unseen heavenly kingdom which those with faith obey not realising that it was man who created those Gods, man who gave them power and man who follows those commands. Man enslaves himself (just as La Boètie said) but not to God, rather to himself. Berk creates The Thing's power in his own belief and thus enslaves himself to himself also. And so we come to the first reason for consigning oneself to servitude. Whether we lie it or not, we are all slaves to our own thoughts and opinions, there is nothing we can do to escape them for they are us. We must live to our beliefs and if our beliefs change we must change how we live. In this way one might say Berk is not a servant, he simply has faith. One might also conjecture that faith makes slaves of us all.

2. Berk and Boney
It seems no small coincidence that Montaigne in his essay on friendship, should begin by mentioning his friend La Boètie and his essay on servitude. He sets aside notions such as “Profit, public or private need," as separate from friendship, claiming they `inter-meddle' with it. While this may be true, it is hard to see how any friendship could be what Montaigne might describe as pure. We all expect our friends to be there for us in our times of great need and know that the same is expected in return. To not support a friend is to be a bad friend and to possibly even lose a friend. As such we are left without choice, subject to will of our friends as they are subject to our will and should they request anything of us, it is subconsciously understood that this is not a request but would not be asked unless it was expected that our friend would comply. In this regard we are all servants to our friends and they to us.
Which brings us nicely to Berk and Boney. These two are undoubtedly friends. At the very least, Boney does not work for Berk of the Thing nor Berk for Boney and the chances of them being related given Berk's unusual skeletal structure are minimal at best. So we conclude that they are friends. Berk throws a birthday party for Boney and Boney is always there to lend a moral word to Berk. But are they servants to each other? In many ways one might consider Boney as the personification of the Thing Upstairs with a slightly less over bearing disposition. Like The Thing, he relies on Berk, having no body and needing Berk to be his arms and legs; Boney can live vicariously alone and as such is subject to the will of Berk, their friendship is tainted by Boney's personal needs. This is without even considering the times when Berk has taken advantage of Boney's helplessness to force him to help around the house. He has on occasion used him to hold up a shelf or as a rolling pin and even a candle stick holder. So Boney is definitely a servant to Berk, but what about Berk to Boney?
The Trap Door is full of subtleties. A cursory glance at the arguments so far might show that Boney has no power of Berk whatsoever. He issues no orders, Berk does not fear him and he has no power to affect any changes of Berk's environment beyond gentle persuasion. A deeper look at the situation however and the truth is revealed. For without Boney's presence, Berk would have no one else to talk to. Berk is subject to the will of Boney as much as Boney is to the will of Berk, for the sake of company, for the sake of his sanity and this is seen in Berk's attempts to appease Boney. Although this isn't his common behaviour, when it matters Berk does do right by Boney, he does his best to make Boney happy because he feels obligated to, because he is a servant to Boney in their friendship.

3. Berk, Boney and Drut
Once again we turn to Montaigne who said “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not passing time with me rather than I with her?" So it is with our pets, that we place ourselves into servitude to them with no real proof that they appreciate or reciprocate the feelings with pour onto them. Drut is the pet of the Trap Door family. In many ways he is abnormal as pet in that he pretty much takes care of himself, stealing worms as they sneak out of the trap door to keep himself fed and finding ways to amuse himself most of the time. Indeed, Berk sees Drut mostly as a nuisance and yet is reluctant to get rid of him on emotional grounds. Boney on the other, having no affect on the physical and in general just allowing it to pass him by, finds the playings of Drut amusing and is very emotionally attached to him. When Berk finally gets rid of Drut and sentences him to exile down the trap door it is in fact the moaning of Boney at the loss of his friend and the kind nature of Rog, denizen of the Trap Door, that brings Berk to the realisation that he does desire Drut's presence after all, thus bringing home his dependence and hence servitude to his pet, but one that he desires. And he desires it because he gains something emotionally from it.
And so here are the reasons behind voluntary servitude, so much more complicated than ignorance alone. There is inherent service to one's own beliefs, something that is impossible to escape without somehow managing to escape one's self. There is service for the sake of personal need or gain, service out of obligation to (or reciprocation from) a friend and service out of fear of punishment. None of them simple, none of them easy, most we would deny ever being subject to yet all of them inescapable. So long as we live we are in service, so what does Trap Door teach us? It teaches us that this is ok and that so long as it is true we might as well enjoy ourselves while doing the best that we can for those that we serve, be it ourselves, our friends or our pets.

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