Coffee Talk With Nono, Part 4

The timing on this conversation is ambiguous, but I wanted to get it out there early, to crystallize (!) Radiance’s approach to heroics.

N: Today we’re interviewing the newest member of the Menagerie, the superhero Radiance!

N: Uh, Radiance? Rady? Er…

R: Whatever you’d like to call me is fine.

N: Okay, so… can you tell us about yourself?

R: Well, I’m an artificial lifeform. I want to fight for love and justice, and do the best I can to make everyone smile.

N: Do you have an origin story?

R: So, um, hmm. Yes. Radiance was born in a magical forest, surrounded by butterflies.

N: That sounds very metaphysical. Um, can I ask, is that er, is that literally true?

R: There’s more to the story, things I can’t talk about yet, but those words are true.

N: What caused you to join the Menagerie?

R: Link had retired, and they knew me already. I asked to join in a moment of crisis, and I was accepted.

N: Can you talk a little about being an artificial lifeform? What does that mean to you?

R: I think of myself as a person. I think, I feel, I have dreams and longings, I want, I hope. I don’t have flesh and blood like you do, but I have a body, I eat, I get warm or cold, and so on.

N: I’d like to ask some questions about this, so… you said you eat. How does that work?

R: I put food in my mouth and chew. I can taste food. I like cooking, in fact. I tend to over-season and put way too much sugar into things, so don’t let me cook for you unless I’m being careful.

N: And, um, what happens to the food after…?

R: That’s kind of an indelicate question for a young lady, I’d like to skip that one.

N: Oh, okay, right, sorry. Sorry. God. Do you sleep? Do you have dreams?

R: Yes to both! I like dreaming, though I sometimes oversleep. I like warm comforters, I really love feather-filled duvets.

N: Do you have um, do you have other human things you can do? That you like to do, or want to do, or… um.

R: It’s quite alright. I’m more like most people than they might think.

N: You seem like you’re pretty powerful. Can you tell us about your capabilities?

R: I can fly, and I can lift several tons of weight. I’m not invulnerable but I’m very durable. I can wish things into being, though they don’t last long, and I can send out magic butterflies to do stuff.

N: Wow! Is this actually magical?

R: It’s… special. I think of many things as magical, so I’m not sure how to answer you.

N: So that’s the artificial lifeform part. I’d like to ask you about love and justice. What do those things mean to you?

R: It’s easy to say love is obvious, but I think it’s pretty complex. So I’ll start with justice first.

R: Alan Watts relates the story of a Chinese farmer. One day his horse runs away. But the next day the horse comes back, bringing seven wild horses with it for him to corral. The next day, his son tries taming one, and is bucked off and breaks his leg. The day after that, the Army comes by to conscript soldiers, but they leave the son alone because of his broken leg. So… were those setbacks unjust? At the time, maybe it seemed so. But in the long run?

R: In our material world, consequences are objective. If someone punches you, then you feel pain, you get knocked down, maybe seriously hurt. But did you deserve it? A supervillain who’s threatening the innocent deserves a punch - or at least that’s how our world seems to work today.

N: Yeah…. Yeah, I totally get that.

R: And unlike consequences, “deserve” is subjective. Does a superhero deserve to get hit with a death ray? Maybe the supervillain thinks so. Maybe they think they’re doing the right thing, or avenging a wrong the hero did. The hero probably disagrees.

R: So with all this, what is justice? Justice is squaring the circle. It’s finding ways to match the subjective - what we people think the universe owes us, what’s fair - with the objective, the consequences. Jail time, or fines, or whatever, are how we seek justice. And superheroes are too.

N: That’s pretty heavy. I’m almost afraid to ask, because I’m still chewing on that, but… what about love, then?

R: Love is opening ourselves to the endless possibilities of another person, and to risk being hurt for the chance to communicate ourselves with each other. I think love is how we halt the endless cycle of injustice that we get, when people disagree about what’s fair. When people are punished, they resent it, unless they really believe they deserve it, and not very many people do. But sometimes, there’s a way to lessen punishment, or find ways to help them see, or punish them in a way that doesn’t foster more harm in the future. And that’s mercy.

R: Mercy is a sort of love, in that we risk seeing good in people that we think are evil. Mercy is another form of justice, looked at over the longer term, and in the wider view. If you think that forgiveness is fair, and so does everyone else involved, then… you’ve all gotten what you want, haven’t you? And that’s also justice.

R: When you love someone, when you put hurt behind you, hopefully the other person will do the same, because causing harm hurts us too. Harm is a spiral that leads downward into misery. Love is a spiral that leads upward into happiness. You can’t always bring yourself to love someone, but I think we have to try.

R: So to bring this back to your original question… I think when I say I fight for love and justice, I mean I’m going to use my strength to love, to forgive, to be an example of these ideals. I’ll take the hurt from people, or protect them from more hurt, and try to put a stop to that downward spiral.

N: This sounds amazingly selfless, but I have to think that you get something out of it too, don’t you? What - or who - will make you happy?

R: I think anyone who lives in this world benefits from making it a better place, and I live here too.

N: Thank you so much, Radiance.

R: Thank you.

author: Bill G.

To be fair, I don’t think Summer is anywhere as neatly put together as this implies. I think she does what most of us do, which is act from the heart, and this explanation is her sort of reverse-engineering her own motivations after the fact. She’s smart, but she’s 17 and still makes mistakes (e.g. blowing off Pietro, even though she thought she was protecting Nono at the time). But as a philosophical package, I’m proud of it?

author: Bill G.

Most of us, even much older than 17, can assemble answers to these sorts of questions that sound a lot more neatly put together than they really are or feel they are. I think it’s a good effort and, if not fully descriptive of reality, neatly aspirational.

author: *** Dave H.