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Epiphanies: Know Thyself

Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). Oil on Canvas. Louvre, Paris. Image Source: Wiki.
This post is the first in a series on the epiphany in writing. In fiction, epiphany can come through exposition, characterization, dialogue, or plot. An epiphany is a moment when disparate threads come together and the character and audience or reader learn the truth. Epiphanies pull the veils from our eyes. They decode unexplained jokes, mysteries, betrayals and destinies.

The Epiphany as Personal Choice

James Joyce (1882-1941) first used 'epiphany,' a religious term, to apply to literature, although the most famous moment of epiphany probably comes from Sophocles' classical story of Oedipus, Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex), dated 429 BCE. Oedipus is a cursed character who moves blindly through his life, surrounded by lies and subterfuge.

Epiphanies are foreshadowed by a character's encounter with something alien and surprising, a divine gift, gran…

Character Development 2: The Professional in the System: What Price Freedom?


Stories about professionals pit the life of the individual against the interests of the group. Image Source: Goodreads.

My recent posts have considered how to develop a character who is in one of the white collar professions:
It is ironic that the white collar professions are also described as liberal professions, meaning that this class of worker enjoys freedom, along with his or her intellectual education and pursuits, authority, and wealth, classically contrasted with the standing of manual labourers. In 2005, the EU's definition of professionals got a little closer to the reality; professionals are:
"those practised on the basis of relevant professional qualifications in a personal, responsible and professionally independent capacity by those providing intellectual and conceptual services in the interest of the client and the public."
For 2020, the EU has developed a plan to help professionals in the challenges they face in relation to education, training, access to markets, reductions in regulatory burdens, access to finance, and representation of their views within the EU. The EU's conventional view is that the professional is trusted by the public because he or she is bound by the demands of professional associations. However, those regulatory demands often constrain the freedom of professionals.

This is why, for the purposes of story-telling and character development, professional dramas tend to involve freedom and constriction, and pit the individual against the group.

The System Gone Wrong Story

Steven Soderbergh's Kafka (1991) portrayed the famous author in a fictionalized version of his own story settings, especially The Trial and The Castle. Kafka Steven Soderbergh (24 November 2012). Video Source: Youtube.

There cannot be a more perfect System Gone Wrong story than Kafka's The Trial (Der Proceß). Written in 1914-1915 and published in 1925, this is a tale of the unexplained arrest of a Jewish man by seemingly-still-functioning but bizarrely-now-not-functioning police and legislative and judicial branches of government. Kafka (1883-1924) is known for fabulist elements in his writing. With fantastical levels of cognitive dissonance in a system gone wrong, Kafka seemed to predict the Holocaust, although he did not live to see it. In The Trial, the professional system has become so corrupt and robotic that it has begun persecuting its own citizens.

What makes something "Kafkaesque"? - Noah Tavlin (20 June 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

Franz Kafka's "The Trial" (1987). Video Source: Youtube.

Franz Kafka's "The Trial" - Film, Literature & The New World Order (5 February 2011). Video Source: Youtube.

The Freedom Inside the System Story

Then They Came For Your Mind: The Untold Story of Psychosurgery (25 October 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

Told from the professional perspective, the Freedom Inside the System story balances the integrity of the individual against that of professional power groups. The video above shows Truthstream Media's interview with Dr. Peter Breggin. This doctor has conducted a decades-long campaign against lobotomies and destructive drug prescriptions in psychiatry. In this video, he explains his individual struggle against the authorities in his field, and how he came to learn that Rosemary Kennedy had been secretly lobotomized. The fact that Breggin has a Website and appears on alt-media outlets shows how he attacks the professional systemic architecture. He also claims to have become a conduit for whistle-blowing.

The flip side to Breggin's true account is the story of an individual who sees things are wrong and fights to preserve his or her integrity or survival. The character does so by maintaining a professional front, while challenging or exploiting problems in the system in unprofessional ways.

Apocalypse Now Dossier (17 April 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

"You're an errand boy" - Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now" (1979) (25 March 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

In this case, red tape becomes a tool to make the individual impossible to reach, unaccountable for his or her actions. The protagonist consciously bends and breaks the rules behind the scenes. This is a shades-of-grey anti-heroic narrative, where the ends justify the means. A broken system permits drastic measures. The character's heroism or villainy is unclear until the end of the story.

A Few Good Men - You can't handle the truth Scene - HD 720p (14 May 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

The Cost of Success Within the System Story

Until the 1970s, the professions were dominated by males. Even after decades of professional gender equalization, they still are. Rogue academic Jordan Peterson courts controversy by claiming that the reason men excel in the professions is because they will compromise themselves where women will not. Males who are addicted to competition will accept the crushing demands of 80-hour work weeks, with no regard for the personal cost. Peterson argues that when women recognize these demands, most of them reject the professional destruction of their personal time and individual freedoms.

Epic RANT on Gender "Equality" - Jordan Peterson on why there are so few women at the top (5 April 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

If the professional male must compromise himself from the start, then, is there anything that will redeem him and allow him to recover his individuality? The professional man's life is built upon thousands of choices, stretched over decades. Professionals who have compromised themselves will, at the end of an illustrious career, have a trail of dead bodies and broken people behind them.

All men and women make mistakes. The individual's destiny depends on incremental choices, based on best personal judgement. If the professional male is very lucky, he will have one shocking incident early in his career which will give him pause. This incident may make him begin to choose differently. The professional man can change his path and make more humane choices, both for himself and others.

In short, does the professional man become 'that guy,' the asshole who lied, exploited circumstances, and used and abused people? Or does he protect and redeem himself? The film, The Family Man (2000) was a straightforward depiction of this either-or destiny.

The Family Man Official Trailer #1 - Nicolas Cage Movie (2000) HD (9 January 2012). Video Source: Youtube.

This story does not ask whether the system needs to be changed, rather bases all outcomes on the choices of the individual. It basically states that with the system as it is, there is no way to become a top flight professional and a redeemed individual at the same time. There is no option in this narrative for the system to become more humane and to accommodate the human needs of male professionals. There is also no question posed here as to whether there is something much larger at work which has twisted or bent the system and needs change beyond the requirements of specific individuals.

The Success In Spite of the System Story

One of the most terrifying prospects for the professional is to be cast out of the profession. In A Beautiful Mind (2001), the fictionalized biopic of Nobel laureate Dr. John Nash (1928-2015), this expulsion is equated with outright insanity, loss of income, and social isolation. However, this story states that genius trumps all. In the scene below, the fictional Nash solves the essential professional problem with the idea of the non-cooperative game. With the Nash Equilibrium, now a section of game theory, Nash reconciles the interests of the individual versus that of the group.

Governing Dynamics: Ignore the Blonde - A Beautiful Mind (3/11) Movie CLIP (2001) HD (16 June 2011). Video Source: Youtube.

The fictional depiction of Nash's insanity centres on a glorified conspiracy theory. Nash believes his profession is ruled by higher government agents, a secret cabal which recognizes his genius. The cabal vindicates his distorted, broken ego. This narrative accepts the idea that the professional system itself needs revision and may be compromised at its highest levels. But that need is distorted through the eyes of an injured professional ego, pressed past the breaking point.

A Beautiful Mind (4/11) Movie CLIP - Nash Cracks the Code (2001) HD (16 June 2011). Video Source: Youtube.

For the past twenty years, Internet culture has become a hotbed of investigation into the highest levels of professional manipulation and corruption. Many of these alt-investigators are displaced former professionals. Have conspiracists been driven insane by their alienation? Or are they finally perceiving the bigger theatre in which they worked and work? A Beautiful Mind avoids that larger theatre and concentrates on bringing the injured genius back into the fold.

A Beautiful Mind - Pen ceremony scene (8 April 2011). Video Source: Youtube.

A Beautiful Mind states that the measure of the professional is knowledge and skill, expressed through work that defines the profession itself. At the end of the day, professional accomplishments are more important than professional perqs, office politics, authoritative structures, acceptance within the institutions, peer approval, petty bureaucrats, and all regulations. Win the Nobel Prize, this narrative says, and you will be part of the profession, whether you are included in its working architecture, or not.

The Freedom from the System Story: The Criminal Professional

Dissecting HANNIBAL LECTER in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (character analysis) (22 November 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

While some stories of alienation are redemptive, others take the character into criminal insanity. Yet this does not diminish the genius of the professional. The two aspects coexist. One of the most successful recent characters to fall in this category is the psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter. He is so capable that the FBI still consults him on murder cases, even though he is a cannibal and murderer.

This narrative assumes that professional genius is driven by a dark side, especially taboo addictions, urges, and delusions. The larger the brain, the greater the strain. The professional's shadow attributes must be harnessed, balanced, and healed, or they will consume him or her. In Lecter's case, his brilliance as a psychiatrist is intact, despite the fact that he has completely given in to his private urges and his name has become synonymous with abomination. His interactions with the FBI agents who hunt him show him playing a cat and mouse game with the last shreds of his humanity which are left between his professional genius and its dark reflection.

Clarice Decides To Capture Hannibal | Hannibal | ScreenScreen (7 May 2014). Video Source: Youtube.

Lecter loves the FBI agent Clarice Starling, yet if brought into the light, this love would surely eliminate him. Covertly, she loves him: her pursuit of him ensnares her in a desire to bring him to justice. One of Lecter's most interesting pet peeves is the fact that Starling also wants to arrest him to further her own professional career. He finds this insulting, and believes their interpersonal dynamic is worth more than that. Yet when her career suffers, he ruthlessly eliminates her professional rivals. In the 1999 novel, Hannibal, Starling succumbs to Lecter and abandons her life and career to escape with him. This does not happen in the film version of the same story.

Hannibal (9/10) Movie CLIP - This is Really Gonna Hurt (2001) HD (6 May 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

The Lecter stories by author Thomas Harris are an intensified depiction of the hypocrisy and personal losses which are concealed beneath the masks of professionalism. They depict, but do not resolve, the conflict between public and private identities of the professional individual.

The Peeling Off from the Herd Story: The New Professionals

The Fifth Estate Official Trailer #1 (2013) - Benedict Cumberbatch Movie HD (). Video Source: Youtube.

In more complex stories, groups of professionals peel off from the herd and begin to act independently from the system. They may aim above or below the professional standard, but their intention is to reconfigure frameworks of authority and commandeer them.

Risk | Official Trailer | Julian Assange SHOWTIME Documentary (9 April 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

The bid to create professional networks which enable greater freedom for their workers is reflected in our reality, where, thanks to technology, new liberal professions are emerging. These individuals value their liberty over their obligations to the broken system. The fictional and documentary versions of the development of WikiLeaks, above, depict a new breed of professional, who is building new institutions at great personal cost, and not without facing his or her own demons. The focus here is on revolutions within journalism and politics, but there are similar changes taking place in other professions.

Public Loss of Trust in Professionals: The Demonized Angry Public Story

The public is losing faith in the professional concept and ethos. On 29 November 2018, The Guardian decided that the main reason populism is on the rise is because professionals and their associations have become corrupt, dishonest, and dislocated from their stated sets of values and regulations. The trust professionals enjoyed is broken. From The Guardian:
"A modern liberal society is a complex web of trust relations, held together by reports, accounts, records and testimonies. Such systems have always faced political risks and threats. The template of modern expertise can be traced back to the second half of the 17th century, when scientists and merchants first established techniques for recording and sharing facts and figures. These were soon adopted by governments, for purposes of tax collection and rudimentary public finance. But from the start, strict codes of conduct had to be established to ensure that officials and experts were not seeking personal gain or glory (for instance through exaggerating their scientific discoveries), and were bound by strict norms of honesty.

But regardless of how honest parties may be in their dealings with one another, the cultural homogeneity and social intimacy of these gentlemanly networks and clubs has always been grounds for suspicion. Right back to the mid-17th century, the bodies tasked with handling public knowledge have always privileged white male graduates, living in global cities and university towns. This does not discredit the knowledge they produce – but where things get trickier is when that homogeneity starts to appear to be a political identity, with a shared set of political goals. This is what is implied by the concept of 'elites': that purportedly separate domains of power – media, business, politics, law, academia – are acting in unison.

A further threat comes from individuals taking advantage of their authority for personal gain. Systems that rely on trust are always open to abuse by those seeking to exploit them. It is a key feature of modern administrations that they use written documents to verify things – but there will always be scope for records to be manipulated, suppressed or fabricated. There is no escaping that possibility altogether. This applies to many fields: at a certain point, the willingness to trust that a newspaper is honestly reporting what a police officer claims to have been told by a credible witness, for example, relies on a leap of faith. A trend of declining trust has been underway across the western world for many years, even decades, as copious survey evidence attests. Trust, and its absence, became a preoccupation for policymakers and business leaders during the 1990s and early 2000s. They feared that shrinking trust led to higher rates of crime and less cohesive communities, producing costs that would be picked up by the state.

What nobody foresaw was that, when trust sinks beneath a certain point, many people may come to view the entire spectacle of politics and public life as a sham. This happens not because trust in general declines, but because key public figures – notably politicians and journalists – are perceived as untrustworthy. It is those figures specifically tasked with representing society, either as elected representatives or as professional reporters, who have lost credibility.

To understand the crisis liberal democracy faces today – whether we identify this primarily in terms of 'populism' or 'post-truth' – it’s not enough to simply bemoan the rising cynicism of the public. We need also to consider some of the reasons why trust has been withdrawn. The infrastructure of fact has been undermined in part by a combination of technology and market forces – but we must seriously reckon with the underlying truth of the populists’ charge against the establishment today. Too often, the rise of insurgent political parties and demagogues is viewed as the source of liberalism’s problems, rather than as a symptom. But by focusing on trust, and the failure of liberal institutions to sustain it, we get a clearer sense of why this is happening now.

The problem today is that, across a number of crucial areas of public life, the basic intuitions of populists have been repeatedly verified. One of the main contributors to this has been the spread of digital technology, creating vast data trails with the latent potential to contradict public statements, and even undermine entire public institutions. Whereas it is impossible to conclusively prove that a politician is morally innocent or that a news report is undistorted, it is far easier to demonstrate the opposite. Scandals, leaks, whistleblowing and revelations of fraud all serve to confirm our worst suspicions. While trust relies on a leap of faith, distrust is supported by ever-mounting piles of evidence."
In this scene in the remake of Cape Fear, an attorney has illegally hired thugs to rough up his vengeful, former client. Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are - Cape Fear (5/10) Movie CLIP (1991) HD (). Video Source: Youtube.

Fictional versions of the professional loss of public trust demonize alienated non-professionals. Professional soul-searching is limited to stories which depict anti-professional critics as insane, religious, stupid, anti-democratic, or violent. This is a fragile way of clinging to vestiges of professional authority, while not looking too hard in the mirror.

A story like Cape Fear (1991 version) shows that the professional character - here, the attorney Sam Bowden - has indeed lost trust due to corruption, hubris, lack of accountability, red tape, and other failures. He has betrayed his professional code of conduct, his wife, and his daughter. He has failed on the public and private levels. Still, he is protected by his professional status and networks. Even when he comes under professional review and a violent ex-client, Max Cady, comes to reckon with him, Bowden has trouble understanding how his wrong choices can be made right.

In short, today's moral tales depict non-professional loss of trust in professional systems but have not provided answers. Authors of these morality tales still have difficulty relaying how public-private tensions can be resolved and professionalism renewed. This is a modern problem of societal evolution and transition. The old system still stands. Public life still depends on trust relationships with, and obedience to the authority of, professional groups. But stories of individual professionals' failures and suffering foreshadow the need for a larger resolution. A new system does not yet exist, but its stories must focus on the evolution of trust.

Cape fear - ending scene [HD] (21 June 2011). Video Source: Youtube.

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