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The Wheel of Time and Philosophy


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I am currently taking a philosophy class and I have a paper due coming up in about a week.  The topic that I chose to write is about balance (good/evil, light/dark, etc.)  I have long had a personal philosophy centered around the idea of balance and the fact that all things have an opposite, etc.  I think, perhaps, that is one of the reasons that I have grown to love The Wheel of Time.  Balance is one of the core themes of the series.  In my paper that I am writing, I wanted to incorporate the Wheel of Time in my discussion (I have mentioned the series several times in class during our discussions, and though my professor said that he has not yet read the book, when I suggested doing balance as my topic, he even suggested about referencing the series.


I was wondering if anybody knows of any articles on this site or others that goes into the theme of balance and how it relates to the series.  Any input would be helpful.


Thank you


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 Any input would be helpful.
1. Dragonmount.com  forums  search :wink:
2. Dig up the past:
Plus (maybe it will help you)
Interview: Jun 27th, 1996 AOL Chat 1




Mr. Jordan, I want to inform you that a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame has just completed a thesis on the rebirth of philosophy in literature centered around your Wheel of Time series.

Robert Jordan


That's very nice to know. I've had several people send my copies of their master's theses and other undergraduate theses, comparing me to Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. It's enough to swell my head. Luckily, my wife takes care of that little problem. ;)


Interview: Dec 12th, 2000 CNN Chat




Why do stories of the titanic battles between good and evil seem to attract such a large and loyal audience?


Robert Jordan


Because most people believe in good and evil, in right and wrong. And I think most people would like to believe that they would stand on the side of good—of right—however they happen to define those things.


Interview: 2001 Thus Spake the Creator


Question (Themes of the series)    


Some people have found so much depth to your books, that they've claimed you've attempted to start a new philosophical movement, or even a new religion, with the Wheel of Time. What have you set out to do with the Wheel of Time?


Robert Jordan


I'm not trying to create a philosophy, I'm not trying to create a religion. If people think that, they're missing the point. What I'm primarily trying to do is tell a story. If I get to ask you a few questions along the way, that's good. And if I don't get to ask you a few questions, that's good also. If there are any messages it's that everybody has to struggle against evil, as opposed to good. Because you can't depend on a few heroes to take care of it. If you depend on heroes, evil's gonna win. Also, how it's not easy to tell the difference between bad and good sometimes. Sometimes you think a course of action is the right thing to do. And if you do it and a few million people starve to death somewhere, was it really the right thing to do? Unintended consequences too: every action you take will have at least two results that you never intended and one of them will be a result that you really didn't want. You have to contend with that under all circumstances. You can never figure out all consequences of what you do, and you can't stop them because of that. I'm fascinated by these ideas.


Interview: Apr 10th, 2001 Elf Fantasy Fair Interview with Robert Jordan




Do you have an underlying purpose with your books? Something other than to entertain?


Robert Jordan


Of course. You always like to write about things, talking about things. The primary goal is always for it to be a good story, to entertain, but at the same time, it would be very nice if you're able to make people think about certain things, in my case the whole notion of right and wrong, good and evil. There is a popular view today, that, right and wrong are simply two sides of a coin. Dependent, looking in the mirror in different angles. It all depends. It comes from the modern misinterpretation of situational ethics. Today there are no ethical rules, there are no ethical standards. Dues are all because they hold the law. Fact is, there is right, there is wrong. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, sometimes it's very easy to tell the difference. Sometimes you study very closely for what is the right thing to do here, and you still make the wrong choice. But even if it’s hard to find the difference, even if you realize later that you made the wrong choice, it's worth the effort to try. I have some basic rules in my life. I try not to cause harm, to anyone, unintentionally. I try not to give offense to anyone, unintentionally.


There are many people who offend, not because it's intentional necessarily, but because they can't be bothered not to. There are many people who cause harm, because they can't be bothered not to. I don't mean that they go around beating people in the streets, necessarily, but, they harm people, in many various ways. Simply because they can’t be bothered not to. The other people aren’t really real, real to them, no, they're the only ones that are real. And everybody else is no more than a checker on a board. And I'd like my readers to be more than that.


Interview: Mar, 2006 Locus Magazine Interview


Then there's the moral element. In fantasy you're allowed to have at least some dividing line between good and evil, right and wrong. I really believe people want that. In so much of literature there's total moral ambiguity: good is not merely the flip side of evil, it's on the same side of the coin. Quite often you can't tell the difference between the two. If you want to talk about good and evil in mainstream literature, you do it with a nudge and a wink to show that you're really joking, but in fantasy you can say, 'This is right, this is wrong; this is good, this is evil.' OK, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but it's worth the effort to try.


Sometimes you're going to make the wrong call, but that doesn't mean you suddenly have to go on living and try to make the right call the next time, being aware that you have a belly button and that means you're going to make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Nobody has ever gotten up one morning and said, 'I am a villain' or 'I will be a villain.' What they say is 'I want power.' Serial killers want power, and so do rapists and a lot of other villains, but let’s stick with one sort as an example. You want power and you convince yourself that your being in power will be the best for everyone. That is the way most politicians work. But then there are the guys who say, 'I want power, and if I can convince them that it's the best for everyone, all to the good. I don't give a good goddamn whether it is or not, as long as it's good for me.' He doesn't think he's a villain; he's just trying to do the best he can for himself. But he's on the road to villainy. Unfortunately, so are some of the guys who said, 'This is going to be for the best for all the people involved.' If you do what you believe is the best thing in the world and the result is you deliver millions of people into slavery, as Lenin did in Russia, are you a villain? Yes, you are.

A fellow in Russia, a politician who's a fan of my books, was asking me a lot of questions because he gives them to his friends. He said, "I tell them these are not a manual of politics; they are a manual of the poetry of politics." I'd never thought of them that way. But there's this scale: at one end is total purity in your beliefs, at the other what your enemies believe and are willing to do. Sometimes you can maintain total purity and still defeat your enemies—or win out over them, if you wish to use a less aggressive term. (It still means kick their butts into next week.) But sometimes you can't. If holding onto purity means that the other guys are going to win, then what is your purity worth? So you move just enough to counter them, but now you've danced onto that slippery slope of necessary evil. And it is necessary, that's the unfortunate thing. The world is not a textbook study—it's uncomfortably real. And that's where you have to start dancing very hard to make sure you don't swing so far over that your victory is no different from their victory. Often the media just give excuses: "He had a terrible childhood, so the fact that he killed 47 women with an ax is not totally to be held against him." Simplistic, true, but not far off the money really except in scale. I don't believe that many people are purely good, and most of those are ineffectual. We all contain shades of gray. But how dark is that gray?


I used to pride myself on being a cynic until somebody said to me, "Oh, a cynic is just a failed romantic." These days being a cynic is too lazy an option.



Interview: Jan 20th, 2003 Fine Print Interview


Rick Kleffel


Now, why did you feel the need to create an entire world to tell the story of the characters you've created?


Robert Jordan


Well, fantasy offers certain flexibilities that are not available in mainstream fiction, for example. Mainstream fiction has mostly areas of gray. You can occasionally talk about stark blacks and stark whites in fantasy. Now, I believe there is such a thing as good and such a thing as evil. There is right, and there is wrong. 'Situational ethics' is the most misunderstood and misused term in the world, perhaps. There are times when it is difficult to say what is the right thing to do, and what is the wrong thing, or even to say what is good and what is evil. But in a great deal of contemporary fiction, the attitude seems to be that, because it's difficult to tell, 'Well, we don't really need to make the effort. We'll just drift along and do what comes our way, and if it's good, or if it's bad, or if it's evil, well, that's someone else's perception, isn't it? That's all it is.' Well it isn't. These things exist—good and evil, right and wrong—and it's worth spending a little time and a little effort to try to figure out which is which even when it's hard.



Interview: Apr 6th, 2001 Rotterdam Signing Report


Robert Jordan


That's, that's a part of it. Another part of it is that I felt I could discuss things writing fantasy that I couldn't discuss writing in other genres, things that I would have to...sidestep. There's a great deal of the struggle between good and evil. I'm trying to decide what is good, and what is evil, what's right, what is wrong, am I doing the right thing? Not by preaching; simply the characters keeping face with a situation or they're gonna make a decision; they don't know enough, don't have enough information, and they don't know what the results are going to be; oh they know what the results are gonna be and they're wrong. We'll give them that. At least wrong a lot of the times. And they have to blunder on and blunder through anyway, cause that's all there is to do.


But if I wrote about that, if I tried to say that there is a right, there is a wrong, there is good, there is evil, it's tough to tell the difference, but you really have to make the try. ... It's worth the effort to try. If I said that in a mainstream novel, it would be laughed out of town.


Interview: Mar, 2000 Locus Magazine Interview


Robert Jordan


There are things I am saying, things I am talking about, but I try not to make them obtrusive. The necessity to struggle against evil, the difficulty of identifying evil, how easy it is to go astray, are very simple questions. In modern mainstream fiction, if you discuss good and evil, you're castigated for being judgmental or for being old-fashioned. Originally this was a way of deciding which was the greater wrong—'It is wrong to steal, but my child is starving to death. Obviously, in that situation it is better to steal than to let my child die of hunger.' But today that has been transmogrified into a belief that anything goes, it's what you can get by with, and there is no real morality, no right, no wrong—it's simply what produces the Platonic definition of evil: 'a temporary disadvantage for the one perceiving evil.'



Interview: Apr 3rd, 1995 Letter to Carolyn Fusinato


Robert Jordan


Majority rules, my dear? You should know that I am neither Democrat nor Republican; I am a monarchist. For the church for the laws, for the king, for the cause! For Charles, King of England, and Rupart of the Rhine! Ah, for the chance to re-fight Malvern Hill. God send this crumb well down!


Ah, me. To do evil without doing wrong. What about the law of unintended consequences? An example, partly fictive, but possible. We have passed laws protecting harp seals. The result so far, an explosion in the harp seal population, an explosion in the orca population (they feed on harp seals, among others) and a sharp decline in commercial fishing in those waters (orcas and harp seals both like to eat the same fish that people do). Nothing evil so far, just fishermen and cannery workers out of work and some fishing towns in depressions, but here is the fictive yet possible part.


Population explosions frequently result in waves of disease, quite often new and deadlier strains of something that has been around in the population with less effect for some time. As witness AIDS, Ebola, Zaire and the Devil's own litany of others, these things can be devastating. So, postulate that the explosion in harp seal population results in the appearance of a virus among the seals—call it Seal Ebola—and the next thing you know there aren't any harp seals left at all. (Some of these things do seem to come close to 100% lethality, and if you only have 90%, which is the rate among humans with Zaire, I think, you are left with 10% of the population weakened and in no shape to escape orcas or sharks and with systems weakened to where they would be easy prey for other illnesses that they usually shake off.)


Worst case. Seal Ebola does not only infect harp seals. After all, most diseases that affect one part of a species will affect the rest. So seals vanish. All of them. Or maybe it's the orca explosion, and all the whales and dolphins that are wasted. The ecology of the oceans is thrown into a tailspin from which it might never recover. Now, will future generations record what we did as evil? If they use out present manner of viewing history—holding everyone in history to the standards of our time, usually more tightly than we hold most of our own populations, holding them to account as if they had our knowledge and lived in a world with our moral views, and condemning those ancestors who fail to measure up—if thy use that method, they certainly will. Would what we did be evil? I don't know. An act taken with the purest of intentions that resulted in the death of an entire species. The result could not be called other than evil, but does that make the cause evil? Now more than ever, I regret that Robert Marks, an old friend, died some years ago. This is the kind of question that would make him want to open a bottle of good brandy and discuss it for hours.


"No man is an island, but every one a part of the main. Therefore, send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee." John Donne.


Don't worry about grinning over the fate of the poor string bean. I have heard people express the belief from the heart. Not from the brain, though; I think that they lacked that particular organ. Then there is the group of rather vocal people who believe that human beings have no more rights than any other animal ("a boy is a cat is a dog is a rat"), though they generally express it by saying that animals should have the same rights as people. To vote, perhaps? To hold elective office? We already see enough jackasses in public office.


Don't worry too greatly about how much of what you said there that you actually believe. The purpose of the sort of discourse you engaged in is not so much to express belief as to explore ideas and possibilities. you say, if this, then maybe that, and if both things, then this other should follow. None of that is saying that you necessarily believe in any of the points, though it can lead to belief in various things. It is a good way to reason out what you do believe in. Much better than simply taking someone else's word for it. That is fine for 1 + 1 = 2, but not so good on points of morality, ethics, philosophy, or whether monarchist feudalism would function better than the mish-mosh of corruption, self-interest and idiocy we are saddled with at present.


In the end, I believe that we ourselves define what is good or evil. Several hundred years ago, slavery was seen as good and right. I don't mean just black slavery; there were white slaves in Europe—and slaves in Asia, Africa and just about everywhere else—for thousands of years before the first black slave was brought to America. Helping a slave escape was theft of property at best and an abomination in the eyes of God—or the gods—at worst. Time passes, and our views alter significantly.


If an Avatar of Pure Good appeared and told us that in order for Good and Light to triumph over Evil and Darkness, the human race must be extinguished, I think we would decide that old Av was sliding us the long con. And I think we would be right to. Not only as a matter of species survival—any species that is ready to slit its collective throats for whatever cause should go ahead and do it now; it isn't up to survival in a universe that, if not malignant (I do not believe that), is certainly neither benign, compassionate nor caring—but also because I would seriously doubt the Good- and Light-hood of whoever/whatever made such a pronouncement. The Devil can quote scripture, and all that.


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