Netflix released season one of their live-action Punisher television show last week. The world was ablaze with reviews of it. Many of these reviews were absolute hot garbage. The show itself was pretty enjoyable. As it turns out Frank Castle is a deeply misunderstood character. I am not here to offer you a review. My tastes are my own, as yours are your own. My mind processes things in overtly political ways however and something did occur to me watching it. Frank Castle, The Punisher is probably appealing to people for the same reasons that people so instinctively crave a philosopher king.
What is the instinct of the philosopher king? Justice is not easy to come by in our world. It is not readily available and is rarely very satisfying to the extent that we can finally attain it. Out of this desire to have it none the less, we often surrender power to a group or an entity more powerful than ourselves in order to see justice given to us. This is why we want philosopher kings. This is why people want to be led by wise and powerful men. Someone with the knowledge to know right from wrong and then the strength to act on it because we are unwilling or unable.
What is the instinct for the vigilante? The vigilante is someone who steps outside the laws and systems of mankind to seek the justice that these systems have either denied them or were unable to secure for them. These people take the burden of their own justice back upon themselves from the state. In the stories that we have, in our popular culture, they are always righteous, with both the knowledge and power to seize the justice that they were not given by their fellow man.
At this point, the parallels that began to spring into my mind should begin to become obvious. It all springs from this impulse for justice. We want it for ourselves, we want someone who can secure it. Even more so we idolize and empower the people who supposedly can secure it. It is important to also note however that both the vigilante and the philosopher king are tropes. They are memes. They are ideas and dreams that do not seem to be functionally attainable. There is a reason that the rule of one man is never a good thing, it is because we are all flawed as people. Similarly, one man who seeks justice for himself is not guaranteed to right or to be just in his pursuit of his justice.
We should keep these impulses and desires properly checked. There is a reason that the systems we have are in place. They are not perfect. I for one believe that there are in fact actually better ways to find justice. These solutions, however, are not through the empowering of individuals to roam freely and inflict “justice” upon others. It is difficult for anyone to learn the truth. It is at least somewhat easier for a group to find the truth. These groups should be trusted to find the truth. It is only once the truth is known that we can then have the discussion about how justice is most appropriately delivered. We must not empower individuals only to allow them to become tyrants and killers in the name of what is right.