Do you think people are born good and at heart, everyone wants to be good? Or do you think that people are born selfish and evil, and make a conscious decision to set aside their self-interested behavior in order to live in a civil society? What about the idea that people are born as a blank slate and become shaped by their environment and circumstance? Do the ends justify the means? Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?
These are weighty topics. There are no definitive answers, only opinions. As with many questions that have no answers, art explores different facets of these questions and their consequences. Lost Girl has explored all of them.
Are people born selfish?
Let’s consider episode 4.09, “Destiny’s Child.” Trick goes to Dao-Ming, a Luduan who can force humans and Fae to tell the truth, in order to seek her help to recover a memory that he blocked. Her price is answers. One of the questions she asks him is “Who do you love the most?” He tries to dissemble, saying Isabeau, but when she pushes him, he admits:
“Me. I am the first son of this earth. I am the one to be worshipped.”
What are we supposed to take from this? Is Trick just a selfish dude who loves himself the most? Or is he simply stating a universal truth about the human condition? Do we all love ourselves best, even if we would be loathe to admit it? Was Thomas Hobbes right that human nature is, at its heart, made up of self-interest?
Trick has a powerful Fae gift and a pretty healthy god complex. He also had absolute power when he was king, and became corrupt and created harmful laws, as he himself states to the Una Mens in “Let the Dark Times Roll,” episode 4.05.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” – Lord Acton
It took Isabeau’s death to make Trick realize that he had lost himself and wasn’t a good ruler anymore, so to bring about peace, he wrote the new Blood Laws and created the Light and Dark Fae with strict rules and a system of government that was less dictatorial (though still not a democracy). Soon after the creation of the Blood Laws, his daughter Aife violated them and he was forced to give her to the Dark Fae, or else his entire creation would have collapsed, and the peace along with it.
It was Hobbes who described in Leviathan his opinion of the natural state of mankind if not for political community and a social contract:
“…no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Trick’s voluntary abdication of absolute power as the Blood King and his decision to travel to the New World to create a new type of Fae colony is a new social contract among the Fae.
Are people born good, and then become corrupt by circumstance?
“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” –Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Rousseau said that people create societies to gain freedom from lawlessness, and then many times those societies don’t give us the freedom we asked for. Since majority rules, the minority by definition is in some way disenfranchised, despite the best efforts of societies to respect the rights of the minority. In the Fae world, the minority of Fae who didn’t want to adhere to the Blood Laws, who fell in love with humans, or with another Fae of the wrong clan, were put to death.
History is written by the winners, even when they step down afterward. Trick’s victory was a Pyrrhic victory, to be sure, but he literally wrote the history in his blood. The question is, now that he’s not a sovereign with absolute power, can he resist exerting power? He trafficks behind the scenes for most of current-day Lost Girl, pulling strings and influencing people but staying far away from any official office. However, at the end of Season 4, he becomes the Acting Ash. Trick and power are a volatile combination. I wonder, in the 8 episodes that remain in Season 5, will we see any consequences to Trick’s resumption of some limited political power? Maybe Lost Girl is going for a theme of redemption, and Trick has learned some lessons. I can’t help being optimistic.
Whether you think people are born selfish, or born good, or both and neither, how should they govern themselves?
Government is a collection of individuals, so let’s take a brief and cursory look at systems of government and economics that are the legacy of Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Voltaire, Machiavelli and Marx (among many, many others):
Our modern economic system in the United States is capitalism, which is an inherently selfish model dedicated to acquiring and keeping wealth. Publicly-traded companies have only one mandate: to increase value for shareholders. One extreme political philosophy that believes in capitalism above all else is libertarianism. Libertarians are Hobbesian in that they claim the freedom to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid, and in fact want fewer laws than we have already.
At the extreme other end of the economic spectrum is communism with its doctrine of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Though some countries still operate under communist principles, I think we can acknowledge that as an economic and political system, communism was not a success. The idea was that talented people would work hard and contribute to the greater good without need for compensation, but in practice that didn’t seem to happen – probably because those in charge of the communist countries were themselves corrupt and sought personal enrichment and power for its own sake.
Perhaps we should look to Canada, Lost Girl’s country of origin, for a happy medium. Canada’s political system is parliamentary, which is government driven by the will of the people and based on compromise and consensus. Its economic system is market-based capitalism with high taxes that fund a very robust social safety net. Is it a perfect system? No, but it seems to me to be more compassionate than capitalism run wild.
It seems like that’s what Trick did when he stepped down as Blood King and created a two-party system – he moved the Fae political environment from a dictatorship to a sort-of parliamentary system. Adventures in Fae democracy!
What is Lost Girl trying to say here?
Let’s return to the original question posed by Trick’s declaration: are people selfish? In order to determine what Lost Girl’s position is on that, let’s take a look at the protagonist, Bo Dennis.
Is Bo selfish? If we anthropomorphize her Fae power, we could call it selfish. She will become overwhelmed by her hunger if she doesn’t feed regularly, and when she was on the run for ten years, she was driven to kill many times. That’s not actual selfishness, though – that was survival. Do we call a baby selfish for crying when it wants to eat? No – we call it hungry. Lord Cameron said that we are just nine meals away from anarchy – hunger is a powerful force.
From time to time, Bo’s individual actions with regard to her personal relationships can be seen as self-absorbed or selfish. Bo was a teenager when she ran away from home, so we can understand why she might still be learning how to behave as a mature adult in personal relationships. As well, sometimes she can’t see the whole picture, so she doesn’t know why other people are behaving the way they are – like when Lauren was undercover with the Dark Fae during much of Season 4.
But overall, Bo is one of the least selfish characters on the show. She has sacrificed her own happiness and safety to ensure the happiness and safety of those who are important to her in so many ways:
- by rescuing Nadia for Lauren
- then by killing Nadia when it was clear that she was a danger to Lauren and couldn’t be saved
- by using Isabeau’s essence to bring Trick back from the dead when he had been harmed by the Garuda instead of using it herself as he had intended
- by breaking the rules to bring Dyson out from the Temple and bringing him back to life
- by volunteering to take Tamsin’s place to be made into candy in Krampus’s factory
- by saving Kenzi, and finally,
- by then letting Kenzi go.
Does helping people help us feel better about ourselves? Undoubtedly, although I wouldn’t say that that’s why Bo does the things she does. Bo is pretty special, though – what about regular people? Studies have shown that helping others contributes to our own self-esteem. Maybe people do actually love themselves best, but one of the best ways to show yourself love is by helping others and by contributing to the happiness of your loved ones.
Since Bo is the protagonist of Lost Girl, her behavior makes a huge statement about what the message of the show actually is. And it’s not that people are inherently selfish or bad. Instead, it’s that some of our finest qualities are bravery, self-sacrifice, and our capacity to love each other.
Nobody’s perfect, but we’re still pretty damn good.
We can also take from Bo’s story that there is something inherently good about people. If Bo were solely shaped by her environment, then she would be very evil indeed. She has every reason to be bitter and angry, and yet she transcends her legitimate grievances to forgive her adoptive mother and let go of that anger. She has every reason not to trust people, but Bo is one of the most trusting characters we see – she takes many leaps of faith with Kenzi, Lauren, Dyson, Tamsin and Trick. And she has every reason to think the worst of people, yet she manages to see the good in all of her friends and loved ones.
I think that ultimately, Trick’s declaration that he loves himself best might be a light commentary on human nature, but it primarily serves as contrast to the selfless – and indeed, self-sacrificing – nature that Bo exhibits as part of her core personality.
I, for one, am very glad that Lost Girl came along to serve as a refreshing antidote to all the gloom and doom about human nature. I’m sure that Hobbes and Machiavelli are feeling properly chastened.