Game of Thrones Is Terrific but Why Are Humans So Enchanted with Feudalism?
The worldwide enchantment with Game of Thrones also reveals humanity’s top destructive pathology: craving for some lord’s domination, namely, feudalism.
Craving Feudalism. (Sub)consciously
Before the arrival of Season 7 of Game of Thrones, the TV series based on the Song of Ice and Fire novel by George R. R. Martin, in the summer of 2017, the anticipation for the hit HBO TV show had reached hysterical proportions.
The new season has come and gone, and now millions of people live in anticipation for the next (and last) one.
Among other things, such as the awesome plot and production of Game of Thrones, this mania seems to expose probably the most lasting feature of “civilized” humans, namely, their enchantment with feudalism — in the widest possible sense of the term.
It appears that in real life the vast majority of humans of various races, genders, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and geographic locations exhibit an insurmountable craving for being dominated by some sort of a “lord”:
queen, king, emperor, dictator, oligarch, warlord, drug lord, party secretary, supreme leader, fuhrer, chieftain, conqueror… you name it!
For some deeply ingraned reason, they seem to crave a “leader” who would rob them of their free will and set them in their subservient place.
This overwhelming craving seems to be a conscious desire and choice in many humans around the globe – many of whom have precisely feudalism in power in their societies.
And in the Western world, where civil society has arguably triumphed, and the individual has the right and power to be their own… individual, this craving remains subconscious, but powerful, manifesting itself in the need to engorge an endless amount of popular culture products helping one relive feudalism time and again.
The less veiled and the more overt the feudal-type domination is, the better the majority of humans in the world seem to feel about succumbing to it.
Quite expectedly, the quest for what can be described simply as various forms of feudalism routinely dwarfs the scope of any strife for freedom, democracy, free will, free speech, rule of law, institutions of checks and balances, and human rights.
On the one hand, that’s hardly surprising: the basic model of the dominating lord and their subjects goes back to the pre-human existence of our species, millions of years ago, when ape packs were led by alpha males and alpha females.
At the same time, democracy, individualism, free will, and civil society are rather recent inventions which are yet to trump (feels weird using this verb after November 2016) the mentality of the crowd, pack, or herd.
That might be true, but I keep thinking that the world would be a much better place if someday the popularity of the feudalism-touting Game of Thrones is gained by a TV show glorifying properly functioning, non-corrupt civilian government institutions observing the best possible checks and balances on power.
GOT’s Top Achievement: Feels Real-World
My point about the modern-day hunger and thirst for feudalism aside – don’t get me wrong.
Game of Thrones is an awesome TV show, as good as it gets so far – although I do offer some critique of its discrepancies (Middle Ages vs. Antiquity, slavery vs. serfdom, etc.) when it is compared to actual history. And George R. R. Martin’s novel, A Song of Ice and Fire, is a marvelous, inspiring read.
But given GOT’s topics and motifs it uses, the worldwide infatuation with the Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire universe is truly revealing of modern-day humanity’s atavistic cravings for being dominated by powerful lords.
Probably the best thing about Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire is that even though it is a fantasy novel / series, it leaves behind an incredible real-life feel (that’s especially true of Seasons 1-6, and a little less of Season 7).
Game of Thrones differs that way from J. R. R. Tolkien’s overwhelmingly magical universe from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Of course, GOT has its dragons, and White Walkers, and undead, and a closer look reveals that it contains a lot more magic than one would otherwise notice.
Yet, the continents of Westeros and Essos, and the entire Game of Thrones universe are hardly felt by the viewers / readers as a made-up place.
All magic and fantasy are but a mere detail. All that detail does is symbolize the presence of dire and unexpected everyday challenges in the lives of both individuals and societies that today’s people can easily relate to.
That is why, probably the greatest merits of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire is precisely the creation of this type of “real-world” feel.
This feel, which has taken real mastery on the part of author George R. R. Martin to achieve, is undoubtedly one of the reasons that Game of Thrones is so mesmerizing to audiences worldwide.
Atavistic Craving, or Is It?
Nevertheless, no doubt another crucial reason for GOT’s popularity is human nature’s atavistic craving for feudal-like domination, experiencing first-hand the power of a lord’s authority, while partaking in their conquests, power games, and status fetishism.
And that’s all the while hurting other “lowborns” who, understandably, bow to their own feudal lords.
In case you have missed that, lowborns, the common folk, the ones who toil in the fields to feed and clothe the feudal nobility, are barely paid attention to in Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire. The protagonists are all nobles, or lowborn who climbed up the feudal status ladder.
That’s true even of the slaves of Slavers’ Bay who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the weird absolutist neocon abolitionist crusade on part of Daenerys Targaryen, a ruler with absolute power that everybody is so excited about in Westeros, Essos, and on 21st Century planet Earth.
Make no mistake: this exact craving for feudalism is a state of mind. The state of mind that gives away the sorry state of modern-day humanity.
One might argue all they wish about the correct historical, sociological, or political science terms, but the fact of the matter is that in today’s world, most human beings around the globe reside, exist, and live in some form of feudalism.
From Latin America to East Asia, from Africa to Eastern Europe, and from Oceania even to the core of the West in North America and Western Europe, people either already live, or appear to be slipping into the hands of some kind of a feudal ruler — a dictator, an oligarch, a corporation, a political party — regardless of the pretense attached to the respective situation.
Democracy proper, the ideal kind which makes life worth living, would mean the contrary of eagerness to kowtow to “supreme leaders” and conquerors, or at least to gape for hours at the live broadcast of a royal wedding.
Democracy proper is still alive today. It’s struggling but alive. It’s almost entirely limited to the West – but even there it is increasingly coming under attack: by certain forces coming from the Rest, outside autocracies, domestic cliques, organized crime, growing ignorance and haphazard relativism, organized crime, emerging oligarchies seizing greater shares of public wealth, the pseudoliberal left and the ultraconservative right.
Democracy in the United States seems to have been in retreat for some time now – with all the growing inequality, i.e. economic polarization, the marginalization of the middle class, and the advent of extremist home-grown ideologies such as the “political correctness” dogma.
The model democracies of Northern and Western Europe, are increasingly coming under attack by similar ideological cliques and outside enemies seeking to divide, marginalize, and conquer it the European Union.
All that should be kept in mind when humans lose their minds over a popular culture product such as Game of Thrones, regardless of how mesmerizing a story about kings and dragons might be – precisely because feudalism is all over the place and on the march.
There are other achievements of the human civilization much more deserving of such ardent enchantment: the rule of law and functioning institutions keeping abusive power in check, and ensuring fairness, honesty, and even justice.
This type of excitement is also warranted by engaged civil societies, now clearly on the wane (George R. R. Martin is justified in repeating that “winter is coming”) – to the extent that they ever existed – but ones with a vision of an objective reality, rather than descent into relativist powerlessness against crimes, abuses, and assaults against their very essence.
In a sense, all evil has boiled down to what can be summarized as feudalism — the rule of supreme leader, a clique, an oligarchy, an autocracy — and the fact that large numbers of humans have tolerated or even craved it.
Game of Thrones is a truly inspiring show, but the mass excitement for it should help everyone realize how enchanted humans still are with feudalism.
That is a subconscious atavism going well beyond the excitement for a great TV series or novel.
Because the fact of the matter is that most of the world continues to live in modern-day feudalism in one way or another, while the places that had moved past that point now seem to be falling back into the same abyss, the same nothingness.
If you wake up one day and find the world this excited about a show about peace-loving, law-abiding, socially active commoners, without lords or conquests, with stable public institutions and the rule of law, you should be able to realize that this is what the world is supposed to be like.
That is, of course, is extremely unlikely.
In the meantime, keep awaiting Season 8 of GOT. I know I am.
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*Note: An earlier version of this article appeared on intelligencerpost .com.