I like to romanticize things. Old things, dirty things. Stuff like cheap motels, truck stop diners, and of course, bathroom graffiti. In some ways bathroom art is the message board of yore, a place where you can connect with a stranger by touching your butt to the same porcelain. Yet for some, it’s romantic in a different way – an age old forum where truth and lies fight for purchase on walls of slippery tile.
Here in this church of the damned, you’ll find pithy quotes. Fake phone numbers. And of course, penis drawings. I imagine in some distant future when mankind is all but extinct, some alien race will descend into urine-soaked catacombs and decipher these ancient paintings, these grand musings of our collective subconscious.
While I can’t speak for the aliens, bathroom graffiti appeals to me because I’m a middle class intellectual. While I can break down the calculus of a good joke, give me an actual math problem and I will hang myself with my own nervous system. Graffiti is more my speed.
When you live life in the slow lane, sometimes it’s hard to grow up. The middle class intellectual is a perpetual 14 year old, just out of the kiddie pool and finding everything is DEEP on the other end. He’ll sample some philosophy, tell you the wise man knows nothing, and pretty soon establish to everyone he’s the wisest motherfucker in the room.
Still, whether your muse is Socrates of Athens or Kenobi of Tatooine, you can’t go wrong by taking the position of ignorance. The world is too diverse to be defined by a single dogma. Not even the theory of relativity can escape the quantum chaos, scribbled in fine print. For every commandment there’s a contradiction, and for every moral code an exception.
Even the statement Only a Sith deals in absolutes is itself an absolute. Shit man, a lot of people deal in absolutes. Sith Lords, Jedis, and Greybeards.
Zarlak is the counter-argument to the Greybeards’ do-nothing pacifism. While he wears the philosopher’s hat, at its heart his words are as simple as bathroom graffiti. Like any normal person, he thinks standing by and letting Alduin eat the world is fucking stupid.
Although his philosophy is similar to every NRA slogan ever, Zarlak is not a gun nut, arming teachers with AK-47s and putting grenades in every lunch box. Zarlak believes violence is a dangerous tool that one can learn to wield through training, discipline, and a strong moral conscience. He urges the Dragonborn to use the voice not as a weapon of war, but one that will bring peace.
And yet for all his wisdom, Zarlak himself falls victim to his own absolutes. There is no guarantee that the disciples he chooses will use their power responsibly. Moreover, actions made in the name of good intentions can result in unintended consequences. Zarlak’s refusal to teach his son magic led to him joining the Radiant Dark. And depending on your choices, his method of condemnation makes one wonder if the Greybeards weren’t right all along.
That’s the poker game we call life. Every deck is different, every player is different, and we can only see the cards in our hands. Even for the wisest among us, there is no guarantee that a good process – let alone the optimal one – will yield good results.
So I think Obi-Wan Socrates had that one right – in life, there’s never going to be absolute certainty. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a middle class thinker, I don’t know if my ignorance is wise or dumb, but I like the fact that life’s answers are far too big, random, painful and wondrous to fit on any bathroom stall.