‘Game of Thrones’ Is Awesome, but Why the Enchantment with Feudalism, Humans?

Visitors line up to take a closer look at the Iron Throne, a prop from the Game of Thrones series during the openinig of the 'Game of Thrones' Exhibition in Berlin, Germany, 13 May 2015. Photo: Jens Kalaene/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Craving for a feudal lord’s domination remains humanity’s top pathology that keeps causing massive destruction today.


(Sub)conscious Craving for Feudalism

The stupefying, even maniacal anticipation of people around the globe for the arrival of Season 7 of Game of Thrones underscores probably the most lasting feature of “civilized” humans — their enchantment with feudalism — in the widest possible sense of the term.

The vast majority of people of various races, genders, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and geographic locations, it turns out, seem to have 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).

The majority seem to crave a “leader” who would rob them of their free will and set them in their subservient place.

This overwhelming craving appears to be subconscious in all humans, and conscious in many.

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.

This craving 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.

A critic might be quick to remark that this is hardly surprising: the basic model of the dominating lord and his or her 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.

Democracy, individualism, free will, and civil society, on the other hand, are rather recent inventions.

That might be true, but I keep thinking that the world would be a much better place if someday a TV show about properly functioning, non-corrupt civilian government institutions observing the best possible checks and balances on power acquired the popularity of the feudalism-touting Game of Thrones.

GOT’s Real-World Feel

Don’t get me wrong. Game of Thrones is an awesome TV show, as good as it gets so far (though, here is some critique of it). And George R. R. Martin’s novel, A Song of Ice and Fire, that it is based upon is a marvelous, inspiring read.

But given the topics it tackles and the motifs it uses, the worldwide infatuation with the Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire universe is really telling of modern-day humanity’s atavistic cravings.

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 feels so much like real life.

Game of Thrones isn’t J. R. R. Tolkien’s whimsical world from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Sure, it boasts dragons, and White Walkers, and undead, and, if you look at it more closely, you will discover it contains a lot more magic than you would think at first glance.

Yet, the continents of Westeros and Essos, and the entire Game of Thrones world, don’t feel like a made-up place to the viewer and readers.

The fantasy creatures and the magic are just a detail, one that symbolizes dire and unexpected everyday challenges in the lives of both individuals and societies that today’s people can really relate to. (Referring to the real-world equivalents of those challenges in the context of today’s world, but still.)

This type of “real world” feel is of one of the greatest merits of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, and it has taken real mastery on the part of author George R. R. Martin to achieve.

It is undoubtedly one of the reasons that Game of Thrones is so mesmerizing to audiences worldwide.

The Crown from the Game of Thrones series is seen during an exhibition at the Posthoornkerk in Amsterdam, Netherlands, 18 May 2013. Photo: Robin Utrecht/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Atavistic Craving, or Is It?

However, another main reason for GOT’s popularity is certainly human nature’s atavistic craving for (being under) feudal-type domination, for experiencing first-hand the power of overarching lords, while partaking in their conquests, power games, and status fetishism, all the while hurting in various ways other “lowborns” who, understandably, bow to their own feudal lords.

(By the way, in case you haven’t noticed lowborns, the common populace, the ones who toil in the fields to produce food, etc., for the feudal nobility, are barely paid attention to.

That goes even for the slaves of Slavers’ Bay who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the bizarre abolitionist crusade of Daenerys Targaryen, a ruler with absolute power that everybody is so excited about both in Westeros and Essos, and on the 21st Century planet Earth).

It is this craving for feudalism as a state of mind that gives away the sorry state of modern-day humanity.

Regardless of how you look at it, and how much you argue about the correct historical, sociological, or political science terms, the fact of the matter is that in today’s world, most human beings around the globe still 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 live or seem to be slipping under the dominance of some type of type of a feudal ruler — a dictator, an oligarch, a corporation, a political party — regardless of the pretense attached to the respective situation.

Democracy proper is the opposite of this hunger to kowtow to “supreme leaders” and conquerors, or to at least gape for hours at the live broadcast of a royal wedding.

Nowadays, democracy proper is still alive — struggling but alive — almost entirely limited to the West, but even there it is constantly under attack by the forces coming from the Rest, by outside autocracies, by domestic cliques, by organized crime, by growing ignorance and haphazard relativism, by organized crime, by emerging oligarchies seizing greater shares of public wealth, by the pseudoliberal left and the ultraconservative right.

With growing economic polarization (inequality) and the marginalization of the middle class, and with the advent of extremist home-grown ideologies such as the “political correctness” dogma, democracy in the United States has seemed to have been in retreat for some time now.

In the model democracies of Northern and Western Europe, it is increasingly coming under attack by similar ideological cliques as well as pressures from subverting outside enemies.

Humans should not be excited about what, in essence, is feudalism on such a scale as they are excited about Game of Thrones, regardless of how mesmerizing a story about kings and dragons might be.

This type of excitement should be warranted by things such as the rule of law and functioning institutions keeping abusive power in check, and ensuring fairness and honesty — maybe even justice.

This type of excitement is also warranted by engaged civil societies, also on the wane now, to the extent that they ever existed, who share a vision of an objective reality, rather than descent into relativist powerlessness against crimes and abuses.

Come to think about it, all evil has come from what can summed up as feudalism — the rule of supreme leader, a clique, an oligarchy, an autocracy — and humans’ tolerance, and even craving, for 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, a subconscious atavism going well below 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 nature of the human species is apparently a hard thing to overcome.

If you wake up one day and find the world this excited about a show featuring peace-loving, law-abiding, but socially active commoners, with no “lords” and conquests, but with stable public institutions and the rule of law, you should be quick to realize that this is what the world is supposed to be like.

If that ever happens.

(In the meantime, enjoy Season 7 of GOT!)

Ivan Dikov
Global Political Editor

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