In W2. Leo Ascends we watch Leo, the drug-smuggler with a swastika tattoo, get goaded into eating his own fingers before Nemo eats the rest of him. Nemo, the first man and the first Virgil Blue, has apparently eaten a host of undesirable characters, and diluted them by munching every Virgil Blue, himself included.
I’d like to reiterate that Leo doesn’t represent Republicans, or conservatives, or Libertarians, or whatever. If you asked Leo, he might call himself those things, but that’s because Leo would call himself anything if he thought it would upset someone. Calling Leo basically anything is falling for Leo’s con, because Leo associates himself with controversial imagery as an excuse for why no one likes him.
Some might say it’s contradictory for Leo to simultaneously embrace the racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and symbolism of fascism alongside small-government (or no-government) ideals. That’s correct. Leo thrives in hypocrisy! Leo represents a desire to separate people into two groups: an in-group which is protected by the law but not subject to it, and an out-group which is subject to the law but not protected by it. That’s how he can denounce taxation as theft even while literally stealing centipedes, ferry fares, and passports. His notion of personal responsibility evaporates the instant it inconveniences him. He can feel victimized by any action taken by another, while excusing his own actions as exercises in freedom. Take a look at this:
(I believe I saved this photo from r/trashy, a subreddit devoted to sleaze.) First notice the Gadsden flag (with pot leaves added for good measure), which borrows the snake symbolism from Ben Franklin’s “Join or Die” cartoon below to represent America’s determination to secure independence. Beside flies a German swastika. On the face of it, this is a heap of contradiction: the Gadsden flag is currently associated with the Tea Party movement, which calls for a small government, while the swastika demands a powerful government to smite whatever is ‘infecting’ the nation.
But this hypocrisy is by design. While cooler heads dissect their contradictory statements, the fascist builds concentration camps. In this context, the “don’t tread on me” snake is reminding the government to tread on the out-group in service to the in-group. (Zooming in, it appears the pot-leaf Gadsden says “don’t tread on weed,” but Nazis weren’t fans of weed, if I understand. Such is the plight of pick-and-choose authoritarianism.)
I’ve already used snake imagery, briefly. Jango and his brother Jun watch an anime about a giant robot whose every limb is a dragon’s face, echoing the “Join or Die” image above. The combining dragon-robots, in their fiction-within-fiction, were necessary to protect Earth from cosmic threats. Lucille’s Galaxy Zephyr isn’t snakelike at all, because the Enemy Hurricane isn’t an outside threat; it was made by Akayama. If anything, the Enemy Hurricane is an overgrown boa constricting the universe. It secured power, and now endangers others to maintain that power. In a position of power, any action is justifiable as self-defense.
Leo justifies his actions with the invisible hand of the free market. The phrase comes from Adam Smith, who mentioned the hand in passing as a metaphor describing how self-interested actors in competition can contribute to public welfare. Some economists downplay the hand’s power to cope with monopolies or in unregulated markets, and someone like Leo might exploit the phrase to justify ludicrous transgressions of human decency like sweatshops with hazardous working conditions. Just as the Enemy Hurricane claims to have saved every human worth saving (‘coincidentally’ just its original pilots), Leo recontextualizes victims of his fallout as responsible for their own suffering. He’s an atheist and proud of his atheism because there’s nothing else interesting about him, but he still has a “shoot ’em all and let God sort ’em out” conception of morality and economics.
If Leo represents any political alignment, he’s a sovereign citizen. The sovereign citizen movement is widespread and takes many forms, but its crux is the notion that if a person doesn’t ‘consent’ to citizenship in their home-country, they enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, but none of the drawbacks. The typical image of a sovereign citizen is a person with no driver’s license driving drunk in a car with no license plates. When pulled over, they insist they were not driving at all; they were ‘traveling,’ which is totally different! Why would they need to obey traffic laws when they aren’t a citizen, but a ‘freeman on the land’ subject to no one? Likewise, Leo marches into Sheridan with a fake passport because he thinks he’s above such pedestrian rules.
The most irritating aspect of the sovereign citizen movement, in my eye, is how it comes a hair’s-breadth from profundity. As a trivialist I’d agree (in a cosmically broad, abstract, pretentious philosophical sense) that government and legality are mass hallucinations sustained by usefulness and inertia. But the sovereign citizen movement isn’t content with that: many sects claim birth certificates are secret contracts which the clever can exploit to receive cash from the government they denounce. Sovereign citizens might enter legal trials with reams of frivolous claims which nonsensically ‘debunk’ the authority of the court. It’s less of a political affiliation and more of a conspiracy theory stating rules don’t apply if you know the magic words. Leo doesn’t buy into the invisible hand of the free market out of economic anxiety. He worships it as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Leo’s also an incel. The notion of an ‘involuntary celibate’ arose from good intentions: a support group for lonely people feeling self-conscious about their virginity. It’s evolved into a hate-group (as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center) responsible for at least four mass murders in North America. Leo’s never murdered anyone as far as we know (though he’d excuse any murder aligned with his ideals), but he’s a bitter misogynist who hopes to have sex with his underage stepdaughter. He “bought” her mother, which suggests less of a mail-order-bride situation and more of a non-consensual, less-than-legal trafficking exchange.
Compare Leo to DanJay. Dan bemoans his lack of luck with ladies because Beatrice isn’t interested in him. He naively kills himself for Beatrice’s sake and gambles his soul for hers. When Dan is reborn as Jay, he finds everything he needs inside himself.
Compare Leo to Nemo. Nemo has no parents unless you count a cosmic-horror and a bird-monster. He’s chaste, having produced his children by ejaculating on an egg. He’s totally self-contained—almost literally, in eating himself alive.
When Nemo realized he couldn’t keep eating people’s fingers in polite company, he retired above the clouds where he can peacefully practice devotion to the Biggest Bird. Leo follows Nemo to the clouds seeking ‘freedom,’ but doesn’t realize the sacrifices required since Leo’s notion of freedom includes immunity from, and power over, all exterior forces. Leo trusts the invisible hand of the free market to buoy him to this lofty, impossible position. Nemo perverts this trust by goading Leo into eating his fingers, softening his ego for consumption. Who can Leo blame but himself? No one controls him, least of all the quadriplegic Nemo. Leo demonstrates his power and his freedom by self-destructing. In his fervor to prove himself, his own body-parts join the out-group of entities acceptable to destroy—nay, demanding destruction.
Leo’s rolled into Anihilato, King of Dust. Anihilato is every aspect of humanity we’d like to ignore, but to recreate Earth’s life, it can’t be swept under the rug.
See you next week.
PS. Nemo with no limbs is reminiscent of Boddhidarma, a 5th or 6th century monk who supposedly brought forms of Buddhism from central Asia or India to the far East. Legend has it Boddhidarma retreated to a cave and sat in meditation until his arms and legs atrophied. If you watch much anime you might recognize his image in this object, a Daruma:
I think Nemo’s nod to Boddhidarma is appropriate. Boddhidarma often mentions the emptiness and meaninglessness of life, the self, and even Buddhism. When Emperor Wu of China asks how much divine merit he’s earned by building temples, Boddhidarma says “none.” Here are some excerpts of the conversation from websites Zennist and MonkeyTree; I don’t know if these are highly regarded sources for this sort of thing, but Akayama DanJay certainly isn’t, so whatever.
“Being a temporal matter it is in no true sense meritorious. True merit as such resides in the pure buddha, the seed of salvation within us which by inner revelation becomes true merit. Measured against that, these things can only be evaluated as transitory.”
The emperor asked his next question, “What then, is the essence of Buddhism?”
Bodhidharma’s immediate reply was, “Vast emptiness and no essence at all!”
Leo tries to impress Nemo with his worldly wealth, but Nemo knows this world and its wealth are meaningless. Nemo even knows the afterlife is empty, in the sense it’s not the “real” reality where Lucille fights in a giant robot. Nemo’s unique vantage point lets him see existence as mere coincidence without intent.
Jay, seeing all this in his centipede hallucination, can only arrive at the same conclusion.