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Ego v. Unique Self: a lesson from Thor, god of thunder


By Joe Perez

Whatever your taste in movies, it’s hard to deny that Hollywood does a brilliant job of selling comic books to the world, illuminated with dazzling computer-powered, imagination-dazzling on-screen effects. Many adults find these action packed movies to be a guilty pleasure, and we ponder whether they have a redeeming educational or morally transcendent worth beyond a day’s entertainment. Given their prominence and durability, let’s hope that they do.

The first thing I want to say about The Avengers, Josh Whedon’s latest superhero summer blockbuster, is that it at times provoked in me surprising delight. The interactions among Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the Black Widow and Hawkeye were intriguing in unexpected ways. These superheroes each inhabited their own excellence, their own uniqueness, with superb effortlessness … and they frequentlly argued, fought, and learned how to get along.

Superheroes, like all heroes of myth, wear their interior self on their external nature. The spirit of their uniqueness is writ large, thanks to the power of myth. Hulk’s raw, primal, Kali-like power of creative destruction; Thor’s instinctual, impulse-driven, noble brand of heroism; Captain America’s truth-oriented, duty-driven, God-loving brave soldier warrior; Iron Man’s postmodern, quip-slinging, irony-noticing, eco-technologist playboy billionaire, for starters. And all of them coordinated by the mastermind strategist of Nick Fury, the man with the power to deliver Manhattan from a nuclear blast while operating behind a veil of mystery.

The symbols embodied by the heroes fall all along the spectrum of human developmental capacities from pre-modern magical to mythic to rational to integral as spelled out in the Integral Framework, though there’s room for debating precisely how the symbols align. Personally I didn’t find myself identifying strongly with any of the characters, so much as with the feeling of the cosmic drama itself, I think, but I most admired the cunning and chutzpah of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. If there is Integral Consciousness on display among these characters, it couldn’t be better embodied than by Fury.

But that doesn’t stand in the way of my gushing over Chris Hemsworth’s hyper-masculine performance as Thor, god of Thunder. I find Whedon’s portrayal of the macho macho god as a being of almost child-like innocence to be an endearing expression of the ego-less, enlightened nature of the authentic power of the Unique Self. If Thor passes muster as divine, it is only because we believe that he is truly being himself — that he simply cannot be any other way — that he is not holding anything back, and that he wields power not for its own sake but only for an ideal greater than himself: the protection of the Earth and realms beyond.

About Joe Perez

Joe Perez is Executive Editor of Spirit's Next Move, Director of Communications and Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for World Spirituality. He has eight years of blogging experience and has seen two of his blogs published as books including Soulfully Gay, a pioneering Integral Spirituality memoir. He is an Honors graduate of Harvard University, has studied at The Divinity School at The University of Chicago, and holds a certificate in Integral Leadership from Pacific Integral. He also blogs at Gay Spirituality.


  1. Hi Joe,

    Cool review of this latest blockbuster. To confess, I haven’t seen it yet myself, but just finished catching up on Thor.

    I’d like to hear more about your interpretation of the Avengers tying in with Integral Theory’s developmental spectrum, if you don’t mind sharing them with us?

    In the meanwhile, maybe I’ll go see this one myself! It’s been a while since I’ve caught a good movie.


  2. Joe Perez says:

    Hi Jeremy,

    I tried to go light on the Integral Theory tie in, so as not to make the post seem to be primarily about developmental levels and how we assess them.

    To give an obvious example, in the movie Captain America is seen as consistently respectful of national authority, mentions God, and generally acts to uphold the public order and welfare of ordinary citizens. His goodness is based on honor and when he fights he does so for God and country and a higher moral purpose. These are values that developmentally arise at the stage Susanne Cook-Greuter describes as the Diplomat stage of ego-development (or amber altitude in AQAL).

    In contrast, Dr. Banner becomes The Hulk when he is angry. The Hulk is the primordial, raw power of destruction … one that Banner’s rational mind is unable to control. It is a regression from a rational (Cook-Greuter’s Achiever or higher / AQAL’s orange altitude) to pre-rational emotional intelligence.

    Iron Man is a clean energy titan and a master reader of contexts and ironies that everyone misses, and he is quick to deconstruct the egoic pretenses and subterfuges of the other characters with put-downs. Clear postmodern / green tendenies….

    A fascinating Integral perspective on viewing the film is: watch how all these characters get along, and where their tension points are, how they resolve those difficulties, and to what extent to they need the assistance of others (such as Nick Fury) to come together and stay on course?

    Worth the $10 or $15 bucks (for 3-D)!

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