Ambition is not evil

Ambition and desire are one of the driving forces of human life and the world. Without it, there is no progress. Without ambition and the desire for more, nothing great is created, technology is not advanced, businesses can’t prosper, great achievements are never possible, and the standard of living is never improved.

So why then, do we consistently depict ambition as a solely evil thing in pop culture?

Time and time again in movies, ambition is depicted as a bad thing. And I’m not talking simply evil ambitions, or ambition taken to evil goals and lengths, I’m talking ambition as a whole. Hollywood seems to want you to think that ambition taken in a negative/evil direction and ambition as a whole are basically the same thing, even though they’re not. Ambition on its own is good, but it can be taken the wrong way and into morally reprehensible territory. That doesn’t mean ambition itself is evil, just the people who take it into the evil directions, and the actions that result.

Examples include the Star Wars prequel trilogy where Anakin’s ambition leads him to eventually joining the Sith and becoming Darth Vader, and all you hear is the negative way ambition is eventually taken in the form of his actions (and those of the Empire) in the classic series. Then there’s Thor, where Thor where Loki is ambitious, but then again so is Thor. The difference is that, like Anakin, Loki takes ambition to a less than desirable direction. And in the Avengers movie, Thor is shown as good because he overcome ambition, while Loki was evil not because of evil ambition, but because he still had it. Then there’s romantic comedies, which contain the most sexist form of this lie. Apparently, in romantic comedies, women who are ambitious live lives that are meaningless without the man in their life. Am I the only one who sees a problem with this message? And even if we’re shown and ambitious good guy, you only see the success, not the ambition. Examples of this include Tony Stark from Iron Man and Avengers, and Bruce Wayne from Batman.

Also, in the Dynasty Warriors series, Cao Cao is considered evil primarily because of his ambition. It’s what he talks about the most. Yes, in the games and the actual historical events they’re based on, he may have done some bad things, but he was actually a very honorable character as well as very ambitious. So clearly ambition did not, in itself, undermine the ability to have honor.

I don’t understand why we believe that ambition is evil, despite that it’s actually a good thing. The only way it’s a bad thing is if you take it in bad directions and lead it to bad actions.

Part of me thinks Christian thought is responsible for this. Since ambition is related to pride, and the Christian system views both as sinful, I think it’s also to do with the Christian story of Satan’s fall from grace. In this view, Satan was evil because he had pride and was ambitious, and saw himself as greater than “God” (thinking about it, he’s not that far off in his line of thought, but that’s beside the point), and for that reason he was cast out of heaven. Maybe it’s the Christian line of thought that influences Hollywood, because it seems Hollywood and Christianity are the only reasons for our insane aversion to ambition.


2 responses to “Ambition is not evil

  1. Ambition can also lead to greed or even callousness, another no-no in many religious systems.

    I have seen people turn from perfectly respectable human beings to raging monsters while chasing their ambitions. But is it ambition’s fault? No, it’s theirs. Ambition is, in and of itself, neutral. It’s what we aim ambitions at, and what we become while pursuing them, that seems to color ambition.

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