PW: What’s more enviable: to be honored as heroic for your actions even when you don’t believe those actions heroic (i.e., the narrator of “Must Be, No Reason”), or to be admired as a caretaker of something that you’ve sworn to protect (i.e., Gus)?
MR: I’m going to go with the latter as more enviable and try to explain why. People can be ravenous creatures, very often looking for praise for every little thing we do or don’t do, or maybe I’m the only one who does that. Regardless, I liked the idea of inverting this tendency, a man who does evil things, is completely aware of his intentions, and yet still receives praise. I think we’re constantly reminded that perception dictates whether someone’s a hero, as it does so many things. I see this as problematic because perception is so easily manipulated, maybe now more than ever before in human history (although, boy could those kings and czars manipulate). Crappy people can be identified as heroes (see professional athletes, often dubbed heroes against their own wishes, too) and good people can be demonized (see anyone wrongly convicted of a crime).
I suppose it goes back to the egocentric nature of humanity, which is necessary from a survival standpoint but negative from a “truly heroic” standpoint. I think a prerequisite of true heroism is that it be apparently selfless, so that when a soldier jumps on a grenade and the grenade detonates, and everyone around the soldier including him/herself is killed anyway, that’s still a heroic act. (S)he tried to save them. That’s where I see the latter as enviable where the former tends not to be. You can be a selfless defender of something, as I see it. I don’t know of too many people who are, and in fact, if you’ve heard of the person they’re probably not that selfless (a cynical opinion of mine).
Maybe to finish on a more upbeat note, I think most people usually strive to be the best people they can be. I encourage this. It’s not always going to happen but it’s important to try.