amon and equalists

LOK Villain Party.

The Equalist Subplot is often criticize for how it seems to end without resolution. Me? I think the “lack of resolution” IS a resolution.

Let me clarify: the Equalists are clearly a radical group of non-benders who have been convinced by Amon that without bending, the world will be a better place for everyone. The way they see it, it’s their way or no way. 

It’s not too hard to empathize with how non-benders are preyed upon by the Triads who misuse their bending on those without it. Amon’s backstory shows how he grew to despise bending from his own father. However, the methods  the Equalists employ to create a better world is hardly a good one. Benders have their own bending, a big part of their selves, stripped away and they won’t just walk away feeling just fine if Tahno’s any indication.

Back to the subject: the organization is clearly unyielding in their convictions and Korra wasn’t likely to just sit down with Amon and talk things out as certain fans wanted her too. Hell, even Aang wouldn’t have been able to at all. Hate to break it to you guys but this isn’t how real life work.

So what happened to the Equalists? It’s clear that they dissolved after Amon was ousted at a Waterbender/Bloodbending before a large crowd. He was their leader and without him, they clearly fell apart in a matter of days. Most likely they tries to readjust to their old life and those like Hiroshi for this to be a wake-up call for them. In essence, there was no happy ending for them sadly. 

But again, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

Like, you all projected this leftist progressive ideology onto Amon and the equalists that just was straight-up not there in the show. So many people on tumblr heard Amon claim “benders are oppressors whose very existence is a threat to us” and just took it at face value that he was supposed to be a voice for the oppressed and that the show was wrong to vilify him, when actually LITERALLY EVERY far-right reactionary group frames the people they’re trying to exterminate as an oppressor! It’s literally like the first thing in the far-right extremist handbook.

Rethinking the Equalists

I want to talk about the Equalists and their ideals from my perspective, which is that the show isn’t the full story and the world is more “real” than it is in the show.

I think the first thing that’s important to recognise is that an organisation and the ideals that it stands for are different. To think that because an organisation is ‘bad’ that its ideals are also bad is a mistake, just as to think that because the ideals are ‘good’ that the organisation must also be good is a mistake. I want to step away from the Equalists and take a more balanced look at what made such an organisation possible – at the ‘equalism’ movement.

When it comes to “bender oppression” some people tend to focus on the triads, because that’s where we see violence that is related to bending. I suppose it’s dramatic, but I think people gloss over what’s actually important – the systemic inequalities. Examples that we see in the show (more would exist in reality):

  • Bending as a requisite for positions of political power
  • Bending as a requisite for the police force of the United Republic
  • Bending as a requisite for certains forms of employment
  • Bending as the ability to commit gross acts of violence

The relationship between political power and bending is poorly explained in the show. As of Korra’s time, all four nations still utilise a hereditary system of power. This, together with the unknown factor that makes individuals benders or not, results in a world where benders are the individuals with political power. We can argue about whether or not bending truly was a “requisite”, but I think we’ll agree that, at least historically, political power and bending were intimately associated. We can also debate about what defines “oppression”, but I do think that there was good reason for non-benders to feel that society wasn’t equal in some way. Even if these leaders didn’t make any decisions that were ‘unequal’, the unequal sentiment would persist.

And then there’s the police force of the United Republic, which is literally composed entirely of metalbenders. This is a pretty clean setup for bender/non-bender tensions. It’s important to recognise that oppression isn’t always ‘a part of the plan’. I don’t think the Metalbending Police Force had any policies or any factions within it that actively pursued unfair bender/non-bender treatment. But I do believe that there would’ve been people who abused their authority, and I do think that this could be interpreted as some sort of bender/non-bender tension.

The other two, employment and violence, are more day to day than politics and police. Being an earthbender allows work in construction, lightningbending in electricity, and so on. These differences in employment opportunities is the basis for something similar to a class divide. I don’t find it unreasonable to think that the differences in terms of economic worth of benders and non-benders could form a basis for bender/non-bender tensions.

Violence is the place where many people’s narrow understanding of “oppression” becomes apparent. It’s too often equated with a deliberate targeting of one group by another. I think it could be true that benders targeting non-benders was rare, but this isn’t the issue for me. Let’s consider violence more broadly. Something which the show didn’t go into, because of its target age group, was how lethal benders were. The upshot is that street brawls were destructive and deathly, killers were able to commit massacres with ease – the capacity for violence of an individual bender was and is enormous. But this capacity for violence wasn’t necessarily ‘targeted’ at non-benders, but it was the non-benders who felt powerless to do anything against it. Other benders might’ve had the means to fight back, but non-benders were at the mercy of benders. It’s this interaction, a subtle inequality of raw power rather than overt oppression, which could’ve formed a strong basis for equalist reasoning. All in all, I don’t think we even need the show to be able to foresee that bender/non-bender tensions would exist.

Defending the Equalists and supporting equalism are different things. I think both those who don’t like the Equalists and those who support equalism sometimes fail to properly differentiate the two. Basically, what I want to say is that equalism in all its forms was a reaction to the very real inequalities that existed in the world of Avatar. While the show brings closure to the story of one of the forms of equalism, Amon’s Equalists, the issue of equalism is never resolved.