Digital Estate Planning and the Concept of Sociopathic Competition


by Loki100

Digital Estate Planning is brilliant in its depiction of two ideological views of human nature and human interaction. The first is a sociopathic version of humanity where what benefits one person must, by definition, hurt others. From this view point, life is a zero-sum competition. The other is that mutual co-dependence and mutual responsibility benefits everyone.

Cornelius Hawthorne has a deeply sociopathic view of life. While racism and homophobia are his most outwardly defined traits, these are merely appendages to his true views, which are that life is essentially an endless competition to amass the most profit (not necessarily in the sense of money, but also intangible benefits such as power). From this perspective, harming or in other ways disadvantaging  other people is intrinsic to life, and not a flaw to be fixed, but rather the most important feature of society. Race is merely a nice, obvious way to divide the world into groups, and from Cornelius's perspective, all groups must inherently be in conflict and competition with each other, and as Cornelius has the ego-centric sociopathic view point, his group must inherently be superior, otherwise he could not be a member of it. 

But this is not merely about race, as Cornelius views even race neutral moments still as competition. Rather than simply filming a commercial with Pierce, he forced Pierce to audition for the role of his son, and then coldly told him he was not good enough. In the game, he had no idea who the players would be, but still forced them to compete with each other, even stating, "I see you've chosen team work, a coward's strategy."

This is why the choice of a video game is the perfect visual metaphor for Cornelius's worldview. It presents a world without moral consequences. Shirley and Annie can murder an entire family and it does not matter. Nor does Abed's child slavery. While this might be the morality of the game, it is also how Cornelius views the actual world. While the video game mimics his world view, it also allows him to create his own operating rules. Cornelius could have bequeathed an inheritance by any method, but he choose a means that he thought would force Pierce and his friends to abide by his ideological perspective.

Pierce was meant to bring seven friends to game, and then the friends would compete against each other to win an inheritance. Cornelius cared very little about who actually got his money, he merely wanted to prove that friendship was a false concept and that only self-interest existed. Therefore he attempted to get Pierce's friends to betray him and get the money for themselves. 

Of course the study group has a different perspective. They view humanity as essentially good and that working together will improve everyone's condition. They believe in mutual responsibility and compassion. They reject Cornelius's perspective out of hand and immediately.

This is where the second aspect of Cornelius's plan occurs. He has a second son, Gilbert, who, after a lifetime of propagandizing, has come to believe in Cornelius's vision of humanity. He plays the game identically to how Cornelius viewed it should be played. He brutally attacks, he cheats, and he generally acts in an underhanded manner. And ultimately, he can not win. His strategy is fatally flawed. Gilbert does not want to live in the world Cornelius inhabits. That is why he can't agree to Cornelius's terms. He does not want to be a sociopathic isolationist, he craves the family that Cornelius represents.

By not choosing self-interest over human connectedness, Gilbert triggers the final stage of Cornelius's game, where he has to actually fight Cornelius himself in his own world. This proves a futile exorcise as Gilbert can not possibly win. At this point Pierce and his friends rescue Gilbert and utterly obliterate Cornelius. By mutual co-operation and compassion they were able to defeat sociopathic self-interest. They also agree to forfeit the game, allowing Gilbert to win. This is not merely a nice gesture towards someone who had been psychologically damaged by Cornelius but lacked the positive influence of the study group, but rather it grants Gilbert what he wanted, which was a family. By allowing Gilbert to win the game, the group is allowing him to be Cornelius's heir, legitimizing him as part of Pierce's family. Pierce has, since the first episode of the series, been someone looking for a family, and in Gilbert he not only has that family, but also has someone who longed for a family as deeply as he did. They embrace each other as brothers, not competitors.

Throughout this episode the use of the video game was the perfect externalization of the internal perspectives that framed the episode. It was designed to force competition, and yet through the mutual interconnectedness of the study group, that design was subverted creating a vastly more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.


    • but seriously, this is great. a video game was a near-perfect way for Cornelius to perpetuate his hegemony and world order, and we can postulate that Cornelius would have forced each player to sell, in exchange for the inheritance, a part of him/herself in order to reify that world order: Gilbert, his right to Cornelius' name and history; Pierce, his ability to go his own way [he would go back to being under his father’s thumb…a stunning reversal to the conclusion of Advanced Gay]; et al.

      i think it's interesting that the story suggests that Cornelius' one redeeming quality is 'his word,' that he isn't completely dismissive of the possibility of a superior worldview, perhaps. that a person's gotta have a code has been a recurring theme [regarding adulthood] this season.

    • For someone who's so wrapped up in his own bullshit rules for defining and segregating society, a code is all he really has.

    • I took the line referring to his honor completely ironically, actually: Cornelius is so obsessed with the idea of honor/purity that he has a sociopathic disregard for everyone and everything else. He'd probably think that the group forfeiting was a dishonorable thing to do, but it was the right thing.

      What I took from the episode as a whole is that honor and morality don't always go hand-in-hand, and sometimes, swallowing your pride can benefit everybody.

      Edit: And now I realize that I almost completely eschewed what you had to say, so applogies. Great call on the code of a man being a theme this season–I agree wholeheartedly with that. My reply was more about the idea that codes aren't always set in stone.

    • interesting. i think there is a case for that line being ironic…though I still think, as with all people, Cornelius had a vulnerable spot, as evidenced by Jeff's ability to kill him emotionally in Advanced Gay…and not just because he got his organs from less than reputable sources. ; ]

      Huh, I see it more as Cornelius' conceptions of morality and honor being wildly divergent from the group's; they couldn't be more different and instantly clash [Troy’s line about how it would be weird to take a friend’s inheritance…and the group’s conception of honor dictating that they spare the pathetic, much weaker Pierce]. from his ivory headpiece, perhaps Cornelius underestimated society's progressive elements…but certainly his son. i'm beginning to see the Advanced Gay, Digital Estate Planning, and Intro to Finality episodes as providing Pierce's turnaround from the end of season 2 as well as validating the forgiveness the group consistently showed him.