Grand Theft Auto V’s Lesson in Liberty

GTA V's Trevor

If you identify somewhere on the libertarian to Tea Party spectrum, you’re likely used to a number of unfounded and illegitimate labels from the Left.  Their current in vogue talking point during the ObamaCare standoff, promoted endlessly by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), is that Tea Party members are “modern anarchists.” That’s an accusation not worth acknowledging with a full rebuttal.

What is worth acknowledging is that Grand Theft Auto V’s Trevor Phillips character may be the most captivating character in videogame history.  No, that’s not a non sequitur, because Trevor is the ultimate manifestation of a true modern anarchist.  A meth-dealing, mass-killing maniac who, in the moments of calm between fits of rage, is introspective enough to understand that his brand of chaos is a recipe for misery.

Spoiler Alert: If you have not played GTA V yet, what are you waiting for?!  Seriously though, spoilers contained below.

On Family

Anarchists reject marriage, monogamy, and nuclear family primacy.  Which might explain why our introduction to Trevor is the image above.  Enjoying a drug-addicted woman from behind while watching TV in his trailer.  Immediately followed by the brutal killing of that woman’s boyfriend.  This is Trevor in a microcosm.

“Mine ain’t nothin’ special, but this boy gets the job done.”

At one point, Trevor does have the chance to settle down and play house with the 57-year old wife of Mexican gangster Martin Madrazo.  How does that happen?  Trevor kidnaps Ms. Madrazo as part of a debt collections dispute, and a bizarre romance ensues.  Ms. Madrazo maintains the trailer while Trevor is out on his rampages.  When he comes home from a hard day’s work, she is there to ensure he doesn’t huff gasoline.

“Oh, I love you!  Let me take you away from all of this.”


Of course, both parties recognize the fleeting nature of their affair.  When it comes time to return Ms. Madrazo to her husband, Trevor can hardly manage.  After escorting her home through a flurry of tears, he grows despondent.  His first trip afterwards is to the condo of one of his wimpy partners in crime who lives with his emasculating, yuppie girlfriend in something resembling normalcy.

“Look this is all I got, alright?  I had a tough upbringing.  My daddy was not nice to me!”

Ever sardonic, Trevor declares his love for both residents of the condo, pleading for the pair to at one time adopt him and at another to marry him.  Guns and knives are pulled, and soon thereafter Trevor is walking out of the apartment covered in blood.  Where is he headed?  To the local strip club to kill the owner, take over running the joint, and mask his lonely despair with whatever primal satisfaction the topless women in the club can provide.

“I didn’t ask for a blow by blow of how you lost your last ounce of masculine pride.”

Whether it be his objectification of women or his brutal violence in fits of jealous rage towards those in a relationship (other than his co-conspirator Michael), Trevor’s concept of masculinity is an anarchical mess.  His lurches toward meaningful relationships through Michael, Michael’s family, and Ms. Madrazo are consistently met with disappointment and abandonment.

His life is a shallow form of liberty that cannot properly embrace the experience with others.  As Christopher McCandless of Into the Wild wrote at the end of life when lost and trapped alone in the Alaskan wilderness: “Happiness only real when shared.”

On Free Markets

Anarchism does not necessarily embrace or reject any economic model, but it generally regards capitalism as exploitive, rule-based, and oppressive.  Trevor, for that matter, does not necessarily embrace anything but the fierce urgency of immediate cash.  Anyone who impedes Trevor in that pursuit would be advised to quickly prepare an estate plan.

“Since I was a little kid, I dreamt big.  I’ve always wanted to be an international drug dealer and weapons trader.”

Trevor’s first mission arc involves an unorthodox business development strategy attempting to secure Chinese clients for his drug and weapons business.  When local rivals the O’Neills win the contract, Trevor is none too pleased.   Rather than respect the private market decisions of competing enterprises, Trevor seeks mortal revenge.  By blowing up the O’Neill family’s meth house after killing its inhabitants.

“Start writing those names on tombstones because I’m on the way to your lab and we’re going to see how much of a family meth business you’ve got when I’m done.”

This speaks to Trevor’s general lack of appreciation for private property rights, the core of any functioning free market.  He is a character in a game titled “Grand Theft Auto” after all.  As a thief, Trevor violates the property interest of all those he robs.  As an anarchist, he doesn’t care.  Maybe because he believes that his victims did not legitimately acquire their assets, maybe because he is not grounded in Lockean philosophy, or most likely because he just doesn’t give a damn.

“Whose dick you have to suck to get this job?  Being a stevedore used to be back breaking work.  Now you’re paid brain surgeon bucks to push an oversized shopping cart.”

Trevor also is outspoken when it comes to unionized labor.  A fierce individualist, he mocks the repressive collectivism and rigid work rules of the port at which he temporarily pretends to be employed.  Yet at the same time, he refers to management abusive “slavedrivers.”  Nobody in the capitalist food chain is safe from his wrath, and no law-abiding enterprise is worthy of his respect.

“Maybe you haven’t heard yet, but I’m kinda gold rich right now.”

Chaos is Trevor’s calling.  The fruits of his labor are various forms of treasure, but almost always via an involuntary transfer.  This anarchic enterprise may succeed in stealing gold, but it never satisfies.

On Fundamental Rights

No discussion of Trevor could be complete without addressing his controversial torture episode.  Much like Call of Duty’s infamous “No Russian” mission, response to the player’s control over Trevor’s painful tactics has been overblown.  Nonetheless, the scene does involve electric shock from car battery jumper cables, waterboarding, a wrench “nutcracker,” and pulling teeth with pliers.

“I love torture, torture for the sake of torture.  That’s my bag.  But there are people in our government, in the media, who think that torture is a means to an end…We’ve got to call bullshit on that.”

If we accept life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the basic, unalienable fundamental rights endowed by our creator, Trevor’s torture scene effectively threatens all three.  It’s an explicit experience, one designed to make the participant uncomfortable.  In a modern sanitized culture designed to shield us from raw emotion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  And the scene isn’t just torture porn, it has a point that develops Trevor’s depravity.

“You have no home.  You have no family.  That shit is over…You’re off the grid.  You’re one of the invisible people.”

Immediately following the torture, Trevor is tasked with taking the victim to the airport.  The victim begs to be taken home to see his family.  Trevor repeats again and again that the victim’s family life is over.  He’s to take a plane to somewhere and disappear.  Interposed in this family discussion is Trevor’s thoughts on torture.  Torture is for the torturer.  The act is done for the sick pleasure it brings a few deranged people, not as a means of gathering information.  Trevor is of course the most deranged of the bunch.

Trevor takes sick pleasure out violating another’s fundamental rights because it opens the possibility that he might share something in common with the victim when he’s finished: loneliness.  The act is intended to change the ability of the torture victim to function as a normal family man in society, forcing him into a life of wallowing in the margins.  In other words, Trevor enjoys the experience of bringing others down to his level.


Final Thoughts

Dan Houser, the creative genius behind GTA V, describes Trevor as follows:

“Trevor appeared to us pretty much out of nowhere as the embodiment of another side of criminality – of freedom, and of doing what you want…Trevor was the other side of the GTA coin, I suppose. He’s the person who’s driven purely by desire, resentment, no thought for tomorrow whatsoever, completely id rather than ego-driven. Constant partying, constant madness. The only thing he doesn’t want to do is stop. He wants to keep going and ride it all to the end. Won’t take an insult from anybody. Kills without remorse, like a true psychopath, but very sentimental for the right reasons when it suits him.”

Trevor is an unpredictable stream of chaos.  But he’s too fascinating of a character to walk away from without attempting to place him in a philosophical purpose.  My interpretation is that he is an anarchist endlessly struggling to find meaning through a practice that cannot be meaningful.  He has chosen the wrong path to liberty, and thus he can never find it.

Someday videogames may have mainstream recognition as works of art.  Unfortunately, it seems more likely that bold videogames like GTA V will soon be censored or regulated out of existence before the medium can reach Hollywood-level prominence.  So enjoy this golden age of videogames while you can.

GTA V has just set the new bar.  Too bad Harry Reid isn’t a gamer.

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