thewolfofStarfall

"Moral ambiguity" is overrated and overestimated

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Posted (edited)

This issue has always been something that has bothered me, and at times irritated me about this fandom. I can't wrap my head around why moral "greyness" is seen as a superior foundation for storytelling and an accurate portrayal of real life.  Okay, maybe I can wrap my head around it. The notion that everyone is ultimately "grey" is really just a logically sloppy way to cover up one's individual moral shortcomings. Moreover, too many people conflate morally ambiguity with moral complexity when they are entirely distinct hings. This is a really great blogpost on this difference that I highly suggest you read: http://www.paksworld.com/blog/?p=1807. You should also read this article by Ayn Rand:http://freedomkeys.com/ar-moralgrayness.htm.

Another issue I find is that the perceived notion of morally ambiguity in this saga is grossly overestimated by fans, thus leading to wild conclusions. The most prominent one being that it's impossible for the Others to be evil because ASOIAF isn't a "black and white" story, whatever that actually even means in the first place. This is despite the fact that there is literally no evidence pointing to the Others having any good or even neutral intentions, and the clearer than day evidence pointing to their sinister nature. Even if they had intentions we aren't aware of, simply having reasons behind acts of atrocity in no way mitigates or excuses those acts. The idea that having an explanation behind immoral actions can can shift a person from ultimately evil to "grey" aggravates me to no end. Intentions, whether good or bad are irrelevant to the ethics of an act. It also makes no logical sense, everyone has "reasons" behind what they're doing, so why even bring it up? The Others seek to annihalte human life.  Tywin wants to mantain his family legacy. Ramsay, the Moutain, the Mad King, and about a million other people seek to gratify their sadistic urges. None of these characters' intentions changes the impact they have on their victims. 

Discuss.

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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Posted (edited)

47 minutes ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

This issue has always been something that has bothered me, and at times irritated me about this fandom. I can't wrap my head around why moral "greyness" is seen as a superior foundation for storytelling and an accurate portrayal of real life.  Okay, maybe I can wrap my head around it. The notion that everyone is ultimately "grey" is really just a logically sloppy way to cover up one's individual moral shortcomings. Moreover, too many people conflate morally ambiguity with moral complexity when they are entirely discint things. This is a really great blogpost on this differentiation that I highly suggest you read: http://www.paksworld.com/blog/?p=1807. You should also read this article by Ayn Rand:http://freedomkeys.com/ar-moralgrayness.htm.

Another issue I find is that the perceived notion of morally ambiguity in this saga is grossly overestimated by fans, thus leading to wild conclusions. The most prominent one being that it's impossible for the Others to be evil because ASIOAF isn't a "black and white" story, whatever that actually even means in the first place. This is despite the fact that there is literally no evidence pointing to the Others having any good or even neutral intentions, and the clearer than day evidence pointing to their sinister nature. Even if they had intentions we aren't aware of, simply having reasons behind acts of atrocity in no way mitigates or excuses those acts. The idea that having an explanation behind immoral actions can can shift a person from ultimately evil to "grey" aggravates me to no end. Intentions, whether good or bad are irrelevant to the ethics of an act. It also makes no logical sense, everyone has "reasons" behind what they're doing, so why even bring it up? The Others seek to annihalte human life.  Tywin wants to mantain his family legacy. Ramsay, the Moutain, the Mad King, and about a million other people seek to gratify their sadistic urges. None of these characters' intentions changes the impact they have on their victims. 

Discuss.

Totally, 100% agree. It's as if you have read my mind and captured my exact thoughts on this matter.

Both in respect to the reverence for moral greyness, which I find motivated by a need to rationalize one's own moral shortfalls, as well as the over the top assessment of the supposed "grey" nature of this story, which is not nearly as grey as the fervent supporters of moral relativism try to claim it is.

Basically, there is often a discrepancy between what Martin claims to be writing, and what he actually ends up writing. An example is the supposed lack of purely evil characters. Well, actually, there are a host of purely evil characters. Gregor Clegane, Ramsay Bolton, Euron Greyjoy, Vargo  Hoat, the Masters of Slavers Bay, Cersei Lannister, Petyr Baelish, Rattleshirt, the list goes on and on.

Merely providing some tiny bit of insight into the justifications for  some of these characters actions does not change that fact in the slightest. So Gregor gets headaches, Ramsay was influenced by Reek, Baelish seeks power, Cersei was influenced by Maggy the Frog's prophecy. These facts merely provide some insight into their motivations. They don't change the utterly evil nature of these characters mind sets.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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27 minutes ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

The most prominent one being that it's impossible for the Others to be evil because ASIOAF isn't a "black and white" story, whatever that actually even means in the first place. This is despite the fact that there is literally no evidence pointing to the Others having any good or even neutral intentions, and the clearer than day evidence pointing to their sinister nature.

We really don't know anything about them one way or the other. We have 8000 year old stories as the basis for what we think we know. We don't know the causality of the Others and the Long Winter. Do the Others bring the Winter, or does the Winter bring the Others? We don't know.

We see firsthand very little "evil" done by them. They attack and kill members of the Night's Watch, notably at the Fist of the First Men, but the Night's Watch is a military organization, and if the Others have just cause for war with the Night's Watch they are reasonable targets. Do they have just cause for war? We don't know. Maybe 8000 ago they were unjustly kicked off their land and then had a magic wall built to keep them off it. Maybe they just want back what was theirs. Maybe the Others have a different concept of time than we do, and what happened 8000 years ago to humans was a recent injustice still in living memory.

We don't know whether they mean to kill the various civilians that die due to the cold that comes with them. As noted, maybe they don't bring the cold at all. Maybe it was always supposed to be that cold on Planetos and whatever warming magic the humans did all those centuries ago is just now wearing off.

Consider yourself in their place. If some kind of fire-people invaded your homeland, raised the temperature to 200F/90C, drove you and your people to extinction after building a wall to keep you from coming back, wouldn't you be justified in attacking the soldiers they station on that wall to take your land back? Are you responsible for the fire-people that die when the temperature returns to normal Earth temperatures?

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13 minutes ago, Damon_Tor said:

We really don't know anything about them one way or the other. We have 8000 year old stories as the basis for what we think we know. We don't know the causality of the Others and the Long Winter. Do the Others bring the Winter, or does the Winter bring the Others? We don't know.

We see firsthand very little "evil" done by them. They attack and kill members of the Night's Watch, notably at the Fist of the First Men, but the Night's Watch is a military organization, and if the Others have just cause for war with the Night's Watch they are reasonable targets. Do they have just cause for war? We don't know. Maybe 8000 ago they were unjustly kicked off their land and then had a magic wall built to keep them off it. Maybe they just want back what was theirs. Maybe the Others have a different concept of time than we do, and what happened 8000 years ago to humans was a recent injustice still in living memory.

We don't know whether they mean to kill the various civilians that die due to the cold that comes with them. As noted, maybe they don't bring the cold at all. Maybe it was always supposed to be that cold on Planetos and whatever warming magic the humans did all those centuries ago is just now wearing off.

Consider yourself in their place. If some kind of fire-people invaded your homeland, raised the temperature to 200F/90C, drove you and your people to extinction after building a wall to keep you from coming back, wouldn't you be justified in attacking the soldiers they station on that wall to take your land back? Are you responsible for the fire-people that die when the temperature returns to normal Earth temperatures?

The Others aren't good or evil. They are as evil as an alien race would be who seeks to terraform earth according to their preferences, killing off humanity in the process. Whether they are good or evil is irrelevant. That you have to fight and defeat them is all that matters.

A zero sum game, in this case, with one side winning and the other losing. But that's very different from the extent to which moral relativism applies to the human characters in the series.

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7 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

The Others aren't good or evil. They are as evil as an alien race would be who seeks to terraform earth according to their preferences, killing off humanity in the process. Whether they are good or evil is irrelevant. That you have to fight and defeat them is all that matters.

A zero sum game, in this case, with one side winning and the other losing. But that's very different from the extent to which moral relativism applies to the human characters in the series.

Well the OP specifically called out the Others. You're right, there are humans who are straight-up monsters in the series. I don't know that anyone would argue otherwise. The Others, however, are not so easily pinned down.

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Just now, Damon_Tor said:

Well the OP specifically called out the Others. You're right, there are humans who are straight-up monsters in the series. I don't know that anyone would argue otherwise. The Others, however, are not so easily pinned down.

I take his complaint to be that some people feel that the Others cannot be an absolute enemy due to the "moral greyness imperative" that requires all factions in the story to be somewhere between good and evil. Well, the Others can be an absolute enemy while still being no different to a force of nature, like a mega-tsunami or super volcano that erupts. They still end up killing all of humanity, so you need to treat them as absolutely evil, irrespective of whether they are the "heroes of their own story".

Since we don't know whether they are artificial creations or a totally alien race with diametrically opposed environmental needs compared to humans, the issue of morality need not be applied to them. It applies to humans. "The human heart in conflict with itself", as George likes to call it.

There is no need for a force of nature to be evaluated in this context.

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Well I can say from a start that I utterly reject the notion that this is black vs white story or that GRRM writes as such. The presence of blackhats does not mean that every character is either good, in which case their failings are explained away by the "fact" that they are the Good Guys, or evil, where every good aspect of them is explained away with that they are Bad Guys. Which is usually the alternative to moral greyness.

While the OP has noted that there are indeed blackhats there are many, many more characters who are very much morally ambigious. Davos for example follows Stannis no matter what Stannis does, Rhaenyra did nothing as far as we know to punish the Blood and Cheese episode despite being childer murder, Robb chose war over peace every time he had the chance and so on. And so on and on and on. 

But I agree that the Others are most likely evil, at least from a human perspective just like hunters are evil from a wolf's perspective, but to simplify the story by rejecting morale ambiguity either leads to an extreme good vs evil where acts are based on who did them, not what they were, or that pretty much everyone is a villain due to everyone failing at some point to hold a morale high ground.

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1 minute ago, LionoftheWest said:

Well I can say from a start that I utterly reject the notion that this is black vs white story or that GRRM writes as such. The presence of blackhats does not mean that every character is either good, in which case their failings are explained away by the "fact" that they are the Good Guys, or evil, where every good aspect of them is explained away with that they are Bad Guys. Which is usually the alternative to moral greyness.

While the OP has noted that there are indeed blackhats there are many, many more characters who are very much morally ambigious. Davos for example follows Stannis no matter what Stannis does, Rhaenyra did nothing as far as we know to punish the Blood and Cheese episode despite being childer murder, Robb chose war over peace every time he had the chance and so on. And so on and on and on. 

But I agree that the Others are most likely evil, at least from a human perspective just like hunters are evil from a wolf's perspective, but to simplify the story by rejecting morale ambiguity either leads to an extreme good vs evil where acts are based on who did them, not what they were, or that pretty much everyone is a villain due to everyone failing at some point to hold a morale high ground.

I think there is a deeper aspect to it, though.

There is a difference between acknowledging that no one is purely good or purely evil, on the one hand, and celebrating that fact on the other. Even the most devout monk will tell you that he has spent his life meditating in his mountaintop monastery striving to become good, without ever reaching his goal. So no one is absolutely good.

Yet, my perception is that many supporters of the "grey character" theme celebrate the acceptance of moral ambiguity, and in fact feel it justifies pretty much anyone's actions, if you just look at it from their point of view. The opposite approach would be to acknowledge the failings of even the most well-intentioned and "pure hearted" (for want of a better term) characters, while still condemning and striving to eradicate those failings in order to reduce the amount of evil in the world.

This embrace of everyone's evil actions due to some supposedly realistic assessment that "everyone is the hero in their own story" makes it just too easy to excuse pretty much any behaviour, in this modern quest for "moral ambiguity".

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the thing is that with the exception of sociopaths who actually get off in hurting others, everyone is the hero of our own story. we all think what we are doing is justified or "right". the reason people like the moral greyness or ambiguity of the story is it does indeed mirror real life. CEO's think they are doing the right thing when they slash workers' pay. The guy who stabs you on the street for your wallet may have a reason for his action in his head. There is no good or evil in real life. There is no good people or bad people, just different people doing what they think is right. And if you are one who thinks everything you do is with a morally high standard, you probably need to rethink your actions. No one is a white light of virtue. We all hurt others. We all act selfishly. We all make mistakes. 

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2 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

This issue has always been something that has bothered me, and at times irritated me about this fandom. I can't wrap my head around why moral "greyness" is seen as a superior foundation for storytelling and an accurate portrayal of real life.  

Because operating in moral grayness IS an accurate portrayal of real life? Nobody goes around claiming to do evil things cause they're a villain like a comic book. Everyone is the hero of their own story and everyone has their solid convictions and reasonings. What I see as just and right may be horrible to the next person, and that's where the "moral grayness" comes from. 

Nothing is more trite and boring than a wholly evil or wholly good character. Sauron is boring. Superman is boring. If our villain is going to do something bad then they need to think that what they're doing is right in their eyes. That's what makes a narrative interesting. Now, I'm not saying that's BAD, of course. These black-and-white moral alignments work in some mediums and they can be fun, but in the context of something like ASoIaF, it's not. 

1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Well, actually, there are a host of purely evil characters. Gregor Clegane, Ramsay Bolton, Euron Greyjoy, Vargo  Hoat, the Masters of Slavers Bay, Cersei Lannister, Petyr Baelish, Rattleshirt, the list goes on and on.

Hey now... 
She loves her children. And she has nice cheekbones. 

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30 minutes ago, Lord of Raventree Hall said:

the thing is that with the exception of sociopaths who actually get off in hurting others, everyone is the hero of our own story. we all think what we are doing is justified or "right". the reason people like the moral greyness or ambiguity of the story is it does indeed mirror real life. CEO's think they are doing the right thing when they slash workers' pay. The guy who stabs you on the street for your wallet may have a reason for his action in his head. There is no good or evil in real life. There is no good people or bad people, just different people doing what they think is right. And if you are one who thinks everything you do is with a morally high standard, you probably need to rethink your actions. No one is a white light of virtue. We all hurt others. We all act selfishly. We all make mistakes. 

I re-wrote this post twice because it was coming off as a little...emotional.

You, my friend, are taking "moral grayness" a little bit too extreme, "everybody is the hero of their own story" is not a magic spell that transforms murder and rape into morally grey actions, only because the people who commuted those things "had reasons".

You are removing both the human conscience and the little fact that without an established understanding of social norms human society would not have worked out.

You also. ironically, display quite a bit of "black and white" thinking by declaring that any instance of "acting selfishly" (like taking the last cookie you know your sister wanted) is on the same level as stuff like rape, murder and theft. 

What you are forgetting (or misinterpreting, or ignoring) in your "hero of their own story" statement is this:

Most of the time people who for what ever reason are driven to resort to harm or murder other people will know that what they are doing is bad, many of them even display regret about their actions (because they know they were bad) but at the moment they commited those deeds they either 1) were in a state of extreme passion, clouding their minds 2) had been driven to do those things by desperate circumstances and/or 3) had rationalized their deed enough to go through with it 4) were mentally ill.

Accepting the danger to invoke Godwin's Law (sorry I was born in Germany, so that tends to be my "standard" by which to measure evil), many people who worked at Extermination Camps in Nazi Germany, committed suicide, spend the rest of their lives as nervous wrecks or begged to be assigned to the Russian Front instead because they couldn't morally bear what was happening at those places. Here's a quote by a camp guard named Franz Suchomel about his first day there:

Quote

"So Stadie, the sarge, showed us the camp from end to end. Just as we went by, they were opening the gas-chamber doors, and people fell out like potatoes. Naturally, that horrified and appalled us. We went back and sat down on our suitcases and cried like old women."

The thing is he just managed to rationalize it for himself in the concept of the military chain of command, doesn't change the fact that what was happening was evil or that he knew perfectly well knew so.

If there was no objective evil and good in the human mind/unconsciousness/whatever good Herr Suchomel and his "comrades" woudln't have been horrified and appalled at the sight of dead bodies of people they have no emotional connection to and wouldn't have sat down to "cry like old women" 

Moral Grayness, to me, doesn't mean that actions cannot be "good" or "bad" because "everybody is the hero of their own story" "evil spelled backwards reads 'live' and we all wanna do that" It just means that, as flawed creatures people are made up of both good and evil and you will find few/no good people who have never done anything bad or selfish and few/no bad people who have never done anything nice or selfless. It doesn't magically remove those things because "everybody is the hero of their own story"

It also means that bad actions (like ending a life) can sometimes produce good (the person you just killed was a psychopath about to rape and murder a child) and that to do good sometimes people have to wound or break their moral code (And before you say some Bullshit like "the Nazis thought they were doing good by killing the Jews" I can tell you just like with every propaganda state, few people actually bought that, most just went along because of hate, frustration and greed, or didn't and were too frightened for their and their family's safety to speak out against it)

We are humans, we are sapient, we ave empathy so we can understand when our actions harm others and that doing so is not nice.

Finally your idea for moral grayness reminds me of that old US concept of the "One Drop Policy". "That guy who has spend his whole life doing charity, being kind to others and saving lives, but he once bullied a kid in elementary school! That is selfish! He can't be good!" "That guy has raped and killed fifteen children, but he once gave a bum his leftover hamburger! That's selfless so he can't be evil!"

And no I don't think everything I do is with a high moral standard or that I am pure good or infallible, I have done bad shit in my life, but I'm not going to excuse that with any misused statement like "Oh well, everybody is the hero of their own story, there's no good and evil!" 

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26 minutes ago, Orphalesion said:

I re-wrote this post twice because it was coming off as a little...emotional.

You, my friend, are taking "moral grayness" a little bit too extreme, "everybody is the hero of their own story" is not a magic spell that transforms murder and rape into morally grey actions, only because the people who commuted those things "had reasons".

You are removing both the human conscience and the little fact that without an established understanding of social norms human society would not have worked out.

You also. ironically, display quite a bit of "black and white" thinking by declaring that any instance of "acting selfishly" (like taking the last cookie you know your sister wanted) is on the same level as stuff like rape, murder and theft. 

What you are forgetting (or misinterpreting, or ignoring) in your "hero of their own story" statement is this:

Most of the time people who for what ever reason are driven to resort to harm or murder other people will know that what they are doing is bad, many of them even display regret about their actions (because they know they were bad) but at the moment they commited those deeds they either 1) were in a state of extreme passion, clouding their minds 2) had been driven to do those things by desperate circumstances and/or 3) had rationalized their deed enough to go through with it 4) were mentally ill.

Accepting the danger to invoke Godwin's Law (sorry I was born in Germany, so that tends to be my "standard" by which to measure evil), many people who worked at Extermination Camps in Nazi Germany, committed suicide, spend the rest of their lives as nervous wrecks or begged to be assigned to the Russian Front instead because they couldn't morally bear what was happening at those places. Here's a quote by a camp guard named Franz Suchomel about his first day there:

The thing is he just managed to rationalize it for himself in the concept of the military chain of command, doesn't change the fact that what was happening was evil or that he knew perfectly well knew so.

If there was no objective evil and good in the human mind/unconsciousness/whatever good Herr Suchomel and his "comrades" woudln't have been horrified and appalled at the sight of dead bodies of people they have no emotional connection to and wouldn't have sat down to "cry like old women" 

Moral Grayness, to me, doesn't mean that actions cannot be "good" or "bad" because "everybody is the hero of their own story" "evil spelled backwards reads 'live' and we all wanna do that" It just means that, as flawed creatures people are made up of both good and evil and you will find few/no good people who have never done anything bad or selfish and few/no bad people who have never done anything nice or selfless. It doesn't magically remove those things because "everybody is the hero of their own story"

It also means that bad actions (like ending a life) can sometimes produce good (the person you just killed was a psychopath about to rape and murder a child) and that to do good sometimes people have to wound or break their moral code (And before you say some Bullshit like "the Nazis thought they were doing good by killing the Jews" I can tell you just like with every propaganda state, few people actually bought that, most just went along because of hate, frustration and greed, or didn't and were too frightened for their and their family's safety to speak out against it)

We are humans, we are sapient, we ave empathy so we can understand when our actions harm others and that doing so is not nice.

Finally your idea for moral grayness reminds me of that old US concept of the "One Drop Policy". "That guy who has spend his whole life doing charity, being kind to others and saving lives, but he once bullied a kid in elementary school! That is selfish! He can't be good!" "That guy has raped and killed fifteen children, but he once gave a bum his leftover hamburger! That's selfless so he can't be evil!"

And no I don't think everything I do is with a high moral standard or that I am pure good or infallible, I have done bad shit in my life, but I'm not going to excuse that with any misused statement like "Oh well, everybody is the hero of their own story, there's no good and evil!" 

Well said.

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1 hour ago, Renly's Banana said:

Because operating in moral grayness IS an accurate portrayal of real life? Nobody goes around claiming to do evil things cause they're a villain like a comic book. Everyone is the hero of their own story and everyone has their solid convictions and reasonings. What I see as just and right may be horrible to the next person, and that's where the "moral grayness" comes from. 

Nothing is more trite and boring than a wholly evil or wholly good character. Sauron is boring. Superman is boring. If our villain is going to do something bad then they need to think that what they're doing is right in their eyes. That's what makes a narrative interesting. Now, I'm not saying that's BAD, of course. These black-and-white moral alignments work in some mediums and they can be fun, but in the context of something like ASoIaF, it's not. 

Hey now... 
She loves her children. And she has nice cheekbones. 

Some people are downright evil.  They either enjoy inflicting suffering on others, or they are so selfish that they don't care what suffering they inflict on others.  Ramsay Bolton is an example of the former, Petyr Baelish of the latter.

Then there are those who to a greater or lesser extent, do bad things.  They may persuade themselves, at the time or subsequently, that they had reasons to cheat, rape, murder, torture,  rob, etc., but that doesn't  make them heroes of their own story.  What they do is wrong, by any measure, even if they are also capable of good deeds.  

Moral greyness doesn't of itself, make for a good story.  In the hands of a lesser writer than Martin, it can become very formulaic (the brutal thug who happens to be up against even worse people is becoming trite).  However, Martin's characterisation is mostly pretty deft, so his morally grey protagonists (Tyrion, Daenerys, Jaime, Arya) come to life.

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Orphalesion said:

I re-wrote this post twice because it was coming off as a little...emotional.

You, my friend, are taking "moral grayness" a little bit too extreme, "everybody is the hero of their own story" is not a magic spell that transforms murder and rape into morally grey actions, only because the people who commuted those things "had reasons".

You are removing both the human conscience and the little fact that without an established understanding of social norms human society would not have worked out.

You also. ironically, display quite a bit of "black and white" thinking by declaring that any instance of "acting selfishly" (like taking the last cookie you know your sister wanted) is on the same level as stuff like rape, murder and theft. 

What you are forgetting (or misinterpreting, or ignoring) in your "hero of their own story" statement is this:

Most of the time people who for what ever reason are driven to resort to harm or murder other people will know that what they are doing is bad, many of them even display regret about their actions (because they know they were bad) but at the moment they commited those deeds they either 1) were in a state of extreme passion, clouding their minds 2) had been driven to do those things by desperate circumstances and/or 3) had rationalized their deed enough to go through with it 4) were mentally ill.

Accepting the danger to invoke Godwin's Law (sorry I was born in Germany, so that tends to be my "standard" by which to measure evil), many people who worked at Extermination Camps in Nazi Germany, committed suicide, spend the rest of their lives as nervous wrecks or begged to be assigned to the Russian Front instead because they couldn't morally bear what was happening at those places. Here's a quote by a camp guard named Franz Suchomel about his first day there:

The thing is he just managed to rationalize it for himself in the concept of the military chain of command, doesn't change the fact that what was happening was evil or that he knew perfectly well knew so.

If there was no objective evil and good in the human mind/unconsciousness/whatever good Herr Suchomel and his "comrades" woudln't have been horrified and appalled at the sight of dead bodies of people they have no emotional connection to and wouldn't have sat down to "cry like old women" 

Moral Grayness, to me, doesn't mean that actions cannot be "good" or "bad" because "everybody is the hero of their own story" "evil spelled backwards reads 'live' and we all wanna do that" It just means that, as flawed creatures people are made up of both good and evil and you will find few/no good people who have never done anything bad or selfish and few/no bad people who have never done anything nice or selfless. It doesn't magically remove those things because "everybody is the hero of their own story"

It also means that bad actions (like ending a life) can sometimes produce good (the person you just killed was a psychopath about to rape and murder a child) and that to do good sometimes people have to wound or break their moral code (And before you say some Bullshit like "the Nazis thought they were doing good by killing the Jews" I can tell you just like with every propaganda state, few people actually bought that, most just went along because of hate, frustration and greed, or didn't and were too frightened for their and their family's safety to speak out against it)

We are humans, we are sapient, we ave empathy so we can understand when our actions harm others and that doing so is not nice.

Finally your idea for moral grayness reminds me of that old US concept of the "One Drop Policy". "That guy who has spend his whole life doing charity, being kind to others and saving lives, but he once bullied a kid in elementary school! That is selfish! He can't be good!" "That guy has raped and killed fifteen children, but he once gave a bum his leftover hamburger! That's selfless so he can't be evil!"

And no I don't think everything I do is with a high moral standard or that I am pure good or infallible, I have done bad shit in my life, but I'm not going to excuse that with any misused statement like "Oh well, everybody is the hero of their own story, there's no good and evil!" 

You completely misunderstood me. You also seem to not understand that there is a spectrum. That is whole point of writing a morally grey character. Some people like Jon Snow or Sansa Stark might find themselves a lighter shade of gray, while as someone like Daenerys might be in the middle, and Cersei or Tywin might be much darker, but they are still gray. I am TALKING ABOUT LITERATURE BY THE WAY. Let's compare this to characters in Harry Potter. You have people who basically continually do shitty things and people who continually do heroic things. But that is not an accurate portrayal of real life.  I personally have never met a bully like Dudley. Yes, there were some bullies, but like in your example, they were multiple layered. I had teachers that did not like them, but none as outlandish as Snape. What makes the moral greyness interesting in Game of Thrones is the heroes do questionable things. Everyone loves Tyrion wven though he rapes a slave, or Arya even though she has murdered some certainly innocent people. But unlike Hollywood that glosses over gray actions like this, George RR tries to make us think about those things. Who was in the right? For most movies and shows, people have the same favorite chacters, because the authors or directors put someone that you are suppossed to like and someone you are suppossed to hate. People who are fans of ASOIAF have such various allegiances I cannot keep things straight (thankfully I have not found a Ramsay fan page).

To respond to your two main points, which both misunderstood me completely. One, even rapists Nd murders mostly have excuses for their actions. You are right, people regret their actions, but they still mostlythink they are 'good' people. I assume all my managers have thought they were good people even when they stole my money (yep that happened) or fired me for being sick (that one too, i just missed two days of work, and i am a teacher, but dont worry they lied to the labor board to make sure i couldnt do anything about it). But honestly yo, I wasn't talking about extreme actions like that, I was talking about the vast majority of people who are just trying to survive. Given a warlike wprld like ASOIAF would I commit murder? I have no idea. Would that suddenly turn my soul black and I am pure evil. I don't think so. You are confusing an exact action and a person's entire being. A person who spend their life goving to charity, being a good mother, and loving her friends, but also murdered someone in a fit a of rage is neither evil nor good. She is in the middle. And even the action of commiting murder (honestly rape is awful and I dont think there is any excuse, it is a morally black action if my opinion counts) can be morally gray. Say I murder someone who is blocking my escape from being killed by a third party. Or someone breaks into your home and tries to rape you. Defining things as either black or white can be too extreme, and the vast majority of actions fall in between these two actions. No, I have no one drop analogy, that would be you, friend. You who thinks someone can be completely evil of good. What you are describing is moral greyness when you said your one drop analogy, so either you did not understand my point at all or you don't understand what morally gray even signifies. Also, using a one drop analogy is basically offensive yo. That was racism, which is not the same thing as evil actions. Finally, societies basically set rules for what is right and wrong, and so moral standards are fluid. If I saw the world as black and white, I guess everyone in ASOIAF would basically be evil, but I don't. By seeing moral greyness we can question actions and look inside people. I love these books befause I get Cersei's side. I feel bad for her despite the evil acts she has commited. Even though I like Jon, I question his decision to switch Gillie's baby. I am sorry you misunderstood me so badly, but you absolutely did misunderstand me. I am not condoning murder or rape. Those people should go to prison. My sister who stole my cookie should apologize to me. When I act like an ass and forget a promise to my wife, I better make it up to her if I want to be a good husband. Actions have consequences, but people themselves are complex. You are right, there are actions that are inherently awful and those that are basically good, but I was never suggesting there wasn't. Simply thet people are complex and make decisions that are sometimes good and sometimes and nobody acts like a comic book villain or storybook hero all the time. That is what makes ASOIAF great.

Edited by Lord of Raventree Hall

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I don't think the Others are evil, as the name Other implies a metaphor for the tribal tendency to demonize others. Plus everything GRRM has ever written has had an anti-war theme, so I'm skeptical there will even be a "battle for the dawn", but if there is it won't be because the Others are evil.

I agree that the moral ambiguity is over appreciated, and it bothers me that probably everyone here would hate "black and white" series I love like The Wheel of Time, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, etc.

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Posted (edited)

Not entirely sure where the OP is getting with this.

No one forces the OP to see everything as grey. Indeed, the OP is perfectly free to state that certain actions are wrong and other actions right. But I see no reason why others necessary should agree with that viewpoint. What ASoIaF does well is to present somewhat realistic characters instead of cardboard villains and those characters often think or believe that they are justified to act as they do. In many cases the setting acknowledges this right for them to act a certain way (and if a certain act is seen as legal then it is also moral, since laws are nothing but a legislation on moral issues). So Victarion reaving in an ironborn culture is nothing but a just act, since his society say it is. The idea is of reaving is made into a law, the idea of reaving is being held as a strong cultural consensus and many ironborns seems to follow their cultures moral code. Compare with say, Ramsay - who doesn´t seem to act in accordance with his culture. Morality = legality. 

Now, morality is a man-made concept that is defined by the society you live in; it is subjective. Because what else is there to base it on? And moral disagreements are not rationally resolvable. Therefore what will be seen as right or wrong will vary - which should be evident by sheer diversity of moral opinions which exists between societies. And there is nothing called morality in nature. You cannot observe morality or test it in a laboratory. There is no absolute morality. However, as stated above, there is possible to create an intersubjective reality about this (which most societies do) and since we all live in the modern age and mostly from a western culture, such an intersubjective reality for us on this forum is pretty easy to make. But is does not make it objectively true and it severely clashes with westerosi morals (Who should have a right to decide what is right and wrong in its own universe rather than that we, who live under other conditions imperialistically forces our viewpoint onto them). And you can´t (again) "prove" your morality superior. It will just be you saying it is. And everyone can do that. If you hold the view that, what is right or wrong doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks is right or wrong you need come kind of reference to separate it from your own or others opinion.You need to justify the claim that there is such a thing as objective moral truth. Otherwise, there will only be your (subjective) words on it. And here is the problem - you don´t really have any facts to give, like you could in say - a disagreement about the shape of the earth. You need a a universally unquestioned source - which doesn´t exist. 

So while certainly the OP might consider an act immoral (after all everyone has the right to decide what is right and wrong - just because a moral outlook can´t be proved superior to another does not mean that it can´t be judged superior aka intersubjective reality), such a statement is not and will never be an objective truth. People can (and will) disagree. And if enough do, then what is seen as right and just will change. All moral judgments are true or false only relative to some standpoint (like a culture) and no standpoint can claim objectivity over the others. 

So, I don´t think anyone see everyone and everything as "grey". I don´t even think most characters are seen as grey. I think most people on this forum have clear ideas on who in ASoIaF is good and who is evil. I do too - but I am willing to accept that I do so according to norms and values of my particular moral standpoint, one that are probably given to me by my western, modern cultural community and is by no means a fact. Ideas on "good" and "evil" doesn´t always match that others. Some might disagree, thinking that Tywin is not evil, that Ramsay is not evil, that Cersei is not evil. And it is retarded to expect that they would and should agree. I also have a hard time seeing why less moral ambiguity makes a better book from a literary perspective. No one is going around thinking "I am doing act x because I am so eeeeevil" (dramatic pause) and I don´t see why presenting everyone as humans with thoughts and ideas are a bad thing. 

Edit: Are people who think like the OP on this genuinely afraid of widening their perspective? Is it the fear of actually putting yourself in that persons shoes so shocking? Yes, that person could be you. No, you are not immune to that because of your moral code. Yes, they most likely believe themselves to be good people despite what you think. Deal with it. 

Edited by Protagoras

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3 hours ago, SeanF said:

Some people are downright evil.  They either enjoy inflicting suffering on others, or they are so selfish that they don't care what suffering they inflict on others.  Ramsay Bolton is an example of the former, Petyr Baelish of the latter.

Then there are those who to a greater or lesser extent, do bad things.  They may persuade themselves, at the time or subsequently, that they had reasons to cheat, rape, murder, torture,  rob, etc., but that doesn't  make them heroes of their own story.  What they do is wrong, by any measure, even if they are also capable of good deeds.  

Moral greyness doesn't of itself, make for a good story.  In the hands of a lesser writer than Martin, it can become very formulaic (the brutal thug who happens to be up against even worse people is becoming trite).  However, Martin's characterisation is mostly pretty deft, so his morally grey protagonists (Tyrion, Daenerys, Jaime, Arya) come to life.

Jaime is not a protagonist in any way, not even a grey one. 

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Your real issue is you are letting what other people believe about a set of fictional novels and characters bother and irritate you.

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7 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

The Others aren't good or evil. They are as evil as an alien race would be who seeks to terraform earth according to their preferences, killing off humanity in the process. Whether they are good or evil is irrelevant. That you have to fight and defeat them is all that matters.

A zero sum game, in this case, with one side winning and the other losing. But that's very different from the extent to which moral relativism applies to the human characters in the series.

I haven't read further but will.   Just wanted to draw attention to the direct correlation between your scenario and precisely what has happened here on earth by natives.   I've thought there may be a good chance the Others may be much like the original natives in North America.   Man has transformed this land and sea to the extinction of species and cultures.  I would certainly do all I could to fight off an invasion of strange beings who seem to have no desire to treat with me, only take my home and way of life.   

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