thewolfofStarfall

"Moral ambiguity" is overrated and overestimated

74 posts in this topic

2 minutes ago, Curled Finger said:

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.   

But the Others extinguish all life. They are not restoring some kind of natural balance. Nothing survives in the Long Night. All life starves and/or freezes to death.

And the point is, for humans the Others represent Armageddon. So whether that asteroid approaching Earth is driven by some alien with a legitimate grievance, or whether it is propelled by the random orbital mechanics of nature, it has the same impact on human existence. To end it.

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Just now, Free Northman Reborn said:

But the Others extinguish all life. They are not restoring some kind of natural balance. Nothing survives in the Long Night. All life starves and/or freezes to death.

And the point is, for humans the Others represent Armageddon. So whether that asteroid approaching Earth is driven by some alien with a legitimate grievance, or whether it is propelled by the random orbital mechanics of nature, it has the same impact on human existence. To end it.

This is a fascinating discussion, but I've only got about half through reading.   I'm not a student of literature, but I have lived long enough to know some things are right and some things are simply unthinkable.  The Others may indeed extinguish all life and makes them a definite foe of the people in story.   I think it's possible that The Others were in Westeros first.  Restoring the land to their original habitat would make sense for them.  And they don't seem to be mean to each other that we know of.  Wouldn't you use everything in your arsenal to stave off the encroaching human annihilation?   I'm not standing up for The Others.   Only looking to what could possibly motivate this attack against people.  If I end up being even close to right, that the Others are merely reclaiming their place, does that color your judgement at all?   I think very often Martin challenges us to weigh concepts and motives rather than judge an instance or action.  I think Cat & Cersei suck.   Do I hold these medieval female characters to a higher standard because I expect a great deal more mothering and smarter feminism here in 2017?  I'm pretty sure I do, but I've only read about life in their time and haven't found many people from history to really admire as just people rather than their for their actions.   

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Posted (edited)

9 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.  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.

ASOIF is way less cliché about good vs. evil than the vast majority of stupid fantasy novels. That's worth celebrating IMO and it's one of the reasons I enjoy it far more than any other fantasy series I've ever read.

I get the point you're trying to make that actions are actions despite the intentions behind them. But in the world of storytelling, especially when we're discussing a work of fiction, understanding motives is what helps you understand characters. It advances the storyline to know how they think and why they act out as they do. Moral  absolutism, in storytelling, is boring. If you want that, read the Bible. Or read some cheap fantasy novel where there's a flawless protagonist and a manifestation of pure evil to fight against. And to be fair, we know next to nothing about the Others at this point. Their origins, their motives, their hierarchy, remain mostly a mystery. Obviously they're the bad guys, but there's no context as to how or why they became the bad guys yet. That has yet to be revealed.

Also Ayn Rand is a kook. Despite all her right-wing ranting & raving, she died alone on government support. Fuck her. I read Anthem and The Fountainhead, etc etc, and that was enough. She's a terrible writer.

Edited by JoeMama

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I don't know of single person in the present day or in history who is exclusively evil or exclusively good. The times when this is claimed occurs when very little is known and mythological  embellishments have taken place. 

People pretend that there are black villains or all white heroes to cater to different needs, and the portrayal of complex grey characters in this series is indeed realistic. More disturbing, pretending moral decisions have simple answers seems like a need for concrete thinking, which is less well developed than "formal operational" thinking. I suppose it takes less effort.

When there is a war, seeing people as "the other" protects individuals from guilt or shame in acts of violence. Another moral dodge is allowing an authority to make moral decisions. Exploring the complexity of oaths, promises, fealty, the other, and questionable acts is quite challenging in this series, and is probably one reason people like to discuss it. 

There are lots of references to black and white in the symbolism presented, and how convoluted it is. 

When writing, writing complex characters is generally considered a skill, and arouses more interest in the reader.

In the animal world wolves kill and eat mice, for example. Does that mean they are evil? Are mice evil? Don't most of us like the Direwolves, even though they are no angels? We can raise questions more than we can give pat answers.

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10 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

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".

Well, these people you refer to will have to answer themselves. I only know that I find morally grey people much more interesting to read about as they are relevant to real individuals and makes for damn well more interesting reading in almost every case of litterature I've come across. Now while I agree that the persuit of goodness is an important struggle and humans should always strive upwards to be more morale and good, its a fact that they need this due to them being human and thus grey. for if they were all good, it wouldn't be necessary, and if they were all evil, it wouldn't be possible to strive to be good.

As such I can feel that celebrating greyness in itself is useless, but accepting it and celebrating our accomplishments despite our flaws is very important. In fact what is morale can be different and that everyone IS the hero in their own story is something you can't get away from. I know that some people consider me a troll on the forums but that don't make me a troll in my own eyes but rather a valuable poster on Westeros.org while I doubt these people will see it this way.

Also I think that you are mistaking celebrating with understanding where someone comes from. And I think that's a better thing to seek to understand also evil than lynching people for cross sensibilities. And it also makes for a far better understanding of why things happen, and how to prevent them, when we investigate and seek to understand that rather than use condemption as the final word on the matter.

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OP, as I understand it, your problem is with the overuse and even misunderstanding of the terms morally gray and morally ambiguous. I'm with you on that. People get into habits of flinging around phrases without contemplating their meaning. This happens everywhere, not just in this fandom. But in the fandom, some of these things seem to go in phases. A while back it was "bad writing" which was being used as an argument against things the poster didn't like or didn't want to see happen. There was no objective criteria, and 99% of the time the person using the term could not explain how or why Plot Development X would be "bad writing."

The proof of this issue with the terms you've mentioned is the argument about the Others not being evil because of moral ambiguity or moral grayness. That's a silly argument to begin with because evil and morals are human concepts and the Others are not human. I would recommend you look at Jay Gould's work on non-moral nature in the animal world for a better explanation of this.

For the record, the author himself has said that he's not certain he believes that any person is all good or all bad, and that this view is reflected in his writing. Even the characters who are 99.9% villain were not born that way. Moral gray is one of his things. That doesn't mean he uses it to the exclusion of all else, but it's hard to fault people using the author's own words on the subject when he is the ultimate authority on his story. When it comes to misusing his words or misunderstanding them however, fault away.

I think you need to make distinctions however between people misusing, overusing, or even misunderstanding a phrase, and them using said phrase as justification or rationalization of their own shortcomings. It's difficult to accurately psychoanalyze people online, even if you are qualified to do so. We only see of others what they choose to present, and that's as much the case online as it is in person. Sure you can guess that someone will say Character X isn't bad because the person sees some of him or herself in Character X, but it's a big assumption to do so. Some people really can be objective about such things and not bring themselves into it at all. In a way, you've implied that all of the fandom is extremely egocentric, which is unlikely to be correct. I'm sure that was not your intention, but it is the result.

I applaud your concern for your fellow man/woman/human, but I think the approach you've taken is likely to annoy more than enlighten. You've started a interesting discussion either way.

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14 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

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.

Yeah pretty much everything you said. I care about the origins of the Others, but no so much about their intentions which a lot people are wholly fixated on. Their motives are completely irrelevant to the fact  that they're agents of destruction that need to be stopped. Although, I'm not sure if I would characterize the Others assimply a destructive force akin to a tsunami or earthquake. They are  clearly sentient beings and this is even more highlighted in the show. They're pretty sadistic. It's not so far fetched to characterize them as evil imo because they're  making conscious decisions unlike some natural or supernatural force, so they're not so different from humans. The moral relativism attached to human actions is unsettling, but I see the justification the Others recieve as an extension of the ones the human characters receive. I used them as example becayse  they're the "big bad" of the series yet they seem to receive  the most justification and benefit of the doubt. I find it strange that people claim we know nothing about the Others, but use completely baseless ideas to add "moral ambiguity" to their nature as opposed to what we already know. There's nothing to suggest the Others are the natives, or anything else the other user said.

 

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15 hours 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?

Maybe most the evil happens off screen in the books because so far we've seen plenty of evil he the show. Also, you ideas are entirely speculative.  You claim that we  know nothing about the Others, so the assessment that they're evil is just as valid as them having some sort of "other side" which again doesn't excuse their actions.

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15 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.  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.

And what is the notion of good and evil here? Based on what's beneficial to humans? The idea of applying human standards of morality to some other race is absurd in itself, and hey, if so, the Others apparently just want to conquer and set the rules most beneficial to them. Is that this much worse than us?

15 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

Tywin wants to mantain his family legacy.

Tywin is an asshole who almost always does more than is necessary to maintain his family legacy, isn't above some petty revenge and actually treats his family like shit too.

Having explanations makes the characters more human, and so does being forced to choose between the 'good' and the 'evil', along with situations where it's debatable what 'good' or 'evil' are, or where they are different from ~medieval point of view than they would be from ours. Also there are situations when acting 'good' is just plain dumb and may bring much worse consequences than acting 'evil'. Exploring those topics is what makes ASOIAF so interesting, so I'd say, no, moral ambiguity is not overrated. Though of course fans will eagerly use this phrase when they want to excuse their favourite from doing something repulsive ;)

Also, I don't think anybody would say that Gregor Clegane is not evil. He is, there is no doubt to it, and that's why we don't discuss his character.

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Moral ambiguity. As it relates to these novels, Give me a break. Have you not considered the amount of times that you have lied to cover your ass. Morality. How often have you stood and looked into the face of moral ambiguity and stood against injustice.

The drunk on the street, did you stop an attack. The kid in the school yard, did you help. Oh, and this is the best, the drunk bitch, did you try to help her.

To women, I would ask, in order to achieve your goal how many females have you lied about.

Moral ambiguity. Fictional novel. Casting judgement is easy, Standing against injustice is difficult, because its unpopular.

 

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Posted (edited)

14 hours 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. 

Well, I'll guess we'll just have to agree to disagree. The Free Northman mentioned how there's a difference between acknowledging the pitfalls that humans have to going out your way to glorify the notion that we're all "grey" instead of striving to make ethical decisions.  Furthermore, there's a wild difference between acknowledging human capability and willingness to make wrong decisions at times, as opppsed to transforming this basic concept into an "everyone's the hero of their own story" assertion. I hope you realize that not everyone actually sees themselves as the "hero of their own story". That's not how life works. Many people are acutely aware of the immorality of their own actions, they simply don't care. Most evil people don't fool themselves into believing they're "the hero", however they do delude others into believing their actions are for "the greater good" to gain followers. This has been true since time immemorial.

I think the problem is you think I'm claiming ASOIAF is a "black and white story", when I'm actually not. I'm claiming "black and white stories" don't exist. That's why I said "whatever that means" in my OP. It's simply common sense that people are infallible in their choices. This is even taught in Christianity. People have been hearing we're "all sinners" since kindergarten. Most people have lightness and darkness inside them. What defines us is  what we choose to do and our willingness to learn and and improve. This basic concept has nothing to with moral relativism, in fact it is moral relativism's antithesis.

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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1 hour ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

I think the problem is you think I'm claiming ASOIAF is a "black and white story", when I'm actually not. I'm claiming "black and white stories" don't exist. That's why I said "whatever that means" in my OP. It's simply common sense that people are infallible in their choices. This is even taught in Christianity. People have been hearing we're "all sinners" since kindergarten. Most people have lightness and darkness inside them. What defines us is  what we choose to do and our willingness to learn and and improve. This basic concept has nothing to with moral relativism, in fact it is moral relativism's antithesis.

May I ask if you're a Christian? I agree with your assertions regarding moral ambiguity and I believe that there exists a distinction between "good" and "evil." However, I'm looking at this through a Christian lens, which tends to favor moral absolutism rather than moral relativism. 

On the other hand, this is a fictional novel and I think one of its strengths is that it challenges our notions of what is considered moral or not in universe. This adds a complexity that creates truly fascinating characters and ultimately a richer reading experience. 

Stannis is my favorite character and I do not consider him to be evil. That said, he's made some extremely questionable decisions throughout the series that are, at the very least, morally ambiguous. Without that aspect of his character, I would find him to be rather one-dimensional (albeit still hilarious)...

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4 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

Maybe most the evil happens off screen in the books because so far we've seen plenty of evil he the show.

This isn't a show forum.

Quote

Also, you ideas are entirely speculative.  You claim that we  know nothing about the Others, so the assessment that they're evil is just as valid as them having some sort of "other side" which again doesn't excuse their actions.

"I don't understand it, so it must be evil" is a terrible way to think about a people.

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Posted (edited)

13 hours ago, Boarsbane said:

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

Fair enough. However, I'm not at all concerned about the mere fact that twisted moral reasoning bothers me, so it can not actually be an "issue". I do find certain perceptions unsettling, so I decided to call it out. I don't see how this wrong, not like it will stop me from voicing my opinion. It's the underlying principles that people apply  to real life that's makes it unsettling. I'm pretty sure fiction is suppose to make you reflect on real life, so again I find it perfectly normal to find issue with the popular moral beliefs on this fandom. 

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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25 minutes ago, Damon_Tor said:

This isn't a show forum.

"I don't understand it, so it must be evil" is a terrible way to think about a people.

Likewise I could argue the same about assuming people are not evil or have good intentions just because we know little about them. I would actually say that is a far riskier assessment depending on the situation. Also, I'm not even basing my opinion on the Others from what I don't know but from what I do know. At the end day, we do understand the Others. We really don't need to know much about them to know they must be stopped and since they are making conscious decisions to kill innocent people  they can be described as evil regardless of their motives. It would be a whole other matter if they were not conscious beings, which I'm claiming they more than likely are in the books, and definitely are in the show.

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I agree with the OP somewhat. I can't specifically say The Others are pure evil that's something George will have to decide. It is similar to the trope breaking arguments you often see. Maybe George wants us to believe that everything is grey and guess what I don't care and you shouldn't either it's fiction George isn't a moral authority. I'll take his writing my way regardless. 

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PPl take the moral greyness way to far and IMO use it as a justification for liking certain characters. While no one character is a saint there are clear lines between certain characters. 

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Posted (edited)

2 hours ago, Pray Harder said:

May I ask if you're a Christian? I agree with your assertions regarding moral ambiguity and I believe that there exists a distinction between "good" and "evil." However, I'm looking at this through a Christian lens, which tends to favor moral absolutism rather than moral relativism. 

On the other hand, this is a fictional novel and I think one of its strengths is that it challenges our notions of what is considered moral or not in universe. This adds a complexity that creates truly fascinating characters and ultimately a richer reading experience. 

Stannis is my favorite character and I do not consider him to be evil. That said, he's made some extremely questionable decisions throughout the series that are, at the very least, morally ambiguous. Without that aspect of his character, I would find him to be rather one-dimensional (albeit still hilarious)...

I was raised in a devout Christian home and attend a Christian school, so that definitely colors my beliefs and convictions,  but I'm not actually sure what I would call myself at the moment, haha. Yeah I agree, I think it's one thing to examine the characters' actions in universe. It raises a lot of interesting questions about the society's perception of honor, despite their being a lot of injustice that their "honor" either covers up, ignores, or commends . This is best seen in the "Jamie dilemma", where he had to break his kingsguard vows to kill the lunatic he served, and is now know as the "kingslayer". I'm glad Jamie  has these aspects, like all the other well written characters.  

This is sort of the difference between "moral ambiguity" and moral complexity. A morally complex character actually has standards of right and wrong, and faces  dilemmas where the correct path doesn't seem clear. I think Stannis could be described as morally complex to an extent, yet everyone wants to employ a sort of "one drop policy", where all characters are a sea of grey. It really takes away from characters IMO.  A morally ambiguous character bases nearly all of their descions on their own lustfull desires, and their actions can fall anywhere on the sprectrum. They can justify clearly immoral, even atrocitous actions if it fits their agenda, or they simply don't care. IMO this is not key to good writing at all. Moral grayness can be far more trite than classic stories that are perceived as "black and white". In fact, the concept of moral relativism is more absolute than a straightforward understanding of ethics because you're saying "there is no moral truth". It's amorality.  Everything is the same. Getting pleasure from murdering a child is no different from getting pleasure from eating a hamburger (there is a similar quote by the serial killler Ted Bundy on this). This is of course an extreme example of moral relativism, but it still shares the same underlying principle that many people on this forum seem to be  guided by. It's a bit disheartening that so many people can claim there's no good or evil in a work a fiction just as easily as they can say that about the real world. I'm not sure what's more confusing: that people can see the rampant murder, rape, and torture that takes place in Westeros and beyond and claim "there's no evil", and "everyone's a hero of their own story", or that people can look at the real world and say the same things. 

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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7 minutes ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

I was raised in a devout Christian home and attend a Christian school, so that definitely colors my beliefs and convictions,  but I'm not actually sure what I would call myself at the moment, haha. Yeah I agree, I think it's one thing to examine the characters' actions in universe, but a lot of what people say on here seem to reflect their attitudes in real life. It's a bit  disheartening that  so many people can so there's no good or evil in a work a fiction just as easily as they can say that about th  real world. I'm not sure what's more confusing: that people can see the rampant murder, rape, and torture that takes  place in Westeros and beyond and claim "there's no evil", and "everyone's a hero of their own story", or that people can look at the real world and say the same things. 

You have to take into account that ppl use this stuff as confirmation bias for their personal politics and world view. There's a lot of projecting going on.

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Posted (edited)

31 minutes ago, DixiesArcher said:

You have to take into account that ppl use this stuff as confirmation bias for their personal politics and world view. There's a lot of projecting going on.

Yup I agree completely. Trying to force moral greyness onto a fictional world is truly just another way for people to communicate their own world view.

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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