thewolfofStarfall

"Moral ambiguity" is overrated and overestimated

67 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

6 hours ago, Tianzi said:

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?

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.

I would say ethical standards should be beneficial to life in general, not just human life. A species trying to annihilate another species is evil regardless of what species were are talking about. Just like the Andals slaughtering the children of the forest were also reprehensible actions. The evilness  of genocide really has nothing to do with what "race" were taking about. 

Futhermore, all those things you listed are entirely distinct from moral ambiguity. Having to face dilemmas is moral complexity and implies an existence and respect for ethical standards. Moral ambiguity is essentially amorality, meaning descions are simply based on characters' selfish desires much like Tywin, Littlefinger, and Daenerys. I don't buy her "abolistinst" act, she's okay with virtually any reprehensible act if it benefits her or sadistically punishes those she deems as worthless, so she can get her "ruthlessness" across.

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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I just wanted to clear any confusion and say that my main point with the Others isn't necessarily about whether they're evil or not, I'm arguing against the assertion that it is impossible for the Others to be evil because of the oversimplification this saga has been reduced to. This is under the assumption that the Others are sentient beings, which is very clear in the show but maybe I haven't gotten far enough into the books to judge if the case is the same. The bottom line is it's possible that by the end of the story I'll be convinced that the Others at least aren't purely evil, but that end is yet to come.

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1 hour ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

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.

Well of course it is. It's always "safest" to assume anything you don't understand is a threat and destroy it immediately. It's an instinct called "xenophobia" and it's served our species very well over the course of our evolution. That's PRAGMATISM though, and that has no bearing on morality or good vs evil.

Quote

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

Yes, they are obviously harmful to humans. It seems likely that humans and Others cannot coexist. Ergo, if we are to survive, they have to die. But the inverse is also true: if they are to survive, the humans must die. So there's no good and evil here, only pragmatism.

Quote

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.

We have no evidence they have deliberately killed anyone except members of the Night's Watch, a military force they may well have just cause for war against. Any civilians dead likely died of exposure to cold and winter-related hardship (starvation and so forth), and we don't understand anything about the Others' relationship with the cold. Do they "bring" it? Do they do so willfully or is simply a side effect of their presence? Or is the cold simply the result of natural forces outside their control and they are simply moving South as the environment becomes more hospitable because of the cold? Is cold the natural state of the world? Is the warmth something HUMANS brought that's now fading? We have no idea.

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On 3/8/2017 at 7:36 PM, 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.

Robb Stark is evil. He sent thousands of people to their deaths, and I don't care what his reasons were.

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Posted (edited)

8 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

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.

Read my second post. And people do make themselves the hero. Read Theon Greyjoy pre Reek. Great example of someone doing horrible things yet continually justifying his actions to himself. Real people do the same thing. You have probably done if. Hurt someone really badly yet justified the action in your own head, and either forgot about it or perhaps felt guilty much later. 

Edited by Lord of Raventree Hall

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3 hours ago, Oakhearts head said:

Robb Stark is evil. He sent thousands of people to their deaths, and I don't care what his reasons were.

If so, every military commander in the series is evil.

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9 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

I would say ethical standards should be beneficial to life in general, not just human life. A species trying to annihilate another species is evil regardless of what species were are talking about. Just like the Andals slaughtering the children of the forest were also reprehensible actions. The evilness  of genocide really has nothing to do with what "race" were taking about. 

If ethical standards should be beneficial to life in general then boy, isn't the humankind a big cancer on the Earth's face.

But still those standards are formulated by us, ie. a species that needs other life/natural survival to its own survival, so that's why we respect life in general. The Others are constructed in a seemingly different way, so our ethics has probably no use from their point of view. They have different goals from us (and all the other species that well, don't want to be frozen to death), it's in their nature.

9 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

Futhermore, all those things you listed are entirely distinct from moral ambiguity. Having to face dilemmas is moral complexity and implies an existence and respect for ethical standards. Moral ambiguity is essentially amorality, meaning descions are simply based on characters' selfish desires much like Tywin, Littlefinger, and Daenerys. I don't buy her "abolistinst" act, she's okay with virtually any reprehensible act if it benefits her or sadistically punishes those she deems as worthless, so she can get her "ruthlessness" across.

Um... if it's amorality, ergo lack of morality, then what is ambigous about that?

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3 hours ago, SeanF said:

If so, every military commander in the series is evil.

I believe that was the point of his sarcastic comment. He was pointing out the flaw in disregarding the reasons behind a decision or action.

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Posted (edited)

On 08/03/2017 at 0:54 PM, Lord of Raventree Hall said:

 I am TALKING ABOUT LITERATURE BY THE WAY.

Yes you are right, I completely misunderstood you and must apologize. I do not know how could I not realize that when you said: 

Quote

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.

you were in fact talking about literature. Or that when you put the example of somebody slashing the pay of their employess right next to the exdample of somebody shanking another human being without any other context, that you were in fact advocating a spectrum. Yes silly me.

Okay, sarcasm aside I will concede that you could have meant "everything is grey with layers" which I interpreted as you saying "everything is the same shade of grey" Though in my defense you could have pointed towards the spectrum, which you didn't even indicate. That also originated my comparison to the one drop policy (no just using the word is not racist, personally I find the concept of race an incredibly silly construct) because I thought you were saying nobody can be good or evil because there is only one homogeneous and differentiated slab of grey.

In fact I was trying to point out that I believe that in real life and well written literature that there is a moral spectrum running from good through all shades of grey down to irredeemable evil (though I'm actually not quite comfortable with using the word irredeemable here, can we ever rule out the possibility of somebody redeeming themselves?) 

To your other points:

1) "Everybody thinks of themselves as a good person so there is no Good and Evil"

NO. I already pointed to example of people not thinking of themselves as good people. And only because people manage to delude themselves or create mental constructs and rationalizations about their horrid actions doesn't take away the evil. The managers you mentioned are motivated by greed. Greed is bad. Cutting somebodys pay is not on the same level as murder or rape but it is an evil motivation. That doesn't automatically make a person irredeemable or morally bankrupt, but you were the one listing it right next to the example of the guy stabbing people without context except "everybody is the hero of their own story"  

I know that there can be justifications for evil actions (the example of killing in self-defense against sexual assault for example) that's why I worte that evil deeds (ending a life) can sometimes lead to good (protecting yourself or others from being murdered or raped or whatever)  Still I would feel regret for killing somebody and there are examples of people murdering in self-defense or in defense of others who were ridden with guilt for the rest of their lives. However what about somebody who murders for jealousy, for power, under orders, in rage?

Motivations are a key factor, but teven they aren't an excuse for everything.

Also you say rape is inexcusable, something which I agree with (naturally) So there IS objective evil in real life, eh? It doesn't matter what motivation the rapist has, they do have other option, they can not listen to their animal instincts, they can pay for sex if that is their motivation and in extreme cases they can consider chemical sterilization, they can even go to the internet to RP their weir power pain fantasies. When they forgo all these things and and yank a child from the sidewalk because they get off on seeing the fear in their eyes (that was the way our elementary school teacher explained the possible motivation of child molesters to us btw) then they are evil. Plain and simple. It doesn't matter if they manage to rationalize it for themselves, they took that choice away from another person and that is not okay, no grey area about it.

I know that even those things can be more complicated than black and white, but I'm talking about people who know what they are, know what they do to others, and who do it anyway. They exist and not all of the are sociopath.Plus a sociopath is not necessary somebody  who gets off on hurting others. A sociopath is somebody who simply has a complete lack of a moral compass or regret and who will hurt others if they can get a gain from it. There are sociopaths who live like decent people because they don't happen to be in a scenario where harming others would give them an advantage or who have decided that they enjoy the positive reactions they get from playing nice. Some researchers say that cats are sociopaths, i don't quite believe that, but even if they are that doesn't mean that every cat is "evil" it just means that they might not cuddle with you to make you happy, they might cuddle with you because they happen to enjoy it. Socippaths just possess no altruism.

Of course there are also opinions that say that sociopathy doesn't exist at all and that those people simply haven't been thought right from wrong or how to feel empathy.

It's psychopaths that get off on hurting others.

2) There ain't no good and evil on planetos and everybody loves Tyrion and Arya.

Personally I do not care for either Tyrion or Arya and thought that Robb, all the Kings of the WoT5Ks and even gallant, smiling Renly were in the wrong to wage war for the reasons they did (personally I see war as one of the greatest evils there is and there has to be a very good reason to even begin to consider it a necessary evil) I will not judge Robert and Ned for refusing to roll over and letting the Mad King kill them. I will judge Tywin for sacking King's Landing and killing Elia + children. 

Plus finding a character entertaining or interesting, isn't the same as condoning their actions.

I would list all the characters that are pure evil in Planetos, but Free Northman Reborn has already done that, so check his post for the list as for people who I would call " pure" good I dare say to look at Brienne, Davos and Shireen. Of course even those characters have flaws, but maybe I have a lower standard for "good". On the other hand i cannot list a single "good" characteristic about Gregor Celgane, the Tickler or Vargo Hoath, they are "pure" evil, no matter how often GRRM says that there is no good an evil in his world. Just like the Children are Elves, no matter how often he denies it and how Tolkien's Elves were most definitely NOT gender equal in any of the works he wrote.  no many how many of his essays claim otherwise.

Also...whut? Pure good and pure evil characters in Harry Potter? I agree that the Durselys were one huge carricature and the most embarrassing and infantile aspect of the whole series, but other than that Harry Potter has extremely flawed heroes and highlights positive aspects about some of its villains (Regulus? The Malfoys?) However I still have an easier time swallowing the Malfoys than "and then our super soldiers have to kill the pet dog they have raised from a pup and a baby in front of its mother and then crush a newborn kitten and strangle a baby lamb" 

3) different time, different standards.

I am aware that I lucked out by being born in the modern age in a secure and wealthy first world nation. However people have decided that killing or harming others is bad since our civilization began and even during the worst eras of history there were people who displayed altruism. "Everybody does it" is a very easy excuse, one many people use, me included.

And if there had never been people who decided that things like torture aren't acceptable, even if everybody says so, then we would have never moved beyond that.

Edited by Orphalesion

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On 3/8/2017 at 7:36 AM, 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.

I totally agree that "moral ambiguity" is overused and often misused in regards to ASOIAF, but your first link is really not a good reference, because it looks like some safe heaven for LOTR fans which can't accept that a far superior work of literature (ASOIAF) came to town. I also don't see how can anyone put a Harry Potter character and moral complexity in the same sentence. Contrary to LOTR and HP, ASOIAF indeed has morally complex characters, and some of them are morally grey, but even those that aren't still posses moral and psychological complexity.

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Posted (edited)

On 3/9/2017 at 3:05 AM, Lord of Raventree Hall said:

Read my second post. And people do make themselves the hero. Read Theon Greyjoy pre Reek. Great example of someone doing horrible things yet continually justifying his actions to himself. Real people do the same thing. You have probably done if. Hurt someone really badly yet justified the action in your own head, and either forgot about it or perhaps felt guilty much later. 

I never claimed people don't justify their actions by pretending or genuinely thinking they're doing the right thing in real life or the books. I'm simply claiming that not everyone operates that way, and that there are people who do not care whether something is right or wrong.

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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On 3/9/2017 at 9:05 AM, Tianzi said:

If ethical standards should be beneficial to life in general then boy, isn't the humankind a big cancer on the Earth's face.

But still those standards are formulated by us, ie. a species that needs other life/natural survival to its own survival, so that's why we respect life in general. The Others are constructed in a seemingly different way, so our ethics has probably no use from their point of view. They have different goals from us (and all the other species that well, don't want to be frozen to death), it's in their nature.

Um... if it's amorality, ergo lack of morality, then what is ambigous about that?

It's ambiguous in the sense that the person's actions can fall anywhere on the spectrum depending on what they want rather than standards of right and wrong. It means there is no clear line between good and evil. People's actions are a big mess of "grey" composed of what we usually think of being "good" or "evil" actions but at end of the day there there no good or evil, according to moral relativists,  nor is there good or evil people.  People operate according to their own desires and we attach value to those actions based on our persceptives. Our persceptive is what makes an action "ambiguous", not a true existence of right and wrong. The "greyness" is ultimately a meaningless sea of nothing.

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On 3/9/2017 at 2:53 AM, Oakhearts head said:

Robb Stark is evil. He sent thousands of people to their deaths, and I don't care what his reasons were.

Reasons can be important in evaluating an action to be right or wrong. However, many people seem to believe simply having a reason behind a reprehensible action is enough to absolve a person from condemnation and assert "everyone's the hero of their own story". This makes no sense whatsoever. The actual reason is what is important, not the mere presence of one. As I've stated before, everyone has "reasons" behind their actions.

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On 3/9/2017 at 9:05 AM, Tianzi said:

If ethical standards should be beneficial to life in general then boy, isn't the humankind a big cancer on the Earth's face.

But still those standards are formulated by us, ie. a species that needs other life/natural survival to its own survival, so that's why we respect life in general. The Others are constructed in a seemgly different way, so our ethics has probably no use from their point of view. They have different goals from us (and all the other species that well, don't want to be frozen to death), it's in their nature.

I never said the whole of humankind was was particularly good at reckonsing those ethical standards. Also,  we do not depend most of the enndgagered species in earth for survival yet is still wrong to drive them to extinction. Ethics is not defined by what is natural or needed for survival, but does councide with if at times.  There is no evidence that Others need to destroy all life in order to survive. We nothing about their motives. I'm confused by you mean by "it's in their nature", are you saying the Others are just a supernatural force who are not sentient, thus have no choice in what they're doing?

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44 minutes ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

Reasons can be important in evaluating an action to be right or wrong. However, many people seem to believe simply having a reason behind a reprehensible action is enough to absolve a person from condemnation and assert "everyone's the hero of their own story". This makes no sense whatsoever. The actual reason is what is important, not the mere presence of one. As I've stated before, everyone has "reasons" behind their actions.

Well, for example, I wouldn't absolve Jaime Lannister or Theon Greyjoy of their worst crimes (Jaime pushing Bran out the window, Theon killing the millers boys). They absolutely deserved to be punished. With that said, I can absolutely understand why they felt they had to do the things they did in their own minds. Again, that doesn't absolve them of their actions, and as I said they did deserve a harsh penalty for it, but I can empathise with their respective situations. Sometimes inherently decent people do terrible shit, but painting Theon or Jaime with the same brush as Gregor Clegane or Ramsay Snow is pretty ridiculous.

 

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Posted (edited)

3 hours ago, Oakhearts head said:

Well, for example, I wouldn't absolve Jaime Lannister or Theon Greyjoy of their worst crimes (Jaime pushing Bran out the window, Theon killing the millers boys). They absolutely deserved to be punished. With that said, I can absolutely understand why they felt they had to do the things they did in their own minds. Again, that doesn't absolve them of their actions, and as I said they did deserve a harsh penalty for it, but I can empathise with their respective situations. Sometimes inherently decent people do terrible shit, but painting Theon or Jaime with the same brush as Gregor Clegane or Ramsay Snow is pretty ridiculous.

 

I think you guys are talking past each other, but this is one of the best quotes on this thread. True empathy (true by its definition) does coexist (without contradiction) with objective 'good' and 'evil'.

And so empathy does exist with- again, without contradiction- justified and reasonable punishments and accountability.

Edited by HighAndMightyBrightness

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On 2017. 03. 08. at 7:36 AM, 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.

A courageous post. Thank you. :cheers:

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Posted (edited)

Moral ambiguity isn't superior to the usual black-and-white simplicity of fantasy, it's just so underrepresented in comparison that it could possibly be argued that it is over-appreciated.

Grown-ups don't need the morals of their story's spelled out and the idea of objective truth without "objective" senses or "objective" tools of communication is trivial at best and sophomoric philosophical circle jerking at worst.

Jon Snow not John Galt!

Edited by hiemal

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On 3/12/2017 at 5:34 AM, thewolfofStarfall said:

I never claimed people don't justify their actions by pretending or genuinely thinking they're doing the right thing in real life or the books. I'm simply claiming that not everyone operates that way, and that there are people who do not care whether something is right or wrong.

Those people are sociopaths and I would concede they may be considered evil, however they are exceedingly rare.

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