thewolfofStarfall

"Moral ambiguity" is overrated and overestimated

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No, it is not overrated/overestimated. It's simply misunderstood, taken into the exact same absolutes as is the good/evil dichotomy: it's usually understood as a uniform "grey" governing all aspects of a human character/personality/emotional world. 

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i think GRRMs genius is that he constantly portrays moral dilemmas and our reactions to each event is shown by our preconceived ideas and our own strong or lacking moral compasses. If we consider "good" as being able to sacrifice or risk your own welfare to help/save another and to try to follow a defined moral code that I think we can sum up what he does by the following:

1. Good men make hard choices, which may force them to break their own moral code - eg Ned's lies, Jon and Aemon's choices

2. Good men make bad choices due to ignorance or lack of understanding -eg Ned's head chopping of lady and I think Gared.

3. We cannot judge the moral code of the middle ages by our current code - eg the capacity of the Lord of the region to give summary justice with out a fair trial - Robb, Ned, Jon, all the people at the wall etc and just about everything to do with sex including the age of marriage and fidelity. Punishment for crimes is another - but it is not long ago that this was the norm in OUR societies. In the time of Jane Austen or Dickens a 10 year old was hanged for theft and deserters were executed in WWI. Do murders/killings in brawls and altercations count. probably NOT for the times.

4. Our judgements of right and wrong are coloured by who people are - thus it was OK for Robb, the 15 year old war leader to cut of Karstark's head, but not for Arya age 11 to act as Lady of Winterfell -which technically she was - either by her marriage to Ramsay or by perceived right of inheritance - by Southern law she WAS the Lady given Rickon and Bran are presumed dead and Sansa attainted.

5. The whole issue of the right of soldiers and servant to commit appalling acts because they were ordered to - Sandor killing Micah is the obvious example. Note that in the trial of battle he was acquitted - after all his Lord had ordered him to chase the "boy who struck the the Prince."  The fact that he was 10 years old and had not had a trial is irrelevant  - for the era. Like any good soldier he did not apply his own moral judgement - any more than modern soldiers when shooting civilians or child soldiers. However it is MY theory that his event triggered Sandor's moral awakening - together with his infatuation with Sansa.

6. Essentially good men commit some bad acts. This is where the real greyness in character comes in. By good I mean people who demonstrate capacity to good deeds and have empathy for others. Thus Robert tolerating and indeed supporting the murder of the Targ babies, Tyrion murdering the singer, Shae and his father, Arya killing the guards, maybe the stable boy, Dareon and her role as assassin. Most of Ser Jorah's story

7. Can acts which we at normal times would consider repulsive and evil somehow be seen as positive.  Frey pies is my stand out here. Just about everything in Dany's story also fits. are dragons good or evil. Most acts of vengeance eg LS fit here too.

8. Finally and most controversially - are essentially bad people - ie people who lack a moral compass or who have committed unconscionable crimes (Sandor, Jaime, Theon), capable of redemption.

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I should add there are three other moral issues that GRRM poses for us

 

9. Does the end justify the means - think Stannis and willingness to sacrifice Edrik. His justification is that one like may save thousands of others. Jon swapping babies?

10. Are offences against Gods more serious than offences against humans. Somehow I thin in GRRM's world they ARE. Think the Rat Cook, the Red Wedding, kin slaying,  breaking an oath etc. In our world these while caddish are not seen as more serious than equivalent crimes. Not the case in the GRRM world

11. Does religious belief justify actions that would otherwise be unacceptable - eg human sacrifice, slavery etc.

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Honestly, the whole thing about grey characters and moral ambiguity in fiction comes down to writing skill. A bad writer can have grey characters, and they'll be bad characters. A good writer can have good and evil characters, and they'll be interesting and FUN characters. Superman is no fun with a bad writer, but get him a good writer and he's amazing.

 

 

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I agree with the overall vague notions that propagating and excusing gray morality is the justification of weak willed and that grayness of ASOIAF is overestimated.

But somehow I have gotten the idea this goes beyond that. Moral ambiguity of the characters (or RL people) is highly personal judgment, and people can and do view the same actions with same circumstances and same motivation in a different way. This isn't necessarily moral relativism, myself for example I am not morally relativistic, if people don't follow my moral guidelines I find them wrong and immoral, but many people fail to see error of their ways and instead consider me immoral, and neither I nor those people can do anything to change this fact or one another's mind. Some people think it is always wrong to kill another human, I can think of the numerous situation were killing another human is perfectly moral and most of them don't even have anything to do with time traveling and Hitler. Eddard Stark killed Gared so he is morally ambiguous from the start for those in no killing whatsoever group. For some homosexuality is morally wrong, so Loras can't be good guy.  For others having sex with women forced into prostitution constitutes rape and so Tyrion is evil.

Who is in the end right and who gets to decide morality for all? It's not relativistic attitude but realistic one, you don't have the power to make everyone subscribe to identical moral codes. And you seem to be understating moral ambiguity of ASOIAF protagonists, most of them engaged in some questionable acts and who among them is a real saint?

 

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On 3/7/2017 at 11:36 PM, thewolfofStarfall said:

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 think we will most likely come around to seeing the others as not purely evil. I also think we are presented the dragons as though they are the opposite of the others, the embodiment of fire rather than ice. Though Dany and her dragons seem like the the hero of the series at first blush, I think as we look closer we also see they are not purely good, just like the others aren't purely bad. We have seen more evidence of the dragons not being good, that's why I make the connection.

I think your statement in red is the exact opposite of the truth. Killing a dog because it's in uncurable pain and you want to put it out of it's misery is less evil than killing a dog for fun. This is not the same as self-justification or utilitarianism.

If anything I think GRRM has so far not presented the others as evil. We know they mean to kill humans but that's not evil in and of itself.

Consider if you will, a deadly virus. Let's say the black plague. Can a virus be evil? Viruses just like bacteria, humans, parasites, bugs and trees are forms of life trying to pass on their genetic material. Is a lion evil for eating a deer? How is it any different?

If two species are incompatible and fight until one of the species is dead is that species evil? It's an interesting question, because the species that has done that to an exponentially further extent than any other species is humans. We killed every species remotely close to us. Does that make us evil?

All the others have really done so far is fight a people who have historically fought them, men. Who's to say which one is right and wrong when we know virtually nothing about the nature of the conflict.

 

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10 hours ago, Aegon VII said:

I think your statement in red is the exact opposite of the truth. Killing a dog because it's in uncurable pain and you want to put it out of it's misery is less evil than killing a dog for fun. This is not the same as self-justification or utilitarianism.

 

A similar example from the ASOIAF universe would be the difference between Dany's mercy killing of Drogo and Aerys killing Brandon Stark and his father. I suppose one could argue that those are acts with the same ultimate intent - to kill someone - but in my opinion not only the intent is fundamentally different in the two cases but they are also two fundamentally different acts. Dany killed Drogo in order to put an end to his suffering, to finish a life that was already over, to save a loved one from "pain and humiliation" (to quote Dumbledore); while Aerys finished off two lives that were by no means over and he maximized the pain of his victims. The two actions (Dany's and Aerys') were also carried out very differently. Thus I agree that intention matters because the morality of the intention is an integral part of the action itself.

However, I also agree with the OP that the mere existence of a reason in itself does not change the morality of the action and does not make it more acceptable. Morally acceptable or commendable reasons will tend to coincide with more moral actions, of course, but few people do anything without a reason. So the fact that Ramsay found some base pleasure in hunting, raping and killing women does not make his action acceptable the least bit in my eyes. Similarly, Tywin's need to assert his authority (however legitimate a need it is) does not justify, in my eyes, the mass killing he committed when he killed the Reynes down to the last baby. A family's need for power and authority is simply not worth - from a moral viewpoint, in my opinion - such a sacrifice, even though I understand that the need was real and legitimate.

GRRM frequently creates situations where characters have to choose between to "evils" with the result that they will be condemned both in and out of universe whatever they choose to do. I think it is a way of testing moral values and their relative importance rather than denying the existence of morality though. 

With regard to "grayness" in general: It would be difficult to find a morally completely flawless person in real life, and literature recognized this fact long ago even if the idea of "gray" characters may be somewhat new in the fantasy genre. Still, it does not mean that moral flaws are not flaws, or that it is somehow "wrong" to be unselfish or "good" or to want to do what is right (instead of gratifying our own needs) either in real life or in fiction.    

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Posted (edited)

On 3/20/2017 at 11:00 PM, Aegon VII said:

I think we will most likely come around to seeing the others as not purely evil. I also think we are presented the dragons as though they are the opposite of the others, the embodiment of fire rather than ice. Though Dany and her dragons seem like the the hero of the series at first blush, I think as we look closer we also see they are not purely good, just like the others aren't purely bad. We have seen more evidence of the dragons not being good, that's why I make the connection.

I think your statement in red is the exact opposite of the truth. Killing a dog becauyse it's in uncurable pain and you want to put it out of it's misery is less evil than killing a dog for fun. This is not the same as self-justification or utilitarianism.

If anything I think GRRM has so far not presented the others as evil. We know they mean to kill humans but that's not evil in and of itself.

Consider if you will, a deadly virus. Let's say the Black Plague. Can a virus be evil? Viruses just like bacteria, humans, parasites, bugs and trees are forms of life trying to pass on their genetic material. Is a lion evil for eating a deer? How is it any different?

If two species are incompatible and fight until one of the species is dead is that species evil? It's an interesting question, because the species that has done that to an exponentially further extent than any other species is humans. We killed every species remotely close to us. Does that make us evil?

All the others have really done so far is fight a people who have historically fought them, men. Who's to say which one is right and wrong when we know virtually nothing about the nature of the conflict.

 

True, I think my statement in red was poorly communicated . Intentions are important, but having good or ambiguous intentions to an act does not automatically mean the act is moral. Daenerys may or may not have had good intentions when crucifying random slavers without trial, but that doesn't mean it's justified.

About your statements in bold. The human species as a whole has not actively participated in wiping out other species. As in not everyone is trying kill elephants and other endangered species. There are a lot people trying to stop poachers. This can't be said of the Others who are actively trying to eradicate humans.  It's possible the Others we see are just an extremist faction, and "normal" Others do not want to kill humans, but we have no idea.

Also, none of the life forms you listed are sentient, so they are not comparable to the Others IMO.

I'm actually not utterly against utilitarianism btw. In  some circumstances, actions that are not  traditionally seen as "right" are simply necessary. An example of this, maybe when Miri Maaz Durr was acussed of killing Rhaego by Daenerys. It's likely she killed neither Drogo or Rhaego, and Daenerys being the self righteous bitch she is just wanted to punish her... but I would have no problem if Miri purposefully killed either of them. I'm wondering what your opinion on utilitarianism is? Do you think is an example in ASIOAF where a utilitarian coarse of ethics is taken and you agree with it?

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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On 3/21/2017 at 9:58 AM, Julia H. said:

A similar example from the ASOIAF universe would be the difference between Dany's mercy killing of Drogo and Aerys killing Brandon Stark and his father. I suppose one could argue that those are acts with the same ultimate intent - to kill someone - but in my opinion not only the intent is fundamentally different in the two cases but they are also two fundamentally different acts. Dany killed Drogo in order to put an end to his suffering, to finish a life that was already over, to save a loved one from "pain and humiliation" (to quote Dumbledore); while Aerys finished off two lives that were by no means over and he maximized the pain of his victims. The two actions (Dany's and Aerys') were also carried out very differently. Thus I agree that intention matters because the morality of the intention is an integral part of the action itself.

However, I also agree with the OP that the mere existence of a reason in itself does not change the morality of the action and does not make it more acceptable. Morally acceptable or commendable reasons will tend to coincide with more moral actions, of course, but few people do anything without a reason. So the fact that Ramsay found some base pleasure in hunting, raping and killing women does not make his action acceptable the least bit in my eyes. Similarly, Tywin's need to assert his authority (however legitimate a need it is) does not justify, in my eyes, the mass killing he committed when he killed the Reynes down to the last baby. A family's need for power and authority is simply not worth - from a moral viewpoint, in my opinion - such a sacrifice, even though I understand that the need was real and legitimate.

GRRM frequently creates situations where characters have to choose between to "evils" with the result that they will be condemned both in and out of universe whatever they choose to do. I think it is a way of testing moral values and their relative importance rather than denying the existence of morality though. 

With regard to "grayness" in general: It would be difficult to find a morally completely flawless person in real life, and literature recognized this fact long ago even if the idea of "gray" characters may be somewhat new in the fantasy genre. Still, it does not mean that moral flaws are not flaws, or that it is somehow "wrong" to be unselfish or "good" or to want to do what is right (instead of gratifying our own needs) either in real life or in fiction.    

Yeah, my previous statement was not properly stated. I completely agree that intentions are integral to one's moral descion making, but I was just trying  to re-empazise that simply having an intention is not what dertimines an action to be right or wrong. The mere existence of one is what I deem "irrelevant", not what the intentions actually are.

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Great to see such an interesting discussion about moral philosophy. 

For anyone really interested in this topic, I very highly reccomend the lecture series "Maps of Meaning" by Jordan B Peterson  

https://www.youtube.com/user/JordanPetersonVideos/playlists

This is absoloutly mind-blowing, by far the best and deepest thought I have ever heard articulated on this topic or indeed anything. If you put the time in and also go through his reading list, it will be... well... amazing.

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Posted (edited)

On 3/13/2017 at 8:51 PM, Liver and Onions said:

Honestly, the whole thing about grey characters and moral ambiguity in fiction comes down to writing skill. A bad writer can have grey characters, and they'll be bad characters. A good writer can have good and evil characters, and they'll be interesting and FUN characters. Superman is no fun with a bad writer, but get him a good writer and he's amazing.

 

 

I agree completely moral ambiguity or lack of it does not dertermine whether a  story is well written and enjoyable. What some people would determine a "black and white" story can be harder to write than a story full of "grey" characters

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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Posted (edited)

On 3/14/2017 at 6:52 PM, Equilibrium said:

I agree with the overall vague notions that propagating and excusing gray morality is the justification of weak willed and that grayness of ASOIAF is overestimated.

But somehow I have gotten the idea this goes beyond that. Moral ambiguity of the characters (or RL people) is highly personal judgment, and people can and do view the same actions with same circumstances and same motivation in a different way. This isn't necessarily moral relativism, myself for example I am not morally relativistic, if people don't follow my moral guidelines I find them wrong and immoral, but many people fail to see error of their ways and instead consider me immoral, and neither I nor those people can do anything to change this fact or one another's mind. Some people think it is always wrong to kill another human, I can think of the numerous situation were killing another human is perfectly moral and most of them don't even have anything to do with time traveling and Hitler. Eddard Stark killed Gared so he is morally ambiguous from the start for those in no killing whatsoever group. For some homosexuality is morally wrong, so Loras can't be good guy.  For others having sex with women forced into prostitution constitutes rape and so Tyrion is evil.

Who is in the end right and who gets to decide morality for all? It's not relativistic attitude but realistic one, you don't have the power to make everyone subscribe to identical moral codes. And you seem to be understating moral ambiguity of ASOIAF protagonists, most of them engaged in some questionable acts and who among them is a real saint?

 

Well I agree with this. Its impossible for me to force anyone to believe in a particular moral code nor do I want to, but that doesn't mean mine is less legitimate or I will stop believing in it.  So yeah, I agree that not every person will believe in a specific moral code, but that of coarse doesn't mean society can't come to a consensus of what is right and wrong in general.  However, when it comes some moral situations. "who is right or wrong" or "who gets to decide morality for all"  are not questions worth asking because people can have  "logical" justifications behind their actions, but those actions can still purely and essentially wrong. For example, Stannis and Melisandre's sacrifices. Those are rephensible from the point of view of any code of ethics besides religious extremism. Also, in other cases, such questions may not be possible to answer clearly.  

I'm not ignoring the shortcomings of of these characters. I simply disagree with the notion that someone cannot make a wrong decision, - especially one they regret- without being completely "grey"  or morally ambiguous. I don't see how that's any different from moral absolutism. Just because people make bad choices, doesn't people are incapable of being essentially good. If you want call it "being a saint", then okay I guess you could call it that. I would call Davos, Ned, Jon, Sam, Robb, Brienne, Meera, Bran, Jojen, Sansa, Shireen, Renly, Hordor, EdriDayne, Berric Dondarian and the BWB, good people. There are also characters on the road to redemption like Jamie and the Hound. The would call the show counterparts of Arya and Tyrion good people, but I hear they are much darker in the books, so I don't want to be completely consclusive.  The only Stark I would call almost completely selfish is Catelyn and Lady SH is obviously not a good person.

Edited by thewolfofStarfall

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9 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

True, I think my statement in red was poorly communicated . Intentions are important, but having good or ambiguous intentions to an act does not automatically mean the act is moral. Daenerys may or may not have had good intentions when crucifying random slavers without trial, but that doesn't mean it's justified.

I completely agree.

9 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

About your statements in bold. The human species as a whole has not actively participated in wiping out other species. As in not everyone is trying kill elephants and other endangered species. There are a lot people trying to stop poachers.

I'm talking from an evolutionary perspective. There is a reason there are no neanderthals or any other form of hominem. For many years there were multiple species of man. The change in environment was definitely part of why some of those species went extinct, but it cannot be denied that often a species would disappear soon after they were introduced to a similar species. Humans right now helped kill every other species anywhere close to us, with the closest living things being monkeys/gorrilaz. Think of other species. The vast majority will have other species that are pretty close. Humans do not have this as we killed everything close.

9 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

This can't be said of the Others who are actively trying to eradicate humans.  It's possible the Others we see are just an extremist faction, and "normal" Others do not want to kill humans, but we have no idea.

When different hominim species were developing one would often die out soon after being exposed to another. Each recognizes the other as a threat takes steps to eradicate each other. Instinctive pre-emptive striking out of self preservation. Similar thing that might happen if we ran into a new alien species and could not communicate with them well.

9 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

Also, none of the life forms you listed are sentient, so they are not comparable to the Others IMO.

Humans would be one. But really any life form would have worked as an example so take your pick. Is it evil for one group of apes/monkeys to attack a competing group?

9 hours ago, thewolfofStarfall said:

I'm actually not utterly against utilitarianism btw. In  some circumstances, actions that are not  traditionally seen as "right" are simply necessary. An example of this, maybe when Miri Maaz Durr was acussed of killing Rhaego by Daenerys. It's likely she killed neither Drogo or Rhaego, and Daenerys being the self righteous bitch she is just wanted to punish her... but I would have no problem if Miri purposefully killed either of them. I'm wondering what your opinion on utilitarianism is? Do you think is an example in ASIOAF where a utilitarian coarse of ethics is taken and you agree with it?

I think utilitarianism is flawed as a philosophy because it relies on the agents ability to properly evaluate the situation and the consequences.

For example, a man gives you a gun and says shoot yourself or I'm going to kill you and your whole family. A utilitarian might say, okay,me dying is the lesser consequence, I choose it, and pull the trigger. However, that man may have never had any plans to kill you or your family. The agent was deceived and now has caused a catastrophe by killing himself.

I think people more often than not are not good judges of their situation. To allow them to make these qualitative assessments puts everyone at risk, rather than them relying in the social rules and standard that have developed over thousands of years. If in act is inherently evil, having a utilitarian justification behind your decision does not change that.

I think the Targs are our biggest example of people making utilitarian decision. I think often the targs embody Nietzsche's concept of Ubermench's, and that occasionally their decisions are arrived at by them adopting a utilitarian perspective. examples of this include:

Bloodraven executing his relative.

Rhaegar abducting lyanna is definitely characteristic of an ubermench, but it remains to be seen if it was utilitarian as well (Rhaegar believing it was necessary to save the realm).

Dany double crossing the unsullied masters. Dany crucifying the slavers without trial. Dany feeling entitiled to cause all this death and destruction because she tells herself it's helping the slaves, even when many slaves wanted to go back to the way it was.

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On 3/11/2017 at 2:37 AM, Orphalesion said:

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

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.

You misunderstood me. Perhaps I was not clear enough. For that, I apologize. I did not mean there is no such thing as good and evil in the world. I didn't even mean there is no such thing as evil people. I even stated at one point "besides sociopaths" I think. Clarifying that I think sociopaths are evil. I also think there are both selfless acts and evil acts. However, I think  MOST of the time the world exists in shades of gray, while Hollywood usuallys shows it as black and white. That is why I like ASOIAF and anime. They exist in a gray world, which I think is closest to reality. If you still fight me after this, I am going to assume you are just trolling me. If you are having a hard time in your life, take it out on someone else.

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Resurrecting an old thread since I find the topic fascinating. 

First of all, I don't think we know enough about the white walkers to say whether they are evil or not. We exterminate lives all the time. Just yesterday, I took out an entire colony of wasps in my backyard. Does that make me evil? We do not know the white walkers enough to know their rationals, which is also why they are boring and is so far only a plot device. 

Since most literature works are defined by their characters, I think the whole idea of moral ambiguity mainly applies to characters rather than events. It's not that there's no good or evil in the universe, but we can not easily define a particular character as purely good or evil, which makes them interesting. Joffrey, for example, was not interesting. He was unpredictable, so it was always interesting to see what else he cooked up, but as a character he wasn't interesting. Even Jon Snow is kind of boring. 

I do agree that moral ambiguity is overstated for ASOIAF. Martin seem to have a very clear definition of good vs evil, so there is little ambiguity about his characters. Take slavery for example. A very complex concept, yet while Martin mentioned that people are lining up to be sold, he never dug deeper into the reasons. That made Daenerys's actions far less interesting.

Back to the idea of morality. There's no clear definition of what that is. Often times, we do not even know why something is considered good or evil. There was a story where monkeys were trained to behave in a certain way for the "greater good", yet when the "greater good" was removed, they continued to behave that way for no reasons. It was a joke, but it also illustrated how morality is often based on habit and it can be outdated. 

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This is an interesting thread. But it is far too broad. I have to say that I think that "moral grayness" is Martin's sales pitch and that it is taken too literally. Or maybe not. It is not the end result of his characterization, it is his starting point.

To offer two examples. Quoting Stannis "a King has only subjects and enemies". This is not an attitude that is unique to Stannis. It promises however only war, subjugation or extermination. Personally, I see that attitude reflected very well on the Others.

The other examples are of Joffrey, Gregor Clegane and Ramsay. The relevant question is not whether they have redeeming qualities, but why they are allowed so much power in the first place. The answer is that there is both a vacuum of mechanisms that would restrain them (and execute them) and that others benefit from them and their actions. As such responsibility for their actions does not end with them.

The majority of actions in the series have their merits and counterarguments. Their intentions, too. And they invite debate not only to their morality, but also with what criteria said morality should be judged.

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12 hours ago, The Sleeper said:

This is an interesting thread. But it is far too broad. I have to say that I think that "moral grayness" is Martin's sales pitch and that it is taken too literally. Or maybe not. It is not the end result of his characterization, it is his starting point.

To offer two examples. Quoting Stannis "a King has only subjects and enemies". This is not an attitude that is unique to Stannis. It promises however only war, subjugation or extermination. Personally, I see that attitude reflected very well on the Others.

The other examples are of Joffrey, Gregor Clegane and Ramsay. The relevant question is not whether they have redeeming qualities, but why they are allowed so much power in the first place. The answer is that there is both a vacuum of mechanisms that would restrain them (and execute them) and that others benefit from them and their actions. As such responsibility for their actions does not end with them.

The majority of actions in the series have their merits and counterarguments. Their intentions, too. And they invite debate not only to their morality, but also with what criteria said morality should be judged.

I am not sure Martin really achieved moral grayness. None of his characters feel very "gray" consistently. 

Stannis was very inconsistent and did not live up to his non bending iron name. 

Joffrey, the Mountain and Ramsay were all cardboard characters that serve as plot devices for the real characters: Cersei/Tyrion, Tywin/Hound and Theon/Bran. Yet you never feel that even these main characters struggled with their decisions. Take the Hound for example, he was all bad at the beginning, but then I don't think he killed a single innocent person afterwards. As for Tywin, he did a lot of questionable things, but Martin never made them feel questionable. The red wedding was just portraited as evil. We never hear Lannister (or even Stark or Tully) foot soldiers seeing their new born sons because of it. 

That said, I still feel they are more complex than most other books as they are driven by real motivations.

 

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On 08/03/2017 at 7:27 AM, 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?

It's more that that.  The Wildlings are fleeing south because of them and even the giants too.  They aren't just engaging military units but civilian ones and other species too. They seem inimical to all life, first exstinguishing it then rising it as undead to do their bidding: we've seen horses and bears reanimated.  The concept of undeath is not one that usualy sits in the range of moral greyness unless we are talking black comedy and we aren't.  It's straight up horror and there's not much moral greyness to be found there.

On 08/03/2017 at 1:59 PM, Praetor Xyn said:

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.

They aren't human so it fits perfectly.  When we talk about little green men from space we talk about aliens to mean something different from us.  You can narrow the lens and make it about humanity's tendency to think in very small identity groups but I don't think that we need the Others for that; we've had 5 books of bloody warfare about men being men.  The Others are beyond that.

And don't worry: this forum would have a field day with Rand's morally grey actions! Even RJ had Rand wrestling with what choices he should make, how many lives he would have to sacrifice and how hard he needed to become to do what he needed to do.  Cadsuane muses at one point that if he want to Shayol Ghul in that frame of mind his victory might be as terrible as his defeat.  This stuff would be catnip to a forum that can make Jon and Sansa morally grey!  And what would they make of the Aiel!

On 08/03/2017 at 3:24 PM, 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.   

A better in world analogy would be with the Children of the Forest than The Others as we know exactly how that panned out over the milennia and the COTF appear to be a humanoid species while the Others are somehow magical beings.  A better real world comparison would be to homo sapiens playing a part in the extinction of Neanderthal Man whether it was due to out-competing them for resources, being more successful and numerous and displacing them to more marginal lands, carrying diseases that the Neandethals had no resistance to or actively destroying them when they encountered each other or a mixture of all of those.

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