Friday, 1 June 2012

Moral Dilemma: The Greater Good

Could you do something that you considered wrong for the sake of preventing a greater wrong?

I was watching a television show and there was one character who was about to precipitate a global catastrophe in pursuit of his own power.  The main character had a moment alone with him and I half expected her to shoot him in order to prevent the crisis.  She didn't and they had to use a much more hand-wavy technique to solve the problem.

But it left me thinking.  Often in stories, the characters put aside what is generally accepted as "right" in order to achieve greater goals.  They fight, they kill, they commit illegal acts.  Very little is outside of accepted behaviour.  But we cheer for them.  We feel emotionally satisfied by their actions.

Writer Alan Moore and director Zack Snyder attempted to dispell the glamour in the comic and movie The Watchmen.  They didn't leave us any illusions about what was happening so the audience felt sickened rather than triumphant.  There were no good guys in those stories, only varying levels of bad guys.  While the story was hard to watch, I think there was certain artistic merit in trying to show how accustomed we've become to dramatic violence.

So here's my question to everyone who reads this blog:  What would you be willing to do to prevent a disaster?  How big would the disaster have to be?  I'm hoping people will respond in comments.

It's easy to say that any loss of life would justify illegal action to prevent it.  It's the instinctual response.  And yet, I'm strongly opposed to the idea of torturing suspected terrorists.  The concept of deliberately hurting someone else disgusts me.  Leaving aside the problem that information obtained through torture is incredibly unreliable, it just strikes me as wrong on a gut level.  Is it because the danger isn't immediate enough?  Hasn't been presented dramatically enough?

It's an interesting question and I look forward to hearing answers.

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