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Is There A Moral Value to Truth? or: Mum’s the word, lads.

August 7, 2012

Part of a continuing series I’ve dubbed, “To Be A Young Necromancer In Love,” updating Tuesdays and whenever the hell I feel like it.

As I’ve mentioned before when discussing the Colonial Horror Game, the PCs were essentially the city of Roanoke’s secret force against the evils of magic. However, as I think of how this came about, and why it was kept secret, along with the nature of the previously discussed story, many troubling ideas arise in my own brain.

One of the most important facets of magic in this world was that while magic was believed in and no one was ever shocked by the existence of magic (as they might in a more modern urban fantasy story), magic was still something otherworldly. People that practiced magic, including the PCs, were often very dangerous and mentally unbalanced. Even the more disciplined magic-users the party encountered were possessed of, at the very least, fanatical idealism, though more often than not they were people that were filled with simple greed, were hungry for power, or lusted for blood.

One of the PCs, Nathaniel Blackthorne eventually traded out some of his disadvantages to be more related to this. After gaining his magical powers, which related to water, Nate developed a strange fascination with the moon and would sometimes black out to find himself later soaking wet and knee deep in the waters of a bay. Another player would be possessed by his deceased grandmother on certain cycles of the moon.

The overall theme of magic in this world is that it is not natural. Magic was extended to people by non-mortal forces for a number of ancient and confusing reasons. Due to this, magic invites a certain danger. Most often this would arrive in the damage to the psyche, though corruption of the physical form was also possible. One of the players, who left the game during a semester break, was slowly mastering the ability to transform his body into a sort of, “Fire-Ape.” He achieved this goal later by joining up with the Fey. The PCs were disturbed to meet him again later in this state, fearing that in exchange for greater magical power, the Faeries had taken his powers of speech and free will. The PCs never actually discovered if this was true or not.

This theme presented itself early in the campaign.

The PCs had discovered some sort of horrible idol in one of the earliest sessions, and not being learned men in the nature of the arcane (at least at this point in the campaign) turned it over to a fire and brimstone preacher of the Church of England. Over time, they became interested in trying to investigate exactly what had happened involving the sorcerer they fought and took the idol from. This resulted in a number of adventures that took them into the continent’s interior, and then around Roanoke in search of the sorcerer’s cousin who was also some sort of spell caster. He was surprisingly more peaceful, and through him they learned of the extreme dangers of the idol.

However, when they inquired about it with the priest, he deflected their interests and almost threatened to turn them into the government as Catholic sympathizers. The Catholics having been blamed for the recent dangerous magical happenings.

The priest did all of this because he was already too far gone in his Lovecraftian descent into magic and madness. He sent creatures after the party and the sorcerer’s cousin in the hopes of killing them, and the party in return fought their way to the church. Upon opening the door, they discovered the preacher finishing a magical ritual that transformed into some sort nightmare beast.

They destroyed the nightmare beast, and eventually tried to contact the government. What the party learned when normal men looked upon the beasts they had slain was that the mere act of looking at them would quickly begin to eat at the psyche of the average person. Only a few people, most with some magical affinity or those who were possessed of an iron will, could look upon a mystical horror and not be affected.

The players were able to meet with the Royal Naval Commandant and he came to a simple decision.

They burned the corpse, and silently agreed that the player-characters would become the colony’s front line of defense against such horrors. This agreement was sealed when they asked about what would be said of everything that happened, and the Commandant merely responded, “Mum’s the word, lads.”

Last week, I scratched at the surface of lying and truth. I raised the question at one point of whether or not lying to save someone from harm is acceptable.

In this case, we encounter the idea of the Lovecraftian Truth. The idea that there are truths so horrifying in the world that our minds actually can’t survive them. This is in part why we create fragile shields to protect our psyche, at least in Lovecraft’s opinion. It’s the classic idea that humanity, and Earth, are merely an island within a great sea and the island must protect itself from the sea’s power to engulf it.

The party of characters in this case were people who, for some reason or another, were able to withstand the supernatural force of that Lovecraftian truth, and defend the island from the sea. In such a way, they began to fight a government sanctioned shadow war, ultimately for the greater good.

This becomes an issue to me because we once more get to this question of lying, and in a more mundane, yet grander, sense (remove the magic and psychic force of a Lovecraftian truth) the idea that there are elements of society that can and do make decisions on what we are or are not allowed to know.

Is it ever moral to lie?

Or perhaps a better question, is there a natural moral value to truth?

We live with self-delusions both on a personal scale and a species wide scale. Self-delusions are merely lies, yet no one wants to walk through life constantly reminding themselves that their life is meaningless on the cosmic scale or that humans are merely floating on a speck of dust in the great infinite universe. Is this moral? Is this right?

It’s only wrong if we subscribe to the belief that there is a natural, and superior, moral value to truth. I don’t know if that is the case, yet on some other level the idea that I’m not the one to decide on whether or not this is the case infuriates me.

We all know that there is some kind of information that governments do not tell their populaces. Depending on the government this could be many different forms of information, withheld for reasons that sometimes we’re not even allowed to know. Governments, if they do not openly lie to their subjects, at least are capable of omitting the truth.

Is this wrong?

If we say yes, at which point did it become wrong? Or is it always wrong because the truth is superior?

If we say no, why isn’t it? Is it truly the notion of defending ourselves from harsh truths, because we ultimately cannot handle it? Are the people with this power the ones who should be deciding what is or is not something we can deal with? Who gave them that moral authority?

Are there things in the world that would instantly drive me insane, so insane that I would no longer be able to function? If there are such horrible truths to the world, do I want to know them?

I don’t know, and that’s perhaps the scariest truth of all.

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