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Does Being Morally Right Give Us Moral Rights? or: A Democratic Terrorist in a Totalitarian World

December 11, 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.

The College Superhero game is one I’ve discussed before, largely for its over-the-top whackiness, and the general insanity of the player characters and their various zany antics. Of course, the players were only so whacky because the world they lived in was one that was painted in four colors before being given a swirly in the toilet bowl of self-awareness. After defeating the dangerous Kirk Von Straussen, an immortal supervillain who (like all good villains) wanted to conquer the world, in their freshman year we had a year long time-skip in game to the latter half of their sophomore year.

This part of the game was focused on instability in the multiverse, and a possible invasion by the Terminus “dimension.” I say “dimension,” because Terminus isn’t so much a dimension as it is the static that exists between various dimensions, composed of chaos and chunks of former universes. Somewhere in the Terminus was a being known as Omega, the avatar of entropy and the bringer of death to unknown universes. Somehow, he was exploiting problems caused by multidimensional travel to bring about the destruction of everything.

Of course, the way the players first became aware of the multiverse was when a time and universe traversing dirigible appeared in the sky above Freedom City, in the middle of a battle with various biplanes. Most of the biplanes were destroyed outright by various Tesla-like lightning guns, but one of them was able to maneuver so it was only clipped. This plane came plummeting toward downtown Freedom City.

Being the heroic sorts, the party leaped into action. In a daring display of teamwork, involving launching the team brick Dead Meat into the sky to literally catch the plane, the party was able to prevent this biplane from crashing and exploding in the middle of a densely populated area. Within the plane was a Ms. Valerie Sors, Imperial Investigator of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Sors was hunting the man in the dirigible, a Dr. Thornton-Wilton, who was an enemy of the state and a danger to all.

As it turned out, Sors came from a reality where World War I had never occurred. Throughout the 20th century, all of the European powers that had sat on the edge of modernizing their politics were able to consolidate state bureaucracies and power, through the use of super-powered persons and mass-produced super-technology. Valerie Sors was the product of an aristocratic Imperial upbringing and a believer in the importance of a strong state that limits the political rights of its citizenry for their own benefit. Upon learning that she had crash-landed in a universe where Democracy was still in vogue and the monarchies had collapsed, she was thoroughly bemused.

Dr. Thornton-Wilton was a terrorist and revolutionary who had hopped through too many time periods and realities to count. In fact, he couldn’t even guarantee that he hadn’t visited the party’s reality before at some other time period. However, he was a firm believer in the progress of democracy, and the importance of individual rights. Empowerment through education and capital was what he championed, and whenever he saw what he perceived as oppression, he would work to combat it. His actions had caused major rebellions and several minor civil wars across Europe and her colonies, and as such he was wanted for crimes against several world powers.

The party was unsure of exactly what to do, since they personally found themselves siding with Dr. Thornton-Wilton. Of course, the response of Valerie Sors was merely that it wasn’t their law or feelings that were at issue. It was her world’s law.

Luckily further instability amongst the multiverse, and a minor invasion of a Sentinel Park by dinosaurs, allowed the party to put off the issue nearly indefinitely. Stranded in their world, Sors ended up posing as a student abroad with a concentration in political theory.

 

The reason I bring up Valerie Sors and her world of grand monarchies, is not actually to discuss the moral validity of such societies, but instead to focus on the much trickier question. Should Dr. Thornton-Wilton have been extradited back to Sors universe to stand for his crimes as a revolutionary and terrorist?

To which we then must return to the question of the moral validity of Valerie Sors’ society. By her own description, it was a world where people did not have political rights, at least not in a majority of it. There was no such thing as right to assembly or protest, and when there was voting it was highly restricted. The notion that any man’s opinion was as important as any other’s was laughable, because it defeated the purpose of specialization that they felt a modern world allowed. An example being, should anyone be able to voice their opinions on economics, or should this be reserved for the discussion of people who have studied economics?

This, of course, then would raise questions regarding who has access to education, and who is able to actually engage in these discussions to begin with. Historically, for example, the Austro-Hungarian Empire while it did kowtow to some pressures to recognize various groups (having several official languages), it was still a society that oppressed a variety of ethnicities and nationalities. This oppression is what lead to its ultimate downfall, which begs the question of how they prevented such tensions from rising to begin with.

Dr. Thornton-Wilton didn’t describe it much differently, merely emphasizing the fact that this was a world where the majority of people were oppressed. He didn’t seem to suggest they were being actively oppressed through violence or pogrom-like activities though. Instead it was merely a world where the institutions that were in place didn’t allow for much social mobility or engagement of the people.

It was a world where he was able to find resistance groups that he was able to lend aid to. Of course, who those groups were was never elaborated on. So the question of whether or not the presence of dissatisfaction makes a government illegitimate is entered into the equation.

I feel it’s becoming quickly obvious that the ability to morally judge a society without direct evidence of something akin to a human rights violation is very difficult. There’s only so much information we have, and the mere presence of dissatisfaction doesn’t make a government illegitimate. A good example are the current petitions on whitehouse.gov to let states secede from the United States of America. Does the existence of such a petition render the United States government illegitimate in the eyes of its people? Or the world?

No, probably the drone strikes against US Citizens does that but the petitions still serve the purpose of demonstrating my point. There will always be people who are dissatisfied and many of them can even be roused to action if there’s a passionate enough leader to follow. However, it is not merely this dissatisfaction that makes a society unjust.

What makes a society unjust are seemingly nonsensical justice systems that create disparities between people who can exploit it and those that cannot, being built on the exploitation of sentient lives, and having long standing social institutions in place that are designed to keep many people out of power. These are certainly the hallmarks of a society that isn’t just, or at least one that should certainly take a long hard look at what it is doing.

This brings us back to what I wanted to talk about. Was Dr. Thornton-Wilton morally right to interfere with these theoretically unjust societies?

Is it not the moral imperative of every being to oppose injustice? Do we not have that duty to our fellows?

Can an unjust government still be legitimate?

Is a government merely a force that wages a war against the individual, and as such is it merely enforcing its will upon said individual. If we view it as a war between the society and the individual, than does not Clausewitz’s famous meditations come into play. Victory is enforcing your will upon the defeated, regardless of whether you’re morally right.

Or is a just government merely part of the contract between society and a member of said society? Therefore, a government becoming unjust is a breach of the contract and therefore the society member can “opt-out,” either through ‘voting with their feet,’ or revolution. Is a society that you can’t opt out of, by its very nature, unjust because it harms the freedom of the individual?

Is the freedom of the individual even the right yard stick by which to measure?

Even if we ignore the larger questions that get raised, we’re still left with the age old question of whether or not being Morally Right gives us the Moral Right to Interfere?

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