Morality in Watchmen

For the serious discussion of weighty matters and worldly issues. No off-topic posts allowed.

Moderators: Azrael, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Morality in Watchmen

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:43 pm UTC

Character Synposis:
  • Ozymandias kills tens of millions of innocent people in order to unite the world and save humanity from an otherwise unnavoidable act of utter nuclear self-desctruction.
  • Rorschach does not care about humanity, only justice, and is willing to allow humanity wipe itself out in order to maintain his ideals.
  • The Comedian loses all hope for humanity and commits horrible crimes against it thinking it doesn't matter. After discovering Veidt's plan The Comedian breaks down in the realization that because humanity can be saved The Comedian is now accountable for his actions and that his crimes will pale in comparison to what Veidt will committ. Despite this he does nothing to stop Veidt, knowing his plan is humanity's only salvation.
  • Dr. Manhattan lives in the past, present, and future simultaneously; is immortal; and has near unlimited power. Because of this he is almost entirely disconnected from the human condition, has little sense of morality, and find's human interaction insignificant and many times tiring.

Watchmen tears morality a new one. In this thread we discuss the aforementioned perspectives of Watchmen and the morality of their actions.

To start off let's discuss the morality of Ozymandias' plan. Was it right of him to kill tens of millions to save humanity or was Rorschach right?

It's out on DVD (never mind published for 23 years) and I both love spoiling movies and hate spoiler tags. -Az

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby Vaniver » Sat Jan 16, 2010 12:38 am UTC

SpazzyMcGee wrote:To start off let's discuss the morality of Ozymandias' plan. Was it right of him to kill tens of millions to save humanity or was Rorschach right?
Rorschach wasn't right. Dr. Manhattan was. When you look at Ozymandias's plan, he does it to save the future- because the future has an infinite amount of good stored up in it, and so is worth the sacrifice of any number of lives. His mistake is thinking that this one act of evil is the difference between the brilliant future and the ashen future- the brilliant future will always be threatened, and so for his plan to work there must be an endless stream of atrocities to unite humanity against its foe. How long will the memory of New York City keep the USA and USSR in arms? Perhaps 5 years; perhaps 10. Were ten million lives worth five years of peace? Ozymandias could do this once, but could he bear to do it every decade for the rest of his life, and set up a successor who will torment humanity for their own good?
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

User avatar
mmmcannibalism
Posts: 2150
Joined: Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:16 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby mmmcannibalism » Sat Jan 16, 2010 2:20 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
SpazzyMcGee wrote:To start off let's discuss the morality of Ozymandias' plan. Was it right of him to kill tens of millions to save humanity or was Rorschach right?
Rorschach wasn't right. Dr. Manhattan was. When you look at Ozymandias's plan, he does it to save the future- because the future has an infinite amount of good stored up in it, and so is worth the sacrifice of any number of lives. His mistake is thinking that this one act of evil is the difference between the brilliant future and the ashen future- the brilliant future will always be threatened, and so for his plan to work there must be an endless stream of atrocities to unite humanity against its foe. How long will the memory of New York City keep the USA and USSR in arms? Perhaps 5 years; perhaps 10. Were ten million lives worth five years of peace? Ozymandias could do this once, but could he bear to do it every decade for the rest of his life, and set up a successor who will torment humanity for their own good?


In addition to the assumption that planned catastrophes wouldn't in and of themself trigger a nuclear holocaust. As history points out rather constantly, people can have some strong emotional reactions to a disaster.
Izawwlgood wrote:I for one would happily live on an island as a fuzzy seal-human.

Oregonaut wrote:Damn fetuses and their terroist plots.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby Izawwlgood » Sat Jan 16, 2010 3:11 am UTC

This thread may prove to be pretty cool.

Just to point out, I didn't feel the point of Watchmen was to provide you with a 'right' moral character; everyone has their shortcomings. That's the point; every 'superhero' in Watchman is horribly, horribly flawed.

I felt Dr. Manhattan recognized that Ozymandias had made a decision, knowing that he would have blood on his hands forever. I think Dr. M even said something to that effect?
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

somebody already took it
Posts: 310
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:03 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby somebody already took it » Sat Jan 16, 2010 4:39 am UTC

Indeed, he does say something to that effect.

Linking images of copyrighted work is really, really poor form. And just because it's hosted on a Rutgers server doesn't make it fair use.

-Az


(Although not strictly relevant, some interesting asides from that page are the Sun and phallus intersection that occurs while Dr. M talks about making life, and the recurrence of his cog leitmotif in the mechanism used to power the model solar system. Watchmen is such an interconnected web of meanings that it's hard for me to look a panel while resisting the urge to analyse it.)
Also, you say every 'superhero' in watchmen is horribly flawed, but I don't know if that applies to Dr. Manhattan (is he a superhero, or a 'superhero'?).

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby Vaniver » Sat Jan 16, 2010 5:00 pm UTC

somebody already took it wrote:Also, you say every 'superhero' in watchmen is horribly flawed, but I don't know if that applies to Dr. Manhattan (is he a superhero, or a 'superhero'?).
I consider him flawed in that he has little to no volition: he chooses the career his father sets out for him, he is asked out by his first girlfriend, iirc, his transformation is the result of carelessness, not choice (Ozymandias chose every thing about himself, insomuch as he was able), and once omnipotent allows himself to be a pawn, hides from his father, and he feels constrained to a specific path through spacetime. Perhaps that last bit was true, and he actually had no choice in the matter- but I imagine instead that he is, deep down, a simple man who accepts what is given to him. The military wants him to work for them; he says yes. He fears his father will make more choices for him; he avoids him. He can do whatever he wants; he sees himself as a pawn of motives he cannot control.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Sat Jan 16, 2010 5:48 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
somebody already took it wrote:Also, you say every 'superhero' in watchmen is horribly flawed, but I don't know if that applies to Dr. Manhattan (is he a superhero, or a 'superhero'?).
I consider him flawed in that he has little to no volition: he chooses the career his father sets out for him, he is asked out by his first girlfriend, iirc, his transformation is the result of carelessness, not choice (Ozymandias chose every thing about himself, insomuch as he was able), and once omnipotent allows himself to be a pawn, hides from his father, and he feels constrained to a specific path through spacetime. Perhaps that last bit was true, and he actually had no choice in the matter- but I imagine instead that he is, deep down, a simple man who accepts what is given to him. The military wants him to work for them; he says yes. He fears his father will make more choices for him; he avoids him. He can do whatever he wants; he sees himself as a pawn of motives he cannot control.

Well he was a physicist. There was likely some psychological bagage from his over bearing father, but physicists can be rather detached. Awareness of one's insignificance might also have something to do with it. I'm a little like him. I don't have any strong goals and though I don't just do what I'm told I do kind of run with events instead of trying to alter them. Perhaps its because of the physicist's preocupation with anything and everything, it takes one's mind off human condition.

Interesting thought though. I never thought about Dr. M that way. Perhaps because I related with him the most I didn't analyze him the best. Is it sad that I relate with Dr. M? :mrgreen:

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Sat Jan 16, 2010 6:03 pm UTC

As for Ozy's plan, I'm afraid I agree with it. It's like that old train track mental morality experiment, with a twist. Imagine a group of 10 people a track who don't notice a train coming toward them. You cannot talk to them, but you can redirect the train to only hit one of the 10 people. Do you do it?

Of course you would do it. If you do nothing they all die. If you act you save most of them. The people you killed would have died anyways. It's just logical.

I have heard the argument against Ozy's actions that says he couldn't have known what he did would work, but to this I remind people it is said over and over again that Ozy is the smartest man on Earth. Everyone could see war coming, but he was intelligent and ambitious enough to see the one solution. We must all assume that war was inevitable and that what Ozy did was the only way because the comic hits that home every chance it gets.

Vaniver wrote:His mistake is thinking that this one act of evil is the difference between the brilliant future and the ashen future- the brilliant future will always be threatened, and so for his plan to work there must be an endless stream of atrocities to unite humanity against its foe. How long will the memory of New York City keep the USA and USSR in arms? Perhaps 5 years; perhaps 10. Were ten million lives worth five years of peace? Ozymandias could do this once, but could he bear to do it every decade for the rest of his life, and set up a successor who will torment humanity for their own good?

I don't see that mistake Vaniver. The only thing threatening humanity were those nuclear stockpiles. Dissarmament would save humanity forever. Ozy likely knew that the nations of the world would become allies against the aliens/Dr. M and began focusing on combating the new enemy rather than maintaining the thousands of nukes pointed at each other. Everything seems to indicate the peace Ozy created was indefinite, or at least much much more than 5 or 10 years.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Sat Jan 16, 2010 6:05 pm UTC

Also, does anyone at all agree with Rorshach's perspective? I have heard of people that can't stand for Watchmen to be morally ambiguous so they construct the regular good vs. evil scenario and it always has Ozymandias as the bad guy and Rorshach as the good guy.

thicknavyrain
ThinkGravyTrain
Posts: 913
Joined: Sun Sep 30, 2007 12:41 pm UTC
Location: The Universe

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby thicknavyrain » Sat Jan 16, 2010 6:08 pm UTC

Elaborating on the Ozymandias thing, I kept thinking to myself "Is there NO OTHER conceivable way he could avert nuclear destruction than this? I mean, the whole idea is, the world will unite to face a different threat, so why is there NO OTHER WAY to do that without killing lots of people? Is it for the shock factor or what?" and I thought of lots of different ways to create a similar effect without so many deaths. Then I thought "maybe Ozy, with his big genius mind, calculated that all the other ways would fail and that this was regrettably the only way he could do it" which might make sense, maybe in the fucked up world of Watchmen. So, I guess if it was what NEEDED to be done to save humanity, then yes I can see that his actions were moral in a "greater good" kind of way but I doubt anyone is going to feel terribly happy about the entire ordeal.

Edit: Slightly ninja'd.
RoadieRich wrote:Thicknavyrain is appointed Nex Artifex, Author of Death of the second FaiD Assassins' Guild.

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby Vaniver » Sat Jan 16, 2010 7:40 pm UTC

SpazzyMcGee wrote:I don't see that mistake Vaniver. The only thing threatening humanity were those nuclear stockpiles. Dissarmament would save humanity forever. Ozy likely knew that the nations of the world would become allies against the aliens/Dr. M and began focusing on combating the new enemy rather than maintaining the thousands of nukes pointed at each other. Everything seems to indicate the peace Ozy created was indefinite, or at least much much more than 5 or 10 years.
Really? Look at his expression in the last panel of the quoted page. Look at the last page of the book- if Rorschach's journal got printed, do you think his peace would be indefinite?
Not to mention that an external threat means disarmament is off the table. The US and USSR won't be pointing ICBMs at each other- they'll be developing nukes that they can use against alien battleships, and place them on satellites. And why would they not also give them the ability to point Earthward?
If you think Watchmen is a 'happily ever after' story, I think you've missed the point.

SpazzyMcGee wrote:Also, does anyone at all agree with Rorshach's perspective? I have heard of people that can't stand for Watchmen to be morally ambiguous so they construct the regular good vs. evil scenario and it always has Ozymandias as the bad guy and Rorshach as the good guy.
Rorschach is the only person who puts principles above pragmatics, which is the 'moral' thing to do. It's also the reason why, in the end, he dies alone in the snow after all of his former friends have turned against him. The ends are the only way to measure means.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

User avatar
mmmcannibalism
Posts: 2150
Joined: Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:16 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby mmmcannibalism » Sat Jan 16, 2010 8:31 pm UTC

I have heard the argument against Ozy's actions that says he couldn't have known what he did would work, but to this I remind people it is said over and over again that Ozy is the smartest man on Earth. Everyone could see war coming, but he was intelligent and ambitious enough to see the one solution. We must all assume that war was inevitable and that what Ozy did was the only way because the comic hits that home every chance it gets.


Why should an assumption that a plan is perfect be believed? It makes sense that the plan will maintain peace for x amount of years, but eventually two groups with nukes are going to get pissed at each other and you would have to wipe out another city. As the saying goes, the first casualty of war is the plan.
Izawwlgood wrote:I for one would happily live on an island as a fuzzy seal-human.

Oregonaut wrote:Damn fetuses and their terroist plots.

guenther
Posts: 1840
Joined: Sat May 17, 2008 6:15 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby guenther » Sun Jan 17, 2010 4:21 am UTC

I think this story illustrates that with perfect information morality works very weird. If we know that doing X will net save Y people, then morality metrics are a lot easier. But I suspect in general that we frown on means that can only be justified by rosy portrayals of the ends because our ability to predict outcomes generally doesn't work so well. In stories this hurdle gets sidestepped with ease, but even still most stories have the hero win against the Ozy-like mastermind because it disrupts our sensibilities that something that awful could be seen as good.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen *Spoiler Alert*

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Sun Jan 17, 2010 9:28 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
SpazzyMcGee wrote:I don't see that mistake Vaniver. The only thing threatening humanity were those nuclear stockpiles. Dissarmament would save humanity forever. Ozy likely knew that the nations of the world would become allies against the aliens/Dr. M and began focusing on combating the new enemy rather than maintaining the thousands of nukes pointed at each other. Everything seems to indicate the peace Ozy created was indefinite, or at least much much more than 5 or 10 years.
Really? Look at his expression in the last panel of the quoted page. Look at the last page of the book- if Rorschach's journal got printed, do you think his peace would be indefinite?
Not to mention that an external threat means disarmament is off the table. The US and USSR won't be pointing ICBMs at each other- they'll be developing nukes that they can use against alien battleships, and place them on satellites. And why would they not also give them the ability to point Earthward?
If you think Watchmen is a 'happily ever after' story, I think you've missed the point.

In the graphic novel the alien appeared out of nowhere and killed millions immediatly. Nuculear weapons would be utterly useless. Plus, let us not forget that the alien sent out a psychic wave that scared every human on Earth which would would leave all of humanity less interested in maintaining the nukes that are only useful against other humans. Obviously things won't be peaceful until the end of time/the Sun, but everything suggests he achieved a lasting peace. Look at us now, Obama is pushing for nuclear disarmament and it is working for the most part. Ozy may have sacrificed humanity's concious for survival but humanity did achieve a lasting peace. As for Rorscharch's journal, I personally don't see it being anything more than a basis for a future conspiracy theory. Honestly, who is going to believe it? There just isn't enough evidence. Would you believe 9/11 was orchestrated by Bill Gates if a single journal was published by a sensatiounalist newspaper? The journal provides a nice rap up for those who felt like Rorschach was the good guy but nothing else. The future seems safe.

Vaniver wrote:
SpazzyMcGee wrote:Also, does anyone at all agree with Rorshach's perspective? I have heard of people that can't stand for Watchmen to be morally ambiguous so they construct the regular good vs. evil scenario and it always has Ozymandias as the bad guy and Rorshach as the good guy.

Rorschach is the only person who puts principles above pragmatics, which is the 'moral' thing to do. It's also the reason why, in the end, he dies alone in the snow after all of his former friends have turned against him. The ends are the only way to measure means.

Interesting, I have heard the significance of Rorshach dying alone from other people. Apparently I was one of the few to not see the significance of him dying alone.
Last edited by SpazzyMcGee on Sun Jan 17, 2010 8:40 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
mister k
Posts: 643
Joined: Sun Aug 27, 2006 11:28 pm UTC
Contact:

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby mister k » Sun Jan 17, 2010 4:31 pm UTC

See my issue with Ozymandis is I suspect his plans are cushioned in arrogance. He has to be the best, the one who saves the world. He conceives a plan in which he guides the world towards the light. The plan may work, but was it the only one? Of course not- smartest man in the world doesn't mean you are always correct, merely that you are more correct than others. He would not work with anyone else, and the only reason he allows the other heroes to approach is to show off- he could have killed them much earlier, but wants them to revel in his majesty. The hubris is what makes his plan awful. Once it has occured, of course, then the others are constrained to support it or make the sacrifice for nothing.
Elvish Pillager wrote:you're basically a daytime-miller: you always come up as guilty to scumdar.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Jan 17, 2010 5:24 pm UTC

I don't think the motivations are relevant here. Whether or not Ozy wanted to be the most famous man alive or to save all the future puppies, we should still judge his actions based on their results; millions dead.

On the other hand, Rorschach and Dr. M and the Comedian and the Owl are all still mostly just reacting the world around them, and reacting in such a way that belies their short comings.

The story is distinctly NOT black and white, there is no singular good or evil character, and indeed, I'm fairly confident that was intentional. Rorschach fights crime longer then any of the others, but is a sadistic monster. The Comedian helped shape the scope of politics, but is a sadistic monster. The Owl sounds like the voice of reason and compromise, but is only speaking from fear. You aren't supposed to look at any one character and say "Yup, that's the way it should be done" because each of them is incredibly flawed and broken.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

Patch
Posts: 42
Joined: Sun Apr 13, 2008 6:29 pm UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Patch » Sun Jan 17, 2010 8:09 pm UTC

I first read Watchmen around 1999, about 10 years after the Berlin wall fell. I was 20 that year, and the wall fell when I was 10, so I had spent half of my life living through the cold war, and half living in the "end of history" period afterwards. The fact that we had resolved the cold war without the intervention of a mass murdering superhero seemed to cast Ozymandias in an especially harsh light. He meant well, but it felt like he fundamentally had much less faith in humanity than humanity warranted.

Several years later, September 11th happened, and it was like a chunk of the American population breathed a sigh of relief -- there were Bad Guys again, and that meant that we could go back to a simpler world, where we were the Good Guys ... and my own personal faith in humanity went down several notches.

It now feels like Ozymandias trusted his fellow humans to much -- it seems that we relentlessly pull ourselves back into conflict with each other, and I don't think that his solution would have resulted in any sort of lasting peace.

Dr. Manhattan is amoral, but his perspective probably makes the most sense. Humans do stuff. Much of it is hurtful and sad. Much of it is beautiful and interesting. Getting embroiled in human affairs is usually painful. None of us are lucky enough to become god-like beings as the result of freak nuclear accidents, so we're generally left to muddle along, focusing on the nice bits of life, hoping to avoid getting swatted by people who attempt to inflict their ideas of "good" on the world ...

~ Patch

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Vaniver » Sun Jan 17, 2010 8:47 pm UTC

SpazzyMcGee wrote:Nuculear weapons would be utterly useless.
If nothing else, they would be useful as a security blanket.

SpazzyMcGee wrote:Plus, let us not forget that the alien sent out a psychic wave that scared every human on Earth which would would leave all of humanity less interested in maintaining the nukes that are only useful against other humans.
The psychic wave only affected sensitives; even so, wouldn't psychically induced fear be easily direct against other humans?

SpazzyMcGee wrote:Would you believe 9/11 was orchestrated by Bill Gates if a single journal was published by a sensatiounalist newspaper?
How many video tapes did it take to get people to believe Osama bin Laden was behind 9/11? The truth has evidence.

Izawwlgood wrote:I'm fairly confident that was intentional.
One would hope so; that's one of the main reasons Watchmen is quality!
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

Watashi
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Dec 30, 2009 10:22 pm UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Watashi » Sun Jan 17, 2010 11:28 pm UTC

Humanity is nothing without its values, yet human values cannot exist without humans to hold them. Humanity is thus held in the paradoxical state of needing an 'inhuman' (or superhuman!) being who is able to act without humanity in order to preserve humanity. However, this film is very much rooted in the time The Watchmen was written - the dilemma is one of the cold war, where these theoretical scenarios were plausible. In hindsite they are not. No one was ever going to push the button, and there is no single choice that needs to be made to save humanity. Watchmen is interesting on a philosophical level, but is not particularly relevent to the real world.

For a more contemporary and meaningful investigation of morality, I'd suggest The Dark Knight has much more to say.

Batman: he has sacrificed his humanity so that he is capable of becoming just and incorruptible, and so can protect humanity. However, he wishes his own existence was not necessary as he knows a civilised society cannot be ruled by the inhuman rod of justice.

The Joker: as old as humanity itself, chaos is detructive and uncaring of the damage it does... yet it is part of who we are and we need it as much as we need justice. Unquestioned and unchallanged human Justice leads to oppression.

Harvey Dent / Two-Face: humanity at its best... and worst. He is what happens to our highest ideals when we are presented with the brutal real world. Law and chaos become interchangeable, and our ability to tell when we're handing out justice and when we're commiting murder is lost.

The film is particularly relevent in a time where 9/11 has led to two (still ongoing) invasions and a great deal of immoral activity on the part of the US and UK carried out in the name of protecting the rule of Democratic morality. The chaotic effect of 9/11 created a Two-Face US government, but without a powerful Batman (ie with a weak Judiciary) there was nothing to stop Two-face killing innocent women and children out of a sense of personal vengance dressed up as seeking justice for the dead.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Tue Jan 19, 2010 2:21 pm UTC

Watashi wrote:Humanity is nothing without its values, yet human values cannot exist without humans to hold them. Humanity is thus held in the paradoxical state of needing an 'inhuman' (or superhuman!) being who is able to act without humanity in order to preserve humanity.

Your inhuman vs superhuman thing reminds me of something. I remember reading the plot synopsis of some science fiction work. In the distant future mankind occupies a zone in some other dimension where they moniter the time line and save mankind from countless catastrophes, but for some reason they cannot travel past a certain point in the future. It turns out because they did such a good job and preventing wars and catastrophes they unwittingly removed mankind's urge to innovate and explore. Technology is in a way a defense mechanism against hardship. That barrier that kept them from going past that certain point in time was the point when humanity went extinct with the death of the Sun. Without hardship mankind never made it off of Earth. The final act of the time traveling organization was to make sure said organization was never founded, opening up a future where humanity lived for billions of years among the stars. Perhaps the inhuman is more useful than the babying superhuman?

Watashi wrote:However, this film is very much rooted in the time The Watchmen was written - the dilemma is one of the cold war, where these theoretical scenarios were plausible. In hindsite they are not. No one was ever going to push the button, and there is no single choice that needs to be made to save humanity. Watchmen is interesting on a philosophical level, but is not particularly relevent to the real world.

Everyone always forgets that this was an alternate timeline. Nixon WAS going to launch in Watchmen, he says it himself. Dr. Manhattan was a security blanket and when it was taken away the US was so distraught it was willing to sacrifice millions in the hope of making it out a little better than the Soviets. Though Watchmen may have had another level that resonated with its audience during the Cold War that is lost on today's generation is irrelevant in a discussion of the morality of Watchmen because nuclear war WAS going to happen in the Watchmen universe.

Even if there was a chance it wouldn't have happpened what Ozymandias did would have still been justified. It's simple numbers no matter how much one dittests using numbers for human lives. 5 billion lives lost is much worse than 10 million lost, especially when that 5 billion includes the very same 10 million. On top of that it isn't just the 5 billion that are dying in the first case, it is also every human that would have ever been born. The survival of the species is paramount and thus any action must be taken to preserve it. If infinity is a larger value then 10 millian than Ozymandias was justified IMHO.

I did like what Night Owl said right at the end of the move, I can't remember if someone said something similar in the graphic novel. Ozymandias didn't save humanity, he mutilated it. Though he might have saved humanity he also stole a dignity from it. One who believes in objective morality may see what Night Owl said as a loss of our morality, but I would say it is more about our need for an action in the first place. It is rather pathetic that we as a species would need to sacrifice millions just to make sure we don't blow ouselves up. We made it out of the Cold War fine, scooting by and preserving that dignity. However the Watchmen version of humanity wasn't so lucky and did need that saving throw.

This has all gotten me thinking, perhaps we don't see space faring civilizations because to become space faring one must walk a tightrope with self-destruction on one side and lack of innovation on the other. If a species is too tribalistic and aggressive it will annihilate itself as soon as it attains the ability to do so. If a species is too docile and not tribalistic then it will likely lack significant innovation after it overcomes its environmental pressures. Perhaps one day some species, hopefully us, will have a species wide change in the zeitgeist that makes us more curious and innovative without the need for war. Once that is attained we will trully have reached our potential, becoming an intergalactic juggernaut of survivability.

I liked the Batman bit.

Iv
Posts: 1207
Joined: Thu Sep 13, 2007 1:08 pm UTC
Location: Lyon, France

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Iv » Tue Jan 19, 2010 3:48 pm UTC

When he wrote the scenario, Alan Moore wanted to show how inevitably fascist the idea of a superhero "fighting crime" ends up being (there is even an interview where he stated he was very disappointed when he discovered that Rorschach was very popular for his 'straight and clear positions'). I suspect Alan Moore is an amoralist who wanted to make people reflect on what it means to 'serve good' in a complex world and how impossible it is to draw a line between good and evil. I didn't see the movie but in the book, the last dialog between Ozymandias and Dr Manhattan is pretty clear :

Ozy : But in the end, I did the right thing, didn't I ?
Dr M : In the end ? Nothing ever ends.

ocdscale
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:27 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby ocdscale » Tue Jan 19, 2010 10:30 pm UTC

guenther wrote:I think this story illustrates that with perfect information morality works very weird. If we know that doing X will net save Y people, then morality metrics are a lot easier. But I suspect in general that we frown on means that can only be justified by rosy portrayals of the ends because our ability to predict outcomes generally doesn't work so well.


I disagree. Even with perfect information, I find that there are still difficulties when both costs and benefits are measured in human lives:
A train is hurtling down the tracks. You are situated by a switching mechanism controlling a fork in the tracks. Currently, the train is going to run into a group of ten people. You have the power to divert the path of the train. If you divert the train's path, it will collide into a lone person.
Ten people are dying of organ failure. They will not survive without a transplant. There is no likelihood that any of them will obtain a donor organ before they die. You have the power to go out and kill one person, harvest their organs, and save the ten dying patients.

Given perfect information, there is the same cost-benefit analysis in both examples, but the second example is much harder to stomach. A common reason I've heard is that the death in the first example is merely unfortunate happenstance, while the second example requires that you treat ending a human life as a mere means to achieve your ends.

For this reason, I don't like the Ozymandius approach to morality. Even with a good cost-benefit ratio, it's extremely unsettling to end the lives of other human beings as a means to some end. Not that that cost-benefit doesn't matter. If Ozy could have pulled his scheme off while only sacrificing a single person, I'd be hard pressed to argue against him.

But that folds back into what Vaniver said about Rorschach and pragmatics. When the cost is so low, no matter how abhorrent it is, we can't afford to adhere so closely to our morals. Rorschach might differ about that point. But I don't know if that makes him extremely moral or simply inhuman.

guenther
Posts: 1840
Joined: Sat May 17, 2008 6:15 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby guenther » Tue Jan 19, 2010 11:56 pm UTC

My understanding is that the discrepancy in those two examples comes from our emotional morality engine. If we feel something is wrong in our gut, like killing some innocent stranger to harvest their organs, this is our emotions talking. The emotions do on-the-spot heuristic calculations and thus don't benefit from perfect information.

However, we have an ability to do abstract moral calculations as well, and this is where perfect information helps. It's always going to feel wrong to kill someone in cold blood (hopefully), but if we can justify it like you did with Ozy's plan (when only a single person gets killed), then that's the reason engine talking, and it overrode the emotions.

In my opinion, the value of morality isn't whether it's intrinsically true, but whether we believe it's true. That's because our belief affects our behavior. Thus the value of morality is about how it makes us behave. So arguing over whether Ozy was justified isn't truth seeking in the scientific sense, it's really about establishing whether we should be morally outraged if someone presents a similar situations in the future. (Practically I think morality is similar to economics. We don't argue that higher taxes are more economically true, rather we say it will produce better results. Well, statements of moral truth are really endorsements of moral policy. But for some reason we just don't store it in our head that way.)

So if we apply this perspective to the train track example, perhaps we're OK with it because there's no slippery slope. It's a one-shot example that doesn't open any ugly doors. If we seem to have problems with trains hurtling uncontrolled down tracks, then in the future we can enforce better safety around train tracks to make sure no one is loitering around.

But with the organ harvesting example, that opens a hugely ugly door. Who gets harvested, who gets saved? Someone has to make this choice. It's scarey to think that at anytime someone might come knocking with some knives and an icebox. With perfect information, we could see clearly what the social response to a policy like this would be, and my guess is that it wouldn't be good. :)

Basically what perfect information gives us is perfect modeling of the future (and this could be in a statistical sense as well, i.e. option A has a greater expected number of lives saved than option B). In the book we make assumptions about how perfect this is. But my point with that other post is that using this example to guide us on real-life moral issues won't help much. We don't have Ozy or Dr. M's ability to predict/look into the future. And not to mention, we're very corruptible given enough power. Endorsing a policy to allow someone to kill so many people and then lie to cover it up will always go badly.

EDIT: And let me point out that just because moral calculations get easier with perfect information, that doesn't mean we will all agree. If two people have different ideologies of what the future should look like, perfect information will help each of them independently make decisions that better align with what they want. But what they want will still not agree.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

User avatar
BlackSails
Posts: 5315
Joined: Thu Dec 20, 2007 5:48 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby BlackSails » Wed Jan 20, 2010 12:59 am UTC

guenther wrote:But with the organ harvesting example, that opens a hugely ugly door. Who gets harvested, who gets saved? Someone has to make this choice. It's scarey to think that at anytime someone might come knocking with some knives and an icebox. With perfect information, we could see clearly what the social response to a policy like this would be, and my guess is that it wouldn't be good. :)


Spoiler:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aclS1pGHp8o


Edited: Spoilered, its sort of disturbing and not really safe for work

sikyon
Posts: 344
Joined: Sun Dec 07, 2008 5:45 pm UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby sikyon » Wed Jan 27, 2010 2:25 pm UTC

I would argue that the existance of Dr. Manhatten completly changes the meaning of morality. His existance (and knowledge of the future) effectivly demonstrates that the universe is deterministic. Even a being with nigh omnipotent powers cannot change the future. Therefore, there is no right or wrong, becuase there is no choice. Even if Dr. Manhatten has his vision blocked, by say tachyons or whatever, that just means he can't see past that point, not that the universe is no longer deterministic past that point. The fact that the unvierse is deterministic up to that point suggests it will continue to be deterministic afterwards.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jan 27, 2010 2:33 pm UTC

Except that was part of the point of his involvement in the story; he didn't see everything.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

Iv
Posts: 1207
Joined: Thu Sep 13, 2007 1:08 pm UTC
Location: Lyon, France

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Iv » Wed Jan 27, 2010 3:37 pm UTC

sikyon wrote:Even if Dr. Manhatten has his vision blocked, by say tachyons or whatever, that just means he can't see past that point, not that the universe is no longer deterministic past that point.

Really ? how would you know ? Maybe tachyon block vision precisely because they generate non-determinstic events that cascade.

sikyon
Posts: 344
Joined: Sun Dec 07, 2008 5:45 pm UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby sikyon » Wed Jan 27, 2010 3:51 pm UTC

Really ? how would you know ? Maybe tachyon block vision precisely because they generate non-determinstic events that cascade.


Tachyons were stated to travel backwards in time, if I recall. However, the tachyons did not prevent Dr. Manhatten from prediciting events up to the initiation of the tachyons. Therefore, the tachyon cascade did not make things which happened before it did non-deterministic. Furthermore, when Dr. Manhatten was first "born" a tachyon pulse accompanied it (presumably - since the same device was used on him twice). Since Dr. Manhatten could predict events after the first tachyon pulse, therefore that tachyon pulse must have had a deterministic effect on the future.

Long story short - Dr. Manhatten existed in the story between 2 tachyon pulses, and was capable of predicitng the future. Therefore, tachyons do not influence determinism before or after their existance, they merely block Dr. Manhatten's ability to percieve that determinism after their emission.

Except that was part of the point of his involvement in the story; he didn't see everything.

The fact that he saw anything at all suggests that the universe was deterministic, at the absolute minimum for that period of time.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jan 27, 2010 5:19 pm UTC

sikyon wrote:The fact that he saw anything at all suggests that the universe was deterministic, at the absolute minimum for that period of time.

Or that he was really, really smart and able to see the way things were likely to unfold...
Do you not remember that whole section where he CHANGES HIS MIND on Mars?
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

juststrange
Posts: 296
Joined: Wed Jul 23, 2008 3:57 pm UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby juststrange » Thu Jan 28, 2010 12:22 pm UTC

SpazzyMcGee wrote:Also, does anyone at all agree with Rorshach's perspective? I have heard of people that can't stand for Watchmen to be morally ambiguous so they construct the regular good vs. evil scenario and it always has Ozymandias as the bad guy and Rorshach as the good guy.


I agree with Rorshach, but not for those reasons really. I feel like he is the character that most embodies my ideals, and gives me an aspiration. I had a friend approach me during the film one night as Rorshach came onto screen and say to me "thats you". It wasn't entirely a compliment. But, given my connection with the character, I take it as one. There is something beautiful about the character, something noble - being true to his core to a set of beliefs, and having the moral fortitude to die for them if need be. A man who is wholly dedicated to what he things is right and is willing to pay with his life, uncompromising. Its - wonderful. I only pray that if the time comes I have the strength of will to say and truely believe "Never compromise, even in the face of the apocalypse". It just strikes me as so right. Letting your moral standards slide down when the going gets tough doesn't make them much of a standard.

His end was the crux of the film for me. Thats what I came out of the theater and sat and smiled about for hours, that was my focus. He died serving his truth, a good death. His ability to stand there unflinching was inspiring to me.

That said, I mentioned to my gf these aspirations, saying that of all the characters I wish I could be like Rorshach, and the response was "why?", in that tone of having absolutely no clue how someone could think like that. That was the first time I even considered questioning the character. I haven't changed my mind or feelings, I just realize that pragmatism is more important to some than others, for given situations.

sikyon
Posts: 344
Joined: Sun Dec 07, 2008 5:45 pm UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby sikyon » Thu Jan 28, 2010 2:40 pm UTC

Or that he was really, really smart and able to see the way things were likely to unfold...


Manhatten's ability was definatly to be able to see his future. Otherwise a tachyon pulse from the future would not have influenced his ability. I think you may need to read the comic again... it's pretty explicit that he can actually see what is going to happen.


Do you not remember that whole section where he CHANGES HIS MIND on Mars?


Infact this ties in totally to what is so frusturating about Dr. Manhatten. He can see what the future has in store, but he believes that he cannot change it. Therefore, even though he knows something will happen - he does exactly what he knows will lead up to the event, anyways. He never changed his mind - he simply did as he had to do, without any "choices" being made by him.

And while one might argue that this inability to choose was infact a failing of Dr. Manhatten, I would tend to believe the being with an incredible amount of control over the physical universe living in the future and present when he says that fate cannot be changed, that all actions are predetermined.

And thus, there is no morality in watchmen, because nobody ever really had a choice.

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Vaniver » Thu Jan 28, 2010 3:02 pm UTC

Dr. Manhattan's knowledge of the future is shown to not change his actions- he tells Laurie that she'll surprise him, and then she does. That suggests that the universe might be deterministic only because he expected or wanted it to be.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

User avatar
SpazzyMcGee
Posts: 191
Joined: Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:36 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Wed Sep 01, 2010 4:32 am UTC

juststrange wrote:"Never compromise, even in the face of the apocalypse". It just strikes me as so right. Letting your moral standards slide down when the going gets tough doesn't make them much of a standard.

His end was the crux of the film for me. Thats what I came out of the theater and sat and smiled about for hours, that was my focus. He died serving his truth, a good death. His ability to stand there unflinching was inspiring to me.

That said, I mentioned to my gf these aspirations, saying that of all the characters I wish I could be like Rorshach, and the response was "why?", in that tone of having absolutely no clue how someone could think like that. That was the first time I even considered questioning the character. I haven't changed my mind or feelings, I just realize that pragmatism is more important to some than others, for given situations.

I also find the ability to give one's life for an unselfish cause noble, but one doesn't have to die for a code of absolute morality. Furthermore, your utter disregard for the ends of your actions, in the name of "morality", is a little scary.

Rorschach was going to expose the greatest mass murder of all time at the cost of 5 billion lives. Well what if Ozymandias didn't kill 50 million people, what if he only killed 5 million? What if he only killed 50,000? What about 500? How about one? What if he stole an apple from a grocery store? Is it still worth 5 billion lives? Is it worth the trillions of trillions of people that will never be born because his actions have ensured humanities extinction? Who will be there to pat him him, you, or humanity on the back for sticking to our "moral code" when everyone is dead?

The following is my idea of "morality" and "justice": Justice is nothing. It isn't a physical constant, it isn't universal, it is just a fabrication, a mental construct. It is however necessary for civilization to funciton. The idea of being punished for actions that hurt others deters individuals from committing such acts. It makes even the most selfish person a productive member of society, and the group benefits. Justice as an idea is simply a tool used for the benefit of civilizaition. The problem Rorschach has is that he has put the cart before the horse. Instead of seeing justice as a tool for the benefit of society he sees society as a means for justice. His willingness to sacrifice society for the sake of justice is like sacrificing your lawn for the sake of the irrigation system.

Harperfan7
Posts: 13
Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 7:04 pm UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Harperfan7 » Tue Sep 07, 2010 10:06 am UTC

I'm not responding to anybody, but I want to point out that Rorschach killed himself at the end of the story.

If he really wanted to "never compromise", he would have kept quiet until he got back to civilization and then objected (granted he was hated and wanted by both criminals, the law, and the public and might not have been listened too, but a subject that important would probably still warrant investigation). Instead, he walked out knowing he was killing himself. Remember that he was crying. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but I suspect it was something along the lines of "I've been wrong the whole time" or "Ozy is right" and he didn't want to live in that world. Dr. Manhatten can see this and sorta tries to keep him from doing this, because its unnecessary.

Rorschach is still probably my favorite character, and both of my closest friends immediately said I was him after seeing the movie, but they don't realize that Ozy is easily my second favorite character and I really identify with him a lot too. In the end, both Ozy and Rorschach are both wrong, but at least they tried? I dunno.

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Vaniver » Tue Sep 07, 2010 7:04 pm UTC

Harperfan7 wrote:If he really wanted to "never compromise", he would have kept quiet
How is keeping quiet not compromising?
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

User avatar
mister k
Posts: 643
Joined: Sun Aug 27, 2006 11:28 pm UTC
Contact:

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby mister k » Wed Sep 08, 2010 1:47 pm UTC

Rorschach was being confronted with a larger version of his morality, and perhaps underlining the absurdity of his own position. Rorscach distributed vigilante justice, killing criminals, or at least those he believed to be criminal. He may have made mistakes- in fact he almost certainly did, considering his mental state (look at the violence he distributes at the bar to a random stranger, and his paranoia in general). He decides that he is above the law, that he knows better than it. Ozy is taking it to a greater extreme- he must save all human life, its up to him. The collosal arrogance in both positions is pretty clear in the text, and ultimately leads to the deception killing millions of innocents.

The problem with utillitarian plans (kill a million to save a billion) are things are never that clear. Ozy's plan probably won't work in the long run, as Manhattan implies, but as I said earlier, the horrific act having been commited, the "heroes" were pretty much stuck supporting him, or have the war erupt into self destructive violence again.

All the characters presented are flawed and somewhat deranged- thats sort of the point. Nite Owl is ultimately a child playing dress up, unwilling to commit to the reality. Spectre is barely interested in it other than as something her mother forced on her, she doesn't do it for a grand reason, other than perhaps to get high on the thrill of it. Rorscach and Ozymandis are both VERY committed to the position, but are undone by the necessary arrogance that all vigilantes must have when they go beyond the law.
Elvish Pillager wrote:you're basically a daytime-miller: you always come up as guilty to scumdar.

mcv
Posts: 50
Joined: Tue Nov 03, 2009 8:52 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby mcv » Wed Sep 08, 2010 2:05 pm UTC

Harperfan7 wrote:I'm not responding to anybody, but I want to point out that Rorschach killed himself at the end of the story.

I agree. He knew he couldn't keep quiet. He knew he was a danger to the plan. He knew he was too principled to go along, and he knew the others couldn't possibly allow him to sabotage the plan, making the sacrifice in vain.

I'm not sure if he really killed himself, but he knew his death was necessary.

In any case, this is why I love Watchmen. It's not the simple Good vs. Evil of practically every other superhero story (or non-superhero story, for that matter. It's a lot of different moralities, none of which are completely right nor completely wrong.

AndyG314
Posts: 99
Joined: Mon Feb 11, 2008 5:16 pm UTC
Location: Waltham MA
Contact:

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby AndyG314 » Thu Sep 09, 2010 6:37 pm UTC

To me the moral debate in watchmen is a false duality. We are forcing ourselves to choose between the Rorschach and Ozy, between the destruction of NY or neucular war. Are we truly to believe that in a universe of possibilities, these were our only options?
If it's dead, you killed it.

User avatar
Deep_Thought
Posts: 857
Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2010 2:58 pm UTC
Location: North of the River

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby Deep_Thought » Fri Sep 10, 2010 1:41 pm UTC

mcv wrote:
Harperfan7 wrote:I'm not responding to anybody, but I want to point out that Rorschach killed himself at the end of the story.

I agree. He knew he couldn't keep quiet. He knew he was a danger to the plan. He knew he was too principled to go along, and he knew the others couldn't possibly allow him to sabotage the plan, making the sacrifice in vain.

I'm not sure if he really killed himself, but he knew his death was necessary.


Hmmm, I think you're over-analysing Rorshach a bit. He simply was too principled to go along with the plan. He knew Doc. Manhattan would kill him, hence his "Do it" line, but I don't think he wanted that to happen. Rorshach was obsessed with justice, for everyone, and that would have included Veidt.

AndyG314 wrote:To me the moral debate in watchmen is a false duality. We are forcing ourselves to choose between the Rorschach and Ozy, between the destruction of NY or neucular war. Are we truly to believe that in a universe of possibilities, these were our only options?


Couldn't agree more. I know that the presence of Doc. Manhattan is the wild-card that separates Watchmen from reality, but could Veidt not have foreseen the Afghan war bankrupting the USSR as it did in the real-world and used his sizeable wealth to expedite that process? But that is in many ways why Watchmen is such a good story, there is a sufficient amount of detail and ambiguity that you can have these debates in the first place.

mcv
Posts: 50
Joined: Tue Nov 03, 2009 8:52 am UTC

Re: Morality in Watchmen

Postby mcv » Fri Sep 10, 2010 4:17 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:
mcv wrote:
Harperfan7 wrote:I'm not responding to anybody, but I want to point out that Rorschach killed himself at the end of the story.

I agree. He knew he couldn't keep quiet. He knew he was a danger to the plan. He knew he was too principled to go along, and he knew the others couldn't possibly allow him to sabotage the plan, making the sacrifice in vain.

I'm not sure if he really killed himself, but he knew his death was necessary.


Hmmm, I think you're over-analysing Rorshach a bit. He simply was too principled to go along with the plan. He knew Doc. Manhattan would kill him, hence his "Do it" line, but I don't think he wanted that to happen. Rorshach was obsessed with justice, for everyone, and that would have included Veidt.

That's what I meant, actually. Not that he wanted to die, but that he expect to die. He knew Doc Manhattan would kill him because they both knew he was too principled to go along with the plan. And if they didn't know it before, they knew it now, because he had just refused to go along with it. That refusal sealed his fate.


Return to “Serious Business”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 19 guests