Analysis

Seven Bizarre Moral Implications From Popular Stories

Help, this homeless person is going to oppress my fish!

Help, this homeless person is going to oppress my fish!

Morality is weird and complex. If two people have an equal chance of dying, is it moral to save the one you like better? Philosophers are having drag-out fights about that question as I type this. However, despite morality’s frustrating ambiguity, we generally agree on a few things: killing someone who hasn’t done anything is wrong, slavery is wrong, saving someone from death is good, etc. So why do these stories violate those basic moral rules?

1. Lightning Evil, Laser Swords Good: Star Wars

Believe it or not, this is perfectly fine. Believe it or not, this is perfectly fine.

In Star Wars, the Force gives Jedi* great power. Levitation, precognition, preternatural reflexes, extraordinary feats of agility, the list goes on. Most Force powers are fairly benevolent, but there’s a subset that are generally considered “dark side,” or evil. Choking another person and shooting lightning from your hands are the two most prominent.

While no character explicitly says on screen that lightning and choking are dark side only, those who use them are always evil, and they are always filmed in such a way as to make them look scary. Numerous soft-canon sources, from books to comics to video games, have backed up this assertion. It’s well understood by Star Wars fans that if you use lightning or choking, you’re a bad guy.

Meanwhile, light-side Jedi chop off limbs with their lightsabers all the time, and no one bats an eye. It’s usually agreed that they use the Force to guide their blades, but that isn’t seen as a problem. Why is it OK to kill someone with a laser sword, but not a direct application of the Force? Choking is almost certainly a more merciful death than dismemberment.

It could be argued that Force Lightning is only useful as a torture instrument, as demonstrated by Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. If that were true, then its use would be a purely dark-side act. However, it’s usually accepted that the Emperor could have killed Luke quickly if he’d wanted to and stuck with torture because he’s a sadist.

Taking the various factors into account, we are left with a world in which it is immoral to shock or choke people, but acceptable to cut their legs off. At best, this makes the Jedi Order a bunch of cosmic-rules lawyers. They’ve discovered a way to kill all the people they want, without getting any of that nasty dark side on them.*

Why Did This Happen?

By accident, as far as I can tell. I don’t think George Lucas had the Force and all its potential applications mapped out back in 1977. Darth Vader choked people because it made him more threatening. How were you supposed to fight someone who could kill you by raising his hand? Palpatine used lightning on Luke because it was a cool visual metaphor for frustrated rage.

When other creators came to Star Wars, they saw bad guys using these powers and kept the theme. They produced books, cartoons, and all manner of other media with this idea in mind. And that’s how we arrive at a universe where shooting lightning out of your hands is evil.

2. It’s OK to Let People Die: Star Trek

Who wouldn't want to leave this child to die? Who wouldn’t want to leave this child to die?

When Gene Roddenberry and his team of co-writers created Star Trek, they envisioned something called the Prime Directive. This grand doctrine boiled down to the idea of not interfering in the affairs of other cultures, especially cultures with less advanced technology.

That’s a great idea for the enlightened future Roddenberry wanted. Throughout human history, from European colonialism to modern conflicts in the Middle East, we’ve seen the great harm of interfering with other cultures. The Prime Directive ensured no one from the Federation would use advanced technology to impersonate a god and that the Federation itself couldn’t exploit weaker neighbors for its own gain.

Then The Next Generation (TNG) rolled around, and something changed. In season one, they almost forgot the Prime Directive existed at all, considering how often the crew beamed down to talk with the locals. Then it roared back with a vengeance in season two, with the episode Pen Pals. The Enterprise comes across a planet in danger of breaking apart, which will kill all the inhabitants. The Enterprise can save the planet, except they almost don’t, because doing so would violate the Prime Directive.

What? The Prime Directive was created to protect other cultures from harm. How can letting everyone in a culture die fit into that goal? What possible damage could arise from the Enterprise saving them that would be worse than complete destruction? When the characters discuss the situation, their logic for letting the planet break apart is laughable. They invoke a “cosmic plan,” which they have no right to tamper with. Did the Prime Directive become God when I wasn’t looking?

Fortunately, the Enterprise eventually saves the planet in Pen Pals. But this situation comes up over and over again in TNG and beyond. We’re left with a Federation that thinks saving people from death, even when it would cost almost nothing, isn’t worth doing. In fact, it’s morally wrong. That doesn’t sound like the enlightened future I was promised.

Why Did This Happen?

I suspect Gene Roddenberry’s failing health had something to do with it. He had a lot of very strange ideas at the beginning of TNG, such as children on the ship and that no one in the future experiences grief. In the two decades when there was no Star Trek, he may have become so fixated on the idea of non-interference that he took it to ludicrous extremes.

After Roddenberry passed away, certain voices on the Trek creative staff* decided to keep non-interference alive at all costs. They probably thought they were honoring Roddenberry’s memory. We can only hope the next Star Trek series will leave this trope in the past where it belongs.

3. Magical Caste System: Harry Potter

The revolution has begun. The revolution has begun.

The Wizarding World is a place of magic and wonder: living photos, flying carriages, chocolate frogs hope around and croak!* Also species-based slavery, because why not? In the second book, Harry meets Dobby, a house elf.

Through Dobby, we learn that all house elves are slaves. They’re born slaves, live their lives as slaves, and die as slaves. The implication is that of American-style chattel slavery, in which the slave has no rights at all and killing them is at worst destruction of property. That’s really dark and clashes with the book’s theme of childlike wonder. Or at least it would if it was examined for five seconds. Instead, Dobby gets his freedom, and that’s treated like the end of the story. Never mind all the other house elves slaving away.

House elves aren’t the only casualty. Goblins are forbidden from carrying wands. Giants are forced to live in isolated colonies deep in the mountains. The list goes on. The more we learn about the Wizarding World, the more we discover a horrible structure of institutionalized speciesism. While modern day Western countries are no strangers to prejudice, it’s usually social or indirect, not enshrined in law. The wizards have turned discrimination into an art form that Dark-Ages Europe would envy.

At no point do the characters stop and say, “This is messed up.” Hermione does make a half-hearted attempt to liberate the house elves, but it’s mostly played for laughs. The house elves enjoy being slaves, you see. They wouldn’t know what to do with freedom. Wow.

Worst of all, this isn’t portrayed just as something evil wizards do. It’s widely accepted that oppressing other species is correct and just. Nor do we see any organization against these injustices. Even in the worst days of American slavery, there were abolitionists fighting against it.

Once you realize the full extent of discrimination in the Wizarding World, it badly damages the books’ stakes. If Voldemort wins, there will be a slightly more evil wizard in charge. That’s hard to get excited about.

Why Did This Happen?

For the same reason we have time turners and all the other magical gadgets that should change the Wizarding World forever, but don’t. Rowling is good at a lot of things, but worldbuilding isn’t one of them. A race of elven house servants probably seemed harmless when first introduced, and if she ever realized how ugly her world was, then she probably didn’t do anything about it because the story was too focused on fighting He Who Must Not Be Named.

4. More Caste Systems: Legend of Korra

Legend-of-Korra Yeah, that bad.

If some people had access to magical powers and others didn’t, inequality would almost certainly follow. We have plenty of that in the real world, where humans are all really close together in ability. So it was exciting when we found out that Avatar: Legend of Korra’s first season was going to feature an uprising of normal people against the bending* elites.

At first, the story looked promising. The Equalists had worthy goals but inexcusable methods. We saw in several episodes how non-benders were disenfranchised and taken advantage of. The Equalists’ grievances were legitimate, but their violent solutions made them a menace. A great setup for a bad guy organization.

Unfortunately, the Equalist story never goes anywhere. Korra defeats their leader, and that’s it. The show acts as if removing one person can end a movement with broad popular support. The root causes are never addressed, leaving non-benders’ resentment to fester until the next time it explodes. Governments make this mistake in real life all the time, and it always comes back to bite them.

At no point do the main characters stop to consider why the non-benders are so angry. They come off as a bunch of privileged benders with no clue how anyone else lives. The one non-bender in their group, Asami, is rich enough that she doesn’t have to care either. Her money insulates her from the discrimination that plagues other non-benders.

This cluelessness is particularly bad for Korra herself. As the Avatar, her entire job description is keeping the world in balance. The dynamic between benders and non-benders is clearly out of balance, yet she does nothing. Instead, the show starts season two as if the Equalists never existed, and the characters go off to fight some nonsensical spirits.

Why Did This Happen?

Legend of Korra was, by all indications, written one season at a time. When making season one, the creators didn’t know if they would get a season two. So it makes sense to end the first season with a climactic fight between Korra and Amon, the Equalist leader. With only 12 episodes, there wasn’t time to wrap everything up.

What I don’t understand is why they didn’t revisit the issue in season two, even in passing. Perhaps the creators thought it would be beating a dead horse to bring up the same problem a second time. If so, they were mistaken. That was a rich story vein, and leaving it untapped hurt the show.

5. Killing Baby Vampires: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Oooooooooowwwwwww. Oooooooooowwwwwww.

Perhaps the most recognizable scene from Buffy is the Scooby Gang* patrolling through the Sunnydale graveyard, staking vampires as they rise, and enjoying a few witty quips. At first, this seems really brutal. None of those vampires have done anything; they haven’t had time. But vampires are really, really dangerous, right? They’re so focused on exsanguinating humans that a kill-on-sight policy is the only solution.

So it would seem. But later in the series, and even more so in the spin off Angel, we see lots of vampires walking around not murdering humans. They hang out in bars, play cards,* and work as bodyguards. Perhaps they’re killing people offscreen, but if that’s the case, why isn’t the Slayer doing anything about it? Buffy knows where these vamps hang out.

Another explanation presents itself: If every vampire we see in Buffy and Angel killed humans for food, the murder rate would go through the roof, even in a city as big as L.A. In a small town like Sunnydale, it would be national news. Even if the bodies were never found, the sheer number of missing persons would be impossible to overlook. FBI task forces would descend on the town, politicians screaming at them to do something about the crisis.

But none of that happens, so perhaps these vampires are not killing anyone at all. We know vamps can survive off blood packs, so maybe they’re just going about their undead lives in peace. If that’s the case, it would show that the kill-on-sight policy isn’t justified and make Buffy the true villain.

Or vampires could be just as dangerous as the show claims, but if that’s the case, the Slayer is spending her time in the wrong place. Let the normal humans go after newborn blood suckers; they can handle it.* Then Buffy can deal with the vamps and other monsters who are already up and about. Otherwise, we’re left with the implication that graveyard patrol is more important to the Slayer than saving lives.

Why Did This Happen?

At Buffy’s conception, vampires were little more than monsters hiding in shadows and sewers. They had no culture or personality to speak of. Even the Master, the only vamp with any screen time, was limited to ominous mutterings about doom. DOOOOOOOM.

That changed with the introduction of Spike and Drusilla. While still villains, now vampires could be witty and fun; the kind of characters a writer wants to keep around. From there, the show evolved into the urban-fantasy trope of monsters having their own culture, hidden from human eyes. To do that, there had to be a relatively stable population of vampires who weren’t constantly out murdering.

At the same time, the writers were unwilling to ditch the scenes with Buffy staking newborn vampires in a graveyard, so we were left with this bizarre contradiction.

6. Wizards Don’t Care About Humans: Dresden Files

Bother me not with your mortal woes. Bother me not with your mortal woes.

Like Harry Potter, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files portrays a world where magical beings have their own secret society, hidden from the eyes of humanity. Each magical species has their own culture, interacting with each other the same way nation states do in real life. Unlike Rowling’s books, wizards in the Dresden Files do not live completely segregated from the mortal population. While their existence is secret, they mingle with non-magical humans more than the students at Hogwarts ever do.

In The Dresden Files, wizards are born of mortal parents, date mortal lovers, and have mortal friends. This may not apply to some of the really old and crusty gray beards, but it’s true for every younger wizard we see in the series. As such, it’s hard to understand why magical practitioners are so divorced from events in the human world.

One of the most powerful wizards in the books is a Native American named Joseph Listens-to-Wind. The book implies that his tribe was wiped out when he chose not to intervene in the European colonization of the Americas. Why would he do that? What could have convinced him that allowing the slaughter and forced removal of his people was a good idea, when he clearly had the power to stop it? If the White Council* ordered him not to intervene, surely that would be a source of conflict for him?

Listens-to-Wind is not the only Native American with magic. Even if he decided for his own reasons not to oppose the European and later American settlers, there would have been others who didn’t make the same choice. The same problem crops up in other conflicts. Were Jewish wizards content to sit back and do nothing against the Third Reich? In the present, are there no Syrian wizards who would object to the atrocities being committed in their country?

If the White Council is actively stopping wizards from helping their oppressed kinsmen, that puts a much darker lens on the world than Butcher wanted. The only other explanation is that the moment a person’s magical power manifests, they turn their backs on all ties of friendship and family.

Why Did This Happen?

The Dresden Files is meant to be a story about the titular Dresden dealing with largely supernatural threats. As a white man from a first-world country, it makes sense that the largest threat to Dresden’s group would be fairies and demons, rather than other humans. But many of the magical practitioners Dresden meets are from far less well-off groups and cultures.

Butcher is to be commended for including wizards from diverse cultural backgrounds; however, he does introduce other issues the narrative is not able to address. It would certainly be a distraction if Butcher stopped the story every five minutes to explain a new wizard’s motivation for not trying to end global poverty or another serious problem, and so the questions remain unanswered.

7. Mathematical Right and Wrong: Fallout 3

If only it were that easy. If only it were that easy.

It’s no surprise that video games have a twisted sense of morality. For the sake of entertainment, electronic protagonists rack up kill counts that would make even the most over-the-top action hero cringe. Obviously, this is done for the sake of gameplay and not meant as a commentary on murder.

However, Fallout 3 has a system specifically designed to measure your character’s morality, called karma.* You are awarded positive points for moral acts and negative points for immoral acts. For example, stealing is an immoral act, so you would lose karma for doing it. Giving water to a thirsty old man is a moral act, so you gain karma. When a character’s karma is high, they are a paragon of virtue. Sounds simple, right?

Not so fast. The game has some odd ideas about what constitutes immorality. Often, killing enemies is fine, especially if they attacked you first. But then, when you go loot the stuff in their camp, the game counts it as stealing. Come on, game, I’m pretty sure the bullet-ridden corpse outside doesn’t need it anymore!

Most of the time, attacking someone without provocation loses you karma. So if you run around murdering people willy-nilly, that makes you evil, right? Yes, unless you have a lot of water. Remember that thirsty old man? He’s a specific NPC outside the town of Megaton, and it turns out his thirst is unquenchable. You can give him as much water as you like, and each time it increases your karma. Water isn’t hard to get. You can slaughter half the population of Rivet City, and so long as you make a stop at the Water Man, everything is fine.

Adding to the absurdity, having super-high karma or super-low karma will get bounty hunters sent after you. This happens even if you do your deeds in a way that couldn’t possibly be tied back to you. The bounty hunters aren’t after you because of your reputation; they have a Paladin’s Detect Evil ability, and you’re registering too high on the scale!

Why Did This Happen?

Morality is complicated, so trying to measure it mathematically couldn’t help but produce comical results. We all know on some level that there are crimes that can’t be made up for. We’ll forgive a litterer if they make a donation to charity, but the same isn’t true for a murderer. The concept was doomed from the start.

Being able to gain infinite good karma by giving water to an old man only made the situation more hilarious. I’m not sure why the designers added that feature, because it’s not as if a high karma is required to finish the game.


None of the creators on this list meant to send these messages.* The bizarre implications arose because they didn’t think through their world and what its rules meant. When crafting a setting for your story, especially if it’s a long story, be more careful. Don’t sacrifice your world’s integrity for narrative convenience or to make a quick point. Audiences are clever; they’ll see what you’re up to. These creators were fortunate enough to succeed despite their mistakes, but we can’t all count on such luck.

P.S. I just published my first game. In it, the PCs have to figure out who they are, solve a supernatural mystery, and avoid their doooooom. Get it here.

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Comments

  1. Chris Sham

    In the case of Pen Pals, the prime directive is treated more like an ecological principle; it’s not a magical, mystic cosmic plan at risk, it’s everyone beyond that system, their cosmic neighbours. Who’s going to have to give up a class M planet to make room for them (the most likely solution, before their easy way out is Wesleyed in at the last minute)? What impact would such a transplant have on the lifeforms already native to that planet? Should any other species be transplanted too, or do we pretend that only humanoids with radios have any moral value? And what if any of the ‘valuable’ transplanted species (humanoids included) are dependent in some crucial way on any species (including micro organisms) that are left behind? And the more we transplant, how much greater will the impact on the new planet be? What if the transplants grow up in future to be hostile spacefarers; what if they start attacking other worlds that would have been safe if they’d never reached warp capability? Then there are the million-trillion questions covered extensively elsewhere about how premature first contact could create harmful new elements in their culture. It is conceivable that saving them from death, only to induce/reinforce a truly reprehensible and abusive set of mores, could be seen as causing more harm than help. Does Starfleet even have the capacity to transport so many people (and all the other species that get a survival visa) in such a short time? (My rough maths says no way.) Who and what else in the galaxy will suffer while Starfleet is neglecting it to focus (presumably) solely on this one task?

    The risk to the threatened Dremans is important and undeniably serious (which is why it was a compelling episode), but the impact of >the means< of their survival is nothing trivial either, and absolutely bears serious contemplation. This episode does skim across these considerations rather lightly, but ought to be given the benefit of remembering all the other times that Star Trek episodes have dived into those aspects more deeply, and assume that Starfleet has definitely debated this back and forth for decades. Picard's initial policy is not equivalent to a casual, dismissive, "Ah, fuck 'em."

    You can easily argue that Dreman survival is what's best for the Dremans. No question about that, and I don't think we here nor the characters on the Enterprise ever argue that their deaths would be a good thing. But to insist that this is a simple problem to solve, even theoretically, is to admit that you haven't thought it through in much detail or particularly far into the future. I would be completely on Data's side, arguing for a Dreman rescue, if I were in that situation, but that doesn't mean it isn't necessary to think through the consequences of a literal world-changing choice for more than 5 seconds. Non-interference tends to be reversible (as it was in the case), while interference, by its nature, is more often a one-way process. This is why, for example, the Hippocratic Oath traditionally has the "first, do no harm" non-interference guideline as its default setting, and doctors deal with equally urgent and serious (if much smaller scale) risks of death to their patients.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s an interesting argument, Chris. I wish the characters on Pen Pals had made it. They were not nearly so interested in exploring the consequences of saving the Dreman as you are. Riker does actually invoke the “Cosmic Plan” idea.

      • Chris Sham

        As I said, it works fine if you acknowledge that this isn’t a stand-alone story, that it’s part of the larger ongoing thread of prime directive stories. The cosmic plan line might not have been the best writing, and it does sound silly out of context, I agree. But why choose to take it out of context? I have a guess.

        Nobody (well, few people) complains that there aren’t whole episodes devoted to detailed lectures on warp core operation, covering every aspect of the technology that could be relevant to any story. Instead, we accept that we’ll be fed small fractions of the concept at a time, over many, many episodes, and it’s on the viewer to piece it all together. Accepting this means of getting to know the show’s internal logic for warp drive, but insisting that it can’t be used for getting to know the specifics of the prime directive (that it must all be spelled out clearly within one episode that addresses it) suggests a double standard.

        But warp drives are fun and nobody (well, few people) thinks Star Trek would be better without them. Nobody feels that compelled to shut down the whole idea of warp travel. The prime directive, on the other hand, is not fun, it makes us think uncomfortable thoughts, on a huge scale, and these are thoughts that (unlike the probably bullshit warp drive) have a real effect on the lives we choose to live once the show is over. It’s difficult stuff, and so it’s no surprise that people love to push against the prime directive and look for ways to dismiss it outright. But those challenging concepts are exactly the sort of things that make Star Trek great.

        • Adam Reynolds

          I actually did see an interesting argument for Star Trek without warp drives. On this very website in fact: http://mythcreants.com/blog/obeying-the-celestial-speed-limit/

          Having a Star Trek style series in which it is the adventures of the starship Enterprise as they explore the developed Oort cloud would certainly be interesting. Especially if one accounted for time dilation allowing them to see worlds that are potentially more advanced than them, making it that much harder for our heroes to escape alive. It would also save money on their special effects budget as all of the characters could simply be different branches of humanity, with some genetically engineered to be slightly alien.

  2. EC Spurlock

    Rowling based the concept of the house elves on the story of The Shoemaker and the Elves http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/175/grimms-fairy-tales/3113/the-elves-and-the-shoemaker/ as well as ancient Celtic and British folklore that predates and inspires that original story. Some British spirits like hobs demanded payment in food or gifts to help people prosper; others like brownies were offended to be offered gifts because by their laws they were supposed to do their work unseen. She does reference the plights of all the non-human magical creatures, as well as half-bloods and muggles, to call attention to the inequities and prejudices of the wizarding community and indicate that it is not only a Very Bad Thing but in fact was the basis of Voldemort’s rise to power in the first place. While defeating Voldemort takes priority at the time of the novels (since his stated aim is to make pureblood wizards the ruling class of the world and destroy or enslave ALL non-magical persons as well as non-human entities), the implication is that, having been made aware of these inequities, the young wizards of Harry’s generation go on to dismantle the antiquated wizarding heirarchy and rebuild a more equitable system of government when many of their number subsequently ascend to prominent positions in the Ministry of Magic.

    • Tyson Adams

      I agree, EC. When I read that example in the article I thought I was remembering the book incorrectly.

      I always took the House Elves plight to be one that Harry and Hermione had managed to kick into a full civil rights movement. Dobby was trying to rally support, and after his death the Elves fought for Harry (and Dobby’s memory). As such, I thought it was drawing parallels between the civil rights movement of the last century.

    • liz n.

      Spot on, EC.

      Racism, discrimination, and bigotry are among the main underlying themes of HP. That Rowling didn’t put these issues (and characters) front and center with Harry’s journey isn’t because these things aren’t important, but to show that Voldemort isn’t the only thing wrong within the wizarding world…In fact, she’s showing that there is PLENTY wrong, with or without The Noseless One, and that these issues, attitudes, and practices require just as much bravery–albeit in a different way and with different actions– from characters such as Dobby, Hermione, Mr. Weasley, et al, as is required from Harry in his quest to rid the world of the Dark Lord.

      How the author missed that message and those points is a bit mind-boggling.

  3. Adam Reynolds

    The Fallout issue more generally applies to other RPGs. Amusingly, also relating to the issue of hypocritical Jedi, it was interesting in KOTOR to earn light side points by manipulating an enemy into attacking you so that you can defend yourself. So apparently, Darth Sidious is on the Light Side according to KOTOR. Mass Effect also had this problem apparent with the decision of what to do about the Geth heretics. For such an interesting moral dilemma, it was odd that one answer was automatically good while the other was automatically bad.

    With regard to the issue of lightsabers versus Dark Side force abilities, it partially comes down to how those attacks kill people. When you kill with a lightsaber, it is quick and merciful. When you kill with the Force directly, it drains the life force from a person and causes them to suffer. Even if the mechanical attack shouldn’t be any more harmful. Though amusingly, in the Jedi Knight series of games dark side Force abilities actually allowed one to spare non-Force using enemies by using Force choke to remove their weapons. While perfect light side users had the ability to mind control enemies. Somehow that seemed odd.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I was also really confused in KOTOR how the “Destroy Droid” power was lightside. Droids are people too!

      In Mass Effect’s defense, Paragon and Renegade weren’t supposed to automatically equal good and band, though they did turn out that way more often than I’d like.

      As for the force, you’re right that it’s weird that mind control is considered lightside. At the same time I’d argue that while lightsabers can be used to kill quickly, they can also be used to dismember, which is not quick. That’s not even considering the time when Yoda wanted to use flame throwers on the bug aliens who had the nerve to defend their homes.

  4. Adam Reynolds

    I would suggest that the Prime Directive is even worse than you suggest. In a nutshell it is amorality posing as the height of morality. While there are certainly benefits, as you point out, there are also potential problems. And those problems almost certainly outweigh the benefits, especially with the way it is invoked with peer nations.

    The issues with interventionism are vast, especially when done for economic or strategic benefit. But suggesting that this means that it is always wrong to assist a foreign culture is absurd. Was it wrong when the US Military assisted with the 2004 tsunami or 2010 Haitain earthquake? For that matter, the world has eliminated smallpox globally and is on its way towards eliminating a couple more fatal diseases. Are those actions really immoral?

    They additionally invoke it with regard to the internal disputes of the Klingons(Redemption). Had the Prime Directive been in effect in 1940 America, the world would have almost certainly been a much worse place. Even the attack on Pearl Harbor would have likely not occurred, as it was a result of American economic warfare. While one could argue that had something akin to the Prime Directive been in place for America during WW1, WW2 would have never occurred, with the situation as it existed in the late 1930s, intervention was the least worst solution.

    There is also the deeper potential problems when used with peer states. There is something subversive about the Federation’s usage of the Prime directive. It provides rather strong incentive for independent planets to join the Federation if potentially threatened by a larger neighbor(The Hunted). They also use it to make deals with immoral governments while claiming that their hands are clean(The High Ground). While ignoring the Prime Directive when it threatens a trade route(Man of the People). While all of these actions are perfectly understandable, one cannot call them moral.

    Despite the fact that every single captain in the history of Star Trek has violated it, the deeper problem with the Prime Directive is that it is treated as an absolute moral imperative. Which only Sith Lords deal in. That is a moral element in Star Wars that is commendable in contrast to the rigidity of Star Trek. It points out that those who see things in black and white are often more likely to be turned to evil, while those who see shades of gray are more likely to be moral in their actions. Strict adherence to any code is often wrong, as it always listening to those with authority over you. They can easily be wrong, especially when they try and convince you to kill the Chosen One.

    I suspect this is just another example of the way in which as new writers enter into a series, they change things based on their earlier interpretations of events. In the original series, the Prime Directive was treated as much more flexible and open to interpretation, with Kirk outright violating it on multiple occasions without any apology.

    I would suggest that a better course of action is to properly consider when intervention is the best alternative. I would agree that much of the time, the answer would indeed be no. But this is not to say that it is always bad.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I take a more charitable view of the PD than you do, Adam. I feel that there are episodes which treat it rationally, in which assistance is different than interference. The episode High Ground is one such. The Federation delivers medical supplies to the Rutians without any problem, as is reasonable.

      But they stop short of getting involved in the violent conflict until they have no other choice, which is also reasonable. Violent conflicts are usually complicated affairs, and the intervention of an outside force will often make them worse rather than better.

      Of course, then we have episodes like Dear Doctor, which is like Pen Pals but worse because they don’t actually help the aliens at the end.

      As for the WWII example, I don’t find it as convincing as most people. WWII is the one time when American military involvement in someone else’s war can unequivocally be said to have improved the situation. WWII was a unique situation, which likely would never have arisen if we had pursued more rational policies in times of peace.

      That said, I also believe that the PD, when interpreted rationally, leaves room for such a situation. In the Klingon Civil War, for example. As I recall, the Federation didn’t have proof that the Romulans were involved. If they had, they’d have gone to Gowron and ended the whole thing. So they set up their blockade to get proof. If they had backed Gowron without proof, it would have made him seem like the weakling who required outside aid, likely hardening the resolve of the Duras supporters.

      We also see in Deep Space Nine that the Federation can recognize the need for military force in the rare instance of a truly unreasonable and aggressive enemy.

  5. Leo D

    In regard to the Star Wars example, Luke uses the Force Choke on two of the little pig guards upon entering Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. Barring some unexpected revelation in Episode 8, Luke was never a Dark Side user. In fact, aside from Luke and Vader, I don’t think anyone else uses the technique in any of the films. If anything it’s a Skywalker thing.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      If we want to dive into the tangled mess that is Star Wars ‘canon,’ we see a large number of darkside force users employ Force Chock in the Clone Wars, and Clone Wars is still officially canon according to Disney. http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Force_choke#Users

      I feel that’s a little beside the point though. While it’s true that Luke does appear to choke those Gamorians (he’s even listed on Wookipedia), it’s still pretty widely accepted in secondary media that Force Choke is a dark side power.

  6. ryamano

    Regarding Avatar and Legend of Korra, the issue of nonbenders is solved between season 1 and 2. In Season 1, Republic City is ruled by a council of 5 benders. In Season 2, the council is no more, and the city is ruled by a President. The President is a non-bender politician, and he seems to be at the top of the hierarchy. For example, Korra wants her friend in the military to help her free the Southern Water Tribe. They make a plan where the military will make exercises at the southern waters and then attack the troops occupying the Southern Water Tribe. But then the President hears about this and forbids the military friend of Korra from making any exercises near the Southern Water Tribe (since he wants to keep the peace between the nations and considers their problems internal). The military guy (a firebender) obeys the president and says he’s sorry to Korra. There’s no question who’s at the top of the chain of command now, and it’s a non-bender democratically elected. Considering the non-bender to bender ratio, which greatly favors non-benders, Republic City will probably only have non-benders as presidents for the foreseeable future.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That explanation wasn’t enough for me.

      1. It was lame to wrap all that up off screen like it wasn’t a big deal.

      2. The Council’s issue wasn’t that it represented benders, but that it represented the 5 other nations. Each member represented either the Fire Nation, Northern Water Tribe, Southern Water Tribe, Air Nomads (all 4 of them), or Earth Kingdom. We don’t even know if the three unnamed counselors were benders. Considering how easily they were captured, I’m guessing no.

      With the President, Republic City finally has actual sovereign rule, but that’s not the problem that the Equalists were upset about.

      3. I didn’t see anything to indicate the President was doing anything different. The Triads (bending mafia) for example, seemed to be flourishing under the new administration.

      4. Electing a non-bender President wouldn’t end the troubles faced by non-benders, any more than electing Barack Obama ended racism in the United States.

      All of this just makes me wish Season 2 had been dealing with the fallout of Season 1 rather than sweeping it all under the rug like they did.

  7. peregrin8

    Buffy just sends vamps & demons to Hell; she disapproves of beating them up first. Hell is where demons are from, and people come back from there occasionally. So she’s really more of a border patrol guard. Staking = deportation.

  8. Leandro

    Hm… Great article and stuff, but I have to desagree regarding Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling makes explicity clear that all that opression system against other races only made Voldemort stonger and with more allies. Dumbledore keeps repeating that in Book 5 and 6.
    The goblin scene in Book 7 its a proof of that. Besides, Hermione founded an organization to free the elves.

    Sorry by my bad English, btw. Its not my first language.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Your English is fine, and I appreciate the respectful disagreement. While I do not find those examples compelling the way you do, it’s clear you’ve thought a lot about this.

      It’s true that the Wizard’s mistreatment of the Giants does come back to bight them, but none of the characters except Hermione see that oppression as problem until the Giants force the issue by threatening to join Voldemort. Now, it’s possible Dumbledore was lobbying for better treatment of the non-human races off screen, but we never say that.

      Hermione’s attempt to liberate the house elves, on the other hand, seems mostly to be played for laughs.

      • Sarah

        I would like to point out that as amazing as Hermione is she was a teenager. Her attempts, while in Hogwarts, were realistic and so we’re the reactions of her pairs. Who, like Ron, grew up on these ideas or Harry who had other things on his mind. Rowling did an amazing job of creating a world that is corrupt. The wizarding world was presented lacking morale but it was the point. It was not a plot hole. It is also cannon that after the war Hermione goes on to make a difference. She ends up working in law within the ministry. There she works for civil rights for house elves, goblins, and werewolves. After reading Harry Potter, with out looking up rawlings tweets or interviews, I felt like they had made a difference to their world. As a reader I felt uncomfterble with the the discrimination. As a reader I sided with Hermione. When I was no longer a reader and I was responding to the work I read I thought about real life discrimination real life events that compared to the stories. I thought about the way the characters were developed and I thought about what they would do. And knowing the characters the would not stand for it. And going back In history there have been plenty of times when horrible things happened and people ignored it.
        http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Hermione_Granger

  9. Theophania

    Regarding Harry Potter – I think Rowling knew what she was doing. Reading the books as a young adult, I was struck with the parallels between the wizarding world and the real world: inequality that nobody notices because it’s “just the way it is”. Harry, going to the Ministry of Magic for the first time, is struck by – and made uncomfortable by – the fountain with the wizard on top and the other magic races basically being trampled. It takes an outsider – Harry (or Hermione for the house elves) – to see how wrong it is. The implication is that Harry’s generation – particularly those like Harry and Hermione who are not from wizarding families – will change things.

    Interestingly, watching the films, there were a lot of parallels between the Ministry of Magic and Nazi Germany. Did you notice the big banner of Cornelius Fudge looking very like Hitler? The Harry Potter books can be pretty dark, if you pay attention to some of the details.

    With respect to Harry Dresden, in one of the later books – Turn Coat, I think – there is discussion of why wizards keep out of non-wizard affairs. The idea is that if wizards started to get involved, changing things to what they thought best, pretty soon, wizards would end up in charge, because they know best, right? And they can fix all the problems, right? Hence, the White Council decided that whatever non-wizards could screw up on their own was minor compared to how epically screwed up the world could get with wizards trying to “make things better”: the freedom to starve, rather than well-fed slavery, if you like. It’s also a plot point that Listens to Wind regrets obeying the Laws of Magic and allowing his tribe to die (when he could have used magic to save them), and this regret pushes him into certain actions in the book.

    • Tyson Adams

      I agree with you on Harry Potter. That was my reading of it as well. Sort of like our current generation are the progressives pushing for action on climate change, marriage equality, etc.

      • Theophania

        However, we should always remember that our progressiveness is built on the progressiveness of the generation that came before us.

        They made homosexuality legal (at least, in the UK – Wolfenden Report and so on); we legalised same-sex marriage. We could not have the former without the latter.

        It’s very easy to forget, standing on one’s moral high ground and looking down, who it was who carved the steps.

        • Theophania

          Duh. Could not have the latter without the former. I know what I mean…

  10. Ingwall

    Re: Dresden.

    As we learn from Dead Beat, there has been a wizard war going on in Europe during WWII, involving a powerful necromancer named Heinrich Kemmler. I would imagine that he probably kept the Jewish wizards busy.

  11. Sophie the Jedi Knight

    The house-elf example is portrayed a bit differently in the books.
    House-elves aren’t slaves, they’re servants. Though Dobby is clearly treated like crap by Lucius Malfoy, that’s one case. There are lots of house-elves treated well in the wizarding world.
    Plus, house-elves love to work. It’s in their biology. Even after Dobby is freed in the books, he gets a job working in the Hogwarts kitchens. And when Hermione tries to free the house-elves in the kitchens, they become insulted. And they are paid!
    Hermione brings up another point. It’s not that in the books no one cares about freeing them – they just don’t want to be freed. Hermione’s anger against the house elves being used to make their food (calling it “slave labor”) is a great piece added by Rowling to explain how the elves like working. Hermione wants them to be free, they don’t want to be freed.
    And except for the cases of house-elves being owned by bad people like Lucius, most of the time the elves aren’t subjected to slave labor. When we had slaves in America, they had to work in the cotton fields with little to no breaks and were treated inferiorly. Most house-elves are treated well and do simple tasks, such as cooking.
    I just never saw the house-elves’ treatment as slavery. In the movies, it’s easy to come out with that, but in the books it’s a whole other story.

    • Tyson Adams

      I’m honestly not sure if you read the books if that is how you interpret the plight of the House Elves. They were definitely slaves and I interpreted their plight as an analogy to modern slavery. You might also want to look up the UNHCR’s take on slavery.

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