Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Grass Is Only Spray-painted Greener

  So, I've long had a theory that the guy who forever messed up the human race's chances of being happy was the caveman who first thought, "Hmm, maybe life can be easier than this." Because, if you think about it, the cavemen had a pretty decent life. Eat, drink, sleep, breed, survive. When you are trying to survive, you can't afford to think about how your life can be better. Of course, the guy who first did screwed over everyone else, because now their existence was bittersweet, paling in comparison to whatever it was that they had imagined as better. This is why I define true happiness as, "The absence of a vision of a better life or of desire for said vision." Seldom do people not have desire for a better life if they can imagine one, so this usually reduces to, "The absence of a vision of a better life." 
  This can be demonstrated in real life. We've all heard about societies in mountains, secluded from everyone else, cut off from contact with the rest of the world, in despicable poverty and inconceivable distress, but completely happy because they cannot conceive of the idea that life could be better than this. I can also turn to literature: Macbeth, one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, provides a perfect example of this definition of happiness. At the outset of the play, Macbeth has just single-handedly beat down a rebellion and won a war, and he comes back to his hometown and exults in the praise of King Duncan. He seems happy... until, that is, the three witches plant the idea of being king in Macbeth's mind. From then on, the rest of the play is just documentation of his emotional entropy, his slow disintegration and descent into paranoia, insanity, and death. 
  Of course, this idea isn't new. This is what Buddhism says; if one has no desire for anything, one can be perfectly happy. I've come to the conclusion, however, that it's impossible for humans to not desire something that seems like it will make one happier; this is why the act of wanting to be happy will never lead to happiness. This is why ignorance is bliss; if someone thinks that their life is the best it can be, despite the fact that it can never be so, then they will be happy. The grass, indeed, is never greener; it only seems like it is from far away enough. So, if you want your children to be happy, send them into the mountains to fend for themselves before they are old to enough to have any conception of any other type of lifestyle. It's the only way to happiness.

Caveman with big club

- Adarsh Nednur

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Save $ by Not Killing People

            I’ve talked about it enough that I feel the need to devote an essay to Natural Law. This isn’t intended to force the idea on you, humble reader, but merely to provide you insight into what I believe to be true. I strongly encourage any questions I drum up or gaping holes in my logic to be posted in the comments, and I will be happy to respond and correct or answer them.
            If I wanted to make this extremely pithy and unappealing, I would write only one statement that not many people would agree with.
            The Bible says that all men know God’s nature, and Natural Law is the expression of that knowledge.
            Did I lose you? No? Good! Let’s move on to explaining this in secular terms for people who don’t want to take a leap of faith 96 words into an article. Natural Law is the embodiment of reason and efficient economic ideals. If we call it conscience or good business strategy, both would yield the same end result in the long run. Man will naturally act in a way that furthers the species and increases his standard of living. Whether it’s due to logic or God – because God is the creator of logic, Natural Law is present and opposes the arguments made for moral relativism.
            No business would openly cheat or short-change a customer because it would be detrimental to their bottom line... and morally wrong. Look at the chaos that ensued when American consumers discovered what “Lean Finely Textured Beef” was. Kroger, Safeway, Supervalu, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell all stated that they would no longer sell food containing a relatively harmless additive (in small quantities, granted) in lieu of more expensive beef products so customers would continue to walk through their doors. Think about that; if public opinion can make businesses stop using additives that aren’t even illegal, why do we need laws telling them what they can or cannot put in their food? Why do we need laws stating how much minimum wage should be? Workers would protest if wages dropped below those suitable to sustain adequate living conditions. Wages may even go up because workers who are currently making enough may feel uncomfortable about their situation and protest for better wages with those who aren’t currently making enough. The free market is one of the ways through which Natural Law reveals itself.
            Very few people would kill if murder was legal because it's, you guessed it, wrong. If America initiated a Murder at your Leisure holiday like Texas has with its tax free weekend, there wouldn’t be a spike in murders like there is with shoe and school supply sales. No one wants to associate with someone who openly murdered, and even less people would want to associate with one who may have murdered. At least people who hang out with convicted felons know who they’re dealing with; it’s the possibility that the person in the cubicle next to you bashed his old boss’s head in with a stapler that keeps you from asking him to join your crew at the bar tonight. If we only dealt with Natural Law, everyone would tread more carefully because it would be impossible to say, “I’m innocent; courts have said I ain’t the one that done it.” Since we must agree that logic is universal, and Natural Law is born from logic, this argument has always held up. Murder wasn’t okay “back then,” and won’t be okay in the future when Nike finally makes those self-zipping shoes from Back to the Future II.
            This has only been two examples as to why I support the idea of Natural Law; I could go on for light-years (did that unit of measurement make you nerds cringe?) with other examples, but they’d be superfluous. I hope you can see why I find a universal morality through logic and market activities, but his has turned into what seems like a plea for anarchism, so I’m going to close this like I closed my earlier piece The Magic School Bus. We’re not ready for no government, but any government that tells its people things that don’t oppose the Natural Law are illegal is stepping beyond its bounds. I hope this has been some food for thought.


-Jason Rossiter

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Coin of Participation


            For the rare QBA reader who doesn’t know me in school, some pertinent information for you is that I’m quite talkative, and one thing that I do not like is being told not to talk. That statement will be explained in today’s essay. I’m going to present both perspectives on whether or not teachers should force an entire class to participate. Enjoy the ride.
           
Heads on Desks… Sleeping

            In no way should uninterested students be forced upon a teacher as an added burden. We’ll use my Calculus class as an example; when the teacher has over a hundred and thirty students on his roster and each of those students has a few homework assignments and tests to turn in, why would anyone who isn’t a sadist tell said teacher to do everything in his power to make students who don’t want to be there to turn in everything and focus in class? At least in my class, there are more than enough people legitimately trying to grasp the materials (What do you expect? Taylor series give me migraines) that there isn’t any real class time free for the teacher to scan the crowd and ask John Doe if he understands what the Z value for the ex series is.
            Two periods after Calculus, I have English, where I am told to shut up. Since a large portion of English is analyzing books which we do as a group, a lot of the grades come from actively discussing why the slaves in Beloved took advantage of cows and other such details of literature. I love the thoughtful arguments that can happen over different interpretations of a single word, but it’s impossible to have arguments of any length when all thirty-five students must say at least two or three things per class. I find everyone in class to be interesting people outside of class, but, to be honest, many of them could care less. It’s senior year, and it’s frickin’ English, man! Let them sleep, and let those who are interested in disagreeing on the nature of Kurtz’s hollowness have disputes that last for forty minutes. 

 Tails in desks… Attentive

            No student ever wants to go to all of his or her classes. Part of a teacher’s unspoken creed is to interest their students in subjects that never seemed interesting before. I stated in my last essay that I had a teacher open my eyes to the world around me; her only job was to make sure her students did well on the AP, but one little teacher got me involved in current events, government, economic policy, writing novels, and I’m sure she’s one of the many factors that led me start this blog which you, oh reader, are so enthralled in. She never let a student sleep in her class; everyone paid attention to every activity, and I am a product of that classroom.
            Every human has motivation issues that need to be worked around in order to accomplish a slew of tasks. In order for companies to get warm bodies into offices for a 9-to-5, they pay out a large portion of their revenue into wages and salaries, such a large portion of their revenues that it accounts for almost half of the US’s GDP. (That’s actually low. In previous years, wages and salaries have accounted for almost 55% of GDP.) Husbands do the dishes because their wives have done it so many times in the past that they know they owe something in return. That was sexist –I know– but prove me wrong. Students have an adult versed in the subject being taught lighting a fire under them in order that they don’t wake up from their daze at the end of their school career to discover that they didn’t get the grades or the know-how they desperately need to thrive in the real world.

There has to be a balance since there is no position that would make every student reach the potential they’re truly capable of. Teachers generally decide on a case-by-case basis how much participation they will require from their eager or not-so-eager audience. And a note on my statement about being a product of a teacher who forced attention from her students; I was never one of the students who needed corrected. She certainly made me see everything in a different light, but she didn’t have to force me.

-Jason Rossiter

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

[Don't] Lie to Me

            Once again, my contemporary Adarsh has forced my hand by posting an article I vehemently disagree with. His claim that to achieve the maximum happiness one possibly can he or she should accept or even desire to be lied to is one that I feel urged by animal spirits to refute. In the next several hundred words, I plan to provide the reader with an alternative opinion on if an individual would obtain more overall happiness by being lied to or being told the truth.
            Adarsh and I are both in the Bellaire band, and this is the first year since at the latest the 1960s when we have received a UIL rating of 1, the highest possible rating, for concert performance. To get us to that point, our director in his sophomore year with the band refused to let us accept any effort less than perfect. We were never told that’s good enough. We were told good job at rehearsal today, but look over your parts and play them even better next time. In the end, he withheld the instant gratification of telling his students that the last run through was absolutely perfect in order to build up to a later, more sophisticated satisfaction of having three judges all agree that we sounded like paid professional musicians. I personally don’t care what judges think because I’m not a lemming; I’m just thankful that I have instructors that can push me and others past their previously conceived notions of how good we can be. According to Adarsh’s views, it would be better to be constantly lied to by our director than being forced to work hard for delayed happiness.

            John Stuart Mill agrees with me on this point. He states in Ch. 2 of his work Utilitarianism that, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.” I propose that there are more sophisticated, more beneficial in the long run types of happiness out there than the kinds complacency can provide. I will not sleep in tomorrow because I will be happier in the long run by going to school. I would rather have my significant other tell me about the one time she cheated on me because, if I found out from another source at another time, I would never trust her the same way again. I would rather know I was in a hopeless situation than in a faux-hopeful one because I don’t want my dying thoughts to believe that I wasn’t rescued when I could have been.
            There are certainly people who would rather be satisfied in the short run than long run, and I’m not going to declare that everyone must see the world like I do. We need people like, as my Macroeconomics teacher calls him, “Joe Six-pack,” the kind of people who work a 9-to-5 job, come home, eat dinner with the wife, drink a six-pack, watch a game on TV, and go to sleep. No society would work if everyone stopped in their tracks and realized that they weren’t being fulfilled, at least not if we all did that at once. I am, however, working on a plan for society where the only people filling the roles of Joe and Jane Six-pack are the artists who want jobs that can easily be picked up or left depending on if they’re able to make a living off of being an artist, but that is definitely a discussion better suited for another time.


-Jason Rossiter

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Facebook Page/How to be a Regular Author

We now have a Facebook page. LIKE US!

Several people have shown interest in writing for QBA so we've created a protocol for that.
Step One: Submit an essay draft to any one of the current authors or QBA's email. If a majority of the authors deem the work publishable, it could be posted under the Guests page.
Step Two: If the author who submitted the essay can promise on their honor to provide an essay approximately every week and a half, a majority decision* by the current authors will turn the author in question into a regular earning them a spot on the Introductions post and their own page.

*The Authors are allowed to request multiple essays if they are still unsure of the mettle of the Requesting-to-be-a-regular-author.

And that was the update. Have a wonderful night!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It Isn't My Fault!


            We hold people responsible for things every day, be it our personal judgments, our legal verdicts, or our societal standards of decency. But at what point is someone truly responsible? Specifically, I want to talk about moral responsibility as it applies to the difference between desires and will. To start with, I should offer some basic definitions so we are on the same page moving forwards. Actions are the external things that we do, desires are the things that we want to do, and will is the ability to either restrain or feed our desires. When asked what people can be held morally culpable for, most people I’ve met will respond that an individual is morally responsible for the actions they take (aka - how their will controls their desires). To illustrate this, let’s look at a real world desire. Let’s say that we have an individual who has lived a difficult life and has a strong desire to use Heroin (for the first time), but he is able to will himself to not act upon that strong desire for Heroin. In our society, most people would say that this individual is morally in the right, in fact many would agree with the Kantian perspective, which states that it is more virtuous to have had to struggle to overcome desire than to have no desire at all. So in that basic example, we can see that our society claims to draw the line of moral responsibility at the point where an individual chooses to act upon his/her desires.
            However, in my experience, this isn’t always the case. Fair warning, this essay could become slightly uncomfortable from this point on as it will touch on some more sensitive areas of human depravity. Let me first start by providing a more personal example of mine. I am an avid film buff; I enjoy a wide variety films, and recently foreign films have been my principle area of interest. As you may have gathered from my earlier essay, “The Value of Ugly Art”, I have a predilection for dark, gritty, and pessimistic films that reflect on issues of human darkness. In the film buff community, there is one particularly infamous film that is simultaneously considered perhaps the single most depraved film ever made as well as an intelligent work of art and social criticism. That movie is “A Serbian Film”. Now, I have not seen this movie myself, and I do not recommend that any of my readers watch it either (check the Wikipedia plot synopsis if your curiosity must be satisfied). I am not at all a squeamish or sensitive person, but it goes a bit too far even for me. I mention it, because despite the praise of its artistry, most of society views it as the most morally reprehensible film ever made. None of the actions depicted really happened, but the suggestion that such images could ever inhabit a human mind morally revolts people. This seems like a significant double standard to me. To put this in more relatable and mild terms, let me give you another example from my own life. Aside from writing for this blog, I am a short story writer as well, and I recently wrote a story that was in part the inspiration for this essay. This story, while mild in comparison to “A Serbian Film” involved some graphic violence, disturbing existential monologues, and a character defined by his perversions. While many people read and could appreciate the literary value of my story, some were either unable to finish it or accused me of immorality on the basis of the taboo content involved. Now, I as the author, never desired to do any of the acts that my character participated in, but even the suggestion that I was able to think of such things elicited harsh moral judgment from some of my peers. Are the creators of “A Serbian Film” morally culpable for simply being able to reflect on human depravity? Am I as a writer morally responsible for commenting upon the moral depravity that inhabits the subconscious of all people?
            I think I can best tie my point together by giving another example that parallels the Heroin example I gave at the beginning. Let’s say that now, instead of a desire for Heroin, this individual is a pedophile who is strongly attracted to children but is able to repress his sexual urges. Most people, if they found out this man’s desires would view him as immoral and unacceptable in the eyes of society. Nothing has changed; all I did was change out one social taboo for another, but in doing so I have fundamentally changed how society (and probably you) views this individual. No longer is he viewed as a Kantian moral hero, instead he is a degenerate. Why is he morally responsible for desires that he manages to reign in? I contend that he isn’t. Desires, especially sexual desires are not willingly determined by an individual, but they can be controlled by the will. Society has established a double standard of moral responsibility. It claims that one is only responsible for actions, but whenever desires become taboo, suddenly even the thought of such an action is grounds for moral judgment. I will not stand and defend violence, pedophilia, and other such acts, but I will say that no one should be held accountable for merely having desires that are frowned upon by society. I think the reason that society has such a hard time with remaining consistent is that depravity resides somewhere deep inside all of us, but people don’t like to be reminded of their darker selves, so they cast out those who have faced and conquered their dark desires. Desires haunt us all, the true test is acknowledging those desires for what they are and then rising above them.

                        

In referencing his movie "A Serbian Film"

-"Jack"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Complacency vs. Progress

  So, I think one of the great dividing questions of the personality of people is which they value more, which makes them happier: complacency, for lack of a better word, happiness with what you already have, and progress, the compulsion to strive for more than what you already own and are capable of. I've had conversations with friends about anything from architecture to politics to the inherent problems with humanity that reduced to this question. I personally find myself advocating the complacency side; as long as one knows that their life could be better, one can never be truly happy, because there is always a comparative better. My friend Jason is on the other side; he is only ever happy when he is actively bettering himself, actively working towards a better world. In fact, as he showed with his Miley Cyrus metaphor, he is often not even happy upon REACHING those goals; he just finds a new goal to aim for. Personally, I think that's one of the pitfalls of his philosophy; when you are working towards a goal, you can't be happy until you've reached it, and when you reach a goal, you can't be happy until you've reached the next goal. When you get to the top of one mountain, you can see the top of the next mountain.
  This is the reason I think pleasant lies are always a better option than honesty, which I'm convinced is not the best policy by a long shot. "Ignorance is bliss," as the saying goes. If I'm in a hopeless situation, and my ignorance of the situation I'm in depends on someone lying to me, I very much hope they indulge me and lie to me. On the other hand, I have friends who, upon being asked, "Would you rather believe in a lie and be happy or know the truth and be miserable?" actually answered truth. To me, that seems crazy. For me, happiness is the highest goal at all points, more so than truth. I mean, imagine I was in a loving, committed relationship and my partner cheated on me once, by mistake, and was never going to do it again. Some people would want to know because, they say, a successful relationship must be based on honesty, but I would rather never know. Or, in a more dramatic situation, imagine I was on a sinking ship, and no help was forthcoming. I would rather die believing that help was on its way and that everything would be okay than ever having to accept the truth, that I was about to die.
  This is not a debate on which we can come to a conclusion, but it's something to think about.



-Adarsh Nednur

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Nag like a Jew

            Beet salad, marinated sardines, and boiled cow tongue. Perfect appetizers for a Friday night get-together with your Russian relatives. I sit next to Sonya, my cousin and childhood companion of about the same age, as we playfully flip a piece of tongue between our plates, trying to see who’s brave enough to take a bite.
            Suddenly, a fist slams on the table. The wine glasses do a dance and the sardine plate loses a bit of oil. From across the table, my great-uncle exclaims, “OBAMA IS A F*CKING LUNACTIC!” I shoot a quick glance at the vodka bottle. Half empty. Yup, they’re just drunk enough to start talking politics.  
By the time the main course, baked mustard lamb with potato slices, is served, the conversation has gone from Obama’s healthcare plan to his wife’s garden at the White House (grandfather tells joke about black president in the White House) to how great the apples were back in Russia and how Americans are fat because they don’t eat enough cabbage. But just as Sonya and I lose interest and start heading to my room, my mom, of course, brings up the topic I’d prayed they would skip: college.     
    
“Those bastards at Rice rejected her”, says my mom.
“Screw em’,” says my grandfather, “they barely take anyone.”
“But she was a perfect candidate! I bet they didn’t take her because she listed herself as ‘Jewish’!”
“That’s right!” chimes in my grandmother. “They were one of the last colleges to accept Jews. They’ve had a quota for Jews until recently, but I’m sure its still there.”

            Sonya rolls her eyes and motions to my room, but I hold my ground.

“All colleges hate Jews,” my uncle says as he tilts back for another shot. “F*ckin’ anti-Semites. Haven’t our people been victimized enough already? I thought we left the Nazis back in Europe!”

I can’t take it anymore. I quickly cross over to the table and, leaning on my mom’s chair back, slowly say,
“Just so ya’ll know, many of my Jewish friends have been accepted to Rice, and my not getting in has nothing to do with our religion. I don’t understand why ya’ll constantly feel the need to group every annoyance or misfortune that befalls you as anti-Semitism. It’s getting really annoying.”

            As I speedily strut off to my room with Sonya, I hear my grandmother’s voice behind me inquire,    “Has she become a Democrat?”
           


            For the past 6 years of Hebrew school (that I'm guilt-tripped into attending every year), we have studied and restudied the Holocaust. I can now recite the dates of Kristallnacht and the Dachau camp liberation in my sleep. However, as bitter as I sound about it, I’m grateful that it's been hammered into my subconscious.
Although I doubt that my mom would drop the same comment about Rice’s anti-Semitism anywhere but our intoxicated family dinners, it is still important to know where such topics are applicable to avoid spreading misinformation. To me, the most valid instance in which Jews, or anyone else for that matter, can bring up the Holocaust is to remind ourselves that it can just as easily happen again, and that we must never fall under the illusion that we are truly safe from another such atrocity.

Rebuttal: But we live in a modern era! It won’t happen again! And even if it does, none of the world powers would let it go on for long!
Response: Ever heard of Darfur?

Germany in the 1930’s was a society no less civilized than present America. Jews lived among the gentiles as peacefully as they do in Houston in 2012, never suspecting the fate that awaited them. It’s amazing the effect that high inflation can have.

Rebuttal: But that was then and this is now!
Response: Sure, but with the right combination of economic and social factors, it can happen again, anywhere, at any time, and target anyone.
           
The tragic history of the 40’s should be remembered and well documented to ensure that history isn’t repeated, but people should be more careful of where and when they bring up such an aggressive theme. So instead of calling out every opinionated critic of Israel as a Nazi, we should focus our attention on keeping a watchful eye on countries going through challenging times and ensure that no nation’s anger and frustration ever manifests itself in hatred and aggression toward one people again.
Therefore, it is nonetheless important to zahor*, to remember, to remember the 11 million killed in cold blood, to remember the evil that took place those 70 years ago, and, most importantly, to remember that as long as we are human, we must never forget.


*Hebrew word for ‘remember’

-Julia 

My name is Julia. I come from a family of pessimistic Russian Jews, and I love debating about social issues. Thanks for reading. If you liked it, leave a comment, share the blog with friends and all that jazz :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Miley Cyrus, Life Coach

            I have oft said that Disney Channel is the best education tool to ever be invented and everything I’ve ever needed to know I’ve learned from children’s TV shows, but I’m also a liar. This is the only occasion where I will admit that I have found a jewel amid the slew of petty gossip which is meant to imply that slander is appropriate and the obtrusive product placement rampant in today's family programming. I am now going to argue against Adarsh’s statement that happiness is based on others' perception of you and that it is nonexistent with the lyrics of “The Climb.” Don't worry; I won't tell anyone that you're secretly giddy.
            Happiness is attained through the progress toward a goal, but reaching the goal has nothing to do with happiness. And it is completely independent of other people. It is, in fact, the climb that provides emotional benefit because, once you’ve reached the peak, you have to hunt for another mountain even taller. I want to support my view of happiness before completely destroying Adarsh’s, so stick with me. The seemingly fitting analogy Adarsh used was that of someone breaking down on the way to The Big Apple from Houston, and I’ll admit that climbing is very similar. A fatal flaw in both of them is the fact that they deal with location and not the rate at which progress is being made. Do any of my contemporaries see what’s coming next? That’s right, Calculus.
            The slope of a line is how quickly the y-value of a location changes with respect to the x-value. I propose that happiness should be tied to how “steep” the slope is and not to what the y-value actually is. Example: One day before April Fools’, Bellaire Percussion Ensemble got stone-cold  last place in TCGC Championships, but we all played a better show than the week before. I couldn’t care less about ranking, but I care about progress. And there was progress. We didn’t achieve the value some people wanted in order to be happy, but the rate at which we approached the value is what I am proud of and happy for.
            Now for the attack; happiness being tied to others' perception of you forces you to accept moral relativism. For instance, if two of your friends have a spat and ask you to take one of their sides, you would be required to lie to one of them in order to keep both of them thinking you’re “good” and therefore making you “happy.” The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said that if you can’t universalize a maxim, it’s immoral. If you wouldn’t want everyone in the world to lie as long as it made them feel as if they were wanted, it would be immoral to make both parties think highly of you. And I don’t see how knowingly committing immoral acts can make one happy, at least not in the long run.
            If we go by Adarsh’s opinion, I have indeed beat the system due to my religious views, but I still can’t see how, even without religion, one would base their happiness on other’s perception or on reaching goals. We are human, and humans regularly don’t reach their goals. But we can try. We also have our own wants and needs, so I don’t see how suppressing those in order to please others would make one happier. The only thing that matters is the trip you’re taking (back to the poorly connected metaphor) and not whether you reach where you’re going or avoiding weird looks in the hallway because you’re jamming out to Miley Cyrus.


-Jason Rossiter

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cato and Kiriyama Are...Right?


*Possible Spoilers for “Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale”
            With the recent popularity of “The Hunger Games” (and indirectly “Battle Royale”), I thought it would be interesting to take a look at one of the central ethical conflicts in both stories. I think the most interesting element about both of these books is not the political dystopia, romance, or violence, but, rather, the moral uncertainty that the characters are confronted with. I think “Battle Royale” asks the question very well, “Could you kill your best friend?” It seems a bit melodramatic at first, but upon further reflection, this simple question makes us confront the most basic tenants of our own moral code. To analyze this idea further, I am going to look at two types of characters that appear in these two stories, those who are unwilling/reluctant to participate and those who play to win. The way that we individually, and as a society, view these two types of characters says a lot about our perspective on fundamental philosophical questions.
            Both “Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale” feature characters that accept their situation and play the game to win. The audience is led to, and often does, view these characters as secondary antagonists (the primary being the institution running the games themselves). However, we should ask ourselves, why do we view these characters as villains and is that fair? In “Hunger Games”, it’s Cato and the careers, and in “Battle Royale” it’s Kiriyama and Mitsuko. In part the reason why we dislike these characters is obvious, they represent an immediate threat to the protagonists we are supposed to care for. However, when we look at their actions, are they really in the wrong? I would say no. These characters act out of self-preservation, and I don’t think we have a right to criticize them for that. It’s very easy to sit back and smugly think of how morally superior to these characters we are. We like to associate ourselves with the hero, even if that distances us from the reality of the situation. One question I think someone should ask themself when watching/reading either of these two series is, Why is any one person more deserving of survival than any of the others? Why does Peeta have any more right to survival than Cato? Why is Shuya more deserving than Kiriyama? These characters represent how I hope I would behave in such a situation. They acknowledge the reality of their situation, evaluate what really matters, and act to preserve their lives. They didn’t write the rules; it isn’t their fault that they are playing a zero-sum game. These characters reject self-delusion, reject self-righteousness, and do what is necessary.
            I have spent a lot of time looking at those who play the game to win, but I don’t want to neglect those characters who are presented to us as protagonists (the unwilling/reluctant to participate). These characters are portrayed as the paragons of morality. They vary slightly, but the core idea is the same, these characters have serious misgiving about playing the game. As an extreme example, Shuya in “Battle Royale” represents the Deontological point of view that says killing for any reason is wrong because killing is an inherently immoral action. Peeta and Katniss (especially Katniss) in the “Hunger Games” have a more moderate perspective. They don’t want to participate, but they acknowledge that playing may be necessary. Even after accepting that fact, neither one is a very active player in the game, and in the end they simply refuse to play. Katniss, for example, only really kills two people, and one of those is an accident. For the most part, people view these characters as the morally righteous ones. I simply view them as the less intelligent ones. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, they were right in the end.” No, they really weren’t. They were saved by luck, idealistic storytelling, or the actions of others (such as Kawada in “Battle Royale”). In real life, I don’t think any of these characters would survive. Now, the reason these characters are wrong is that morality isn’t determined by the actions themselves but by the consequences they bring about. What are the consequences of playing to win? No matter what action the characters take, realistically, there is only one possible outcome, all but one person dies. Choosing to refuse to play, while a noble sentiment, doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day only one person will be left living.
            It goes against our nature to view those characters that play to win as morally correct because we view them as threatening, cold, and ruthless. However, we cannot constantly allow ourselves to distance ourselves from the situation. When we break it down to the most basic level and look past the “happy ending” mentality, we are forced to realize that those characters we viewed as villains have really not committed any wrong, and those characters we hold up as moral examples would be rotting in the ground. It’s cynical, I know, but the real world doesn’t allow for the moral bright lines adhered to by the protagonists of these two excellent stories. Know this, if we ever end up in an arena together, I will play to win.


-"Jack"