Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Batman, Ferris Bueller, and Jack Sparrow, Oh My!

  Note: This essay may appeal more to moral relativists than to moral absolutists. If you don't know what either of those phrases means, don't worry about it.

  It has come to my attention that Hollywood has made quite the industry out of pushing the idea that the rules may apply to everyone else, but they don't apply to the hero, or they don't apply to YOU. Whether it be Batman attacking and taking down criminals on the mean streets of Gotham unlawfully, Ferris Bueller skipping school nine times in a semester because he can't be bothered to waste a good day, or Jack Sparrow considering the rules "more guidelines, really," Hollywood seems to want to convince you that you shouldn't bother yourself with the rules if you believe in what you are doing.
  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't suggest that they are right or wrong. I was being satirical above; I DO also understand the message that they are actually trying to get across, which is that when the system is inefficient, when it fails you, you should not stand idly by, but rather take matters into your own hands. After all, as far back as 1849, Henry David Thoreau said in "Civil Disobedience" that, "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison." When bureaucracies fail, when hierarchies become inefficient, when, as was stated in The Dark Knight Rises, "structures become shackles", it may indeed be the right thing to break the rules for the sake of reform.
  On the other hand, I'm reminded of a quote from my favorite TV show, House M.D., where Michael Tritter says something to the effect of, "People think that the rules don't apply to them, but for 90 percent of people, they do." Cuddy, of course, replies, "What about the other 10 percent?" Tritter answers, "Everyone in the world thinks they are part of that 10 percent." The question is, how does one decide whether they are justified in breaking the rules, whether the ends justify the means, whether they are in that 10 percent?
  My band director, upon overhearing a conversation between Jason, Grant, and I on a topic similar to this, turned around and said, "It all goes back to Daoist philosophies. Daoism says that, when faced with a moral dilemma, a good man will know what to do." Jason asked, "How do we know if we are good men, then?" Obviously, he was thinking that many might think they're right about what should be done, but nobody really KNOWS. Our band director replied, "A good man would know." And so, with the ultimate self-referential comment, he ended that discussion.
  I think that I've finally come to some sort of personal consensus on how I can apply this extremely abstract philosophy to my dilemmas of "Rules vs. Ethics", though. I think what he is saying is that when someone knows that they are right about a certain position on an issue, when it becomes a matter of following the rules leading to a guilty conscience, or when the rules no longer exist except in name, then that someone should go against the general consensus and break every rule they see it as necessary to break.
  In fact, I would say that this rule has no bounds. If Hitler believes that it is unconscionable to let the Jews live and feels he cannot stand by while evil takes over, I think it makes sense that he would act on it, purely because I would hope that enough people would find it unconscionable that Hitler does this that THEY would act as well and Hitler would be stopped. Case in point, even if Chick-Fil-A donates to anti-gay foundations, even though I am very much in favor of gay rights, I'd like to point out that many of the people protesting Chick-Fil-A's actions don't donate to the opposite side. If they had the same commitment to supporting gay rights and acting against unconscionable deeds that Chick-Fil-A does, we'd probably have equality now. For that reason, I'd like to extend kudos to Chick-Fil-A for standing by what it believes in.
  Basically, I think rules are indeed "more guidelines, really." They exist for situations in which we have no compelling reason to break them, and they help maintain order by pointing out what people would rather you not do. However, if you have a principled view and cannot conscionably follow the rules or the hierarchy, then I give you permission to go be Batman and break those rules for the good of mankind. I don't think anybody's arguing that Batman is a bad guy; if nothing else, good intentions count for something. So yeah, I think the ends justify the means in such a case.

Dude breaks the rules for all the right reasons.

-Adarsh Nednur

No moral dilemmas here, no need to break the rules, just follow us on Facebook and Twitter and the world will remain in order.

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