Archive for July, 2021

Accomplishments Update

July 30, 2021

Where does the time go?  Another three months have passed since the last accomplishments update, so it’s time to take a look to see how I’ve been doing with things like that.

As usual, DVDs have done really well.  I finished “Stargirl”, and then went on to rewatch “Birds of Prey” and the 1990 “Flash” TV series, before keeping up the superhero theme with “Legends of Tomorrow”, and then turning to the half-hour shows that were remaining by watching “Thundercats”, “Futurama”, and now being almost at the end of “Gilligan’s Island”.  I also kept up with the horror movies, including watching a number of more recent ones from my streaming service.  Also, in the mornings I watched “Pretty Little Liars” and then combined watching my old cartoons — the DC animated series, mostly, along with “Duck Dodgers” — with watching the MCU movies along with “Deadpool”, “Deadpool 2” and the first six “Star Wars” movies.  That’s on hold for the Olympics right now, but I’m thinking about picking up “Yu-Gi-Oh” after the Olympics, if nothing else tickles my fancy more.  Sci-fi movies — new ones, to watch and talk about — are the only thing that didn’t work out so well, as I’ve made almost no progress there.

My impression was that books had gone badly, but they seem to have gone better than I thought.  I finished “Legacy of the Force” and re-read “Fate of the Jedi”, and then got through a bunch of classic fiction that I had been trying to read for ages.  However, right now I’m finding that I don’t have as much time to read and so am slogging my way through “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” by Tad Williams, along with some graphic novels.  I’m also not getting through as much philosophical reading as I’d hoped, as it’s going slower than I’d like, but then again it’s still better than I’ve done in the past.

Video games kinda fell off a cliff, as I’ve had no time to play them.  I started a Dragon Age:  Origins replay, and have dropped it for now.  I started a Mass Effect trilogy replay, but have dropped it for now.  I just started a new Wizardry 8 game with the Gilligan’s Island characters (made half-heartedly by myself in the regular editor) and haven’t played it much.  I tried playing some console stuff and have had no time.  Video games have not done well, because I’m just too busy to play them, and the one time that I tried to play The Old Republic my system crashed forcing me to seek out a new system to play games on (it runs, but has been crashing in TOR pretty consistently and as it’s about 10 years old I probably need a more modern one anyway).  I also have an arcade games system that looks really good and has some games I love, but I’ve only actually played with it for one afternoon so far.

Outside of the blog, nothing has happened with projects, other than the philosophical reading, which has gone okay as noted above.

I’ve created a new schedule to try to address some of this.  We’ll see how all that works out in about three months. 

Thoughts on “Random Acts of Violence”

July 29, 2021

So, there have been comments before about how I don’t seem to enjoy the horror movies I watch very much, which is very much true.  As also noted before, though, I used to watch horror quite a bit — I even had the cable channel dedicated to it that I did enjoy — and so it’s not like I’m picking on a genre that I actively dislike and finding things to dislike about the movies that I already knew I’d dislike.  When I started buying these movies, I did indeed have some hopes that I might find them entertaining and the first two weren’t bad, though flawed.  For the most part, when I criticize these movies it really is because I find them too flawed to be enjoyed, which means that there really is a lot of crap out there, and oftentimes the big budget movies are more crap than the cheap ones that we’d expect to be crap.

So, after all of this, I have to say “Random Acts of Violence” is fairly unique:  the worst thing about it is that it’s too short.  While I complain about that for the other movies as well, this one is too short in a unique way.

The main premise of the movie is that an independent comic book creator has been writing a popular comic book series about a serial killer, that seems to be loosely based on a real-life serial killer.  He’s looking to end the series, and so he, his girlfriend, his business manager, and his assistant are taking a trip by car from Toronto to New York for a comic book convention where he hopes to be able to figure out how to end the series.  They are going to pass through the area where the real-life serial killer plied his trade, and his girlfriend wants to interview people about the serial killer in order to write a book focusing on the victims.  They stop at a creepy gas station, leave some of the comics behind to sell, and soon after someone comes in to look at them people start dying in ways eerily similar to how people were killed in the comics, and the comic book creator starts getting calls from the killer that he thinks are referencing Bible quotes but instead are really referencing pages from his own comic books.  And then the killer starts killing the four of them instead of strangers, and so they find themselves in a fight for their lives.

The movie sets up some things to explore.  One of them is the overarching mystery of the movie:  Why is it that he feels so compelled to write about that particular serial killer?  Another is the more obvious mystery of the movie:  Who is the serial killer and why does he kill, and why is he killing them?  There’s also a question raised over whether his drawing that sort of violence could indeed drive people to do those sorts of killing on their own.  The movie also raises the question of why the killers themselves seem to be lionized and remembered but the victims forgotten.  All of these are interesting and all of these flow fairly naturally from the plot and characterization of the movie.  And as the plot goes along, they all end up reconciled, to some extent, at the end.  It turns out that the creator himself was a victim, as his mother was killed by the original serial killer.  But it also turns out that he himself was spared because he drew the crime as it happened, and that got the serial killer thinking of his killing as art and not merely as killing.  Once the comics came out, the killer didn’t need to kill anymore because his work was still preserved as art, but when he heard that the creator was having a hard time figuring out how to end the comic he decided to start the killings again and target him and his friends to give him an appropriate ending.  Of course, when he explains this to the creator he has already killed all his friends, and demands the creator kill him (they are in the creator’s childhood home at the time).  The creator does, but then burns the house down and so never actually finishes writing the comic, and dies in the house with the killer, and the creator’s girlfriend and his friends who were taken, arguably, by his work.

This ties up the threads because it turns out that the creator himself was a forgotten victim, the sort of person that his girlfriend wants to write about . It explains why he was so obsessed with that particular killer.  It explores, at least a bit, the idea of violent art like that facilitating these sorts of crimes, as it turns out that it both provided a means for the killer to stop killing and let his purpose be played out in another way but also prompted him to kill to complete the art.  And that idea of turning a simple serial killer into someone who sees their killing as art is creepy and interesting.  So all of these are interesting ideas that are indeed played with in the ending.

So why do I say that it needed to be longer?  Because as the movie is only 1.5 hours long it doesn’t really have the time to play these out properly and give them the emphasis they deserve.  Other people and his girlfriend accuse him at various points of facilitating this sort of violence with his work, but they have no real reason to make that accusation and so it isn’t something that we have any reason to really think about.  It comes across as a complication for him, not a point that he and the audience should be thinking about.  We don’t really get inside the head of the killer until the end, as the phone calls are nothing more than the pages in his comics.  His obsession with that killer is touched on in places, but never really explored.  He doesn’t seem interested in the answer and his girlfriend never suggests theories or tries to figure it out herself.  We don’t learn anything about his past but the movie doesn’t ever set that up as something that is missing that anyone is curious about.

The worst is the actual revelation that he was indeed a victim of the killer.  The movie at various times shows the scene with the mother and the child drawing, but the child is quite dark-skinned and seems far darker skinned than the creator is.  While I’m sure that someone will point out that that indeed can happen, the problem is that the difference is one that made me dismiss the idea that the child in those flashbacks might have been the creator, despite the fact that the plot was pushing my thoughts that way.  So when it came to the ending, I felt cheated, like they had deliberately made the child look different from the creator so that we wouldn’t think they were the same person, but then asked us to just accept that they were even with that.  So more time taken to build this up would have allowed them to be more subtle with the revelation and so have a better chance of keeping it hidden until the end.  At the very least, they could have made it clear that this was something that was happening in his own mind and so he pictured someone who was not himself so as to distance himself from it and only at the revelation does he admit to himself that the child was indeed himself (the easiest way to do that is to show pictures from when he himself was a child, use a different child in the flashbacks, and at the revelation morph the different child to himself as a child to show that).

This overall hurts the ending because without developing these themes more I don’t really get why he stays in the burning building to die.  Is it just grief?  Does he hold himself responsible?  Does he want it all to end?  A better exploration of these themes would give us more to build on to make the ending — and the imagined ending of the comic — better fit what happens in the actual movie.

However, I say it needed to be longer because unlike some of the other shorter horror movies or movies that I say didn’t develop their themes or characters enough, this movie doesn’t seem like there’s any wasted time that they could have used to do this.  The pacing is actually really good, with very little “downtime” where we’re wondering what might come next.  The times it stops to talk or do interviews or the like are things that do set-up for later things or are things that just seem to fit at that point in the movie.  And to get the horror and violence aspect they do have to show the stalking and killing of the victims.  So I feel that there just wasn’t any room to add this extra development.  But a longer movie would have had more time to do this development and explore these issues.  As it is, there just isn’t the time to explore these interesting ideas to the degree that they deserved to be explored.

I could watch this movie again, as it was paced well and was entertaining enough.  I have too many things to watch right now to do so, but overall this was a pretty good movie.  It raised some interesting ideas and its only flaw is that it doesn’t feel like it explored them as much as they deserved to be explored.

What Spawns the Eternal Question?

July 28, 2021

So, last week I talked about the debate about Ginger or Mary Ann and said that I’d talk more about it later.  I originally was thinking about talking more about the social aspects of this, but then in thinking about it decided that I actually had more to say about the aspects in the media that create these rather common debates, and so decided to just make it fit into my normal media analysis slot, and so that’s why you’re getting it today instead of, say, Wednesday.

But let me start with some of the social aspects.  What we get in most of these cases is a case where the TV execs and writers and various people doing analysis look at the shallow aspects and decide that the sexpot is going to be the one who gets all the male attention and the nice girl is going to be liked, but dominated by the sexpot.  The reason they think that is the common societal expectation that all men care about are looks, and are even shallow enough that all they really care about is the breast size of women (see the jokes about Caroline being less attractive than Max from “Two Broke Girls” based on Caroline being too “flat”, which she wasn’t).  And there is some truth to that.  But when we look at these debates, we can see that there is a difference between thinking about the women for simple fun and sex and thinking about them for a longer-term relationship.  Pretty much every defender of the plainer option says that while the sexier option would be fun, the plainer option is more grounded, more relatable, and/or better for a longer term relationship.  Yes, men’s eyes will be drawn to the sexy and fun option, and yes they might fantasize about having one perfect date with them that they would like to end in sex.  But when they think about a longer term relationship, then that sexy and fun one really doesn’t seem like someone that will actually work.  She’ll be too high maintenance.  They won’t be able to keep up.  She doesn’t really have anything to offer other than looks and so will get boring in a long-term relationship.  Whereas the plainer girl has more skills that are more useful in a long-term relationship.  She shares more of their interests.  She’d be happier with the sort of life that they could provide for her and so isn’t as high maintenance.  The sexier girl would make a good fling or trophy wife, but most men are looking for something else.

This is something that we’ve known for a while, at least back to the competing movies of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes”.

So if men are thinking about long-term relationships, then they find the women who are more suited for that role more interesting than women who would seem to be more fun, exciting and sexy but who wouldn’t work for that role.  And to tie this back to media analysis, it turns out that TV shows lend itself to thinking about longer-term relationships than a quick fling.  The reason is that we see these women every week for months and years.  We learn a lot about them.  We get to see into their daily lives and get to know them really, really well.  And that’s what men would be doing if they were trying to see if a woman was right for a longer-term relationship.  So we get to learn about them in a context that biases us towards considering how they’d be in a long-term relationship.  Small wonder, then, that many men end up evaluating their appeal based on how well their values map to what they’d want in such a relationship.

But I think that the reason these sorts of debates are so common is because of how these sorts of characters are built.  Despite not wanting to set it up this way and instead in general wanting us to find the “sexier” woman the more appealing to date of the pair, through their writing decisions they end up creating this precise situation, where the plainer but nicer woman ends up being better liked a lot of the time.  Note that here I’ll be talking about cases where in the cast you have a pair of women who are good friends — and not rivals — and don’t have a group of them.  If you have more than two, the characters end up each representing different types of women and so their appeal will be based on which of those is more your type.  Here, whether the two women are protagonists or part of the supporting cast, you will end up with one that is more shallow and more boy-crazy and more appealing to them and one that is plainer but less shallow.  When it comes to attracting men, we are supposed to think that the former will almost always win out over the latter, but over the lifetime of the show most of the time it’s the latter that the audience will like more.

So, let’s start with pure physical attractiveness.  And the first issue is that in TV land unless you are specifically looking for an unattractive woman you, well, aren’t going to find one to cast.  So just selecting from the best actresses available to you your supposedly “plainer” woman is going to be a pretty attractive woman, at least as attractive as and maybe more attractive than the supposedly “sexier” one.  So what they’re going to want to do is try to “dress her down”, adding glasses and more conservative clothing than the other one.  However, most of the audience will be able to look past that image to at least say “You know, if she dressed and did her hair better …” and for a significant part of the audience that very image itself will be more appealing that the more standard “sexy” image.  So pretty much all of the audience will see that she’s attractive, and some of the audience will think that she’s more attractive than the one that’s supposed to be the more attractive one, and some of that audience will think that because of the image that she conveys.  This is more commonly represented with the gripe of “I can’t believe that someone that attractive can’t get dates just because she puts on glasses and has an unflattering hairstyle!”.  It’s really hard to make a dateless woman in TV without making her incredibly unattractive.  “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” actually did this the best that I’ve seen, by having Sabrina’s dateless friends be quite attractive, but making their personalities such that guys didn’t want to approach them or didn’t want to go on a second date with them.  But that move isn’t easily available here.

And as it turns out, the writers don’t want to make them be completely unattractive.  They want the character to be likeable, and so want to use physical appeal to help with that.  Also, they’d like to be able to do dating-type plots, and that won’t work if the character is too unattractive.  They also might want to have the character get a boyfriend at some point to facilitate some plots, which again requires that she be attractive.  Also, there’s a huge benefit to at some point having her drop her plainer image and “reveal” that she’s really strikingly attractive.  So being attractive is actually a plus for the writers.

So now we have two women, one being portrayed as sexier and one being portrayed as plainer.  Since they aren’t direct rivals, they need to be characters that can be friends.  But since this is TV they can’t be identical either, because that would be boring and would limit the plots that the show can use.  So you want them both to be likeable in some way, you want both to be friends so you want to be able to show what they each bring to the table, and you want them to be different enough to be distinct personalities.  So setting one up as the sexier, boy-crazy and fun-loving one with the more down-to-earth and plainer one works really well, since we can see what they each bring to the table but they don’t have to be that different to get the different reactions.  In fact, it’s a long-standing conflict between the more shallow and fun-loving sort of character and the more conservative and deeper character, usually resolved by both of them realizing that the mindset of the other has its advantages.  So the “sexier” one will be more shallow and the “plainer” one will be deeper, but they’ll like the fact that they can gain the advantages of the other mindset just by listening to each other even as the mindsets annoy them at times.

So they can be different without being rivals … most of the time.  But remember how the writers want to be able to do dating plots?  Well, one of the dating plots that they want to be able to do are plots where the two friends end up competing over the same guy.  And since the “sexier” woman has been getting more dates up to this point, the more interesting plot will be one where the “plainer” woman wins in the end (which is even more credible by how attractive she is when she dresses more sexy).  But in order for that to really work, what we want is to feel that the “plainer” woman doing this is actually a triumph.  So we need to feel happy that she managed to win out over her “sexier” friend.  And if they aren’t rivals, we can’t do that on the basis that the other woman is just a bad person, but we still need to find a way to feel that the “sexier” woman deserves to lose that contest and the “plainer” woman deserves to win it.  And since the entire structure is built on the “sexier” woman being the more attractive and more popular with guys, you can’t really do it on the basis that the “plainer” woman is really more attractive.  So we need to find another way to make that work out.

And there’s two ways that they do that.  The first is making the “plainer” woman nicer and less shallow than the “sexier” one.  This then triggers the idea, as noted above, that the “plainer” woman might not be as attractive as the “sexier” one, but she has a better personality, and so in that sort of contest — especially if it’s for someone who looks like a boyfriend rather than just a simple date — we think that personality should win out.  The other way is to make it clear that the “plainer” woman is an underdog in the contest, and so we want to see the underdog take the day.  And the way to do that is to have a set-up in that episode and ideally outside of that episode where it is clear that the “sexier” of the two is the more popular with the guys, and so the show will fairly constantly make comments about how the “sexier” woman is the one who should win those sorts of contests.  So in that episode no one — not even the “plainer” woman — will think that she can win, making her unexpected victory all the sweeter for the audience.

So let’s look at how all these elements combine.  We have a “plainer” woman who is nevertheless about as attractive if not more so than the “sexier” one, and is someone who has a better personality than the “sexier” one and so is nicer and more sympathetic than the “sexier” one, who the show constantly ribs about being less attractive than the “sexier” one.  But because the character is indeed actually attractive, we can see that those comments and scenes are undeserved.  She’s constantly made out to be and made to feel the less attractive of the two, and by a large margin at that, when that isn’t at all the case.  So we feel that she’s being treated unfairly, and so feel sorry for her.  And we feel that she’s being treated unfairly precisely over her not being attractive.  This, then, makes us view her sympathetically, and want to defend her against these unfair charges.  Which makes us insist that she isn’t less attractive than the other one.  And, in fact, she’s actually more attractive because she’s pretty close in looks but is a much nicer and down-to-earth and less shallow person.  So we like her so much better, and everyone should want to date her more than the sexier one.

Thus, we end up in this debate because the role depends on us being constantly reminded that she’s supposed to be the less attractive one, and we both don’t think of her that way and feel that she’s being treated unfairly when we do that.  So the debate ends up being so strong because we are defending someone that we like — and are supposed to like — from what we feel are grievously unfair charges.  I felt the same way about the “sexier” option in “What I Like About You”, where they treated Tina like someone that they didn’t like despite her being nicer and more of a friend than Val’s friend Lauren was, and so felt that she was being treated badly in a way that she didn’t deserve, which only made me like her more, and more than they probably intended.  We will try to defend characters against what we feel are undeserved charges, and the entire structure here makes “She’s the plainer one and the other one is the more attractive one!” an undeserved charge leveled constantly against a likeable character.

Note that this isn’t as much of a problem when the two are the protagonists, because there they tend to make the main protagonist the more likeable one to take advantage of the likeability of the nicer one to build a connection, and so if that plot is pursued it’s seen as a challenge for the main character instead of as a clash between the two.  The focus is more directly on the nicer character which means that we can avoid the direct challenge and, at times, can even have it so that the nicer one actually loses that competition.

So that’s the real issue here, I think:  they build a character that we are sympathetic to and constantly push the undeserved line that that character isn’t as attractive as the other character.  No wonder, then, that so many people spend so much time insisting that it’s just not true.

Thoughts on “Thundercats”

July 27, 2021

So in the past I’ve picked up a number of cartoon shows that I watched when I was young and watched them.  I had seen “Thundercats” being offered in stores before, but it followed the very annoying model of breaking the seasons up into volumes and charging a surprisingly high price for them, so I didn’t bother getting them.  This model doesn’t work for me for two reasons.  First, I don’t like to pick up partial shows, because if I like them then I’d have to try to find the ones I couldn’t get (this is what bugs me the most about “Hot in Cleveland”, since I liked the show when I watched it but have never been able to find the rest of the series).  Second, the cost is always higher with this model, and since I often determine what I pick up on the basis of price per hour that means that when I do the calculations the show might not seem worth it (there are a number of shows that I come across now that I might have picked up if the price wasn’t so high, making it so that they aren’t worth taking a chance on).  However, I came across the complete series of Thundercats for a decent price, remembered the show — I actually even have a couple of the comics somewhere — and decided to pick it up.  When I switched over to watching half-hour shows, it was one of the first that I decided to get into.

The basic premise of the show is actually pretty dark.  Due to some force — that we discover later is actually the evil sword of their main villains — the planet Thundera is going to explode, and so all the cat-like creatures on the planet have to investigate.  This leads to an interesting moment where it is noted that the place they are going to — a planet called Third-Earth which is similar to out Earth but has completely different creatures and plants on it — is noted as being colder than Thundera so they have to … wear clothes.  Implying that they were naked to start with.  Huh.  Kinda daring for a 1985 cartoon.  And then the fleet gets attacked by their enemy — the Mutants — and almost every ship is wiped out except the one containing their young leader and the Thundercats who supported him.  They do manage to crash land on Third-Earth, and have to build a lair and some machines on this strange new planet.

What is interesting about the show is that it struck me as a transition stage between shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in line with shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the more modern Batman and Justice League cartoons.  The animations and the plots have the same sort of cheesy feel to them as the earlier shows, and then even have the block at the end of the show for the lesson.  On the other hand, they don’t actually put a lesson in that section most of the time, and most shockingly rely pretty heavily on continuity outside of two-parters or specific callbacks.  For example, the first few episodes shows the progression of the lair as it gets built, and the building of the Thundertank.  They also need Thundrillium for power, and a string of episodes focuses on them finding some, mining it, and dealing with the worthless — to them — gold it comes in alongside the existing problems.  While it doesn’t really have full arcs, there are a number of smaller arcs, even ones involving the main villain Mumm-Ra — he has to prove to the Ancient Spirits of Evil that he’s not incompetent or risk being replaced — that it plays out over repeated episodes.  It didn’t really get the idea of arcs or of deeper stories, but it is a step in the right direction.

The show was also fairly toy driven as well, and so they had to introduce new characters and vehicles on occasion.  For the most part, they do this fairly and show them being built and explain why they need them or where they come from.  But the problem with it is that they end up having too many characters and even villains to use properly.  This hit the Thundercats especially badly.  They introduced three new Thundercats, but outside of wise mentor Jaga they were barely used in the later episodes.  Tigra was also almost completely sidelined.  Panthro was still prominent, and Cheetara had her moments, but for the most part Lion-O — the leader — and Snarf were very prominent and a number of the others faded into the background.

This also happened to the original villains, but that was actually a good move.  They introduced a new set of villains called the Lunataks, who were more powerful than the original Mutants and displaced them.  However, the Mutants by that point were a complete and utter joke, and so seemed to pose no threat to the heroes, leaving the only real threat being Mumm-Ra (who was heavily used, probably for that reason).  A big part of this is that the villains were themselves very much He-Man-style villains, with the verbal tics and utter incompetence.  They came across as what you’d get if you took Beast-Man, Mer-Man, and Lock-Jaw and brought along Tri-Clops for some technical wizardry.  They lacked the competence and scheming abilities of Skeletor and Evil-Lyn, and so were nothing more than bumbling fools that would inconvenience the heroes at times, but couldn’t really be seen as a threat.

The problem with the Lunataks, however, is that they were too competent.  While I mentioned the He-Man villains above as a comparison, at least the Mutants weren’t characters that had one defining trait that the character was built around (instead being built as representations of animals).  The Lunataks, however, did.  So at the beginning they actually seemed like a step backwards to less potentially interesting villains.  But they were also too competent and powerful.  Any one of them was usually seen as a huge threat to the Thundercats, and all of them together should have overwhelmed them.  But they were insanely overpowered and overpowered in ridiculous ways in order to make them a real threat.  For example, one of them had mental abilities and so could take command of pretty much anyone through them.  Even Lion-O, who in a previous set of episodes had had to show that he could overcome mental domination and manipulation.  And even Tigra, who was the person who Lion-O had to defeat.  Yes, the villain could be just that much more powerful, but if you remember that trial the fact that neither of them seem to be any better at resisting him doesn’t ring true.

Eventually, though, they park these villains by having them all get captured and imprisoned, leaving Mumm-Ra as the main villain.  Mumm-Ra is basically a sorcerer-type villain like Skeletor, but he does pretty much overpower the Thundercats in raw power.  Only the Sword of Omens is really a threat to him, wielded by Lion-O.  He is also more clever than the other villains, and so some of his plots are actually interesting.  They also make an interesting move by giving him a mummy dog that he actually seems to care about, which can actually make him seem a little less evil.  Still, he’s definitely evil enough to justify being the main villain.  If there’s any flaw, it’s that his ultimate goal and relation to the Ancient Spirits of Evil is a bit vague.

Since the Sword of Omens is so important, it also gets overpowered by the end.  At first it has some very nice abilities — like warning of danger and calling the Thundercats — but by the end it can pretty much do anything, which requires either bumping up the threats to compensate or making us just expect the Sword to solve all the problems.  So that becomes a problem by the end of the series.

Thundercats is ultimately an odd show.  It’s often goofy, and sometimes that goofiness works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it has stronger arcs that play out and sometimes the arcs simply fail.  As I said, it seems like a transition from the goofy and cheesy cartoons to the more serious and deep modern cartoons.  It kinda works at that, but it neither has the charm of the early cartoons nor the depth of the later ones, so it forms a bit of an odd middle-ground that makes it interesting enough, but not as interesting as it could have been.

So, which closet is it going to end up in?  Trick question!  I have a shelf in my main closet for all of my cartoons.  However, it is good enough that I might watch it again, but it’s not one that I think I’ll look to rewatch any time soon (which puts it behind shows like “Justice League” and shows like “Transformers).

“What Would Batman Do? Bruce Wayne as Moral Exemplar”

July 26, 2021

The next essay in “Batman and Philosophy” is “What Would Batman Do?  Bruce Wayne as Moral Exemplar.” by Ryan Indy Rhodes and David Kyle Johnson.  In it, they explore an idea that was probably first made a key component of a moral system in Aristotle’s Virtue Theory.  The idea of an exemplar is someone who embodies all the moral virtues that one should possess, and so can be used as an example for those who are trying to become truly virtuous people.  For Aristotle, exemplars were an important part of his moral philosophy, while the equivalent in the Stoics might be the Stoic Sage, although we were not really supposed to emulate their actions but instead their way of thinking about things.  And aside from one problem that is raised in the essay, it seems to me that the problems they raise for having a fictional exemplar vs a non-fictional one are solved by using that idea of an exemplar.

The one problem that doesn’t fit into that model is the problem about whether “Batman is virtuous” can be said to be true or not.  There’s a long-standing debate in Philosophy of Language and Epistemology about what makes statements about a thing true, and one popular one is that it’s a reference to the real properties of the real thing that does that.  This isn’t true for Batman or any fictional character, however, since there is no real thing there to reference.  Obviously, we can appeal to the work of fiction itself as the thing that has properties, but there might be debate over that would be true in the right way to allow us to say that Batman is virtuous and so can be used as an exemplar.  That being said, I don’t think that this is something that will bother people studying ethics very much.  They would be more than willing to treat Batman as exemplar as more a thought experiment or created example than as a real person, which would allow them to say that Batman is an exemplar of right moral thinking because even his fictional actions align with the moral system rather than having to say that Batman is actually and truly virtuous.

The rest of the arguments tend to reference the idea that maybe a fictional character isn’t going to be a good example for us to follow.  They don’t live in the same world as us, and so it’s more difficult for us to relate their actions in the world to the actions in the world that we are pondering.  They are often given more resources than we are, and so it’s possible that they can do things that we can’t.  Moreover, in a fictional world the characters can be given benefits or excluded from consequences that we would have to address.  They also are precisely as moral as their creators want them to be, and don’t have to have the weaknesses and temptations that we face.  On the other hand, in general we can actually get inside their heads and observe their thought processes which is often harder to do with real exemplars, and we in general wouldn’t have to consider which things they do are failings and which are proper examples, since we would be defining them by their adherence to the moral system rather than by them seeming to be admirable people.

I think that most of the problems go away when we interpret “What Would Batman Do?” as not “What has Batman done in the past in this situation?” but instead as “What would someone like Batman do if they were in our situation?”.  This shows, then, that we are more interested in their mindset, and as noted above it’s really easy to understand the mindset of a fictional character since we can get inside their heads and see how they justify their actions to themselves instead of just to other people.  We don’t get that for other people.  And a fictional exemplar can be molded  to the moral system easier than a real person, and so can be a better example of what that moral system would advocate than a flawed real person.  There is still a concern that their world might be so different from ours that their moral judgement and considerations can’t apply to ours, but in such a case that person would simply not be chosen as an exemplar.  So there are clear advantages to using a fictional moral exemplar over a non-fictional one.

Still, I think the Stoic Sage is the better way to go, someone who understands the moral system and can talk about what it advocates and who tries to live up to it, but also knows their own flaws and can even show how they work to overcome them.  While the idealized Stoic Sage is, well, ideal and so not flawed, in practice any Stoic Sages will have flaws that they need to watch out for and correct, which will make them all the more like us and so even better examples.  And whether that example is fictional or non-fictional doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s accurate.

Morality Without Free Will

July 23, 2021

Last time while discussing “Living Without Free Will” by Derk Pereboom, I criticized the focus that he and others had on the problems for morality if we didn’t have free will, as if solving the issues around morality would solve the problems that we seem to face if we decide that there is no such thing as free will.  This chapter doubles down on that, focusing on discussing if notions of morality can be preserved even if we don’t have free will.  But as I’ve already argued the problems for morality follow from the problems a lack of free will would introduce in general, and thus even if you manage to preserve some notion of morality given determinism that wouldn’t mean that you’ve actually shown that free will itself isn’t problematic.  And I don’t think that you can actually do that anyway.

The key issue here is one that Pereboom raises:  the idea that ought implies can.  He somewhat dismisses this as maybe not really being a problem or a real defining trait for morality, but when we unpack what it really means in general — and not just for morality — we can see why it is necessary.  One of the key things we use morality for is to regulate behaviour, and it does so by telling us what we ought to do in order to be moral.  From that, it seems obvious why ought implies can if the ought is going to have any meaning whatsoever, because you cannot say that one ought to do something other than what they did if they couldn’t do that thing.  So, for example, if we want to say that someone ought to have dove into the water to save that drowning child, that would be hollow if they couldn’t swim and so would have been unable to save that child anyway.  We cannot morally judge someone for not doing something that they couldn’t reasonably do.  If determinism removes free will and so removes choice from us, then we can’t do anything other than what we do.  So there can be no meaningful “ought” statement that is anything other than what we were determined to do, because we couldn’t reasonably do anything else.  Someone may, then, be able to say “You ought to have done X instead of Y!” but if determinism is true then that is a statement we need not care about, since there was no way for us to actually have done X instead of Y.

To be fair, a lot of Pereboom’s defenses here are more along the lines of that we might be able to come up with some meaningful notion of morality even if we don’t have free will.  So even if we couldn’t really hold people morally responsible for their actions and couldn’t hold them morally praise- or blameworthy for their actions, maybe we could still have some notion of morality that makes talking about it meaningful and even potentially useful.  The problem with this approach is that the only way I can see to do this is to talk about morality independent of moral agents, which would undermine morality as we see it.  What we could talk about is broad principles, such as saying that murder is wrong, and perhaps we could judge specific actions by saying that what that person did is murder, murder is immoral, so what that person did was immoral.  But we couldn’t assign that immorality to the agent without violating ought implies can or without being able to blame or praise them morally for their action.  So what we’d have to understand is that saying “What that person did was immoral” is not using “person” in the sense of a moral agent as we would expect it to be used there, but is instead using “person” more similarly to how we’d talk about a rock, or a computer, as an entity that is taking the action but isn’t in any way really responsible for the action in any strong way.  They obviously wouldn’t have chosen to take that action, and so we aren’t talking about their choice or their reasons or their deliberations.  We are literally simply saying that the person there is the object that did that, and not the agent that did that.  And the problem with that, though, is that it makes no sense for us to say that something an object did is immoral.  If a rock is picked up by the wind and breaks a window, it makes no sense for us to claim that the rock did something immoral, or that the wind threw a rock at a window and broke it and so did something immoral.  They aren’t agents, have no concept of morality, and don’t make choices.  So what they do cannot be called immoral.  And yet, this seems to be pretty much the sort of things that hard determinism makes us into.  So if they cannot be considered immoral for doing things like that, then it doesn’t seem like we can be considered immoral for that either.

So compatibilists or hard determinists inspired by compatibilists can argue that those things don’t have any kind of consciousness at all, but we do and so we can be held to higher standards than simple objects can, just as we might be able to argue that an advanced AI would still be deterministic and yet still can be held responsible for their decisions in a stronger or different way than a calculator can be.  This actually doesn’t help that much, because we actually already distinguish between things that have consciousness and things that don’t.  A lion, for example, may kill a human, but we don’t consider that murder nor do we consider the lion immoral for doing so, even though we’d consider it murder and the person immoral if a human did it.  The reason we don’t consider the lion immoral is because we don’t consider the lion a moral agent, despite it having at least some agency.  It’s incapable of understanding morality and so incapable of acting for moral reasons, and so cannot be judged immoral for what it does, but we are seen to be able to understand morality and act for moral reasons, and so we can be.  So adding consciousness doesn’t get them out of the problem.  We need a special kind of consciousness to get what we consider to be a meaningful morality.

So this opens up a potential way out, as they can argue that agency isn’t what’s important, but instead that it’s morality that’s important, so what the entity needs is the ability to comprehend the somewhat abstract notion of morality and reason on the basis of that, and so doesn’t have to have agency per se.  The issue is that we also have examples where we don’t consider an action immoral even if the entity seems to understand morality but doesn’t seem to have the proper agency.  Take the classic kleptomaniac example.  What they do really is stealing, they clearly seem to understand morality since they often feel morally guilty for doing the action, but we don’t consider their stealing to be immoral because they don’t seem to have the proper agency.  They don’t really choose to steal, but instead have an irresistible compulsion to steal.  Which brings us back to “Ought implies can”:  they can’t do otherwise, and so it can’t be said that they ought to do otherwise, so it is meaningless to say that what they did was immoral.  Not only does it not make sense as per our existing concept of morality, haranguing someone and punishing them for not doing what they couldn’t do really makes no sense, nor should they actually feel guilty for not doing what they, again, couldn’t actually do.  What purpose does morality have in that case, then?

The key thing is that morality is critically driven by moral agency.  Moral agency is a combination of two things.  The first is the ability to understand what morality is and assign value to morality and classify statements and reasons and actions as moral or immoral ones.  This is what the lion lacks.  But the other thing is the agency part, which is the ability to make choices and take actions according to those moral considerations and reasons.  What hard determinism at least risks us losing is the ability to make choices or act for reasons.  But that’s not unique to morality, nor is there some special type of agency that is required there that we might be able to work around.  No, the same concerns about moral agency apply to, say, rational agency.  If I can’t act for reasons that I recognize as moral and shift my behaviour based on my classification of them, then it looks like I can’t act for reasons that I recognize as rational and shift my behaviour based on my classification of them.  The problem is with being able to act on my mental and conscious classifications, not with any specific classifications that I might have.  So if I can’t be said to act rationally, then I can’t be said to act morally either, and if we could preserve a notion of agency that would allow for rational action, then it should allow for moral action as well, at least from the perspective of agency.  So the agency problem equally hits pretty much all of our actions, and so losing moral agency is a side effect of losing agency in general, not a specific sort of agency needed for morality.

This is where the compatibilists do have an advantage, because their model is trying to preserve some meaningful notion of agency that can save all of these functionalities, and so they aren’t locked into arguing over different notions of morality that might save things.  They can try to save agency in general and so sidestep all of these issues.  And the problem with this chapter is that it spends too much time trying to come up with different notions of morality while missing that agency in general is the overarching issue here, and agency in general is crucial enough to morality — and other things — that unless you save agency in general you will never be able to come up with a notion of morality that looks at all like the one we have, and can be used the way we use it, and so you will never be able to come up with a notion of morality that aligns with the strict hard deterministic notion of agency that retains any meaning.  Thus, we need to massage agency, not morality.  And if you do that, then you pretty much are a compatibilist and not a hard determinist anymore.

Thoughts on “Corporate Animals”

July 22, 2021

Continuing through the horror movies I have on Crave, the next one I watched was “Corporate Animals”.  This one is more of a horror-comedy than a straight horror, and is built around the premise that a group of people who I think are main executives at a fairly successful company — their main line is edible cutlery, but they’re branching out into a university — who are forced by the big boss to go on a team-building workshop to an area that has a lot of caves in it.  The boss — played by Demi Moore — speaks the whole “eco-friendly, all a team, friendly company” lingo, but is quickly revealed to be demanding, unpleasant and somewhat stupid.  She demands that the team take the route through the caves that is only for experts, and then there’s an earthquake that results in them being trapped on one of the caves with their guide killed.  They have to stay alive, and start to contemplate cannibalism to survive.

Now, horror-comedies can work, and can run the gamut from focused entirely on the comedy to playing the horror mostly straight with some black humour elements to make things not all that serious.  However, what tends to make for the best horror-comedies is that they take the things that either seem ridiculous about the premises or the things that can be made ridiculous about the premises and bring that to the forefront, often exaggerated.  It’s the things that you aren’t supposed to think about or ask about in the specific horror premise that they’re exploring because they really don’t make sense, but the audience is usually asked to just ignore that and go along with it to get the horror that the works highlight and use for comedy.  The problem with this premise for a horror comedy is that it seems that it’s a really, really hard premise to do that sort of humour with.  It seems to me that the premise of people trapped somewhere and starving to death is just way too inherently depressing a premise for a horror-comedy.  Yes, there are potentially some nonsensical or strange aspects that could be made fun of, but it seems to me that all of those would simply remind the audience of just how overly depressing the situation is.  As an example, there is a joke about the starving people talking about all the disgusting things that they are now hungry enough to eat, but that almost comes across as more like group bonding around their terrible situation than a joke sequence (similar to the scene in “Deadpool” where Deadpool and the other patient are talking about all the things they’d want to do when they get out which are ridiculous, but end with missing their loved ones).  Dark humour can work, but it strikes me as difficult to to make that work in a way that doesn’t immediately drag us back down into the depression, which would make us not think of the movie as particularly funny, which is important for a horror-comedy.  But on the other end, making it a complete and total parody — like “Scary Movie” or “Dracula:  Dead and Loving It” — risks completely invalidating the premise, as these sorts of movies are based on the trials they are facing and them pondering their impending deaths, and if things are too ridiculous then all of that will be lost.  While I’m not saying that this can’t be done — because if I did someone will find a movie where it actually was done successfully — this is one horror premise where it seems like you need really, really good writers and need to approach it very carefully to pull it off.  And this movie didn’t manage it, and so maybe should have stuck with an easier premise.

Part of the problem is that it also seems to miss what is pretty much the only real component to these sorts of stories, which is the human conflict.  Sometimes they start with people who really seem to be the best of friends who swear that they’ll co-operate who by the end have devolved into every person for themselves, often even willing to kill their friends if it will allow them to live just a little bit longer.  On the more optimistic end, you can start with a group of strangers or rivals who learn to work together because that’s necessary to survive, and at the end they’ve forged a bond that can’t be broken.  But here, we start out knowing that the boss is a jerk and the people are rivals and not very nice people, but while at the end they all do seem to bond together around hiding the murder of the boss it just doesn’t come off.  Most of them aren’t nasty enough so that this feels like a redemption but aren’t nice enough so that it feels like them being reduced to their base animal natures and to people being willing to do anything to survive and not get arrested.  And since there’s no external threat in this movie, all we have is them talking to each other and, well, sniping at each other.  But to pull off the ending they have to establish that the boss is hurting all of them, so lots of time is spent showing just how terrible she is.  The problem is that we already knew that and don’t really need that established anymore, and so we don’t see her death as a tragedy, but we know that these people are still as shallow as they were before and so it doesn’t come across a triumph.  I guess the real issue is that there really is no reason for them to turn in the guy who (accidentally) badly injured her and so go along with her accusation, and so they a) probably didn’t have to kill her and b) pretty much all wanted to see her dead anyway so participating in killing her is a no-brainer.  Yes, it does lend an ironic tone to “team-building” but other works have done that sort of thing better without tying it to a “cave-in cannibalism” theme.

Ultimately, the main issue here is that there’s a lack of emotional connection to the characters.  I don’t really care if they survive, if the boss dies, if they get arrested for killing her or eating the guide, or in general about anything that happens to them.  It has the shallow characters and character arcs of comedies with the depressing atmosphere of this genre of horror, and the combination results in a movie that’s too depressing for me to find funny but not serious enough for me to enjoy an exploration of characters in a desperate situation.  As I’ve already said, trying to combine horror and comedy in this sort of premise is difficult, and it seems like on top of that they combined those things in the worst possible way.

So, no, I don’t want to watch it again.  I found that it dragged and there was no real plot or characterization to follow, and the comedy just didn’t work, at least not enough to redeem the movie.  At the end of the day, I was bored and didn’t find the ending at all emotionally satisfying, and perhaps more damningly not all that funny.

The Eternal Question

July 21, 2021

So, after polishing off my latest discussion on Mass Effect and before getting back to my long discussion of “Fate of the Jedi”, I thought I’d stop and take a look at an even more important question:  Ginger or Mary Ann?

This is, of course, the rather famous question spawned by the classic sitcom “Gilligan’s Island”, which I’ve just started watching after clearing “Futurama” off the decks.  And, of course, I was reminded of that question even before starting to watch the series, and was reminded of it when I stopped to browse its TV Tropes page while installing at work.  The question, for those too young to remember it, was spawned by the fact that the show had two attractive young women among its seven castaways:  Ginger, a movie star/actress and Mary Ann, a farm girl from Kansas.  Ginger was played up as being more seductive, sexy and glamorous, while Mary Ann was played up as being nice, positive and hardworking.  And so many of the male audience noted that they liked Mary Ann better than Ginger.  In fact, from looking around it seems like every time a poll is taken Mary Ann wins out by a significant amount over Ginger.

So while looking around for some more discussion of the question, I found this article that by its own title sets out the eternal question of “Naughty or Nice”:  do men in general prefer the sexier option over the nice option, or vice versa (which is also played out in the classic “Betty or Veronica” conflict in Archie Comics)?  They look at some other TV options along with the “Gilligan’s Island” one, and so for fun I’ll talk about them as well, only skipping the “Bewitched” example because I’ve never seen that show and so can’t really form an opinion.  I do plan on talking more about the overall question about whether sexy or nice is more generally appealing.

But onto the analysis that’s simple for the fun of it:

Jennifer vs. Bailey (WKRP in Cincinnati)I’ve talked about this show before.  The debate here is between the sexy secretary played by Loni Anderson — who was well-known as a sex object at the time — and the intellectual aspiring reporter played by Jan Smithers.  At the time of the show, I think I had a soft spot, at least, for Bailey, and when I rewatched it I definitely preferred Bailey.  The issue with Jennifer, for me at least, is that she didn’t really have what you’d call “natural” good looks.  In perhaps what would be the defining statement for these debates, she didn’t really look like a woman that you’d ever interact with.  And while she probably did have better looks and a better overall body than Jan Smithers, obviously Jan Smithers wasn’t unattractive and so it wasn’t a clear advantage for Jennifer.  So Bailey was really cute, nice, driven and seemed like the sort of woman you’d actually be able to meet in real life, and that you’d actually be able to talk to.  Essentially, Jennifer is indeed the Ginger/movie star to Bailey’s Mary Ann/girl next door.  And since I like smart women in glasses, the fact that she’d fit the Meganekko role means that yeah, she’d definitely work better for me.

Ginger vs. Mary Ann (Gilligan’s Island):  The pairing that started the debate here, and the one that I’m not as far into in the series.  But one thing I’ve noticed already is that they actually, at least for these audiences, stacked the deck pretty badly against Ginger in the show.  In the first season, they are aiming for sexy glamour and have her in tight but long evening gowns and dresses.  By contrast, Mary Ann ends up in short shorts and midriff-baring tops.  It’s kinda hard for Ginger to take the “sexy” role when Mary Ann arguably actually dresses more sexy.  Mary Ann is also more down-to-earth than Ginger is, for the time, is importantly better and more interested in housework than Ginger.  So ultimately Ginger is more seductive, but for conversation options spends too much time talking about the other people she’s dated in a flirty way which makes her, as a character, mostly there for innuendo.  So she isn’t really developed enough as a character, at least early on, and for me, at least, it’d be hard to make up that disadvantage later.  So I’d have to go with Mary Ann as well.

Chrissy vs. Janet (Three’s Company):  So this was, I think, a debate that never really happened, mostly because both of them were always considered attractive and while there were a few shots at Chrissy overshadowing Janet, Janet’s more reserved fashion choices when Chrissy was on the show and Chrissy leaving the show relatively early on kinda muted the entire thing.  But the article chooses Chrissy over Janet, mostly because Janet was too “Miss Goody Two-Shoes” while Chrissy would be more fun, even if the article says that Janet was more attractive than Chrissy.  I’m not sure I’d agree that Janet was more physically attractive, but they are both attractive.  The issue for me is that Chrissy was very, very dumb, and so dumb as to be annoying, as she annoyed both her roommates with that.  Meanwhile, Janet was indeed willing to go to parties and all sorts of events just for the fun of it, so while she wasn’t actually boring either.  She might have been more sensible, but she wasn’t a stick-in-the-mud either.  Given that Chrissy is annoying and Janet isn’t as boring as the article described, I’ll have to disagree with them and go for Janet here.

So, that’s my quick assessment of the debates the article references and comments on.  Later, I’ll go into a bit more detail on how naughty vs nice actually plays out.

Quick Thoughts on “Scooby-Doo”

July 20, 2021

So, while browsing in the local Walmart, I came across the collection of the two old live-action “Scooby-Doo” movies for $5.  I had watched both of them before and kinda enjoyed them, so for that price I really could go wrong.  I watched them recently and so want to pull out a few thoughts on the movie.

The first thing is that they did a really good job casting the live action movie and building the images of the main characters.  Matthew Lillard is perfect as Shaggy.  While she might be a bit too attractive for the part, Linda Cardellini really manages to fit into the role and pull off the image, even if her speech might be a bit too emotionless for Velma (there’s a subplot in the second movie about her not being able to be herself and so choosing to focus on logic and not on emotions, but that doesn’t really fit for Velma).  It was always going to be hard to cast Daphne, but Sarah Michelle Gellar is attractive enough for the role and the look roughly works.  About the worst is Freddie Prinz Jr., who doesn’t really look preppy enough for Fred.

The best move was making Scooby CGI.  Not so much because it looks more like Scooby, but more because it allows them to get away with the sorts of cartoon actions that you could do in a cartoon but would be difficult to do in a live action movie.  For a lot of them, they can let the live actors simply act normally and then show the ridiculous things from Scooby, who already looks and acts unreal and so who won’t break immersion when he does things that couldn’t happen in real life.  That being said, Lillard works well with him because he does seem to manage similar cartoon mannerisms, and even Cardellini gets into the act more in the second movie and can pull it off as well.

One thing that puzzles me about the movie is that it’s difficult to figure out who the audience for these movies are, especially the second one.  The movies work for me because I watched the original show, and it does a good job of capturing at least the form of it while being able to mock the things that were weird about it.  It’s not a mature script in the sense that it addresses real, serious issues that they might have, as the first movie simply addresses them breaking up and getting back together and the second addresses some issues they had personally, but none of them are ones that we haven’t seen in a host of similar movies and shows up to now.  And the humour can be pretty low-brow, with a lot of fart jokes, especially in the second movie.  But the script is too adult for kids, as even in the first movie they make a number of sexual jokes and only do more of that in the second movie.  So the audience seems to be early to late teens who have seen the series, which is not a huge audience.  Older fans of the series might appreciate it anyway for the nostalgia effect, but that will get old fairly quickly.  With the added costs of a live action movie vs a cartoon, it’s probably not surprising that they returned to cartoon movies after this.

One final point is on Velma’s character arc in the last movie.  A guy finds her attractive, and she keeps running away from any chance of a date with him because she doesn’t feel that she’s attractive, which gets Daphne to make her up in a sexy catsuit thing, and at the end they play into the hinted at notion that she didn’t trust her heart by getting her to trust him even though she thinks he might be the villain.  It’s kinda a confusing mess, and probably would have worked a lot better if they had just had her comparing herself to Daphne and wondering why anyone would actually be interested in her.  Of course, the other issue here is that we have Velma being played by Linda Cardellini and then protesting that she isn’t hot, which strains credulity.  However, if they had to have an actress to try to pull that off I think Linda Cardellini is a good choice, because I first encountered her in “Bonechillers” playing a Goth girl and what I noticed about her there and here is that she really does seem to fit into her role really well.  So she doesn’t come across as herself in a Velma or Goth outfit, but as one herself.  So then she looks like the brainy girl with limited fashion sense and no real idea how to do her make-up, which then makes it reasonable for her to get overlooked by people who aren’t looking for that.  So when we see her in a close-up protesting that she isn’t hot, I suspect that many people didn’t think “But you are hot!” but instead But _I_ find you hot!”, which is the exact reaction you want for that sort of plotline.  But it would only work because of the actress, not because of the plot itself.

And for those who are curious … yeah, I’ll probably watch it again, and put it in my closet with the movies that I might rewatch on a regular basis.  There’s enough nostalgia there and the performances are good enough to make it something that I can watch when I just want light entertainment.

“I Suppose I Shall Have to Compound a Felony as Usual”

July 19, 2021

The next essay in “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy” in “I Suppose I Shall Have to Compound a Felony as Usual” by Mihaela Frunza and Anatolia Bessemer.  The main thrust of this essay is to examine notions of justice, as Holmes on  a number of occasions either lets people off for their crimes or commits crimes himself in order to investigate the crimes of those people.  This despite the fact that Holmes declares that his business is to uphold the law.  So the suggestion of the authors is that Holmes focuses more on justice than on the law, while the investigators that he interacts with focus more on the law than on justice.  This suggests that they might have different views of justice, and much of the essay is spent trying to justify the idea that different notions of justice might be not only valid, but desirable in our society.  Which, as a strong moral objectivist, isn’t a position I favour and so the arguments given there aren’t all that convincing to me.

But that’s not what I want to focus on, nor what I feel they didn’t properly address in the essay.  What I think is missing from the essay is a really good argument that Holmes and the inspectors actually have a different view of justice here.  Especially given that the essay makes it clear that Holmes feels that the inspectors would be obligated to report the crimes he lets go whether they agreed with him on whether doing so would be just or not.  So perhaps the inspectors would agree entirely with Holmes in his assessment of what is just in those situations.  Indeed, since we are expected to agree with him based on his arguments, it only seems reasonable that they would be equally convinced.  So perhaps it isn’t a differing sense of justice that would cause them to arrest the criminals that Holmes would let go, but something else that explains the differing behaviour.

We can solve this by appealing to virtues and noting that they indeed have a differing virtue here that will change at least how they behave wrt the justness of the action.  For the investigators, they have made a commitment to find criminals and turn them over to the system to be judged.  Given this, they give up their ability to be the judge of the criminals they find.  They commit to letting that be judged by the judicial system, and so their duty would require that they turn those criminals in even if their sense of justice says that they shouldn’t be.  They also commit strongly to the system of law, and so in the same sense give up the ability to say that someone should not be arrested because they think the law in general or in that particular case isn’t right.  In cases like that, they would insist that the law should be changed through the normal legal channels.  For them, they have committed to enforce the law as it is, not how they wish it should be.

Holmes, on the other hand, has not made any such commitment.  While he has made a personal commitment — that he thinks is a requirement of being a citizen — to uphold the law, he has made no commitment to uphold the law even if he thinks the law ridiculous or inappropriate.  He also hasn’t made any commitment to subordinate his own sense of justice to anyone else.  So he has no duty to report people to the investigators as criminals if he doesn’t think that it will be just to do so.  So the difference between Holmes and the investigators is not necessarily that they have disagreeing notions of justice, but instead that the investigators have an additional obligation of duty that Holmes does not, leaving Holmes free to act on his notion of justice in a way that the investigators are not.

So from this angle, it again looks like a conflict of virtues for the investigators:  their sense of justice would agree with Holmes and so they should refuse to report the crime, but their sense of duty requires them to report the criminal anyway.  As per the discussion, Holmes at least believes that the investigators would choose duty over justice and so doesn’t bother to tell them about the things he believes should be let go.  But it’s interesting to note that there are still things the investigators could do to try to promote what they’d think is the just solution even after reporting the criminal.  For one thing, they could ensure that they document the crime in such a way to highlight the aspects that would make convicting the criminal unjust, to make sure that the judges are aware of that.  And they can even personally advocate for the criminal in court and point out how it would seem unjust to convict them.  But even if the judge has the same sense of justice but decides that the law needs to be enforced even in cases like that, it would not mean that they all must have a different sense of justice.  The investigators could very well be acting out of their sense of justice, but just not be free to take the same actions as Holmes does, and the judge might feel the same about justice but note that their obligation to the law requires them to act towards the law in a way that doesn’t seem perfectly just.

What this suggests is that we might be making a mistake in judging virtues — and also rights — as being individual things that we balance against each other.  Virtue Theories tend to justify themselves on the basis of what acting on the virtues makes the whole person, but when examining these issues we then split that all out into competing virtues.  But what we see here is that the individuals are in different situations and so what it means for them to act from the virtue of justice is different for them when we consider them as a whole.  The investigators don’t disagree with Holmes about whether convicting the criminal is or might be unjust, and they are even obligated to do whatever they can to ensure that the injustice doesn’t happen.  They just have other commitments that means that they cannot virtuously do the same thing to ensure that that Holmes can.  We don’t need to argue that they and Holmes have different ideas of justice, nor do we have to argue that the investigators are choosing duty over justice.  We can think of all parties as holistic entities of virtues that always act in a way to maximize their virtuous obligations.

So this reveals, to me, that our trend of breaking down virtues or rights into individual elements that we balance against each other that leads us to believe that they can be or are often in conflict is actually a mistake.  What we need to do is look at things at the level of the total individual or all of society and see how to fit everything together the best, not argue over whether we should choose one over another.  From that, we can all have the same idea of the virtues even if we have to act differently from them.