The Un-Ethics of Watchmen Part II: The Under-übermensches

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11 Responses

  1. mike weber says:

    Couple of things here: Rorschach is an exaggeration of Steve Ditko's Objectivist philosophy – though based on The Question, he's more like Mr A.Ozymandias's scheme is actually rather less excessive than similar ones postulated over the years in science fiction.

  2. Alexandra Honigsberg says:

    Mr. Weber — All the characters are some form of exaggeration on one of the major schools of ethical thought (Dreiberg being the most centrist, balanced, and reasonable and therefore the most virtuous, if we return to that school of thought via Aristotle). Rorschach seems to me to be Kant Gone Wild…I'm not as familiar with Ditko's work. And as for Ozymandias…if you scale him back you get the decisions that people have to make in war all the time (back to Hiroshima…but you could argue self-defense there, as invasions were almost certain). Ozy's plan used deception and thus left people choiceless — stripping them of their self-hood on both sides of the event. Once you turn people into objects, all ethical best're off, no matter what school of thought you're using (even in a jaundiced, narrow, and inaccurate reading against Utilitarianism). So I'm not seeing how others having proposed "worse" (I'm not coming up with anything off the top of my head) in other genre fiction makes Ozy's moves any more comprehensible or supportable. –Alexandra

    • Russ Rogers says:

      "I'm not familiar with Ditko's work." Oh, Alexandra. Ditko is the mad genius of comics! He's complex and fascinating. A man whose principles are more valuable than money! Ditko co-created Spider-Man in the sixties. He created or co-created many other super-heroes, but Spider-Man is the big one. He became a devout follower of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. Rorschach is a fun-house mirror reflection of "The Question" and "Mr. A," two fedora and trench coat wearing hero/moralists created by Ditko. Ditko's art has been an exploration of Objectivism for decades and it has been hobbled by it too. Ditko is arguably one of the most influential Comics Creators of all time. If Alan Moore was using the Watchmen to directly explore differing philosophical viewpoints, Ditko got there first. But Moore is more subtle. Because Ditko can be tediously pedantic and didactic.Check out "Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko."…On a side note, the two most blatantly philosophical comic book writers that I've come across were Ditko and Denny O'Neil. And they both used "The Question" as their sounding board. Ditko's Question is an expression of Objectivism. O'Neil's Question morphed into an exploration of Zen and Eastern philosophy.

    • mike weber says:

      "Worse" = even bigger versions of the same thing. Whole planets laid waste as an excuse for war or to create an outside menace that will force unity.And if you want to look at Hiroshima and consider it as a "them or us" situation, my own younger brother and his collaborator, Steve White, postulated an interstellar war in which the only hope for humanity's survival was the total slaughter of an entire sentient species, on all of the worlds it occupied. As to Ditko's philosophy as expressed through his heroes, are you familiar with Ayn Rand?

  3. mike weber says:

    …and, as far as i'm concerned, Denny's Question was the most spectacularly *bad* DC versions of the Charlton heroes. Except for Blue Beetle, DC's handling of Charlton characters has, pretty consistently been poor-to-bad.And, of course, poor Ted Kord had to die. (Well, so did Vic Sage, but what little i saw – i haven't seen a new comic in about six months – seemed to indicate Rene Montoya might be a worthy successor to Ditko's original.)

    • Russ Rogers says:

      I wasn't very familiar with The Question prior to the DC acquisition of the characters. My point is, Denny O'Neil defined the Question for me and I really liked that book. It was a deconstruction of the Question (and costumed heroes in general), sometimes a bit melodramatic, but I don't remember that comic as spectacularly bad.I can't remember Captain Atom's personality at all, just vague powers and a costume. The Peacemaker never captured my attention. Blue Beetle definitely had his moments. But I don't think Blue Beetle really hit his stride as a a character until he was paired up with Booster Gold in the Justice League.

  4. Alexandra Honigsberg says:

    Mr. Rogers — well…OK…I do know some of Ditko's work, after all. Thanks for filling me in. As I said up front, I am not an expert in the comics genre. As an adult I came to it through Neil Gaiman's Sandman and historicals like Age of Bronze and satires like Action Philosophers and Epicurus the Sage, plus some selective manga (Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, Trinity Blood, Death Note) and tie-ins like the comics for 24. As a little kid I read things like Little Lulu, Richie Rich, Casper, and Archie. I watched the Marvel Super Heroes cartoons on TV in the NY area during the '60s and '70s. As an adult I've loved the X-Men and Spiderman and even the various Batman movies, but Ironman's been my fav, so far (haven't yet been able to go see the Watchman movie, but I will by next week's installment). And now I'm going back and reading classic Thor, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, Fantastic 4 and the like, from a collection here in the house that is part mine and part a legacy from my late husband, who really did know the genre, so I've absorbed some from him over 30+ years. I was asked to write these articles because I am a genre author (specializing in horror and fantasy, especially vampires, the paranormal, and religious themes) who's also an Ethics professional. I claim no comprehensive expertise.Mr. Weber — re: Ayn Rand…I've read much about her and Objectivism over the years but have not yet read her famous books. They're on my list for this summer (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged). My students always get all involved in them (and nihilistic existentialism, like Sartre and Camus…how dreary…) and the adults I know who've read them say they're a total bore, but they're significant literature that I'd like to see for myself.Can you name some specific titles and authors, please, with these themes of mass destruction as solutions to various problems? I do not claim encyclopedic knowledge of the genres I work in. The parts of the map that I know, I know very well. I don't know everything. I am always willing to learn. I am not debating here to be "right," but enjoying open discussion on things that are worth discussing (e.g., human nature and the virtuous life). I look forward to more discussion.Thank you, gentlemen.–Alexandra

    • mike weber says:

      Unfortunately, specific examples are all buried somewhere at the back of what Kate calls my "magpie mind" – one that comes immediately to mind is going to be hard to find; "The Lost Kafoozalum", which involves concocting an alien menace (though without, as i recall, bloodshed) to end a war.Another would be Mack Reynolds' "Section G/Ronnie Bronson" stories, in which Section G, a subsection of the Galactic equivalent of the FBI, always assigns its newest agents to the search for an elusive revolutionary nicknamed "Tommy Paine" (for good historical reasons), who seems to foment rebellion wherever he goes, just for the hell of it – on one planet, he'll work like hell to overthrow a fedual society and establish an Industrial Revolution-style capitalist state, and then he'll turn around and, on another planet, work for the overthrow of a robber-baron capitalist-industrialist society in favour of an absolute monarchy. Over throws a liberal republic on one world and establishes a dibtatorship – then, on another world, stirs up a rebellion that tosses out a dictator and establishes a parliamentary democracy.ANYONE WHO DOESN'T LIKE "SPOILERS", EVEN FOR STORIES THEY'RE UNLIKELY TO EVER SEE, MUCH LESS READ, SHOULD STOP HERE.It turns out that the hunt for "Tommy Paine" is the final test to decide if agents should be told the real purpose of Section G – which has incontrevrtible proof that a Very Nasty alien race is headed our way, and "Tommy Paine" is, in fact, Section G itself – and the changes "he" foments are the ones most likely to make all humanity ready to fight the invaders, regardless of what the effect on the individual man in the street may be.I know i've read more such (they were fairly common in the 1950s), but none specifically spring to mind; unfortunately, they're buried among fifty-two years of accumulated SF reading.One of my brother's books explores the concept of an artificially-created state of emergency that allows a sentient computer to seize the rulership of an entire race, and which, to be maintained, requires the race so ruled to be incuilcated with a paranoia that causes them to range throughout the galaxy utterly destroying any races they discover. The same gimmick, on a slightly smaller {but still interstellar} scale, drives the last two-thirds of the novel-length version of Jame Schmitz's "The Witches of Karres", for that matter.

    • mike weber says:

      Oh, and "boring" is hardly the word for "Atlas Shrugged", especially once John Gal;t starts to talk.And talk.And talk.And talk some more…

  5. Alexandra Honigsberg says:

    May I call you Mike?…I totally understand Magpie Mind. It's why I constantly leave and take notes for myself and look things up to get the specifics 'cause else it all becomes one great Alexandra Continuum in my head. I feel your pain. Thanks for the examples you did give, as I'm not familiar with any of them.As for Galt's talking…yeah…that's what I was warned about… But I shall read it, just to know more precisely what everyone's talking and querying me about. It's like a sat in B&N and read The DaVinci Code (and took notes — one side of the page What He Got Right and the other What He Got Wrong…the latter was more vast than the former, oh yes!) 'cause my students kept using it in citations in their papers on Church History! So I had to put a stop to that in a knowledgeable and specific way!Last semester I also had to wrestle with my Ethics students who'd decided that I just HAD to see the SAW movies 'cause "Mr. Saw" (as I refer to him 'cause I can't recall his name) is ethical 'cause he doesn't hurt anyone, they hurt themselves or each other, and if they'd just admit their wrongdoings he'd let them go free! After studying Ethics 13 weeks with me, I was really appalled. So the next class I put together a list of 10 Reasons Why Mr. Saw Is NOT Ethical and we talked about it (after I'd gone on-line and read summaries and scripts…I just couldn't bring myself to watch the movie…this was as SAW V was coming out last fall). They remained unconvinced (I put it as a bonus question on their final, just to make my point…it didn't stick, sadly) as to my pov and I remained appalled by theirs. It was…a learning experience.But things like that confirm my conviction that exploring the real issues imbedded in pop culture is a valid way to learn and teach all sorts of disciplines, including Ethics. I loves me my pop culture, so it makes having difficult discussions fun.–Alexandra