The good characters in Game of Thrones are unbelievable. To me they seem like naïve idiots. I can’t believe anyone can be moral in an immoral world.
You know what I find hardest to believe about Game of Thrones?
Dragons. Seriously. Flying Lizards? Breathing fire? Where do they come up with this stuff?
You know what I find the second hardest thing to believe about Game of Thrones?
It really surprises me that there are any good and virtuous characters at all.
I mean the Game of Thrones world is vicious. People are getting hacked to pieces everywhere you look. Murderers and thieves are at every turn. Even bloodlines don’t protect you from treachery and betrayal.
And barely anyone can keep it in their pants.
(Actually, no, that’s the second hardest thing to believe about game of thrones. How these piss-poor peasants living in a perpetual winter have such perfectly tanned cross-fit bottoms.)
But despite how selfish and cruel the world is, there are still these intensely good and noble characters in the midst. Folks who would, ‘gladly give my life for you, my queen.’
Really? If that was your reality, why would you believe in anything? Why would you subscribe to virtues like honour and chastity and truthfulness and only light-meals after six?
Maybe if you were some naive peasant living in the wilderness. But if you were in the thick of it – if you were a witness to all the back-stabbing politics of the city, why would you bother trying to live up to such lofty ideals?
Partly, it’s hard to stay committed to virtue in a world of sin. If everyone else is just looking after their own backs and feathering their own nests, your morality and principles start to become expensive. It holds you back in the world.
You’re trying to stay true to modesty, generosity and integrity, but then that nasty little turd-burger from accounts becomes your boss, because he’s been sucking up to the CEO at the jousting tournaments.
You’re going to start questioning whether it’s worth it.
And in a really nasty world like the Game of Thrones kingdoms, morality could get you killed. You might believe in justice and honour and due-process, but there’s a good chance you’ll be undone by someone who doesn’t.
Someone will come along and take advantage of your charity and trusting nature and bury an axe in your head and run off with your daughters.
To be a moral person in an immoral world puts you at a distinct disadvantage. In a ruthlessly immoral world you’ll probably end up dead.
And so every time one of these intensely moral and virtuous characters appear, it just stretches my belief. They seem as improbable as dragons.
Why would you take on all the disadvantage and suffering that your morality brings? Why would you risk your life for an ideal? What is it that you’re committed to? That’s what I find myself thinking about.
Why is Brienne of Tarth running around like some cross between a Saint and a Samurai, when literally no body else is?
I think it’s the interesting thing about morality, or any system of trying to get along better with each other. It’s a collective effort.
In Australia, we’re pretty good at standing in queues. We respect the principal of a queue. We know that a queue means we can bring a bit of order to the unpleasant job of collectively waiting for something. We know it’s better than the alternative.
But in some countries I’ve been to, the concept of a queue has never really taken off. Every time you’re waiting for something, you’ve got to jostle to keep your position and get served in time.
Pain in the arse.
But you can’t just unilaterally start a queue. You can’t just go it alone and bring a bit of order to things. You’ll never get served.
The queue needs to be collectively decided on, or somehow imposed – like a big sign saying ‘Please Queue Here.’
Same story with morality. It’s got to be some sort of a collective effort.
And you need some sort of mechanism to stop rewards accruing to the cheaters.
This is one of the problems with capitalism.
(which as they say, is the worst possible system, except for all the others we’ve tried.)
The profit motive very easily sparks races to the bottom. If one of your competitors starts getting their shoes made by sweat-shop slaves in Asia, you don’t have much choice but to follow suit. If you’re not competitive, you die.
It’s the problem with a competitive system. But competition is the engine of innovation and progress in a capitalist system, so it’s hard to untangle.
As I said, worst possible system.
And right now, I can’t help but feel we’re going backwards.
However you feel about religions, they used to do a decent job of coordinating a collective morality.
But their hold on society is waning, and even within many religions, a purely rules-based approach seems outdated.
There was no 11th commandment: ‘Thou shalt not redirect education funding to your dodgy cousins.’
But what or who’s filling the void? There’s a role here for politicians – for our leaders – but Canberra seems to be the only place more morally bankrupt than Westeros.
So what will hold and support our collective morality? And if nothing is holding it and promoting it, how long will it last?
Personally, I think virtue is its own reward. It feels good to be generous, and loving and honest and to have integrity. And to be those things, in a world where everyone is also aspiring to those things – I think that’s as much as humans can ever hope for.
And so I think this will be the next evolution in human morality. Being good for the pleasure of it. But it needs a critical mass of people following the same ideal.
I can’t see yet what will hold the collective human will to this difficult goal. But I’m hopeful that something will.
But then I am a bit of a dreamer.
Do people need some sort of coordinating force to be good?
Can we expect people to be moral in an immoral world?