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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, May 26, 2018

INFINITELY REGRESSIVE UTILITARIANISM

One of the CBR threads informed me of this VOX article discussing the interactions of utilitarian philosophy and "deonotological philosophy" in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.

Frankly, I've yet to find any MCU movies, except possibly the original IRON MAN, which articulate a coherent philosophical stance. In any case, I responded to the essay twice in the CBR thread. First:

In the essay the writer associated "the greater good" with pure, unfettered utilitarianism. I think that's an overstatement, and the writer himself brings up an extreme case of real-world utilitarianism, as well as pointing out that sooner or later Thanos will just have to start killing again. It's pretty hard to regard either example as being truly "for the greater good," particularly since the result is a total acceptance of brutality as a means to an end. 
BTW, if there's one intellectually dishonest aspect of INFINITY, it's that it doesn't really specify why Thanos thinks that galactic overpopulation is a given. At least when Ra's Al Ghul excoriates the ecological chaos of Earth, it's something readers can see for themselves.
The "no-kill" policy is often framed as a preventive to unfettered utilitarianism. Sometimes the arguments in its defense are clever; sometimes not.  But the policy isn't quite as divorced from real-world consequences as the Kantian model suggests.

Second:

 I'm not convinced that utilitarianism applies to INFINITY WAR. I think it's a big weakness of the script that the heroes have access to two stones, the destruction of which will prevent Thanos from the specific goal of destroying half the people in the universe. But OK: say that in some alternate world, the heroes succeed in destroying one or both stones, whether it costs Vision his life or not. What happens then? Thanos just shrugs his shoulders and goes home? Hah, we're talking about someone who's already wiped out multiple worlds with his space-army. No, thwarted of his goal, Thanos takes revenge and obliterates Earth.
On another thread I saw someone complain that the Wakandans were being needlessly sacrificed to protect the Vision's life. I wasn't particularly fond of the "ticking clock" trope involving the Vision. But the Wakandans are not being used as cannon-fodder. It's their bloody world too, and they've just as much reason as anyone to defeat Thanos.  Suppose the movie starts out with a pure endorsement of utilitarianism: some hero who doesn't mind "trading lives" kills Vision right off, defeating his larger goal. The menace doesn't go away; Thanos just goes after the whole world, and Wakanda's isolationism doesn't help it one damn bit. So here's another case where, in contrast to the thrust of the online essay, pure utilitarianism leaves those involved no better off than they were before.


I didn't bother pointing it out on the thread, but this 1980 issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA, written by Mike Barr, plays Captain America and the Punisher off one another as representatives of what might be called "enlightened vigilantism" vs. "unenlightened vigilantism," or what I called "unfettered utilitarianism."

Morally, Barr's story does set up its oppositions better than INFINITY WAR does. In this scene, the Punisher takes the utilitarian POV, referring to his ethic of treating the war on crime in terms of real war, while Captain America holds to a vision of moral compass, stating that there's a moral code that the "good guys" should advocate.




The upshot of the story is clearly in Cap's favor, particularly when it's revealed that one of the Punisher's "hits" on a big mob-meeting would have killed  not only real criminals, but also an undercover police agent. The Punisher escapes Cap and, to the best of my knowledge, rarely encounters such challenges to his utilitarian POV in his own title-- much as, in my own experience, the critics of the HOODED UTILITARIAN website rarely responded well to having their regressive ethics challenged.


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