Are the good guys really good?
Posted November 21, 2011on:
Yes, it’s a serious question.
When I first started my Flame in the Bowl series, the intention was to create a hero who epitomized the philosophical concept of the Holy Will, a will that was only motivated to do the right thing. Tarkas was such a man, and he was drafted by the gods to do things that even they could not do. (I remember a comic book I read long ago pointing out that ‘Hero’ is a greater word than ‘God’ since heroes takes risks that gods, being gods, do not and cannot take, like dying on the job.)
But I recently saw a movie called ‘The Boondock Saints’, which raises the question of the goodness of the good guys. If we assume for a moment that the Saints really are doing the right thing, killing off evil people without the trials and procedures which allow the bad guys to escape justice by the system, we still have to think about the consequences of these acts. The movie has a rather facile view of the justice being meted out, and neglects serious inquiry into its actual goodness.
Some evil men actually stabilize a situation that might otherwise inflict great suffering on many innocents. If they are killed as they deserve the situation becomes unstable and innocents are harmed. That’s the simple view, often found in fantasy novels such as mine, where heroes and divine guidance are readily accepted.
More troubling is the case of lack of knowledge. Either the Saints don’t know who the bad guys are and may start killing innocents, or they do know, in which case the question becomes ‘how do they know?’ In the movie they are led to their victims either by a phone call from the bad guys themselves, or by an insider with whom they are good friends. Without these aids, how are they supposed to know? The sensible thing for the bad guys to assume is that the police are helping them, at least some of them. This leads to a war on police in self-defense. Not a good thing. It is possible, of course, that the phone call, which leads them to a nest of villains, where they meet the insider, are all signs of God’s favor and that he will send them more such divine guidance, such as the FBI guy who agrees with their purpose. This is not clear in the movie, and I would assume that the bad guys are not going to make this assumption.
It is pretty much the way Tarkas operates, though. He goes where the gods tell him to go, he does what needs to be done, he leaves the turmoil behind him. The problem is the turmoil. Society as we know it demands compromise, and these guys don’t compromise. (I saw this in the Paksennarion trilogy as well, that paladins and Elves don’t compromise with evil, and it comes as no surprise to me that they are being crowded out.) I can see having a world with people like this, but I can’t see that it would have a lot of people in it. If the world is like this from the beginning, that’s one thing, but if the world is allowed to get corrupted, to the point where whole societies depend on it for their stability, then introducing a Hero is almost cruel.
P.S. There’s a different version of this dilemma, in which the existence of villains depends on the existence of heroes, but that’s a topic for another time.