Sunday, April 20, 2008

Critique of pure super heroes. First outline.

So my essay idea on The Watchmen was accepted. The editor said they had a lot of submissions on consequentialism and Ozymandias vs deontology and Rorschach, which doesn't surprise me in the least. They picked mine because "we thought you had the best approach (and the authoritarian angle set it apart as well)."

I need to get cracking on this. These essays books are generally cranked out on a fast time table. No doubt they will want to time the book with the release of the movie slated for March 6, 2009. (Remind me to start bitching about the movie now.) So I've put together an outline below. Mostly this is just re-arranging the elements of the proposal, and figuring out what needs to be added to make it into an essay. Notice that I've somehow managed to keep the structure of the classic five paragraph theme, just like I push on the undergraduates!

First outline
Means, ends, and the critique of pure superheroes

I. Introduction [Make this snazzier/lighter, introduce section with quote]

A. Background: The central conflict in The Watchmen is the face off between cosmopolitan liberal Ozymandias and the right-wing loon Rorschach. In addition to having easily identifiable politics, both these characters have diametrically opposed ethical viewpoints, which underlie their politics. Ozymandias, with his grand, murderous scheme to end the cold war, represents consequentialism, the belief that all action should be judged by their consequences, so that the ends will sometimes justify the means. Rorschach, with his unbending principles in the face of apocalypse, represents the contrasting idea, deontology. The deontologist says that we should not think of morality in terms of ends and means at all, and instead only act in ways that express moral rules. During the course of the comic, both these ethical viewpoints gets a searing critique. The prominence of these themes and critiques makes many people think the comic is really all about liberalism, conservatism, consequentialism and deontology. But these are really only stepping stones to the real point of the comic.

B: Thesis: The ultimate target of the comic’s critique is authoritarianism, the idea that anyone should set themselves up as a guardian of society, an idea captured by image of the superhero. The critiques of consequentialism and deontology, and indeed of liberalism and conservatism, support this anti-authoritarianism, which is a more central theme throughout Moore’s work. The comic is not a purely negative work, however. It provides a positive moral image in the person of Hollis Mason, a rather ordinary man who used to dress up in a very corny costume and, when the book opens, is running a car repair shop (“Obsolete models a specialty!”)

C: This chapter will: This essay will highlight the critiques of consequentialism and deontology in the comic, focusing on the parallels to the classical philosophical arguments from people like Mill and Kant. I will also touch on the interaction between normative ethical theories like consequentialism and deontology and political theories like liberalism and conservatism, both in history and in the lives of the characters. The main focus of the chapter, however, will be seeing these themes as steps toward the broader critique of authoritarianism in this book and in other work by Alan Moore.

II. “‘In the end’? Nothing ends, Adrian, nothing ever ends.”

A. Ozymandias a consequentialist.

B. Consequentialism and liberalism history with parallels to Ozymandias.
C. Critique of consequentialism imbedded in structure of the story. Ozy has the villains role: Rorschach is the viewpoint character, the audience learns of the nefarious plot as he does.

D. Critique of consequentialism imbedded in theme of the corruption Ozymandias. The most prominent theme of The Watchmen—the one alluded to in the title, the one most clearly signaled by the development of the characters and the history of the alternative universe the comic takes place in—is the easy corruptibility of the guardians of society. This is obviously part of Moore’s overall critique of authority. More on that latter. Right now we just need to see that consequentialism is the means by which Ozymandias is corrupted.

E. Critique of consequentialism imbedded in the perspective and explicit statements of Dr. Manhattan. Ozymandias’s worldview doesn’t just corrupt him, it is ultimately futile. This is where the connection to the Shelly poem becomes important.

F. Discussion of philosophical examples of the critiques in (D) and (E) and how consequentialists like Mill have responded to them.

III. [Quotation about how crazy Rorschach is]

A. Rorschach as deontologist. Emphasize that this portrayal is as much a critique of deontology as the portrayal of Ozymandias is a critique of consequentialism.

B. Deontology and conservatism history with parallels to Rorschach.

C. Deontology in the structure of the story: The critique of consequentialism does not come from the story’s deontologist, Rorschach, but from Dr. Manhattan.

D. Critique of deontology imbedded in the theme of corruption of Rorschach.

E. Rorschach’s deontology not just futile but counter productive, especially his potentially world ending act of sending the details of Ozymandias’s plan to the New Frontiersman magazine.

F. Discussion of philosophical examples of the critiques in (D) and (E) and how deontologists like Kant have responded to them.

IV. “Who watches the watchmen?”

A. The role of anti-authoritarianism in the comic

B. The role of anti-authoritarianism in Moore’s work in general.

C. Anti-authoritarianism & anarchism as a real political philosophy,

V. Conclusion: I said I was going to do it, and now I done did it.


Ex-Lubbockavitchas unite said...

Hey man...congrats! I got my proposal on watchmen as literature accepted too...what a pain that they want such a fast turn-around. I've considered dragging my heels or just pulling out. But I guess I'll probably just do it.

Paul L. Pedersen said...

Hey, I stumbled across this while searching for Watchmen critiques. The essay sounds like a really interesting idea and I'd like to read the completed version if you'd allow it.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Paul email me at jloftis at lorainccc dot edu and I'll send you the final version.

The essay will appear in Watchmen and Philosophy, ed. Mark White, which should be available from Blackwell Spring 2009, to coincide with the release of the movie.