Power & The Amoralist: Part 1

BLUF: Understanding the philosophical debate around morality can help inform how we interact with each other about issues surrounding justice and fairness. Power (Starz TV drama) relies heavily on moral arguments & issues to develop characters, scenarios, and drama. This post can also give an opportunity to learn how to teach and interact with our kids that may be watching these shows and explain some of the philosophy behind the character development (thereby preventing the glorification of traits we don’t want to see replicated). So let’s learn!

Power is one of the most popular shows on my social media timeline since it debuted a few years ago. It is a super interesting look at the whirlwind life of James ‘Ghost’ St. Patrick who TV Guide describes as “a New York City nightclub owner doubling as a drug kingpin to an elite clientele, which could hinder his attempts to turn his legitimate business into a wide-ranging empire.”

The show is dope. My dad and my brother watch it every week during the season! (I’m much more of a binge watcher myself! #guilty)

As I am watching hours upon hours of the show it dawns on me that Ghost & Kanan are brilliant characters. Their lives are the perfect display of the complexities and dichotomies surrounding morality. Both characters are consistently faced with different dilemmas that have some interesting philosophical implications. Snoop gets it.

An English moral philosopher named Bernard Williams’ wrote a book in 1972 the first chapter is entitled The Amoralist and it opens with the question:

Why should I do anything?

… Why should I recognize moral obligations rather than just things that serve me?

Why should I care about your morals homie? I’ma do me. #dab #BernardWilliams

Morality is defined as a “particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society.” Essentially, it is what we all accept as right and wrong.

For example, James Rachel philosopher (1941-2003), asserts that in order for societies to continue there has to be a basic assumption or agreement that murder, lying, and harming the youth are immoral behaviors. There should be corresponding social outrage at these behaviors.

Makes sense. Consider a society without these mutual understandings. Lets call it Societycity. How long would the life expectancy be in Societycity if it was acceptable behavior to kill, without concern for social repercussions?

*shrug* I could be being dramatic. #SocietycitySaturdayNightOut

Would Societycity be able to survive if it openly accepted or encouraged infanticide?

Mandela is expressing a philosophical understanding that our society’s future is partially dependent on our ability to protect our young

Societycity’s lack of obligation to reinforcing morals involving murder and protecting the youth might not be conducive to the survival of the people within its limits.

Similarly, if truth ceases to be the expectation then we will live in an alternate universe were it is hard to believe anything we are told (*cough cough*). [We aren’t talking white lies here. We are talking about how time and our conception of it exist because we believe that someone or something is telling us the truth.]

What if you couldn’t even believe the calendar was true? #alternativefacts

We all know people that believe primarily in their self-interests but can only exist BECAUSE they take advantage of the morality of the people around them. The question is, are these people amoral?

We might ask first what motivations he does have. He is indifferent to moral considerations, but there are things that he cares about, and he has some real preferences and aims.

Omari Hardwick acts his tail off in this show as “Ghost”!

If anyone had given me a few basic facts about Jamie “Ghost” St. Patrick, I might conclude that he is the story’s amoralist. Check it out:

  1. Cheating on his wife and spending time away from home and his children to enjoy the side-witch’s company, while putting everyone he is supposed to love in some serious danger. #rollseyes

2. He is a killer for certain. Both directly and indirectly.

Can someone look amoral? If so, what does that look like?

3. He is taking drug distribution to the next level. Pushing chemicals into the streets at blistering speeds, most likely using disenfranchised and impoverished young men to push product.

HOWEVER, it is the COMPLEXITY of Ghost’s interrelationships that prove that he subscribes to a system of morals. So we have to dig deeper than his actions to answer the question of his morality.

He gives us, I think, almost enough. For he has the notion of doing something for somebody, because that person needs something… He operates within this notion in fact only when he is inclined; but it is not itself the notion of his being so inclined. Even if he helps these people because he wants to, or because he likes them, and for no other reason, what he wants to do is to help them in their need, and the thought he has when he likes someone and acts in this way is ‘they need help’, not the thought ‘I like them and they need help’.

Two major keys in the above clip: First of all, Ghost puts a lot of weight into how much help he has given Tommy (his best friend and road dawg for the first two seasons and most of the third). Secondly, an amoralist wouldn’t be asking whether his daughter has her shoes for tap!

Ghost does not stand to directly gain anything from helping his daughter find her shoes. He does it out of selflessness & love. This small act and others like it in his character development bring to light a man with a tortured soul. Ghost acknowledges and lives by a strong moral code that allows for a lot of illegal shit (what is illegality? a topic for another post!) but ultimately, he is more than capable of thinking of someone else, meaning that according to Williams’ philosophies on morality, he is a moral human being.

Williams is smiling on ya Ghost. For now. Lol.

This is a vital point: this man is capable of thinking in terms of others’ interests, and his failure to be a moral agent lies (partly) in the fact that he is only intermittently and capriciously disposed to do so.

I think that any and everyone that has seen the show through at least the second season can easily identify at least one amoralist on the cast!

#plottin

Kanan. I am not even sure how to describe how this man makes me feel (he’s my favorite character though. Lmao. #guilty)

I’ll let Williams take it:

The rest [of society] may have some tendency to admire him, or those may who are at such a distance that he does not tread directly on their interests and affections. He should not be too encouraged by this, however, since it is probably a wish-fulfillment (which does not mean that they would be like him if they could, since a wish is different from a frustrated desire). Nor will they admire him, still less like him, if he is not recognizably human.

#NailedIt

I would not call it admiration as much as respect and fear. I wouldn’t want to cross him or piss him off.

Is 50 Cent’s character, Kanan, recognizably human? One of the most infamous scenes in the series (Spoiler Alert!) is when Kanan kills his son for a reason I still haven’t fully fathomed.

Does he care for anybody? Is there anybody whose sufferings or distress would affect him? If we say ‘no’ to this, it looks as though we have produced a psychopath…

The fact that Ghost asked about his daughter’s shoes changes the nature of the game and this is just the one incidence that I could find. Throughout the show, Ghost is concerned with people around him including his family. He behavior is narcissistic and he could be perceived as a parasite to the moral system but it is a system he subscribes to nonetheless.

Kanan just straight up ices his son, Shawn, in cold blood. And then pushes on with the plan.

I wasn’t reaaadddyyy. Lmao.

Notice in that last Williams’ quote he said we may have PRODUCED a psychopath. Can society and the pressures of life in certain environments create psychopaths and amoralists?!

A deeper question is whether or not our current systems (schools, prisons, healthcare, etc.)  are designed to develop moral human beings that will be good additions to society? Williams’ entire philosophy is that people relying on morality in some sense can be reformed with hope and the right motivations.

The flip side is if we remove hope what do we make of the moral human being?

Are criminal behavior and participation in the black market (drug distribution) always manifestations of immorality or amorality? Part 2 is going to break down the economics of the black market in relation to Power and the black community.

As we look around our country and the world at the people in powerful positions maybe we could benefit from revisiting philosophical debate on topics like morality and its place in our culture!

You know why we’re doing this.

#LetsBuild #LetsLearn #LetsGrow

Love,

Mari X

 

 

 

Some sources in no order, along with embedded links, details on request:

The Challenge of Cultural Relativism by James Rachel

Morality an Introduction to Ethics by Bernard Williams

Why Do Parents Kill Their Kids? by Beth Greenfield

How New York Gang Culture is Changing by Seth Ferranti

ending image of Quinoa, the toddler model!

This formatting is used for Williams’ quotes throughout the post.

A Letter to Black Folks

Dear Black Americans, African-Americans, Haitian Americans, Jamaican Americans, Cape Verdean Americans, Black Puerto Rican Americans, Black Brazilian Americans, insert nationality + Black

Black folks are a people of immigration. A story that goes untold.

We are all vaguely familiar with the transatlantic slave trade. (If not then check it out in 2 minutes here.)

As Europeans ‘discovered’ more brown and black countries, people began pouring out of the blackest place on earth, Africa. (Learn more about forced migration here). Black people landed on different continents and created new phenotypes all connected to Mother Africa.

                     Jamaicans

                   Nigerians

               Dominicans

                        Haitians

                        Mexicans

Brazilians

Looking at these pictures should point out a very big commonality… Descendants of Africa universally have darker skin and different features than the descendants of European nations, Asian nations, and most Middle Eastern and Latin nations. Even as  we seek to separate ourselves, our skin, hair, eyes, noses, and mouths all hold varying evidence that we are all Africa’s children.

After discovering these ‘new’ countries, white Europeans set out to exploit and capitalize off of their discoveries. As a result the story of the black diaspora is EXTREMELY COMPLEX and experienced all over the world.

Enter my home: ‘Murica.

The white folks in America decided they wanted to leave the other white folks in Europe and do their own thing. (Learn about the American Revolution in 5 minutes here.) They are not alone. Native-born South African white people had the same idea.

But back to America: The Revolution created a unique White American identity that minimized their perspective heritages- Irish, Polish, Italian, etc. (This has come with historical challenges and discrimination that was overcome by identifying with a larger white social and political identity. See Irish Immigration and Italian Whiteness as examples.)

(Please note that we are not aware whether this man is Irish American, Spanish American, Italian, or whatever. He is just American.)

Black people were enslaved in this country during that time. The collective American identity for blacks was property. When you choose to enslave people primarily on the color of their skin, you have to find justification.

Black people became criminals, lazy, dumb, and any thing else to justify the need for slavery and oppression. Cheap labor is hard to come by. Black & brown people (more specifically poor people) fill this necessity in America today, as they always have.

The consequences of this thinking haunt White America creating interesting conversation around white rage, a topic for another time.

And black folks are collectively asked to believe that it is black people’s fault that natural disasters hit us harder (Hurricane Katrina and the Demographics of Death), recessions unemploy us first (Black Unemployment Rate History), prisons filled with us to the brim (Bureau of Prisons). (Note that the US does not discriminate by nationality).

The idea of race is SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED. (Read more about the Social Construction of Race here or here.)

What does this mean?

It matters less in America what you consider yourself and more what people around you consider your race to be (this is not true all over the world). This means that your beautiful Jamaican son, in America is a black man for whom the American world reserves little beauty. The cops do not give a damn where you were born. And no matter how much you seek to protect your child he will become exposed to what race means in America, especially if he is born and raised here entirely.

What can we do?

Within the black community we have to work harder to include black immigrants and cultures into our lives. I am going to write more about the contributions of black immigrants to black culture and America in this blog so stay tuned.

UPDATE: We need to work harder to recognize the contributions all Black experiences have made to the American experience. And acknowledge that while American Black Culture is the most widely viewed image of Blackness, Black Americans are the minority in the total Black Experience. Let’s talk about this more on my post next week about Blackness.  

Black immigrants that land on the shores of America should be included in our efforts at learning American Black history and culture. This understanding can create conversations that will lead to a clear agreement about issues that affect ALL OF US. And how to improve systems that claim to serve ALL OF US. (For example: crimmigration, police brutality, housing discrimination, disparities in education, and black unemployment to name a few.)

We are all connected so much more than we realize. Let’s all stop looking down at each other and start holding on to each other. THEY can’t tell us apart. So WE shouldn’t tear ourselves apart.

Let’s use social media to climb over the age old bullshit that has kept us separate. Do not fear what you don’t know and don’t understand. Let’s learn about each other.

What I am proposing is a radical love for each other. A love that will excuse our shortcomings and look past our miscommunications into something we could all deeply benefit from in this day and age: UNITY.

Do it for Mother.

We all we got.

Let’s build.

Love,

Mari

Update: Done with the input of the creative mind behind The Black Love Project and the stationery company Watersidemrkt —-
Monique Ameyo consulting from New Orleans. She heavily influenced next week’s post about Blackness and I hope that her voice continues to be a part of the future! Please click and support! (She has some of the CUTEST Africa-inspired love notes ❤️).


Who is Mari-X?

I am just the descendant of slaves.

And I just need a place to breathe. A place to exhale.

Those history books and classes you had….

I am looking for somewhere to bring together all of things that matter to me; that may seem to be contradictory to many. I am an avid reader, music enthusiast, sports fanatic,  and freelance historian.

I am an American. And while I do not believe in American exceptionalism; I believe that the conditions people of color have been able to transcend in this country are exceptional.

But the push cannot stop. We can’t become complacent and believe that the system now serves us because we have black faces in high faces. We must PERSIST.

For our children. For our futures. For our livelihoods. For our lives.

So this is the history of some of the strongest people in the world told through a lens that classrooms have yet to adapt.

Whether you’re reading this from a beautiful MacBook overlooking waves in Hawaii; a small apartment in a high rise in Chicago; your cell phone on the commute from the suburbs of Long Island; or at bar while you wait out Metro Atlanta traffic… Know that we are all connected in ways that very powerful people do not want us to realize.

Without the struggles that have brought our community together we would not be here. We have to keep fighting, keep loving, keep laughing, and keep learning.

We must live.

I am writing this so that we can be aware of ourselves as a community. So that we can all come to the agreement that there is nothing better in the world than to be of African blood, with an extraordinary American swag.

So these are just thoughts penned…

From the descendant of a slave.

Inhale.