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.
Why should I do anything?
… Why should I recognize moral obligations rather than just things that serve me?
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?
Would Societycity be able to survive if it openly accepted or encouraged infanticide?
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.]
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
#LetsBuild #LetsLearn #LetsGrow
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.