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Reason_Being

Breaking Bad

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This is one of my favorite shows of all time. Feel free to discuss anything about this show in this thread, but my main purpose in writing this is a philosophical question.

I am curious to see what you guys think about the morality of the main character, Walter White.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the premise of the show is as follows: Walter White (a genius, middle-aged, underachieving chemistry highschool teacher) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Upon finding out that he may only have months to live, he decides to apply his chemistry skills to manufacturing crystal methamphetamine in order to leave his family with enough money after he dies (because you can make a ton of money selling drugs).

The drama progresses a lot and his motives change over time, but purely based on the original premise stated above, do you guys think that the character is moral or immoral?

I believe that selling/manufacturing deadly addictive drugs like crystal meth or heroin is immoral (I still believe it should be legal as the individual has every right to put what he wants in his body). I don't see how it's moral to knowingly sell someone addictive poison, even if the buyer is aware of the risks (although that is an assumption).

Walter White, however, gets into the illegal drug trade for the sole purpose of providing for his family (a son and wife with a baby on the way) because he could not bare the thought of leaving his family poor and in debt, viewing his family's financial security as his responsibility.

So basically it comes down to a matter of values. Walter's value of his family's well-being outweighs his value of the addicts who will be buying his deadly substances. And considering he believes he only has months to live, his family would likely take over as his primary value instead his own life.

Does this mean his actions are morally justifiable according to Objectivist ethics?

Edited by Reason_Being

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Fantastic show; easily my favorite drama series of all time. Sadly, I've heard that the next season (Season 5) will be its last.

As for the philosophical question, I see nothing inherently immoral about manufacturing addictive drugs. Methamphetamine is a product which was in demand, people wanted it, and he could provide people with a better product. No one's rights are violated in the process (there are crimes involved in the drug dealing business, but I'm not referring to those), and everything is done voluntarily and honestly on Walter's part. The only thing immoral about it I can think of is that the illegal drug business is associated with crime, and he put himself in danger by getting involved. I can see why he'd need to get involved to pay for his chemotherapy, however, it was definitely a bad decision to accept the deal Gus offered for $3,000,000.

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Walter had to act to keep himself alive and support his family, so only on the premise stated above, he acted morally. I'd have to spoil the show to explain why his decision was not, in fact, a moral one. Either way, I love the show, have the last episode recorded, and plan to watch every episode.

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I may watch the show sometime to give a more full opinion. However, I have to say that on its face, I don't see the production of Crystal Meth as a heroic, life affirming or positive productive value. I think some folks would benefit from looking into Crystal Meth, what it does, how it affects people, you know... in real life. I'm really doubting that Objectivism as a philosophy would say that just because it isn't violating rights, and just because he's doing to support his family in the face of a terminal disease that it is therefore moral. I'm guessing that somehow his family lives in a vacuum that is completely unaffected by the results of him furthering crystal meth usage and it's impact on the society and culture in which all of the people not in that vacuum have to live.

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This is my favourite television show! Unfortunately Season 4 won't show for a while where I live, but I'll probably get it as soon as it's available on DVD.

I haven't seen it since I've started studying Objectivism seriously, but it does raise some interesting moral questions.

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I'm guessing that somehow his family lives in a vacuum that is completely unaffected by the results of him furthering crystal meth usage and it's impact on the society and culture in which all of the people not in that vacuum have to live.

Actually, the show seems to be about the effects of Walt and his lil' buddy's decisions on their friends and families, and on themselves. No vacuums here. I don't think many people who watch the show would describe the main character as truly heroic, so this isn't a show I reccomend without knowing a little bit about the personal tastes of the potential viewer.

Edited by FeatherFall

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Actually, the show seems to be about the effects of Walt and his lil' buddy's decisions on their friends and families, and on themselves. No vacuums here. I don't think many people who watch the show would describe the main character as truly heroic, so this isn't a show I reccomend without knowing a little bit about the personal tastes of the potential viewer.

In many respects I suspect it is like Weeds, though Weeds is more dark comedy (I assume). That too shows the impact of Nancy's decisions to deal weed on her and her family. That said, from a practical point of view, there is a world of difference between weed and meth.

However, like some others on the board, I sometimes cringe at who I see from movies and TV held up to the "Objectivism Light" for comparison.

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For the record, I'm not against enjoying entertainment that features "anti-heroes" if they are well done, have good and reasonably realistic story lines and characters. I enjoyed the entire series of the The Shield, all the while hoping that Vic would go to jail in the end.

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I'm not sure there is much moral insight to glean from the show as an Objectivist. Some decisions Walter has made are very poor, and the creators have all intentions of making it much worse for him, ending season 5 similar to the end of Scarface I imagine.

But from an aesthetic point of view BB is incredible. I have never before seen such a well put together show in all aspects. I respect everyone involved for the skills they necessarily possess for the quality produced. I love to see ability from people almost no matter what the ability is, and I am thankful that in this case it's a show targeting my demographic.

Edited by TuesdaysThursdays

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Fantastic show; easily my favorite drama series of all time. Sadly, I've heard that the next season (Season 5) will be its last.

As for the philosophical question, I see nothing inherently immoral about manufacturing addictive drugs. Methamphetamine is a product which was in demand, people wanted it, and he could provide people with a better product. No one's rights are violated in the process (there are crimes involved in the drug dealing business, but I'm not referring to those), and everything is done voluntarily and honestly on Walter's part. The only thing immoral about it I can think of is that the illegal drug business is associated with crime, and he put himself in danger by getting involved. I can see why he'd need to get involved to pay for his chemotherapy, however, it was definitely a bad decision to accept the deal Gus offered for $3,000,000.

As RationalBiker has stated above, just because it's not a violation of anyone's rights doesn't mean it's necessarely moral. And I'm ignoring all the crime that goes along with the drug trade for the purposes of my question.

For instance, on the drug user's part it is certainly immoral to ingest crystal meth even though they have the right to do so.

On the drug dealer's part, he has the right to supply the user with drugs, but I don't believe it is moral to assist other people in killing themselves with addictive drugs.

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As for the philosophical question, I see nothing inherently immoral about manufacturing addictive drugs. Methamphetamine is a product which was in demand, people wanted it, and he could provide people with a better product. No one's rights are violated in the process (there are crimes involved in the drug dealing business, but I'm not referring to those), and everything is done voluntarily and honestly on Walter's part. The only thing immoral about it I can think of is that the illegal drug business is associated with crime, and he put himself in danger by getting involved.

I asked the following question in the Objectivism Q&A section of TAS's website a few years back, and the answer I got was quite good and demonstrates why it is generally immoral to deal drugs like meth, even if the industry weren't illegal:

Ayn Rand holds that the virtue of productivity entails the creation of objectively valuable (life-furthering) creations. As per her definition of value, she is claiming that only the production of these objects is in one's rational self-interest. How is it inimical to one's self-interest to produce and sell an object that has a reliable market value but no or negative objective value (life-hindering)? An example would be producing and selling mind-inhibiting drugs with a high market price, ignoring potential problems with illegality.

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.... I'm guessing that somehow his family lives in a vacuum that is completely unaffected by the results of him furthering crystal meth usage and it's impact on the society and culture in which all of the people not in that vacuum have to live.

I'm curious as to what you mean by "the results of him furthering crystal meth usage and it's impact on the society and culture...." As well, what do you think should be done about those results?

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But from an aesthetic point of view BB is incredible. I have never before seen such a well put together show in all aspects.

The show won six Emmys, and for good reason. I absolutely love the lead, Bryan Cranston. Its a shame that he can't play Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones.

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I'm curious as to what you mean by "the results of him furthering crystal meth usage and it's impact on the society and culture...." As well, what do you think should be done about those results?

I don't think people should admire such individuals that contribute to the destruction.

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I don't think people should admire such individuals that contribute to the destruction.

Okay. Thanks.

I haven't watched the show. I've browsed pasted it, watching moments of it, and I've seen the ads for it. It seemed rather seedy and ugly to me, so I've ignored it. Given some of the phrase of it expressed here, I may check it out, but without having kept up with it, I don't know how well I'll be able to understand what's going on.

I have to say, in response to Dante's post, that I agree, the response he got is very good.

Edited by Trebor

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This is my favourite television show! Unfortunately Season 4 won't show for a while where I live, but I'll probably get it as soon as it's available on DVD.

You can watch the episodes on Vudu.com as they come out for $2 an episode. I think each episode is added one or two weeks after airing.

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I just realized another reason why I like this show. All of the powerful characters succeed because of their minds. They don't always make the best decisions, obviously, but when somebody in this show acts like a meathead the world comes down on him hard.

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I've just finished watching the first season and I do enjoy watching the show. I like the dark humor, the story line and how well the characters are acted and developed.

That said, while Walt has the capability of being a great problem solver with the use of his mind, he consistently makes bad decisions. I do agree with FeatherFall that the meth side of it is portrayed pretty realistic in terms of the overall consequences of getting into that business and those who use the drug. But without getting too much into the actual storyline, Walt made some hideously bad MAJOR decisions that would likely have been far more "successful" for him short term and long term given the goals he purports to have according to the show. It's not that you can't relate to his character and the choices he has made, but in the same way that some people have lots of money and squander it, so has Walt squandered his brilliance.

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I'm all caught up with the series now. I enjoy the series but I maintain my opinion above regarding Walt. He's a trainwreck when it comes down to it.

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I can see his original decision to get involved in meth cooking to be a moral choice based on the fact that he is pursuing what he considers to be his only method of survival, based on what he knows at the time.

However, every single decision he has made since his cancer went into remission has allowed him to fall into being a nihilistic monster. He's quickly becoming the person that he hated to deal with when he first got into cooking meth.

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I'm not sure there is much moral insight to glean from the show as an Objectivist. Some decisions Walter has made are very poor, and the creators have all intentions of making it much worse for him, ending season 5 similar to the end of Scarface I imagine.

But from an aesthetic point of view BB is incredible. I have never before seen such a well put together show in all aspects. I respect everyone involved for the skills they necessarily possess for the quality produced. I love to see ability from people almost no matter what the ability is, and I am thankful that in this case it's a show targeting my demographic.

Speaking of well made television, your avatar is as Ann as the nose on Plain's face.

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So I'm not reading this entire thread, cause I don't want things spoiled, but I just started watching this show on Netflix. It's amazing. I understand, however, that Walter eventually falls from being a man in desperate need, trying to do what is right for his loved ones to a more brutal gangster. I just got done with episode 3 of the second season. I can already tell that his intentions are changing.

As for the ethics. I can say, myself, that I would do anything to earn the money to save my family, even with the great potentiality of violence. Selling meth may harm some, but that harm comes from their own free will. While it's a mind melting substance and the gang bangers in the show are obviously scumbags doing it for a buck, it is justified to do whaat you can in dire straits.

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*** Possible Spoilers Below ******

I've still questioning even Walt's original decision to get in the Meth trade. He had a very viable, legal, and lucrative option available to him. In my opinion, the only reason he turned it down was because he had grown tired of "going with the flow". That in and of itself is a bad reason when the option is otherwise the most rational option. He was offered good pay, good benefits, good health insurance and a job in which he could have been very useful and productive and he turned it down.

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*** Possible Spoilers Below ******

I've still questioning even Walt's original decision to get in the Meth trade. He had a very viable, legal, and lucrative option available to him. In my opinion, the only reason he turned it down was because he had grown tired of "going with the flow". That in and of itself is a bad reason when the option is otherwise the most rational option. He was offered good pay, good benefits, good health insurance and a job in which he could have been very useful and productive and he turned it down.

*********************SPOILER***********************

No, Walt turned down Elliot's (and what's her face's) offer because the job he was offered was just a front for charity. When Walt turned it down, Elliot just straight up offered the cash for treatment. So it was Walt's pride, coupled with the dirty business dealt by Elliot and Grey Matter to edge Walt out of the company (though revealed later).

But I do agree it was sort of a mortality question for him, too. If I'm not going to live, why not go out with a bang? Certainly not sound reasoning, but certainly good television.

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*********************SPOILER***********************

No, Walt turned down Elliot's (and what's her face's) offer because the job he was offered was just a front for charity. When Walt turned it down, Elliot just straight up offered the cash for treatment. So it was Walt's pride, coupled with the dirty business dealt by Elliot and Grey Matter to edge Walt out of the company (though revealed later).

But I do agree it was sort of a mortality question for him, too. If I'm not going to live, why not go out with a bang? Certainly not sound reasoning, but certainly good television.

He was offered the job because of his situation, but I disagree that it was purely out of charity. Elliot explained to him that they could actually use his brilliance and that he would be of great benefit to his company. That opportunity would still have given Walt the opportunity to be productive within his field and still be able to address his current concerns. Yes, there was the issue (as you note we find out later, something we as the viewer can't consider at the time if not present, which conveniently allows the writers to contrive later if they see holes) of the "dirty business", but it was still a very legitimate, viable, and RATIONAL alternative.

On the other hand, since his character changed at that particular point, Walt has consistently and deliberately had a blind spot to the contributions and plans of others if they didn't coincide to doing it HIS way. At that point Walt became his complete opposite, a "control freak". EVERY time Jesse came up with a good alternative plan or Jesse actually succeeded in doing something Walt put him down. Once his wife became involved, he resisted all her input EVEN when she was talking within her field of expertise and CLEARLY knew what she was talking about.

I maintain that his decision to go the way he did was irrational AND it was the starting point of his downward spiral.

That said, I do agree it makes for good TV. :)

Edited by RationalBiker

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