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bobsponge
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That's all I've been arguing.

And you mean that in the sense I named, i.e., that the character as created by Whedon isn't Objectivist, but one can add virtues to (and maybe remove vices from) him that would make him so?

That could be done with any character, but I think you're saying that a lot less adding/removing is necessary with Mal than with a great many other characters. If so, I agree.

That character certainly has many admirable traits. To the extent he has not-so-admirable traits, I think they're unimportant. If I could enter the world he inhabits, I would be proud to have him as a friend.

I'd say the same thing about many great characters from traditional westerns as well. What is good about Mal comes from the same place as what made a great character in a western.

As Mal might say "It ain't perfect, but it's a goram sight better than most else." ;-)

Mark Peters

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Perhaps, if that was what was in their particular rational self-interest. Others may "shrug". You seem to have a pretty narrow picture of what an Objectivist can be though, interest and personality-wise. My claim was never that Mal would be the theatrical epitome of an Objectivist. My claim was that no case has been made that he couldn't be one (except that there is no reason to support the idea that he is in the purest sense as in having read Rand, etc. etc.)

Others may shrug but they also withdrew their sanction as well. Yet Mal due to the nature of his profession constantly deals with evil men - making them richer in the process. There are plenty of other occupations that Mal could have chosen - he is a man of ability after all yet he chooses to be a petty thief. Granted if Joss Whedon cast Mal as a foreman of a clay pit it would have been a pretty dull show!

The 'universe' of Firefly had a consistent (though agreeably different) reality that could be known. The humans in that universe were capable of rational thought. Those two conditions would be all that was necessary for someone like an Objectivist to be able to exist. A principled egoist grounded in reality who acted in his rational self-interest.

Obviously in a twisted universe an objectivist would be morally twisted beyond all recognition. Rather than criticising the malevolent universe that Joss Whedon has created and his attempt to instal noble qualities on a gang of whores, thieves and murderers, everybody seems to want to excuse all that because they see likeable qualities in Mal.

Unfortunately that's not grounded in reality so do not start with the ad homs please.

I apologise if it was misinterpreted as an ad homin.

However I do reiterate Mal is being held up as a virtuous man, even though he pistol whips bank clerks and robs hospitals.

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I apologise if it was misinterpreted as an ad homin.

There would be no need for you to apologize for someone else misinterpreting something. That makes no sense. What you are responsible for is the (insulting) comment, not the interpretation. There's very little room for misinterpreting the accusation of rationalizing, which suggests I'm evading some aspect of the show to find what I want out of it. If there was ambigiuity to you statement, then perhaps you would apologize for not making yourself clear and then you would follow up with a clarification of what you intended to say.

And you mean that in the sense I named, i.e., that the character as created by Whedon isn't Objectivist, but one can add virtues to (and maybe remove vices from) him that would make him so?

No, I mean he "could" be as portrayed and that I haven't seen an argument yet that convinces me that he necessarily could not be.

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If memory serves, most of the jobs that the crew of Serenity undertook throughout the series can be seen as either fighting -or at least disrupting- alliance control on a galactic level, or righting wrongs and protecting the innocent at a local level. Admittedly it is implied that they may have done some jobs that was outright immoral, but it seems to me that being fugitives and outlaws on the run from an oppressive regime more or less puts their lives in a constant state of emergency, thereby justifying many of their actions.

Malcolm, being a capable, intelligent, and -as far as we can tell from the series- rational man, fought against the alliance and lost, and proceeded to go into hiding. Now, this seems exactly identical to the position an Objectivist would take when living under a (virtual) dictatorship -- you fight, or you leave. Malcolm did both, and sometimes at the same time. And damn it, he did it well. Furthermore, although the event obviously made him a cynic, his character was redeemed in the movie when he decided to go against enormous odds -both reavers AND alliance- in order to show the world the truth. That speaks very strongly about his virtues, Objectivist or otherwise, that he was willing to trade his life for a value that he truly believes in -- freedom. He would rather die than live in an oppressive universe!

My reading of that particular character, therefore, is that while he certain does not always think and act like an Objectivist, he definitely possess some of the most important virtues that matches Objectivist ideals: fighting against tyranny rather than surrender, then when that failed choosing life over martyrdom, then when an opportunity for achieving his ultimate value arises, choosing to pursue it passionately and at all costs. Ultimately that is more important in judging a man than how well he understands philosophy, and Malcolm unquestionably qualifies as a virtuous man.

Interestingly, another character that exactly -and intentionally- matches Malcolm's fervent belief in his own values is the unnamed alliance Operative. An emphasis was made in the film to highlight the fact that he was a "believer". In many ways he is the Wynand to Malcolm's Roarke -- a man that could have been. His error lies in his premises and, by extension, his methods. Yet his actions are entirely rational (more so even than Malcolm) despite the wrong premise, and his belief in his values unwavering. Most importantly however is the fact that after he has been shown the error of his ways and the potential result of his utopian ideal, he almost instantly and rationally changed his position. This fact makes him more of an anti-hero rather than a villain in my mind, and one of the most interesting and complex character in the series.

In viewing art, be it a film or a book, I think it is certainly permissible to project your own values onto a character to fill in the blank. However I think that would merely be a form of self-indulgence. As is the case with Firefly/Serenity, I think enough background information and character development has been put into the series that you can easily and objectively judge most of the characters based on their history and actions that there is really no need for projecting arbitrary virtues (or lack thereof) onto them. This is an excellent series that actually ends in a very optimistic fashion, certainly not lacking in the heroics department, and has a plethora of action, drama, comedy, tragedy, and -dare I say- romanticism thrown in. Most importantly, I do not think that its message in any way contradicts -albeit neither does it unequivocally promotes- Objectivist values. A definite recommendation.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this series and just recently re-watched it. Did anyone else get the suspicioun that the Shephard charachter might have eventually been revealed to be an operative?

Well he is very proficient with a weapon, and has some very high level alliance contacts. So yes, I think it is entirely possible.

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No, I mean he "could" be as portrayed and that I haven't seen an argument yet that convinces me that he necessarily could not be.

Well, then we disagree. The character of Mal could not be an Objectivist because the man who created him doesn't understand the philosophy. In fact, Whedon has publicly stated his antipathy towards non-liberal ideas.

Having said that, I am certainly on your side regarding the views of "The Cynic", which certainly match his handle.

Mark Peters

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The character of Mal could not be an Objectivist because the man who created him doesn't understand the philosophy. In fact, Whedon has publicly stated his antipathy towards non-liberal ideas.

That doesn't make sense. It's like saying Ayn Rand couldn't create a character like Ellsworth Toohey, because she isn't a collectvist. You don't have to be an Objectivist to create a character with Objectivist virtues. What does Whedon not understand? That Objectivists are rational, egoist, and capitalist? I'd say he understands that perfectly well. He has said he is liberal, and yet he has indubitably created a character in Malcolm Reynolds who is not a liberal in any way.

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That doesn't make sense. It's like saying Ayn Rand couldn't create a character like Ellsworth Toohey, because she isn't a collectvist. You don't have to be an Objectivist to create a character with Objectivist virtues. What does Whedon not understand? That Objectivists are rational, egoist, and capitalist? I'd say he understands that perfectly well. He has said he is liberal, and yet he has indubitably created a character in Malcolm Reynolds who is not a liberal in any way.

I think it makes perfect sense.

Nobody but Ayn Rand could have created Howard Roarke, John Galt _or_ Toohey because nobody else understood the philosophy well enough to do it. Those characters are not paper thin cutouts - they have a depth to them that can't be created by somebody who doesn't have an equally deep grasp of Objectivism. Without that depth of understanding, a character might have surface similarities to an Objectivist, but that's all ... and that is not the same as _being_ Objectivist.

If Whedon understands any of Objectivism, it has to be at a very shallow level. That's because nobody with his stated antipathy to non-liberal ideas could possibly be motivated enough to do the work required to understand the philosophy at a deep enough level.

Keep in mind too that virtue existed before Ayn Rand. There was enough understanding of virtue in the culture for many heroic characters to be created. All Whedon needed to create a character like Mal is that kind of understanding. Note also that the virtues exhibited by that character are in no way distinctively Objectivist.

It is not possible for Mal to _be_ an Objectivist for those reasons. To be similar to one, yes, but not to _be_ one.

Mark Peters

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It is not possible for Mal to _be_ an Objectivist for those reasons. To be similar to one, yes, but not to _be_ one.

You may have missed that I already made this distinction, at least twice, in my previous posts. To further clarify, being an Objectivist by name and action and being an "Objectivist" by only action is not a significant distinction. The importance of being a self-interested, rational egoist is not tied up in being labeled or called an Objectivist, having read Rand, etc. etc. Understanding Objectivism would not be essential for virtually any author to create a character who could be an Objectivist (by thought and action though not by name). The label is not essential to man's life unlike the thought and action.

At any rate, I agree with Topliner that your argument here does not hold water except in the sense that there is no evidence to show that Mal could walk around and tell people, "Hi, I'm Mal and I'm an Objectivist. I've read, understood and accepted the writings and philosophy of Ayn Rand."

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RationalBiker,

I thought that I understood your view, but now I find it unclear and confusing.

First, in your most recent response you seem to accept the idea that the character is not an Objectivist, but is just similar to one. But in a previous response to that same idea, you rejected it. Which one is your actual view?

Next, this "Objectivist by name and action" idea is unclear. "Name" and "action" are not all there is, unless by "name" you mean "Understands the philosophy and accepts it". If that's what you mean, using the term "Name" for that trivializes an essential part of what it means to be an Objectivist. The term "Objectivist" means "Someone who understands, accepts and lives by the philosophy of Ayn Rand". Each of "understands", "accepts" and "lives by" are essential. If a person lacks any one of those, he might be similar to an Objectivist, but that's all. If somebody qualified fully but never read Ayn Rand, then I think that person would have to be a genius of the same caliber as Ayn Rand - there is nobody like that in this.

Perhaps you don't accept that view of what an Objectivist is? If so, what is your view, and how do you justify it?

Lastly, "could be" as you used it in "Understanding Objectivism would not be essential for virtually any author to create a character who could be an Objectivist" is a very odd concept. The only possibilities I see for what that means are "Isn't an Objectivist, but can be made into one by adding/removing qualities" and "Is really an Objectivist, but the fact is being hidden or kept secret". If you mean the latter, why? No evidence for that has been presented. Is there another possibility that hasn't been mentioned or that I have somehow missed?

Mark Peters

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I thought that I understood your view, but now I find it unclear and confusing.

I'm not going to retype what I've written already. If you find it unclear and confusing, I'm not sure I can help you. My argument has been consistent throughout the thread.

I see the possibility that a man could live his life as a self-interested rational egoist such that his behavior and actions are reality-based and value-oriented. I see the possibility that a man such as this could read a book by Ayn Rand and say, "yes, this is how I think a man should live his life too". I disagree that it takes genius for a man to have lived a rational life, one that could just as well be that of an Objectivist (but lacking in the title), and that life having been lived without that benefit of having read Ayn Rand. If you think genius is required, we disagree there as well.

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It seems pretty simple, I agree. If I am correct:

RB is arguing that, taking the whole of the Firefly series along with the movie Serenity, there is no fact that excludes the possibility that Mal acted as an Objectivist would, given his context.

To argue based on the creator's ideology is erroneous. It means considering facts within the Firefly universe not as the basis of truth about that universe, but rather mere reflections of the "higher truth" which is Whedon's ideology. (Plato, anyone?)

To make statements about characters in the Firefly universe, you have to build from the ground up--and the "ground" is the totality of facts within the Firefly universe.

Edited by musenji
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RB is arguing that, taking the whole of the Firefly series along with the movie Serenity, there is no fact that excludes the possibility that Mal acted as an Objectivist would, given his context.

That is it in a nutshell. I thought it was pretty simple too.

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[...]

I see the possibility that a man could live his life as a self-interested rational egoist such that his behavior and actions are reality-based and value-oriented. I see the possibility that a man such as this could read a book by Ayn Rand and say, "yes, this is how I think a man should live his life too". I disagree that it takes genius for a man to have lived a rational life, one that could just as well be that of an Objectivist (but lacking in the title), and that life having been lived without that benefit of having read Ayn Rand. If you think genius is required, we disagree there as well.

I agree with this. But I think it misses my point, or perhaps we're talking about entirely different things without realizing it.

If all that you and others here mean can be distilled down to what musenji wrote in his/her last posting, namely "there is no fact that excludes the possibility that Mal acted as an Objectivist would, given his context", then I agree, but my reaction is "So what?". There are many characters in the history of film who are like that. The character of Mal is no less admirable because of it, but he is less remarkable.

I've seen several other claims in this thread, however. The one above, as I said, is fine. I've also seen "He _is_ an Objectivist" (implied at least) and "He _could be_ an Objectivist". The former is plainly wrong, and the latter is very debatable, depending on what "could be" means. If that is essentially the same as "it is possible", then is that the metaphysical or epistemological sense of the term?

The metaphysical sense leads to another "So what?" from me - it's true but not important. The epistemological sense leads again to the issue of what an "Objectivist" is, and as I've written, if that is followed through, yields the answer "No, it is _not_ possible".

Mark Peters

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There are many characters in the history of film who are like that. The character of Mal is no less admirable because of it, but he is less remarkable.

So what?

The metaphysical sense leads to another "So what?" from me - it's true but not important.

It isn't important to you. Great.

So what?

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What is the purpose of what you have said, Moebuis? It looks like you are just being rude.

Mark has made a very valid point: despite the fact that "there is no fact that excludes the possibility that Mal acted as an Objectivist would, given his context," the fact remains that Mal is not and cannot be an Objectivist, properly speaking. This is a valid and necessary distinction.

As a character, we know that his creator is not capable of making him consistent in the long run. We've been lucky so far since the series has been short-lived.

If you want to consider the creation apart from his creator, I think you'd have at best a pre-conversion Rearden. Without the philosophical foundation on which to lay his good sense of life, he'd be just as precarious as when considered as a character.

To deny this is to deny the importance of ideas in man's life.

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  • 2 months later...

+

As one very familiar with both the works of Ayn Rand, and a very recent addition to the Browncoat ranks, I have to add a number of observations and downright corrections to this thread, starting with this post, and two items in particular:

The difference I think why I have trouble seeing Mal as an objectivist is that he is not an idealist. Presumably he was when he was fighting for the Independents. Now though he has has completely turned his back on trying to change the world for the better and although he still has a moral code he is pretty much resigned to the fate of the 'verse'. Which is probably why he accepts priests and hookers - he doesn't feel its his job to change them so he lets them do their own thing as long as they don't get in the way.

An Objectivist I think would want to fight the Alliance, Mal just wants to avoid it as best he can.

Even a casual viewing of Firefly and Serenity proves just the opposite. Yes, Mal is weary. Yes, he is cynical. Yes, he feels "defeated" and runs from the Alliance at all times.

Excuse me, almost all times.

There is one person on Serenity that makes it impossible for Mal to run; impossible for Mal to be anything but the idealist he truly is. And that person is the psychologically tortured, emotionally-scarred, unpredictable, 17-year old fugitive from the Alliance named River Tam. Mal can't turn his back on her, and in not doing so, the whole storyline of Firefly through the movie Serenity illustrates his finally reclaiming the idealism he lost in the Battle of Serenity Valley. It's subtle -- Joss Whedon is a master of the subtle -- but it is just as unmistakable. You need only to look, and connect the dots.

Episode 2, "The Train Job"

BOOK (to Mal): I'm wondering why a man who's so anxious to fly under Alliance radar would house known fugitives (River and her brother Simon). The Alliance had her (River) in that institution for a purpose, whatever it was, and they will want her back. You're not overly fond of the boy, so why risk it?

Mal (mock seriousness): Because it's the right thing to do.

The Tams -- River and her brother Simon -- are a source of tension amongst Mal's Serenity crew. While Simon adeptly assumes the role of ship medic, the unstable and unpredictable (and apparently -- key word apparently -- useless) River is a problem, especially with mercenary crew member Jayne. So when Simon and River go missing, and it is generally agreed that life on Serenity will be better off without then, one would think the "non-idealist" Mal would just let the two fend for themselves while he flies off into the distance. Instead, he and Zoe go back looking for them -- rifles in hand -- where they find River about to be burnt at the stake for witchcraft (after River's psychic abilities are uncovered).

Episode 5, "Safe"

MAL (to Zoe): Well, look at this. Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?

ZOE (to Mal): Big damn heroes, sir.

MAL: Ain't we just.

{After a bit more dialog, Mal turns to the patron responsible for nearly burning River to death.}

MAL: Cut her down.

PATRON: The girl is a witch!

MAL: Yeah. But she's our witch. (Cocks gun.) So cut her the hell down.

{Later, back on Serenity, Simon confronts Mal.}

SIMON: Captain...why did you come back for us?

MAL: You're on my crew.

SIMON: You don't even like me. Why did you come back?

MAL: You're on my crew. Why are we still talking about this? .... Chow's in ten. No need to dress.

These are neither the actions nor the words of a man without principle, without honor, without some sort of idealism. To Mal, the simple phrase "you're on my crew" is all the answer needed as to why he came back for Simon and River; why he came back for two fugitives, one of whom is unstable and apparently nothing more than a liability (River).

The pattern continues, later, when mercenary man Jayne tries to sell out the Tams to the Alliance. Mal figures this out as Serenity begins a launch sequence. He knocks Jayne unconscious; Jayne wakes up on the wrong side of the main airlock, an external door open, the vacuum of space mere minutes away. Here, again, the words of Mal, via intercom from inside the safety of the ship.

Episode 9, "Ariel"

JAYNE (terrified, moments from death): Be reasonable (Mal). Why you taking this so personal? It's not like I ratted you to the feds.

MAL: But you did. You turn on my crew, you turn on me. And since that's a concept you can't seem to wrap your head around, means you got no place here.

Mal spares Jayne; however, is this a man without principle, without ideals, who merely flies under the Alliance radar? Keeping River Tam on his ship is akin to putting a big red bulls-eye on the back of Serenity, but again, he won't betray the Tams, and he won't turn his back on River. In the movie Serenity, it is Mal who carries River out of the Maidenhead (after she's triggered subliminally and trashes the place). The whole point of River's being triggered was so the Alliance could find her -- "and find her they have" -- yet Mal keeps her on his ship. By now, in the storyline, we know River is unstable, psychic, deadly with a gun, deadly with hand-to-hand combat, and wanted in the worst way by the Alliance.

But Mal won't tun his back on her, even while River is holding him at gunpoint.

Serenity (the movie)

MAL (to River): The government's man, he says you're a danger to us. Not worth helping. Is he right? Are you anything but a weapon? I've staked my crew's life on the theory that you're a person, actual and whole, and if I'm wrong you'd best shoot me now.

Mal is risking his life, his crew, his ship, and most certainly his flight from the Alliance, to do what he thinks is right. This, via River, leads to the planet Miranda, where the Serenity crew finally uncovers the horrific secrets that have been tearing up River: 30 million people dead, cannibals in their wake, and all because of an Alliance experiment -- an experiment in mass-scale mind control; the antithesis of free will -- gone horribly awry. Secret in hand, back on Serenity, Mal addresses his crew as follows:

This report (of what happened on Miranda) is maybe 12 years old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried until River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear, 'cause there's a universe of folk that are gonna know it too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. (The 30 million dead.)

You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. 'Cause sure as I know anything I know this: They (the Alliance) wil try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground, swept clean. A year from now, ten, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people...(he looks at River) better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave.

Mal is ready, once again, to enter the fight, and he's willing to risk everything to make the secret of Miranda known. Just before broadcasting the Miranda tape, he is cornered by a government operative:

MAL: I know the secret. The truth that burned up River Tam's brain and set you after her. And the rest of the 'verse is gonna know it too. 'Cause they need to.

OPERATIVE: You really believe that?

MAL: I do.

OPERATIVE: You willing to die for that belief?

MAL: I am.

And that, my friend, is an objective look at Mal, based on all avaiable evidence (the Firefly and Serenity screenplays). Now, onto:

The crew of Serenity are a bunch of criminals and assorted low-lifes but Joss Whedon manages to weave *his* universe in such a way as to make the crew moral. This is post-modernism, this is relativism.

How can anyone claiming to be an Objectivist consider this an objective opinion? I just covered Mal; I'll now address the rest of the crew.

Jayne: Mercenary man, and apparently the one crew member you based your "assorted lowlife" opinion on, so I'll get him out of the way first. Yes, guilty as charged with Jayne.

Moving on:

Zoe: Second in command on Serenity, career military, she fought with Mal at the Battle of Serenity Valley. Sense of honor, sense of duty. Absolutelty tough as nails. Married to -->

Wash: Serenity's highly skilled pilot. He prefers to stay out of harm's way, keep the crew smiling with his sense of humor, and keep Serenity in the air. He is greatly aided in the latter by -->

Kaylee: Ship's mechanic and engineer; extremely competent at her job of keeping Serenity flying, very knowledgeable of all things mechanical, a friend to everyone and peacemaker on the crew. Highly respected by all, and the first crew member to truly befriend River. Likes fresh fruit, pretty dresses, and has a thing for -->

Dr. Simon Tam: Top 3% of his graduating class; gifted, a brilliant surgeon. Brother of River Tam, gave up his life's savings, a prominent career in medicine, and a life of privledge to save River from the Alliance. Devotes his life to helping her, to medically understanding what has been done to her. -->

River Tam: The subject of Alliance brain experiments and assassin training. Unstable, psychotic, deadly, withdrawn, she has a physically (surgically) stripped amygdala, and thus can't filter emotive responses. She is also a genius. Her combination of all of these traits saved Kaylee's life (episode 10, War Stories -- pinpoint gunmanship), saved Simon's life (Serenity movie -- hand-to-hand combat with swords, axes), and saved her own life and possibly the lives of other crew members (episode 14, Objects in Space -- her intelligence as sole weapon). She can learn anything, including how to fly Serenity (and is shown doing so at the movie's end).

Inara: Registered companion; a combination of geisha, pimp, and prostitute. She calls her own shots, picks her own clients, keeps her own money. She's sexual liberation, self-determination, and capitalism all rolled into one. (So good luck arguing aganst her character.)

Book: A shepard/"man of God" with a mysterious past, he is just as apt to give secular as religious advice.

And that is an Objective look at the crew of Serenity....

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