I mean Cas is basically in the same mindset so why not right

Sam and Dean’s ethical codes

I was thinking about Supernatural this morning (well it’s kind of the only thing I think about). And I started thinking about Sam’s morality, and how it is absolutely fascinating because it’s so contradictory and complex, as well as Dean’s.

Dean is a deontologist. Sam is a consequentialist. I put the links to the Wikipedia pages because it was faster than explaining the concepts myself (also philosophy belongs to the Italian part of my brain, so I would have to translate my thoughts in English instead of producing them directly in English, so forgive me) but if you have any doubts or questions, please ask ahead.

Long story short, Sam judges the goodness or evilness of his actions based on the results of his actions. Dean judges the goodness or evilness of his actions based on whether he believes that those actions are inherently good or bad.

Of course these are their moral codes, which means that they don’t necessarily follow them all the time or that they can be absolutely followed in the concrete circumstances of reality. In fact, the most fascinating moments are the ones where either Sam is faced with having to choose whether to do something or not based on the inherent goodness or evilness of the action itself, or Dean is faced with having to do something he deems bad because of the result it would bring.

But deep down, Sam’s ethics are consequentialists, while Dean’s ethics are deontological. Sam does consider the Ruby deal and the demon blood bad, but eventually he regrets them because the result of those actions was bad. If killing Lilith wasn’t the last seal, if killing Lilith would have indeed prevented the apocalypse, he would have deemed the demon blood thing as something that was just the best option he had, although something better would have been preferable. Dean, on the other end, doesn’t care about what end the action could bring. If the action is bad, it’s bad, and you shouldn’t do it.

I’m not demonizing either of them. Both consequentialism and deontology are valid ethic codes, and can’t be confuted. Each of us is either a consequentialist or a deontologist (or something in the middle of the two extremes, of course), so each of us would see Dean and Sam’s ethics differently. If you’re a consequentialist, you’d see Dean as unnecessarily and often damagingly rigid; if you’re a deontologist, you’d see Sam as dangerously verging on immoral.

But what makes Sam and Dean even more fascinating, is that their moral code doesn’t stop there, in fact is way more complex.

Because, after considering that Sam is a consequentialist and Dean is a deontologist, you’d expect Sam to see the world in a scale of grays while Dean sees the world in black and white. But it’s the opposite, actually.

For Sam, someone is either good, and must be protected, or evil, and must be killed painfully. This is why the idea of Azazel contaminating him with demon blood is so devastating for him - because he can’t decide whether he himself is good or evil. He can’t really conceive the idea that you can be a mixture of goodness and badness. Dean is good so he deserves to be cured of the Mark and live. Crowley is evil so he deserves to die choking on his own demon-ness.

I’ve always found the episode Hook Man extremely interesting. Because Lori represents Sam (it’s the episode just after Skin, when we have the shapeshifter that takes Dean’s form, now we basically have Lori “taking Sam’s form” in a way). Lori causes people to be killed by the Hook Man because she deems them as immoral. Her sex-seeking boyfriend, her sexually disinhibited best friend, her hypocritical father - deep down her mind, she has labelled them as deserving punishment. Of course she’s doing it completely involuntarily and she’s horrified when she finds out what’s happening. Sam, on the other hand - if the Hook Man had attached to him, would he be horrified to discover that he was causing the death of people he judged as evil? I don’t think he would be that upset. A little shaken, of course, because, well, a ghost who kills people you deem evil is not exactly your everyday event. It wouldn’t really be such a bad idea for Sam, deep down, though.

Dean, on the other hand, is used to see people as gray instead of black and white. Although you could argue that in the beginning of the show, he was like that too. But I don’t think so. We have to separate Dean-Dean from the John-built-persona-Dean. Dean-Dean knows people are not either 100% evil or 100% good. He knows perfectly well he’s not 100% evil or 100% good himself (even after Hell, he considers himself weak and messed-up and unworthy, not “evil”). Dean also knows perfectly that his father is not 100% evil or 100% good. He pretends that John is always right and always does the best he can, but he never deludes himself into thinking that John is 100% good. His whole life is a proof of that, after all (believe me - if a person makes your mother cry, you’ll never be able to see them as 100% good just from that). Dean imposes the “black and white way of seeing the world” on himself out of survival instinct. And I’m not only referring to survival-from-monsters, but also survival-from-John. He models himself after what John wants him to be because he has to.

But deep down, his world is much “grayer” than he makes it seem. That’s why he is able to make such a deep connection to Cas way before Sam does. Sam sees “angel” and immediately puts the label “good”, then he realizes angels aren’t the way he thought they were and puts the label “evil”. Dean sees Cas as a gray person - just like Dean himself - way before Sam manages to do it.

You’ll say: what about monsters and demons? Dean sees them as 100% evil! Yes and no. He doesn’t see them as people, at least in the first seasons of the show. His “gray vision” only applies to beings that he deems “people”. It’s completely normal - every one of us only applies the categories of “good” and “evil” to beings we deem as endowed with moral judgement and free will. A bear that kills someone isn’t evil, because she’s just following her nature and you got too close to her cubs and in her mind danger=kill. A person with a severe psychosis that harms someone because of an hallucination isn’t evil. A vase that falls from a windowsill and breaks someone’s skull isn’t evil. And so on.

John has taught Dean that monsters are monsters, not people. So Dean doesn’t apply the categories he applies to people. Sure, demons are “evil” but that’s because they’re demons, their nature is to be evil, period. They’re like viruses, you try to eradicate them because they harm and kill people, but you don’t see viruses in in the same way the legislation of a country or state that allows the death penalty sees criminals (at least in theory, but I’d digress).

Casey in Sin City is incredibly important because she makes Dean start to realize that demons are “people”, in the sense of the word we’re considering here. Thanks to Casey, he doesn’t just shoot Ruby with the Colt as soon as he gets the chance, but he tolerates her presence (in fact, after he discovers Ruby had saved Sam from his suicidal impulses while Dean was in hell, he warms up to Ruby a lot for a while, he sees her as a person). Thanks to Casey (and I’m not saying that names were picked on purpose because it’s impossible but I’m saying that Name Providence exists in this show), he’s able to look past the “angel thing” and see Cas as a person as soon as he realizes Cas isn’t a marble statue.

(Speaking of Ruby, I think that Sam’s relationship with her is fascinating for the very reason that he decides to take a step back from his way of judging people - and the reason he does it is because of his consequentialist attitude, Ruby is a means to an end, he later grows attached to her but he definitely didn’t mean to.)

In Brother’s Keeper, all of this floats to the surface. Sam can’t conceive that Dean may have evilness in him, because in his mind Dean=good. The Mark of Cain has inserted evilness in Dean, but that evilness is like a foreign object that has been put inside Dean. Dean, on the other end, acknowledges that there’s evilness in him, and he reckons that the influence of the Mark is making that evilness all he is, but he doesn’t delude himself into thinking that even without the Mark he’s a perfectly spotless good person. The same applies to his view of Sam - he acknowledges that Sam isn’t a perfectly spotless good person too, because no one is.

I expect that next season, Dean will more or less explicitly tell Sam “stop arbitrarily deciding who’s good and who’s evil”, most likely in reference to Crowley, since Sam is in a very “Crowley=evil=kill” mindset right now, while Dean acknowledges that he’s a lot of things in common with Crowley and is much softer in his judgment of him, but ultimately in a wider sense that goes beyond Crowley specifically.

In the finale, Dean talks about how “evil tracks [them]” and everyone close to them ends up dying, and he says “It’s time we put a proper name to what we really are and we deal with it”. And Sam immediately replies “Wait a second. We are not evil. Listen, we’re far from perfect, but we are good. That thing on your arm is evil. But not you, not me.” And Dean replies “I let Rudy die. How was that not evil?” And then he mentions Sam’s driving Lester to sell his soul, and getting Charlie killed. He asks Sam “how is that not evil” in reference to removing the Mark “no matter the consequences”. Sam replies that Dean has summoned Death to prevent himself from harming other people, and he says “That’s not an evil man. This a good man crying to be heard, searching for some other way.” And they after they fight he says “You’ll never ever hear me say that you, the real you, is anything but good”. And Dean rolls his eyes because Sam just doesn’t get the point.

They’re speaking two different languages. Sam is saying “we aren’t evil, we’re good” while Dean is saying “we’ve been doing evil things”. Dean is speaking about actions, Sam is speaking about an inherent quality that defines them. Dean talks about letting Rudy die, getting Lester sell his soul, getting Charlie killed… specific actions. Sam is like, “you are an inherently good man”. He thinks in a dichotomy, “a man is either evil or good” and Dean isn’t evil, so he’s good! While Dean acknowledges that they’re not either good or evil. They’re people and people to either good or evil actions.

Sam needs to learn something Dean already knows - that people aren’t either good or evil, but a mixture of the two, and what counts is what they do, not what they are. Sam was obsessed about the demon blood in him because it was afraid it made him a freak, a monster, evil. Sam, throughout the whole show, has been trying to prove (including to himself) that he’s good, not evil. Dean wants to do something about the Mark because the Mark makes him do evil things. Dean, throughout the show, has been trying to do good things. That’s the main difference between them. And they won’t be on the same page until they see the world in the same way, or better until Sam sees the world the same way Dean does, because that’s healthier and more accurate.


9x01 | 9x22

        ↳ When someone asks Cas to choose them over Dean.

Thoughts on Dean/Cas and the themes of S11

Coming up on the S11 finale, Dean/Cas is on my mind. Now, I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but I keep thinking about the themes this season has given us, and how these themes haven’t come to their natural conclusion yet. I keep thinking how those themes are centered around Dean and Cas and what that means for Dean/Cas.

Keep reading

What is writing anyway?

I don’t know if this is going to be nearly as coherent as I want it to be, but this has been infuriating me for a pretty long time and I’ve ranted about it to just about everyone I know, so I think its probably time for me to release it into the visible ether or else it’s just going to burn me up inside.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I love writing. I don’t just mean it in the sense of writing-as-a-thing that is done to tell a story, but just writing in itself and all the things that go into writing: the brainstorming, the outlining, the writing, the editing, the thinking about writing and writing about writing and talking about writing. This might be biasing me a little and I don’t expect everyone to agree with this, or see eye to eye with me on this. That’s okay.

So anyway, there’s a thing that’s been rearing its head in fandom lately which like all things fandom, came from the original very noble idea of sticking it to the man (in this case the literary establishment and the media). Fanfic is literature, fanfic is legitimate writing. This is not a controversial statement, at least I don’t think so. This is good and this is one of the things that energizes me about fandom - it’s endlessly creative possibilities and the fact that this is a new form of storytelling that people really should be paying attention to. Fanfic is done out of love and is a free act, which is also revolutionary! People are literally rejecting the notion that only certain people can be storytellers - everyone has a story to tell, everyone deserves to have a voice and fanfic provides that medium. This is also great and good. 

The ugly thing that’s raising its head is the idea that somehow all of this insulates fanfic from criticism of any sort and I really don’t know how to phrase it at this point, so I’m just going to dump it here: which views fanfic and writing as purely mechanistic entities rather than asa  craft, yet which still demands the same level of praise and adoration simply for the virtue of the nature of its existence: a free labour of love. 

I’m not sure if the two should be conflated. I’m not sure why I, the reader and writer of fanfic, should be forced to say that because a thing is done for free and out of love, I am never allowed to examine why some fics do or do not work for me and yes, state the shocking idea that some fics are better than others. I’m not sure that intra-fandom criticism should be treated with the same virulence as outside-fandom criticism of fandom. 

There’s a strong case to be made for taste being socially mediated (esp wrt SPAG & other shit & I’m avoiding as much as possible, bringing that into the picture here but its all a very YMMV kind of situation), which does affect how we’re tempted to make criticism of fic - and I appreciate the line of thought that equates fanfic with literature if only because it insists that this means fanfic deserves to be taken as seriously as a literary work is. In my mind, this means that I should theoretically be able to read fanfic as seriously as I do literature  - with my critical faculties constantly engaged. I think fandom is getting there with this, or at least people are much more open to critiquing trends, tropes and issues in fanworks. I’ve seen criticism of tropes like usurper women in m/m slash fic, the kind of racism which relegates POC characters to being cheerleaders for romances but never romantic interests in themselves, etc etc. 

I’ve also seen a strong backlash against the kind of criticism which focuses on the more writerly aspects of a work - against being able to criticize whether a fic is a coherent, consistent work that sells itself to the reader as a work of art. Fandom authors do not die after they publish their fics, the current attitude seems to be in favour of them only wanting praise. I get that. Getting concrit, unasked for, by a stranger on the internet is awful and there are times when people conflate criticality with pissing on everything about a fic. I’m not sure that this means we stop critiquing fic all together, or that we no longer discuss the intrinsic ‘technical’ merits of a fic all together. I’m not sure that stories and writing can be divorced like that and that the former can get criticism for using bad tropes, while the latter cannot be criticized for being weak. There’s a way to do criticism tactfully (and if you don’t want to to the author, I think there should be room to do it in private without feeling guilty about it) certainly, but not that it should be stopped all together.

It seems to me that kind of system strips fandom of at least half its transformative capability and also undermines the argument that it is as meritorious as published literature. Transformation requires growth, growth requires a certain openness to criticism! For something to be taken as seriously as literature, there has to be growth both on the creative ideation front and on the expression/form front. That’s…. part of qualitative growth. The idea that fic writers don’t need to grow on this front because they’re doing this for fun, for free perplexes me. I sort of get it - you shouldn’t feel pressured to. But at the same time I just. Do people really not have that internal drive to improve their writing? (This is me, the writer, by the way, expressing confusion over this particular mindset because to me it expressly places fanfic much lower than actualfax published writing - because I don’t think people would treat published and original writing in the same way. Is there a subtle double standard at work here? I don’t know.) Do we get to demand approval without doing the work for it? And I don’t even mean churning out really thoughtprovoking shit, but doing the basic stuff of getting your fic to work as a convincing piece of writing? Does self-deprecation or self-awareness insulate us and protect us from having to do the basic groundwork of, well, writing - writing something which is consistent and coherent and which is believable, something you could conceivably call ‘good’?*

I mean, I don’t know what to think when someone baldly states ‘the characters are so OOC in this ha ha’ in their author notes - and then the fic never bothers to even attempt a kind of internal consistency with its characterizations of different characters. I personally don’t care about OOC-ness (especially in an AU) if an author sells it to me convincingly. Part of that requires internal consistency in writing! Part of that requires thinking about a character outside of the realms of mechanical plot and as a psychological entity in themselves and wondering why they’re acting the way they’re acting. Tell me why. Convince me you have a vision, author, and I’ll suspend any amount of disbelief I have to because I know all of this is building towards a larger something and is not just another rabbit trail that will end in the middle of nowhere and leave me scratching my head, trying to put two disparate pieces together by sheer bloody willpower.

But that part of writing is much more than just putting a plot down in words, it requires thought - it requires craft. Where does craft go if all fanfic is equal because all fanfic is a labour of love? Where does craft go if all stories are equally important and good by virtue of the fact that they are being told - irrespective of whether or not those stories are being told convincingly? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I’m highly uncomfortable with the idea that a story which is not internally consistent, which does not in any way attempt to sell me on its existence as a story, or convince me of the plausibility of its characters and the barebones narrative they’re pushing is equal to stories which do accomplish this in their writing**

And I’m not even sure if we’re meant to cheer people on because they told a coherent story (by coherent I mean thematically coherent, something that is actually convincing). Congratulations. You made the grade. You can tell a story from A to B and convince someone to go along with it. I’m still going to pick the story which goes from A to B but also has C, an interesting theme, it’s picking at.

I guess another question that troubles me wrt fandom and fanfic writing right now is whether writing is just about plots or if writing is more than just doing a plot straight from A to B. Should it answer questions? Should it show us how characters grow or fail? Should it tell us something about the characters? Should it tell us - well, anything beyond character A and character B doing things and the plot progressing from A to B? Should fanfic grapple with srs bsns themes or leave that to real literature (where does that leave fanfic is literature then?)? If fanfic is literature, should we write fanfic the same way we write literature or are we okay with drawing a line between the two (this is an earnest question)?

I suppose what really troubles me about an author note which says something like ‘haha everyone is OOC’ is that I can’t read it as self-deprecation when the work that follows is…. an incoherent mess. What I get from notes like that is that:

  1. fanfic is not important, the effort to make this consistent is not worth it
  2. writing is not important, it is not worth the effort except insofar as it sketches out the bare skeleton of a thought
  3. these are thoughtless activities which don’t actually require care or thought
  4. the very act of creating is in itself meritorious and requires praise, irrespective of whether the author seems to care about their work of art or not

And I’m not sure where to go with this in the current fandom atmosphere where all critique is VERBOTEN and if you do it you will be sent to FANDOM HELL for daring to say something critical about a work, only good things can be said about a work. Which incidentally, sits hand in hand with the atmosphere which says everyone can write fics (fair) so what are writers complaining about when they say writing can be tough (not fair). How do we reconcile this? How can we appreciate fanart as art but not fanfic as writing which is art? And the inverse of it, how can we recognize the importance of fanartist growth, but disagree that we as fic writers ever have to ‘grow’? Why can we not recognize writing as a thing which requires effort beyond just putting words on a page - both writers and readers?

How do you grow without critique? How do you grow without putting effort into writing? Can I demand people put effort into writing beyond the sketching out of a barebones plot which may or may not be consistent or coherent? Or, because fanfic is free can I not demand that at all?

Why the hell am I doing that? Why the hell do I bother with such care in my fic writing then?

Am I allowed to wonder ‘why are you writing if you don’t seem to love just writing for the sake of writing’? Why are you writing if you think writing’s a joke? If you think writing is so easy it doesn’t require improvement? If you don’t care about writing itself?

Why? Why? Why would you treat writing like its the most inferior of the arts? Is it because its language and we all do language? 

Am I being a fucking snob?

I don’t know. I just know that the current fandom atmosphere wrt fanfic and fic writing just makes me want to leave fandom more than all the wank because despite all the glorification, the endless praise people sing, all I see at the end of the day is a constant devaluation of the actual act of writing. Praise for stories, devaluation of writing. I don’t know how I feel about that, but it makes me want to leave fandom all together.

What is writing anyway?

*For the record I don’t care about SPAG that much. There are lots of issues which are bundled up in why someone’s SPAG may not be perfect and I generally am not referring to that at all because some of the most thoughtful fics, the fics which felt they were really taking themselves seriously as works of writing, I’ve read have been written with less than perfect SPAG. 

**fwiw, I think suspension of disbelief is a good term to use here. I don’t actually care for its use as it exists for whether or not a fantasy/SF world can make me suspend my disbelief about its worldbuilding, but I think it helps to talk about whether a story itself is crafted well enough that you can suspend your disbelief in its fictionality to immerse yourself in it and believe, while you’re reading at least, that this is a thing that could have plausibly happened because there is an element of coherency and consistency to it (even apparently incoherent and inconsistent works like Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have these coherent, consistent threads through them and everything has a kind of raison d’etre that assures us the author has a clear vision they’re trying to communicate to us. This is sometimes notoriously absent in fanfic beyond the ‘so these two are going to get together and snog’ which okay. Sure. But I’m not buying it because my disbelief at the entire set-up hasn’t been suspended yet.)