Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Weight of Right

There is a long-standing debate in many fields – particularly law – as to whether it is more important that a guilty man go free than that a hundred innocent men be imprisoned. Essentially, the crux of this debate is how to weigh wrong. This debate cuts to the center of individual, societal and systemic cores. What has gone somewhat less discussed is how to weigh right. The depths of this debate are poignantly demonstrated in Freedom Cry, the epilogue session of the video game Assassin’sCreed: Black Flag discussed in a recent Jurisculture posting.

Freedom Cry is set in the 1700s, 20 years after the main game story. The main game story follows the exploits of Edward Kenway, the pirate captain. Throughout the main game story, Kenway’s driving force is the pursuit of monetary gain, although he does captain his ship with a fair code. This fairness includes taking on Adéwalé (Adé), an escaped slave, as his quartermaster. While Kenway is briefly imprisoned, Adé joins the Brotherhood of the Assassins, a society adhering to a strict moral code and righting the wrongs of the world as a form of protection.

The main game story ends with Kenway returning home and Adé captaining his own ship in service of the Assassins. Freedom Cry opens with Adé performing a mission for the Assassins that results in his gaining access to written intelligence that he intends to carry to a contact in Port-au-Prince in modern day Haiti.

As with many cities in the Caribbean at the time, Port-au-Prince is heavily involved in the slave trade and slavery-reliant activities. Once in Port-au-Prince, Adé makes contact with Bastienne Josephe, the African proprietor of a prominent brothel in the city that is frequented by the political and social elite. At first glance, she seems complicit in the culture of slavery and its spoils and content to cater to her clientele. Under the surface, however, she has far greater depths and is in fact supporting anti-slavery factions by providing them with information gathered from her clients. As Adé begins to work with her to gather information and assist the anti-slavery factions, he gains greater respect for Bastienne and her use of long-range planning as a method of bringing an end to the ruling regime in a methodical way.

Despite his admiration for her dedication, Adé argues with Bastienne when they receive information regarding incoming slave ships. Bastienne notes that Ade has done a great deal to damage plantations’ slave usage and also prominent members of the elite. She points out that this has already caused a backlash of power and fear among the elite, including tougher enforcement of the unequal “Code Noir” that governed non-white persons in the area. She fears that targeting the slave ships will make conditions for the current slaves worse and damage the anti-slavery faction’s plan. On the other hand, Adé is adamant that he can free the would-be slaves and that freeing them is the paramount right thing to do.

Ultimately, Adé attempts to free the would-be slaves but is only partly successful. He and Bastienne make peace after these events and acknowledge the importance of care for human life in their quests against slavery, although they still carry on using different paths.

Freedom Cry is a unique method for allowing a large group of people to appreciate some of the horrors of slavery and the ways in which it was enforced. Beyond this, the game poses a variation on the debate over the weight of wrong – how do we weigh right? There is no question that both Adé and Bastienne were acting in accordance with what they believed to be right. Rather, it is a question of which right has more value. To Adé, the most valuable right is the right that can be more immediately achieved with tangible results that help people. To Bastienne, the most valuable right is the right that has the most impact for the largest number of people even if this will require more time and effort.

There is no clear answer to the question of how to weigh right. Indeed, at a legal and societal level this question may be even more intricate than that of how to weigh wrong since it is difficult to articulate methods of arguing against right in any form. However, as law and society must face issues such as modern day slavery and human trafficking this question seems highly relevant.

No comments: