Never Argue Morality With A Monk
Rated: Teen for philosophical debate that might anger some people.
Summary: Sokka really should have known better than to argue morality with a monk. Takes place sometime in the Episode "The Phoenix King" when the others are trying to convince Aang to kill the Firelord.
Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender is owned by Bryke.
LES: I don't know about you, but I find it amusing that Sokka, the skeptic of all things Spiritual would hold the Divine Command Theory of Ethics. In case you don't know, the Divine Command Theory of Ethics is probably the most widely accepted and most widely rejected theory of ethics and morality in the world. The basic jist of it is "If God says it is righteous, then it is the right thing to do; if God forbids it, then it is the wrong thing to do." Since Aang really is the closest thing to a God that the show has, then by saying that Sokka follows the Divine Command Theory of Ethics means that he must think that Aang is the supreme authority when it comes to morality, which he says several times.
Sokka: You're the Avatar! If you [kill the Firelord] in the name of keeping peace, then I'm sure the Universe will forgive you.
LES: So, my friends, this story is what happens when Light-Eco-Sage takes an Ethics class and is feeling particularly philosophical. I also realize that I'm turning Aang into a Socrates-like figure. We can only hope that Aang doesn't grow up to be like Socrates and end up getting killed for pissing people off by pulling them into philosophical debates that they can't win. Poor Sokka. He can never win…
It was safe to say that everyone was in a bad mood that night. Squabbles and disagreements were sure to happen anytime you get a group of teenagers with different values together in one place, but it was rare for the entire Gang to be pissed off at each other.
Sokka, Zuko, and Toph were pissed off at Aang for being an immature Goodie-Two-Shoes. Couldn't he see that Firelord Ozai needed to be killed? It's not like Aang could realistically fight him into submission and Ozai would surrender and apologize on behalf of himself and his ancestors for causing the war. The Firelord's ambition had grown too large, and it seemed like everyone but Aang could see that the only way to stop the Firelord for good was to kill him. Couldn't he see that the Firelord needed to die, and the only one powerful enough to do it was the Avatar?
Katara was pissed off at Sokka, Zuko, and Toph for shoving Aang's face into the reality of the situation. She was pissed off at Aang when he shouted at her when she was doing nothing but trying to be understanding. But, mostly, she was pissed off at herself for being unable to help Aang.
And Aang was just plain angry at everyone else. After he had his fit, he had retreated to one of the balconies to mediate, which Sokka scoffed at. Why waste his time with mediation when he could be training for his fight against the Firelord? Sozin's comet was only a little over three days away! They didn't have time for all this spiritual nonsense!
Sokka finally got tired of Aang wallowing in self-pity, and went to hunt him down, and hopefully to knock some sense into his bald head.
He found Aang exactly where he expected him to be: mediating on the balcony. "Aang." Sokka called to get the young monk out of his mediations.
Aang sighed heavily as he opened his eyes and turned to Sokka. "What now, Sokka? Have you come to tell me that I'm being stupid again?"
"I calls 'em like I sees 'em." Sokka said. "Look, Aang, you are my friend. No… you are like a little brother to me, but that doesn't change the fact that you are being stupid." Sokka sat down next to him and sighed. "Look, I get that you have never killed before, and I know how hard it is to take a life. But you don't have the luxury of giving the Firelord mercy. He has to be killed, or he'll never be stopped."
"There's another way!" Aang insisted. "There… has to be another way…"
"What other way?" Sokka argued. "There is no other way! As long as he is the Firelord… as long as he is able to Firebend, he'll always be a threat."
"I know!" Aang said harshly. "Believe me, I know! But I can't justify taking someone's life just because I don't agree with them!"
"Sure you can!" Sokka said. "Look, you are the Avatar! You are the Spirit of the Planet, or something like that. And it's your duty to keep balance. If you kill the Firelord in the name of keeping balance, or whatever, then you did the right thing."
Aang didn't respond for several moments, and then he spoke quietly. "You're saying that, because I'm the Avatar, whatever I will do is the right thing?"
"Yes!" Sokka said, pleased that Aang had finally gotten the message.
"Then can you explain something to me?"
Sokka shrugged. Oh well… He thought Aang had gotten the message, but it at least seemed that he was on the right track. If Aang, for some reason, needed a little more explanation, then Sokka would be more than willing to educate him. "Sure."
"You just said that my being the Avatar basically gives me supreme moral authority." Aang said.
"But is that moral authority consistent?" Aang asked.
"I'm not the only Avatar who ever lived." Aang said. "There are thousands of Avatars before me, and we often don't agree with each other. Avatar Kyoshi believed it was right to kill Chin the Conquer in order to protect the people of Kyoshi, but I don't believe that. Does that mean the moral standard changes every time a new Avatar is born to reflect the new moral outlook?" Aang looked into Sokka's blank face. "Okay, I'll make it simple. Why don't we limit this talk to only me and my authority over the rules of morality?"
"Yes, definitely." Sokka said.
"Then we still have the same problem, but on a smaller scale." Aang said. "As the Avatar, I could make it the supreme moral law to not kill. Anyone who killed would doing something wrong, because I said it's wrong."
"But what if I went to the Firelord right now and told him to wipe out every other culture on the face of the planet?" Aang asked. "According to you, that action would still be 'right' because I said it was okay."
"Yes, but you wouldn't tell the Firelord to go kill everyone else because it would be the wrong thing to do."
"But you just said it would be the right thing to do."
"Look, I don't know a lot about the Avatar, but I do know that it is your job to maintain balance." Sokka said, getting slightly annoyed with Aang. "If you went to the Firelord and told him to wipe out the other cultures, that would destroy the world's balance. It would be wrong."
"But now you are contradicting yourself." Aang said. "You said that the Avatar is the supreme moral authority. But now you are saying that there is a higher moral authority that the Avatar has to answer to. So my final question is this: are good actions good because the Avatar believes they are good, or does the Avatar approve of those actions because they are good?"
This question visibly stumped Sokka. He madly searched for a way out of Aang's verbal caging, but could find no way to answer Aang without giving the obvious response. 'Maybe I was wrong'. But Sokka wasn't ready to admit that Aang should just let the Firelord go on his merry way.
"Okay, Wise Guy, if you are so smart, why don't you tell me the answer? What is morality? What is right? What is wrong?" Sokka demanded, finally believing that he would have Aang on the mental run like he had Sokka just moments ago.
Aang looked at Sokka with sorrow in his eyes. "I never said I did know the answer to those questions. That's the difference between you and me. You believed you knew the answers without really knowing the answers, and I know that I don't know the answer. Wisdom isn't knowing, wisdom is knowing that you don't know."
Sokka glared at the young Avatar, and stormed away from him. "Smartass." Sokka growled to himself once he was out of Aang's earshot.
LES: This story was over-flowing with Socrates-ness. In case you don't know, the Greek philosopher Socrates made a habit of confronting people with their moral beliefs. He would call big-headed pompous wind-bags on their ignorance, and made a lot of people mad. He called himself the "Wisest Man in Athens" because he knew that wisdom isn't knowing, but knowing that you don't know. He was eventually executed for not believing in the Gods of Athens (because he said many of the things that Aang said) and for corrupting the youth of Athens for making them think and question things.