Virtue After The Hunger Games

I’m always a little bit behind in reading popular novels. Last summer was the Harry Potter Series. This summer I narrowed the relevance gap a bit and read The Hunger Games Trilogy.

Overall, I thought it was pretty good and not overly predictable. The narrative is paced well with enough character interaction to provide (some) depth. The series’ post-apocalyptic setting offers insightful critique of where our culture could potentially end up. Far from deep - it is still popular fiction, let’s remember - the novels present a challenging depiction of culture, oppression and violence, but does well not to glorify violence in the process. And while I don’t think the conclusion of the series offers much hope in the face of violence, at the very least it’s honest about the problems of our culture and world.

Now onto the heavy reading - I also read Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue this summer. MacIntyre skillfully and thoroughly traces history and philosophy in analyzing modern morality, suggesting that we’ve lost the capacity to form virtue. We live in a world “after virtue.” Virtue, as MacIntyre describes, is our innate ability to “sustain practices and enable the relevant kind of quest for the good.” Without virtue, people are more interested in getting the right answers individually (pragmatics) than becoming the right people in society (character/virtue). Of particular note, MacIntyre concludes that for morality to make sense we need to recover our connectedness - connectedness to history and to one another. The person I am relies on the people I relate to. Community is essential.

Reading The Hunger Games and After Virtue side-by-side, while unintentional, was an interesting exercise. In some ways - and this may be a bit of a stretch - The Hunger Games illustrates an extreme of MacIntyre’s thesis. The Capitol, completely absorbed in themselves and maintaining their particular culture, is oblivious to what is obvious to the reader: they are immoral. Their citizens are brainwashed. Or worse, they are animals. The Districts, on the contrary, begin to look beyond the facade and start to remember - they remember life before the oppression of the Capitol. After Virtue insists that moral health is rooted in knowing our history; knowing our rootedness to the people around us. In remembering the Districts retrieve aspects of goodness (i.e. virtue), albeit still incomplete and uncertain.

In assessing modern culture, After Virtue doesn’t offer easy solutions to the problems of modern morality. And The Hunger Games doesn’t resolve these problems smoothly either. But from popular novel and moral philosophy alike, I was reminded of an important reality: Who I am is bigger than myself - i.e. other people and history shape me. Fulfillment isn’t escaping my reliance on others and history, but embracing it.
"I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’ We enter human society, that is, with one or more imputed characters - roles into which we have been drafted - and we have to learn what they are in order to be able to understand how others respond to us and how our responses to them are apt to be construed." (After Virtue, 216)
**NOTE** I do worry, especially with the Hunger Games movie, that folks will completely miss the important moral implications of the story. With no culture of character - i.e. “after virtue” - how can we be expected to navigate the moral implications of a story such as the Hunger Games? Action and violence, instead of the profound cultural critique they offer, are merely entertainment for consumption. Basically, I’m afraid that MacIntyre’s thesis still holds true - the moral message of the Hunger Games falls on deaf ears - it succumbs to the very culture it critiques.


Post a Comment