Ookla the Observant

Szeth does not have to follow the law

8 posts in this topic

This is a simple observation. Despite Skybreakers being known to follow all laws, and Brandon even saying that the generic Second Oath is "I swear to follow the law", Szeth never swore to follow the law. His second oath was "I swear to seek justice, to let it guide me, until I find a more perfect Ideal". This is not explicitly an oath to follow any law, and considering Szeth being willing to take advantage of technicalities of phrasing (like with the dye-throwing contest), he can get away with breaking laws if he thinks they are unjust and gets his highspren to agree. His Third Ideal is also not to follow exactly the laws of the land (as many Skybreakers do) but rather to follow Dalinar, which still does not explicitly restrict him to legal actions. 

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The fourth might bind him but he might be able to swear to the spirit of the law and that will prevent him from being forced to join the other skybreakers. Great observation though as I hope he doesn't have to swear to the law.

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Posted (edited)

That's an interesting observation, and I guess we don't really know how rigid highspren are about oaths. I'm skeptical that highspren are all that open to being flexible with the law, since that's kind of their essence. That's one of the differences Syl notes between them and honorspren:

Quote

"Breaking out would be against the law, though."

She lifted her chin. "I'm no highspren. Laws don't matter; what's right matters." (WoR, page 726)

And Nale draws a sharp contrast between morality and law:

Quote

"The law cannot be moral," Nale said to them. "But you can be moral as you create laws." (RoW, chapter 47) (sorry, my Kindle edition doesn't have real page numbers for this book)

At the same time, in RoW we've seen that honorspren have come to define honor differently even amongst themselves, and almost certainly differently than they had done in the past. So maybe we're seeing something similar with highspren. Possibly in tandem with Nale himself changing so much over the millenia.

We haven't seen many Skybreakers in action so we don't have a lot of comparisons available. The best one I can think of is in Lift's first interlude chapter, where a Skybreaker kills a hostage because he said he would and thought it would be wrong to not follow through. He's sharply scolded by Nale because they didn't have legal permission to kill the hostage in Azir.

We have a few possible explanations that I can think of offhand:

  1. That Skybreaker had sworn his second oath to follow the law, in contrast to Szeth's oath
  2. That Skybreaker had not yet sworn the second oath
  3. That Skybreaker had sworn his third oath to follow Nale, and so regardless of his specific second oath had to follow Azir's laws exactly because that's what Nale did

But I think you're right to note that the oath doesn't seem to bind Szeth in the way we might generically expect it to bind a Skybreaker, and that highsprens' judgement seems like a really important factor in what a Skybreaker is allowed to do according to their oaths.

Edited by Returned
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I can't wait to see Szeth's growth in SA5

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19 hours ago, The Wandering Wizard said:

The fourth might bind him but he might be able to swear to the spirit of the law and that will prevent him from being forced to join the other skybreakers. Great observation though as I hope he doesn't have to swear to the law.

His fourth was to cleanse the Shin of their false leaders. That doesn't bind him to anything other than that quest. Although it's possible that the Fifth might bind him to the law. But I think the point of the Skybreaker oaths is that a Fifth Ideal Skybreaker is finally confident enough to trust their own sense of justice and morality, and to throw off the need to rely on the law.

18 hours ago, Returned said:

That's an interesting observation, and I guess we don't really know how rigid highspren are about oaths. I'm skeptical that highspren are all that open to being flexible with the law, since that's kind of their essence. 

Here's the thing: the highspren were impressed by Szeth's demonstration at the Purelake where he washed the colored powder off based on a technicality. I get the feeling that at least some highspren (including presumably the one that actually bonded him) would be receptive to a loophole like that if presented in the right manner.

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Posted (edited)

29 minutes ago, Zapata said:

Here's the thing: the highspren were impressed by Szeth's demonstration at the Purelake where he washed the colored powder off based on a technicality. I get the feeling that at least some highspren (including presumably the one that actually bonded him) would be receptive to a loophole like that if presented in the right manner.

That's kind of my point, though. The rules of the competition in the Purelake specifically allowed Szeth's strategy. It was in the "law" of the contest, and one of the proctors even said that someone figures that out every time the challenge takes place. In that sense it's the opposite of a loophole, and the rinsing is something the rules are designed to allow and even encourage. And because understanding rules very precisely is something that Skybreakers are supposed to do they and their spren are pleased when someone demonstrates that they can notice that.

I agree that a highspren might be receptive to the right argument, but I don't think that they'll be generally receptive to an argument that elides the law (however they want to define it) just because doing so would adhere to an agreement-- that's honorspren territory, and Syl at least thinks highspren won't operate that way. But as I said, I think you're right to note the very specific phrasing of Szeth's oath, especially because it differs from what we've seen of how Skybreakers operate. We shouldn't assume that Szeth's behaviors as a Skybreaker will be just like what we've seen of other members of that order, or even that highspren are a (let alone the) reason Skybreakers act as we've observed.

I've been thinking of highspren as spren of law, but what if they're not? They could as easily be spren of justice, or something like that, and the rigid focus on law that Skybreakers have is something that is distinctly about that order of Knight Radiant. That would in some ways fit better with the nature of spren, and could allow for the flexibility you describe in a very natural, even necessary, way.

Edited by Returned
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Just now, Returned said:

I've been thinking of highspren as spren of law, but what if they're not? They could as easily be spren of justice, or something like that, and the rigid focus on law that Skybreakers have is something that is about that order of Knight Radiant. That would in some ways fit better with the nature of spren, and could allow for the flexibility you describe in a very natural, even necessary, way.

This is what I've been thinking as well. In fact, I think the reliance on law comes down to two things, really: Fledgling Skybreakers mistrust of their own morality (making them require the law as a "crutch"), and Nale's specific influence since joining the order. Because if the Second Ideal is supposed to be to follow the law, I do not see how the Third Ideal is really any different (if a Skybreaker swears to follow the laws of the lands they reside in), since either way breaking the law breaks the ideal. I almost feel that Szeth swore a more "true" Second Ideal. As far as Nale goes, perhaps his emphasis on law prevents other Skybreakers from reaching the Fifth Ideal. His rhetoric that human morality is fallible might prevent other Skybreakers from having the confidence to trust their own judgments. Not him, of course. At some level, Nale does make his own moral judgments, such as believing that Dawnsinger law takes precedence over Era of Solitude law. But other Skybreakers seem to rely on Nale for their own direction, and seem uncomfortable acting without his guidance.

Regardless, I think that Szeth might be on track to not have to follow the law, but not (yet) his own judgement either. Obviously, right now he is relying on Dalinar as well as his own empiricism (i.e. he believes the Stone Shamans are bad because they said he was Truthless for lying about the Voidbringers, but he was not lying, so their judgement is wrong), but Dalinar is not bound by oath to laws. 

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On 2022-05-13 at 4:26 PM, Zapata said:

Here's the thing: the highspren were impressed by Szeth's demonstration at the Purelake where he washed the colored powder off based on a technicality. I get the feeling that at least some highspren (including presumably the one that actually bonded him) would be receptive to a loophole like that if presented in the right manner.

This is kind of how court works in real life. Lawyers look for and use loopholes and technicalities all the time. It is not necessarily about justice, but following the written law. If something isn't explicitly forbidden, it is okay, pretty much. 

On 2022-05-13 at 4:54 PM, Returned said:

I've been thinking of highspren as spren of law, but what if they're not? They could as easily be spren of justice, or something like that, and the rigid focus on law that Skybreakers have is something that is distinctly about that order of Knight Radiant. That would in some ways fit better with the nature of spren, and could allow for the flexibility you describe in a very natural, even necessary, way.

The quote from Syl you posted earlier kind of disputes that. Granted, Syl might very well be biased, and doesn't seem to like highspren very much.

On 2022-05-12 at 7:27 PM, Zapata said:

His Third Ideal is also not to follow exactly the laws of the land (as many Skybreakers do) but rather to follow Dalinar, which still does not explicitly restrict him to legal actions.

But what if Dalinar tells him to obey the laws of the land...

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