Parallax

Moral Miscalculations of Mr. Sanderson in Oathbringer

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This is my first "real" post and it is a criticism, however the issue has been bothering me since I finished the book sometime ago and I have not seen it really addressed.

The problem is what Dalinar did in Rathalas make him irredeemable, particularly when you contrast his heinous act with that of other villains in Stormlight Archive. Consider Amaram, what is his initial crime? Killing the four remaining soldiers of Kaladin's crew and destroying Kaladin's life, that is (quite literally) orders of magnitude less severe than Dalinar's war crime. Dalinar is lucky nobody survived his atrocity to avenge the thousands of civilians who burnt to death. You could make the same argument for Moash, even Sadeas' betrayal at the Shattered Plains is less troubling than Dalinar's mass slaughter, after all Sadeas' victims were armed soldiers in a battlefield not innocent civilians in their homes. There are other smaller problems with Oathbringer but this issue really spoiled the ending of the book for me. 

Let me know what you guys think. 

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Nobody ever treats what Dalinar did as a good thing. Hell, Dalinar hates himself because of it. He sees HIMSELF as irredeemable, but even despite that, he's trying to do better. He doesn't want to be the warlord who would slaughter an entire village without remorse again, and he hasn't. Amaram and Sadeas aren't villains because their actions are worse than those of our heroes. They're villains because they refuse to change. Dalinar paid the price for his crimes by killing his wife with his own hands, but instead of staying how he was, or gods forbid getting worse, he decided to try and become a better man. Nobody claims that the Blackthorn was a good man. He was a violent, bloodthirsty, abusive man who was tempted to murder his own brother just so he could go out and fight and kill more people. Dalinar Kholin would be a villain if this story took place twenty or thirty years before it did. But he has changed, and in changing, he has become a better man worthy of being called a hero, even in spite of the crimes of his past. 

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No one is irredeemable. Anyone can change so long as they learn and grow and actually choose to do so. 

First, this is a general and timeless philosophical/ethical question on which people can differ. For example, I don't think anyone who has lead a campaign of ethnic cleansing can be forgiven, let alone become a moral leader of some kind later in life. 

Second, within the universe of the story Dalinar's redemption is just not convincing. Nobody represents Dalinar's victims, his psychological issues don't even compare to hundreds (thousands?) of children burning alive in their homes. Amaram and Moash are represented as morally bad way before the end of Oathbringer and both had far better arguments for their (much smaller) initial sins than Dalinar did for Rathalas. 

Another way to see the incongruity is to compare Dalinar with Shallan. Shallan has killed her parents (I would say she was justified in both cases), Dalinar unintentionally murdering his wife is in the same ballpark, but burning a city's population on top of that is just too much. 

Edited by Parallax
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I mean, Dalinar himself thinks his Amaram's crimes were nothing compared to the Rift, once he remembers, so this is hardly an oversight on Sanderson's part- indeed, it's why Amaram was so surprised that Dalinar refused to accept his excuses; Amaram knew that Dalinar was guilty of far worse, although Dalinar didn't at the time. 

But now that Dalinar has that full context, it prompts him to offer Amaram forgiveness during the battle of Thaylen City. 'I've done worse than you, and I could still change for the better, so it shouldn't be too late for you either'. But then Amaram rejects the offer and instead doubles down on evil by swallowing Yelig-Nar. He ended up being irredeemable because he refused to take his chance at redemption, not because of magnitudes involved.

As for Sadeas- well, Sadeas is outright worse than Dalinar by any standard. He was equally complicit in what happened at the Rift; egging Dalinar on, making sure word wouldn't reach Gavilar until after the deeds was done, making sure Dalinar couldn't stop things half-way, and playing at least as an active role in the killings themselves. And then you have the way he spent the entire series being a untrustworthy bastard who expresses no remorse for his crimes and making it clear he has no intention of being anything other than a backstabbing rat. 

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I personally don't find what Dalinar did irredeemable, but that is certainly my opinion, not a fact. I think it's safe to say that I wasn't as bothered by the Blackthorn as a lot of other readers were, but that's only one part of it. To me the other part is that Dalinar is extremely self-reflective and willing to actually face up to it and change. I find the concept of trying to "make up for things" somewhat repugnant, especially when it's on the level of death, which is something that can't be given back, but I respect Dalinar way more for being able to admit that and moving forward so that his future words and actions will be to prevent things like that. Not pretending you can turn back the clock, but accepting the current situation and doing the best to change the future situation. Morality and redemption and all of these big ideals are subject to everyone's individual moral compass, of course, YMMV.

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11 minutes ago, aneonfoxtribute said:

Amaram and Sadeas aren't villains because their actions are worse than those of our heroes. They're villains because they refuse to change. 

Actually both had reasons beyond selfishness in doing what they did. Kaladin notes this when Amaram is caught by Dalinar ("He's telling the truth, he thought. He . . . honestly believes that he did the right thing." WoR Ch. 76). And Sadeas is trying to get rid of Dalinar because he thinks Dalinar will destroy Alethkar if he continues to be a force ("He was fond of the boy, but to rebuild Alethkar, all vestiges of former rule need to be removed. Elhokar would need to die. Preferably in a quiet manner, after Dalinar had been dealt with. Sadeas expected he'd had to cut the boy's throat himself, out of respect for old Gavilar." WoR Ch. 29). 

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It is, of course, also worth emphasizing that Dalinar was being heavily influenced by an evil spren at the time. Which I need to be clear does not fully exonerate him, because we've seen at other occasions that resisting Nergaoul is totally possible if you're determined enough, and because Dalinar himself categorically rejected the notion of letting the responsibility fall anywhere other than on his shoulders. But it is an extenuating circumstance, especially if you insist on comparing him to the series' villains, who didn't seem to be under any such influence during their main on-screen crimes. (Well, I could buy that Sadeas was affected by Nergaoul at the rift, but we've seen that it prefers people who jump into the fray personally, so he probably wasn't as strongly affected as Dalinar was)

And as far as making amends goes, surely trapping the evil spren in question- and therefore making sure nobody else can ever be influenced in the same way again- counts for something, doesn't it?

Edited by Gilphon
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I am well aware that Amaram had reasons and he believed he was just. That doesn't really change much. Everybody thinks they're right. That doesn't mean they are, and realizing that you're not right and changing, like Amaram refuses to do, is a far more admirable quality. Sadeas is another matter entirely. Sadeas is a morally repugnant snake who has never and will never feel regret or remorse for anything he has ever done and will do. Yes, he fears that Dalinar will bring down Alethkar. But that's because he fears that he will change Alethkar from the conquering, war-mongering nation that it used to be. Regardless, I don't really see your point. My comment was about why Amaram and Sadeas were villains and about how it had nothing to do with their actions but because they wouldn't change their ways regardless of what actions they committed. Their motivations were never really a factor in my initial comment

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22 minutes ago, Calderis said:

And he made the choice for that action while under an extreme magical influence towards destruction

Dalinar rejects that as a factor during the Battle of Thaylen Field. 

25 minutes ago, Calderis said:

That doesn't justify what he did, but I find it interesting that you object to the lack of representation of his victims when that is true because the society accepts it. The only person advocating for those peoples lives being wasted, and it being the tragedy it is, is Dalinar himself via the book he's writing. 

By "representation" I mean there is no survivor of Rathalas confronting Dalinar and demanding that he pay for his crime with his life. 

40 minutes ago, Calderis said:

I don't expect to convince you. I've been down this road before. And I understand it. There are things that, for personal reasons, I can't forgive. That doesn't mean they're unforgivable, or that people aren't capable of change though. But change is a choice, as is accepting that that change has occurred. Redemption and forgiveness are a pair of locks. The door doesn't open up unless both sides are willing. 

Fair enough and as I indicated earlier our difference seems to be a philosophical one. Moreover your take is the predominant view among readers since so far as I know nobody has raised this issue in a review of Oathbringer. 

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@Parallax I would like to ask you a question. You said Dalinar's actions at the Rift were irredeemable - what do you consider the cutoff for something being irredeemable? If someone kills one person, can they be redeemed, or how many before they can't be? Or if not the number, then if someone burns someone to death, are they also irredeemable, or is it the number?

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56 minutes ago, Ixthos said:

@Parallax I would like to ask you a question. You said Dalinar's actions at the Rift were irredeemable - what do you consider the cutoff for something being irredeemable? If someone kills one person, can they be redeemed, or how many before they can't be? Or if not the number, then if someone burns someone to death, are they also irredeemable, or is it the number?

I think this is the crux of the whole argument.  In the Cosmere, who has the divine authority to determine right and wrong?  Who gets to say this is the line that you have to cross before you are irredeemable?  In the Cosmere, what does redemption even mean?  Is there a Heaven and Hell construct where the good and bad a divided into after death?  Or are you just referring to redemption and forgiveness relating to the laws of the land?  Or even redemption and forgiveness in the eyes of someone else?  All of these scenarios have different answers.

From what I've read in the Cosmere, there is no final judgement to where redemption and forgiveness would even come into play.  The only thing I can think of is how your physical, cognative and spiritual selves align with eachother.  In that case redemption and forgiveness are completely internal concepts that don't give a hoot about what anyone else thinks.

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3 hours ago, Parallax said:

Dalinar rejects that as a factor during the Battle of Thaylen Field. 

Dalinar is not saying that he was not under any such influence. He is saying that even when a person is under such an influence, they have some choice and they are still responsible. A drunken driver causes an accident, can not hold the alcohol or the bar that served him responsible. The actions are still his and he is responsible.

He is not trying to explain away his actions though justifications, which is exactly what amaram and sadeas are doing. To give justifications for your actions is the easiest thing. None of these guys are getting affected by what they have done. Sadeas does not even question himself once, he just wants to be king and he is doing what he wants and explaining it all in the name of Greater Good. and he keeps insisting that i will do so again. 

Amaram has killed his men and men who saved his life for a shard. He wants power and to gain it, he is willing to let desolations happen. When that does not work, he switches side amid battle, because Odium promised him great powers. 

I do not think that it is really justified to place dalinar in the same category as such villains. Dalinar was unable to live with himself for many years. He could not find a way to justify these actions to himself even after many years. He literally went to meet nightwatcher, a being who was promising glory, power and what not, and what he asked her was "forgiveness". From there on, he has completely changed his life, his beliefs, his actions. He has overcome his addiction to thrill, violence and alcohol. He has become such a strong person that he went to face an entire army and fused and an enemy God, alone unarmed, to save a foreign country. And when that god offers him forgiveness so to speak, by telling him that give me the responsibility, give me your guilt, Dalinar refuses it. He is able to stand there and accept his responsibility for his actions. Note that no one thought, odium or stormfather or cultivation that Dalinar could withstand this. but he  did. 

ultimately, i feel that there is no black and white. Dalinar has done horrible things but nothing is really irredeemable. your actions from there, does matter.  

 

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7 hours ago, Calderis said:

Redemption and forgiveness are a pair of locks. The door doesn't open up unless both sides are willing. 

That is...downright poetic.  Quotable even.  Had to pause to note that.  Nice work.  

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Interesting debate. There's a podcast I often listen to called evil genius with Russell Kane, which actually takes real people (mostly) and tries to get a definitive answer on whether the sum total of their lives can be called evil or genius. 

Ultimately it's all subjective. One person's genius is another person's evil. 

Personally I think of it with a slightly different angle. As far as we can tell, even in the cosmere the past is immutable. Dalinar cannot change what he did at rathalas. Neither can anyone else change what they did. Yes his crimes are horrific. Yes he's trying to redeem himself. Yes other villains in the series have done far less horrific crimes but been treated worse. 

None of this changes the fact that at that point, at the end of oathbringer, Dalinar is doing what needs to be done in the moment. We the audience can choose to forgive or not, and can choose to deem him a villain or a hero. But if you consider his actions in the moment - he's doing as close to what he needs to do as possible (by some definitions). If he continues to do what he needs to, what possibly the whole world of Roshar needs him to, and if no one else can do those things, judgement on his past actions is pretty pointless when contrasted against the current issues they face. 

We can hate him, as an audience.. we can love him too. But we can't deny that having him there doing what he's doing is necessary, whatever his past. 

Edited by ND103
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2 minutes ago, ND103 said:

We can hate him, as an audience.. we can love him too. But we can't deny that having him there doing what he's doing is necessary, whatever his past. 

very good point actually. In fact i think it speaks volumes about this body of work for having such complex characters and complex situations. Not everyone is going to like Dalinar, Szeth, Venli etc and not everyone is going to hate characters like Odium, Mraize, Moash etc. 

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I mean... controversial opinion, but I find moash one of the more... Honest characters. He's living his truth. He's even willing to pay the price for it. He has decided Elhokar should be punished for what happened. He's handing out that punishment and he'll live with the consequences. He may be wrong by some definition. He may be doing more harm too. But there's an intellectual honesty to his character that I appreciate. It's more believable than Kal (who he is a foil for) in some ways . 

Ultimately, it's never as simple as here's the good guy, blow trumpet; and here's the baddie - annihilate without discrimination. There's always nuance and a lot of subjectivity to it... One man's hero is another man's devil. 

Edited by ND103
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10 hours ago, Parallax said:

This is my first "real" post and it is a criticism, however the issue has been bothering me since I finished the book sometime ago and I have not seen it really addressed.

The problem is what Dalinar did in Rathalas make him irredeemable, particularly when you contrast his heinous act with that of other villains in Stormlight Archive. Consider Amaram, what is his initial crime? Killing the four remaining soldiers of Kaladin's crew and destroying Kaladin's life, that is (quite literally) orders of magnitude less severe than Dalinar's war crime. Dalinar is lucky nobody survived his atrocity to avenge the thousands of civilians who burnt to death. You could make the same argument for Moash, even Sadeas' betrayal at the Shattered Plains is less troubling than Dalinar's mass slaughter, after all Sadeas' victims were armed soldiers in a battlefield not innocent civilians in their homes. There are other smaller problems with Oathbringer but this issue really spoiled the ending of the book for me. 

Let me know what you guys think. 

I have another controversial opinion.  Maybe it's because I was reading/listening to too much Roman history and other histories of war, but what Dalinar did does not strike me as particularly heinous in context of all the wars in the real world.

The ancient Romans destroyed Carthage and killed every man,  woman, and child inside the city at the end of the 3rd Punic War and they don't take a lot of flack for that.  No one holds up Scipio Africanus the Younger as one of the great war criminals of history.  For a more modern example, look at World War 2.  Even throwing out what the Germans, Japanese, and Russians did, the Western Allies and the US dropped firebombing raids on civilians knowing that tens and hundreds of thousands of people would be killed, most burned alive.

What Dalinar did was not exceptionally bad or out of context when compared to actual war in the real world.  It shouldn't have been done and it was morally wrong, but it was not some unheard of atrocity.  He tried to do the honorable thing and negotiate peacefully, but he was betrayed and responded in rage only afterwards.  Had he ordered (or allowed) large numbers of people to be pulled from their homes and individually tortured and slaughtered (as has been done in war crimes that have been committed in the real world), then I would feel what he did was especially egregious.  

I just think as someone who knows a bit about world history, in context Dalinar's response was sadly normal for someone in his situation.  That doesn't excuse his crimes, but to me it makes them forgivable because they are not exceptionally bad in context and similar crimes have been committed in living memory by military leaders most of us in the western world generally consider good and moral.

Edited by agrabes
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If I can toss this out there I have another opinion on this and here it is:

Dalinar did order the deaths of every person in the Rift and ordered Sadeas to post his men at the mouth of the Rift to make sure nobody escaped, but in that same battle he ordered Sadeas to allow any and all survivors to escape. To this, Sadeas responds that his men had set the base of the Rift on fire. So the long and the short is the question of who is truly responsible for the lack of survivors at the Rift? Dalinar or Sadeas?

Not trying to absolve Dalinar, he still ordered it, but if his orders had been carried out as he had ordered, there would have been survivors and those that he could have made recompense to in some way. Becuase of Sadeas'  independent choices and actions, there was nobody left.

Just food for thought on that.

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Thanks for posting this. I'm in the same boat.

With some people in real life trying to paint history's greatest monsters in a more sympathetic light this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But as others have pointed out, the crux of the issue lies with one's personal belief system including their religious beliefs.

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10 hours ago, Parallax said:

Actually both had reasons beyond selfishness in doing what they did. Kaladin notes this when Amaram is caught by Dalinar ("He's telling the truth, he thought. He . . . honestly believes that he did the right thing." WoR Ch. 76). And Sadeas is trying to get rid of Dalinar because he thinks Dalinar will destroy Alethkar if he continues to be a force ("He was fond of the boy, but to rebuild Alethkar, all vestiges of former rule need to be removed. Elhokar would need to die. Preferably in a quiet manner, after Dalinar had been dealt with. Sadeas expected he'd had to cut the boy's throat himself, out of respect for old Gavilar." WoR Ch. 29). 

So just dropped by to mention two things. First will be in response to the above quote, and second to the below. 

First, don't forget Amaram, with full knowledge of what he was bringing about, actively worked towards bringing about a Desolation to return the Heralds so the Church would be back to dominance (despite it already almost being the world religion with multiple main cultures following it). Let me say that again, Amaram, consciously and deliberately worked to bring about a global apoclypse, which result in untold loss of life across the planet, just so the religion he belongs to, can say "I told you so". Planetary death trumps a city death to me. But I respect and understand you see differently. Just explaining why Amaram is worse in my mind. 

10 hours ago, Parallax said:

By "representation" I mean there is no survivor of Rathalas confronting Dalinar and demanding that he pay for his crime with his life. 

Now this is my own interpretation of the events, based on information we have, so I readily acknowledge and admit you may and probably do disagree. Based on a WoB, the spiritual self exists in the spiritual realm (the spiritual realm to be specific, not the beyond. I bold it to avoid confusion. The beyond is something else entirely) for a long time. Based on another WoB, Brandon has confirmed the screaming Szeth and Dalinar experience is a magical effect (as in we would see it in the real world as magic, but in the Cosmere it would be considered "normal"). When Dalinar rejected Odium, he received forgiveness from Evi and the people of Rathalas, and the screaming ended. I believe based on the information we have, Evi and the People of Rathalas was their spiritual aspect. That was their representation, and they forgave Dalinar based on what he went through after the burning, and the work he did to become a better man. You can certainly disagree and hold your own opinion, but that is how I choose to read it. 

Edited by Pathfinder
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First of all, I want to say that this discussion is an excellent one to have, and there is no easy answer. But here are my thoughts.

Humans are capable of so much good, but also so much evil. Everyone wants to alienate themselves from the monsters of history, Hitler, Stalin, and the many others who committed atrocious crimes. We demonize them, make them other than human, but unfortunately, they are people just the same as us. And that's what's scary. In some way, they are the same as we are, and that is truly terrifying. Nobody wants to think they're capable of anything comparable to any of these war crimes, but for all I know, I could be a murderer in another life, or worse. Admitting something in common with any of these monsters means admitting deep down that you're not so different from them as you think.

The benefit we get from Dalinar's story is that we know what he is thinking and we see the paths he's taken. We know where he's come from and and where he is now, and he is not the same person he used to be. So comparing him to real life figures, who's minds we can never know, is kind of futile. Yes, what Dalinar did is beyond horrible, beyond... I don't even have the words to describe it. Should he pay for Rathalas? Yes. But he can't. How could he be made to pay for thousands of lives ending in pain, when all he has is one life to give? Justice is a storming lie we tell ourselves so we can think the world is actually fair and you get what you earn, but it's not in any way true.

I can sympathize with Dalinar, even as he storming burned Rathalas to the ground. Does that make me a monster? Maybe. But lord knows how easy it is to get pulled down the path you're on no matter how dark, how easy it is to dehumanize people until they're no more than insects, and what's the difference between killing one insect and a thousand? Nothing...

But what really makes Dalinar sympathetic to me is how all encompassing his regret and pain was, how completely and naturally he changed until he was no longer the same person he used to be, until he became a better person than I am. To me, his story is one of hope, showing that no matter what you've done, you can still do good in this world.

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What Dalinar did may be unforgivable, but it is not irredeemable. Redemption is on the side of the perpetrator, not the victim. As has been said, Dalinar hates what he did, and has taken steps to no longer be the man that he was at the Rift. He is redeeming himself, forgiveness is the acceptance of that. If you cannot accept that Dalinar is redeeming himself, then yes, he is unforgivable. I suppose this does mean that no one is beyond redemption but I'm okay with that. This might just be my own beliefs, but as y'all can see from my title, I believe in hope in the face of justice, and Dalinar embodies that idea to me. He is paying for what he did with the guilt and screams that he will always hear, and that drives him to be a better man. 

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44 minutes ago, ILuvHats said:

Humans are capable of so much good, but also so much evil. Everyone wants to alienate themselves from the monsters of history, Hitler, Stalin, and the many others who committed atrocious crimes. We demonize them, make them other than human, but unfortunately, they are people just the same as us. And that's what's scary. In some way, they are the same as we are, and that is truly terrifying. Nobody wants to think they're capable of anything comparable to any of these war crimes, but for all I know, I could be a murderer in another life, or worse. Admitting something in common with any of these monsters means admitting deep down that you're not so different from them as you think. 

Agreed. And it's why I think demonizing things is generally harmful. It keeps us from evaluating the situation and taking the lessons from it. 

People look at Nazi Germany and think "I would never have stood by during that." the people at the time probably looked at things in the past and thought the same. 

The atrocity was a matter of baby steps though. Fast as it was it was still incremental change. Fear stoked and cultivated in people to get them to go along with bigger and worse actions until they found themselves strapped to a monster they couldn't escape from. Their choices were speak out and die, stay silent and be complicit despite their guilty conscience, or justify it in their minds and embrace it. 

These things are never clear cut. Morality exists in black and white on paper and shades of gray in truth. These things will happen again. It's unfortunately human nature. 

We can try to learn from the past to avoid those situations before they start, or we can demonize the perpetrators and distance ourselves from the lessons. 

Dalinar is trying to turn himself into an example of of the former. It's commendable. 

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