I’ve been watching Showtime’s “Dexter” recently. I like to wait and watch series all in one go.

The wonderful thing about fiction is that it gives us the ability to examine our emotional and moral responses to situations we would never want to have actually occur. Using imagination and empathy to extend our moral universe beyond anyhting we might normally experience is a good way to prove out the strength of our beliefs.

For those who have not seen it, “Dexter” is a series in which the eponymous protagonist is a serial killer who preys strictly upon other killers. Raised by a policeman, he has become a forensics expert in blood spatter analysis, and the combination gives him the ability to be very sure of the guilt of his victims and the ability to avoid detection by his co-workers.

As an exercise in moral relativism it doesn’t get much more perfect than this. Dexter was deranged by massive childhood trauma, seeing his mother chainsawed before his eyes at three years of age, and was then raised by a policeman who taught him that his innate homicidal impulses could be justified if he only killed monsters. Dexter is presented as clearly having no choice in whether to kill, a victim of circumstance.

At the same tie the murders themselves are directed toward the rough justice of the lex talionis, the law of an eye for an eye; Dexter is meticulous in ensuring that he only kills bad guys, killers. Even when tempted by meeting people who are serious assholes endangering the happiness of his loved ones, or people whom it would be really convenient to disappear, like policemen who have sussed him out.

So, is his murder habit evil? Justifiable? Would it be okay if (going beyond the TV series here) he got a job as executioner and simply carried out the sentence of the court?


~ by B.T. Murtagh on May 22, 2008.

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