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The Ethics of Insurgent of the Divergent Series

March 31, 2015

What is the moral message of the movie, Insurgent?

 

The movie Insurgent, the second in the Divergent series, raises all kinds of ethical questions, many of which make it a worthwhile film to see. Overall, it deals with the “big brother” is watching theme. The government oversees population factions based on common values, a classification system meant to create a pathway toward civility in the aftermath of a period of destructive forces in society. These factions and their related moral features include:

  • Dauntless: Demeanor: Bold, daring, intense; Values: Courage, Bravery

  • Abnegation: Demeanor: Reserved/unassuming, not drawing too much attention, lack of vanity, Values: Honesty and sees the truth as black and white

  • Candor: Demeanor: Honest/candid; Values: Tell the truth in every situation

  • Amity: Demeanor: Peaceful, playful, kind; Values: Peacefulness, kindness, anti-aggression

  • Erudite: Demeanor: Serious, focused; Values: Intelligence; clear-mindedness

  • Factionless: Demeanor: Failure to complete initiation into whatever faction is chosen, living in poverty, doing the work no one else wants to do (janitors, construction works, garbage collectors, make fabric, operate trains, drive buses).

Beatrice "Tris" Prior is the main protagonist and narrator of the Divergent series. She is a strong-willed sixteen-year-old girl who hates showing weakness. Though Tris was born in the faction Abnegation, she eventually transferred to Dauntless and must face the fact that she is Divergent. When she arrived in her new faction, she opted for a change of name to go by. She decided to use Tris as a nickname for Beatrice, hoping for a fresh start in a new faction.

 

The problem for Divergents is the government has no tolerance for those who do not fit into the classification scheme. From an ethical point of view, we might say that non-conformists are treated unfairly simply because of having different character traits from the “norm.” Imagine if this idea extended to all of the population in a country like the USA. The non-conformists would probably rule the day because there is strength in numbers, and the conformists would be treated as though they were the outcasts.

 

What makes “Insurgent” a modern play on morality is that Tris encounters a wide variety of moral issues that can best be viewed through the lens of the film itself. Here are some quotes:  

“That might be your truth; it’s not necessarily mine” – a textbook summary of moral relativism.

“I’m just one person; I’m not worth it” – spoken when Tris considers submitting to death rather than seeing others suffer, reflecting a utilitarian understanding that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, something I recently blogged about.

 

 “Dark times call for dark measures, but I am serving the greater good” – or, in other words, “the ends justify the means.” We can relate this to the current conflict (war?) with ISIS and ISIL. That is, fighting a war may be wrong but its ends of "degrading" and "destroying" an evil enemy make it justified from a moral point of view.

 

“May the truth set you free.” Honesty is the best policy and leads to a clear conscience.

 

The movie Insurgent may seem to be plodding for most of the film but when evaluated from an ethical point of view, it gives much food for thought. I plan to use it in my ethics class that starts this week. What better way to engage students in a discussion of the ethical messages in an ethics course than to use a popular film as the messenger.

 

The bottom line for me is that people change during their lifetime. They grow and develop, not only physically and mentally but morally as well. Moral development should be nurtured for it to thrive and impact others in a positive way. Insurgentsend this kind of a message as Tris proceeds on her journey to create a better world. A world that, as we learn at the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT!!!) is exactly what the founders had in mind.

 

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on March 31, 2015. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: www.workplaceethicsadvice.com.

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