Dexter Morgan and the Value of Human Life
The moral case for the value of human life and how the Dexter TV show gives you all kinds of ways to understand it.
What is the value of a human life?
Not in the sense of monetary value or anything of that nature. But in the sense of what makes the day to day minutia worth living through. Is there something that makes you smile and want to see whatever happens next? Conversely, can you make life not worth living? Can it be so frustrating and painful that it's better to be dead than to see tomorrow? More than that, can you do things so terrible that other people would find your continued existence unworthy of continuing?
This is one of the central questions behind Dexter. At the beginning of the series, Dexter Morgan is living out a minimal existence. He has a job, a place to live, a sister, a girlfriend and co-workers. All the things that most people see as fundamental to a good life, or it should be anyway. However, Dexter doesn't see it as having any value to him. While he enjoys their company and goes through the motion, he feels nothing for them. He describes them as a mask he uses to cover up how empty his life actually is.
But they don't stay that way. Over the course of the series, particularly season by season, he learns to care more about the people around him. They become worth it for him to build and maintain these relationships and keep them from learning the truth about what he does. This is often reinforced by the fact that those who actually managed to learn about his other life usually met a bad end. More often than not, at Dexter's own hand although not exclusively.
And this is where the reverse concept comes in. A human life which doesn't value the lives of others might not be worth anything at all. There might even be a case for removing such a person from society. It's the one consistent aspect of Dexter Morgan and the series more generally. His sometimes wavering belief in the idea that what he's doing is having a positive impact on society. On the people in his life. They're all better off because of how he cleans up the messes they make. If they can't get a murderer through the regular system, he gets them through his own system.
There's a symmetry and a balance to that type of way of doing things. Whether or not that makes it morally acceptable is another matter entirely. The taking of one life in order to protect another is so often seen as a worthy cause depending on the circumstances. It depends on who's doing the killing, who's getting killed and why. However you also run into the problem of whether that devalues the life of the person who's life is ending.
Just because they don't value someone else's life or their own, doesn't mean that others don't value theirs. Everyone has parents, many people have siblings, some even have children. That value doesn't go away simply because of the way someone looks at others, or themselves. By eliminating the value of that life, do you devalue the life of those who are left behind? Are those lives less important because of what you did?
It's hard to say, but Dexter Morgan navigates it beautifully and gives you so many fascinating ways to answer it. Make sure to check it out before it comes back for a revival.
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