Is Loghain evil?

(Loghain of Dragon Age, that is, expect spoilers)

My first reaction was a straight „yes“ – as doubt-free as only a thought-free answer can be.

Yet, while Dragon Age does not shy from moral ambiguities, and is aimed at grown-up gamers, Loghain remained bland, he didn’t even seem to enjoy the power he gained, which would be the only convincing motivation I could glean from the game. He just seems to be driving the plot – which doesn’t fit the rest of the game, especially with the diverse and multi-faceted „main cast“. So I asked the gooracle, and found a bit of a back story and a lively discussion of ethics: is he evil because of his actions? because of his intentions? Is he not evil because his intentions are for the better? Finding the entire range of opinions was expected. The strength between the opposing positions less so.

 Here’s that core of part of the story: Loghain is a close friend of the king of Ferelden, and the hero general of their from Orlaisian opressors. In a decisive battle against some demonic evil called darkspawn, he is to flank the enemy that is engaged by the frontally attacking king. To signal him the time for his attack a group called Grey Wardens is entrusted, one that – while neutral – has strong ties with Orlais. The signal is delayed, and instead of attacking, Loghain withdraws his troops, blames the Grey Wardens for the kings death in the battle, grabs the crown for himself, and puts a bounty on all Grey Wardens – dead or alive.

 The defense for Loghain goes as such: with his memories of the opressions, he is afraid that the kings plans to call for Orlais – especially for their Grey Wardens who are trained in fighting darkspawn – will raise their influence over Ferelden, which for him is a far greater danger than the imminent attack. Thus, seeing the battle as lost,  he withdraws his troops, so he can make another stand rather than sacrifice him.

The other side usually argues that he willently let the king die because he wanted to grab the crown. There’s more scheming and events, leading to similar opposing arguments.

Still, this doesn’t go down well with me. If you have to kill one to save a million, you might be less evil than someone who kills one for fun – but it doesn’t make you „not evil“, or even „good“. But I agree that this is very much debatable, and I still had no good reason why Loghain is clearly evil – only my feeling that he must be. Even with the fear and hatred for Orlais – well explained in a backstory –  he remains opaque and unmotivated.

Such a cognitive dissonance works in the background, though, and breaks through – for me, usually when cycling. At the very least I understood why I can’t  forgive him:

He’s propagating a lie, and he is killing people to protect that lie.

Yes, for me, that’s it. Misrepresenting information, if you will – and sacrificing lifes to make it stay. That is a paved road into oppression and fear. Kill one and you silence hundreds. Kill ten, and thousands will lead their lifes controlled by anxiety. That is – for me – doing evil. Even if his intentions are good, he’s destroying what he’s trying to protect. He does not even care what happened with the signal, he just presumes – putting his beliefs above the truth.

No matter what good his lie does to the people, it takes an awful lot of self-elevation to put yourself on top and label the bottom sheeple. He assumes the right to decide who gets sacrificed, and who knows what.

There is a difference between sacrifing oneself, and sacrificing someone else. There is evil in harming one to protect many, if you don’t tell the one why he gets harmed – and let him decide for himself. (Albert Camus elaborates this very well in his play „Caligula“, which shares but the setting with the with the somewhat infamous movie of the same name.)

There are a few fundamentals that you might se different but are not debatable for me, except you start discussing the existence of good and evil, as such:

  • Good intentions may reduce the punishment, but they don’t take away the guilt.
  • Both your intentions and your actions determine whether you are good or evil. Which means, you might be both.
  • Having been gloriously good before doesn’t protect you from becoming evil

That means, Loghain might be good by his intentions, but he does evil. 

A simple „too late“ when he finally sees the signal might have given me some understanding for his character, for why he does the things he does. It might even give me trust in his defense – that it was at least good intentions.

Yet, here lies a contradiction: His orders where to attack on the signal. As a general of his rank, withdrawing was not so much disobedience, but a tactical decision. He withdrew on the premise that he saw the battle lost. Didn’t he see the tide changing, at least? Either he should have abandoned the plan to wait for the signal when he saw his attack is needed, or he should have followed the plan against better knowledge.

Loghain might have save thousands (virtual) lives that day. But the no-win-situation occurred under his responsibility, in part a result of his actions.  If you put your people into a situation wherre you have to sacrifice 10 to save 11, you are a bad leader. Killing more people to cover up for that makes you evil. q.e.d.

There’s a probably medieval saying „quod licet iovi non licet bovi“ – „What is legitimate for Jove (Jupiter), is not legitimate for oxen.“  But there’s also the inverse – with great power comes great responsibility.  Following ones faith blindly may not put guilt on a foot soldier, but it puts guilt on a leader.

In Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles is a story of a priest who can’t wait to go to the recently colonized mars. quoting from memory: It is a new world, with new sins, sins we don’t know, can’t even dream of. Maybe ordinary actions on earth are a sin on that planet. He assumes it is his responsibility to discover these, risking the well-being of his immortal soul for the benefit of others. (Independent of my feelings towards Christianity, I can’t but admire this stance.)

The same goes for Loghain: what might not have been a „sin“ as soldier, even as general, is one as a king.

Do good.

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