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Alex Garg writes...

This is something that had I wanted to bring up in the Culture/Biology panel at the Gathering, but we ran out of time. Besides, it feels a little better to be able to ask this question now that "Bash" has broad exposure (although it's still new enough to constitute a SPOILER warning).

Gargoyles and Free Will.

A theme of Gargoyles since the introduction of the clones has been just how much control they have over making their own decisions, particularly given that they were programmed to obey Thailog. This comes to a head in "Masque" and "Bash," where the clones are bombarded with the "Free Will" message to the point where they can finally make their choices, but what's most curious to me is the pressure that they receive from the Manhattan Clan.

It doesn't surprise me that Maggie would bring it up in "Masque" - she was born and raised in a democratic society, so the idea that people have free will and the right to self-determination is ingrained in her psyche - but for Goliath and Lexington, and Angela to a lesser extent, to make the case for it in "Bash" was more surprising.

Goliath and Lexington both come from an era where there was no broadly applied concept of a person's right to self-determination. On the human side was the reign of the Catholic Church (and I'm writing very generally now) which in terms of ethics framed the argument for free will in such a way that while humans have the *capacity* to choose between different courses of action, our *obligation* is to obey God's commands; the fact that they did not was why we were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Therefore, under those circumstances, we don't really have a choice - God's infinite wisdom overrides our mortal judgments. That dogma then went on to inform the monarchies of the day, Scotland not excepting, where kings ruled by Divine Mandate. The idea that a king could be overthrown for unjust rule wasn't introduced until St. Thomas Aquinas, an act which prior to him (and even well after) would have been viewed as taking up arms against the will of God; and even then it was the laws of the Church which would be the standard by which a king would be considered ruling in an unjust manner, not the opinions of his subjects.

The gargoyles' "government" also has no apparent nod to free will or self-determination. Goliath became the leader because Hudson said so, Brooklyn became second-in-command because Goliath said so, and in each case the other gargoyles appear to acquiesce unconditionally to these decisions. Even in mating, you mentioned in the panel that gargoyles aren't necessarily choosing mates as much as they are naturally drawn to one another - even in human rituals it's a subject of debate over just how much "choice" we have in when and with whom we fall in love.

While you've said that gargoyles are free to pursue their own hobbies and curiosities, it doesn't strike me that alone is enough to constitute an understanding of free will in the sense of making determinations about leadership in the way that the clones were being pressured to choose between the Labyrinth and Thailog.

So from what we saw in "Bash," where Lexington demands to know why the clones are choosing to help Thailog, and where Goliath says that "choice must extend to those who choose unwisely" - which is a very different concept than a basic, arbitrary choice between right and wrong - I have to ask: Where have Goliath and Lexington gotten the understanding to ask those questions?

Angela also presents an interesting case, because while she was raised by humans, she was raised by humans for whom it can't be assumed would have had the same understanding of free will as you and I do having grown up in a democratic society as it applies to personal choice, much less in making decisions of leadership. So is her command to Delilah founded more on her hatred of Thailog, or is she also making a case for free will; and if the latter, what informs that for her?

Touching on the same vein: Since 1996 would be the first U.S. election year that the gargoyles have really been exposed to - it seems to me that in 1994 the Manhattan clan was more curious about their new physical surroundings than cultural; and it was a midterm election anyway with much less media hype than a presidential cycle - what do the gargoyles of the Manhattan clan make of democracy, given their less than democratic heritage?

Greg responds...

Free will seems essential to any discussion of Abrahamic religions... starting with the Garden of Eden. What God wants does not mean He FORCES you to do it, and I think even 10th century Catholics and Scotsmen got this idea whether or not they could articulate it.

And free will doesn't absolve us of personal debts, religious responsibilities, community obligations and the like. (Not to mention the laws of physics. Just because I have the free will to say I want to fly, doesn't mean I can.) Certainly Gargoyles would understand that. One ignores community contracts (even -- again -- if one cannot articulate these ideas) at the risk of banishment. (Cf. Iago, Demona or Yama.)

As for the articulation itself, well... I think we have demonstrated that Goliath is very well read. And that Lex is a very fast study. As for Angela... well, like her mother, she's not one to deny the right of the individual. I'll leave the rest to your interpretation.

Democracy probably seems to them to be the lesser of evils vis-a-vis humans. But I don't think of Gargoyle society as undemocratic per se. Leadership questions don't seem to vibe with democracy gargoyles-wise, but a good leader is sensitive to the needs of those he leads. Hudson chose Goliath, and as far as we know there was only one real objection to the choice (a clear minority). Goliath chose Demona as his second, with no objections that we know of. Goliath chose Brooklyn as his second with, again, NO objections... even from the two other gargoyles competing for the gig. So... draw your own conclusions. Gargoyles may just be better attuned to each other based on NON-verbal cues... They don't need to name things or spend a fortune on television advertisements to know what there community is looking for in a leader.

Or maybe not. Interesting questions. We should definitely raise these issues again next summer.

Response recorded on August 21, 2007