No Cost Morality
The Boy Scout gets the girl, destroy the bad guy, and lives happily ever after. You would be a fool to be anyone else. Why not make the moral choices that get you whatever you want? The Boy Scout might sniffle and cry about how many good friends he lost during the struggle to get to the happily ever after, but the loss of his friends will never be from moral choices that he made. Instead all the pain and suffering is directly attributable to the evil choices that others made.
Now the normal complaint about “Boy Scout” stories is that real life is not that simple. But a bigger problem is that morality is not that cheap. Often, the right moral choice does seem obvious. But often times when the “right” moral choice seems most clear to us is also when it is most costly.
There is an old story about draw bridge operator who knows a train is coming at the same time he sees a child playing in the gears of draw bridge mechanism. Saving the train seems to him to be obviously the right thing to do but it is not costless. And it is this cost that makes lowering the draw bridge morally complex in spite of the fact that is clear to the draw bridge operator what he has to do.
Real moral complexity does not come from people not knowing what is right and wrong. If you don’t know what is right or wrong what difference do your choices make? Any choice has an equal chance of being right or wrong. What makes thing morally complex is facing a choice where things that we value are incompatible. We don’t want to kill a child but we can’t let everyone on a train die. We don’t want to kill our brother, but the revolutionary movement he is part of is going to result in chaos and millions of people dying if it is not stopped. We don’t want to kill our sister, but she is fighting for an oppressive government in the name of preserving order.
Cost is what defines moral complexity. A morally complex myth makes it clear that doing the “right” thing is intrinsically costly because we can’t do all the “right” things that we would like to do. Often times, the “right” things that we would like to do are incompatible with each other (like justice and mercy). If we could act in support of everything that we valued, we would have no moral dilemmas.