Pleasure and The Destruction of Moral Duty

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Hunger Games, written by American author Suzanne Collins, is currently one of the most popular fiction series in the English-speaking world, particularly in the United States. Set in a future dystopian society in North America, the tale centers on the wickedness of the totalitarian nation of Panem. What is most intriguing about the novels is that they provide a critique of modern Western society and pose important questions about political responsibility and moral duty.

For sustenance, Panem relies on its oppression of 12 districts, while the Capitol’s citizens live in extravagant luxury – a stark contrast to the immense poverty of the surrounding districts. The excessive consumerism, rampant promiscuity, extremely violent entertainment, and idolization of vanity characterize the citizens of the Capitol, all while the tyrannical government dominates with negligible resistance. And it is precisely in this setting that the dark tale proclaims its prophetic message: “In return for full bellies and entertainment, [the] people [of the Capitol] had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power.” The Hunger Games is a warning, foretelling the imperilment of human dignity the moment each person in society starts exchanging political responsibilities and, more importantly, moral duty for earthly pleasures. It is with this consent of the populace that government and authorities can easily start their manipulation, with an insatiably hunger for power at the expense of human dignity. Indeed, in his monumental masterpiece, The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli argued that governance is all about manipulation, “it is better to be feared than loved.”

The Capitol’s citizens have become utterly blind to their country’s cruelty and wickedness, immersing themselves in the good things that they were freely given: food, entertainment, technology and sex. Wealth has numbed their moral sense, and with it comes unspeakable violence and crimes against human dignity. And it is here that one discovers the deeper message of the story: when one puts pleasure before morality, the latter succumbs to the power of the former. More than this, one opens the door to be easily manipulated, for pleasure can and is manufactured en masse. In reality, the danger does not lie within the pleasures that society provides; after all, most of these are things that are good in themselves. It is only when one allows pleasure to be ruled by vice that morality becomes subservient to the pleasure itself. Pleasure ruled by vice distorts good things: sexual desire becomes lust, beauty becomes vanity, entertainment becomes violence, eating becomes gluttony, etc. It is thus that human dignity begins to be undermined, when people are reduced to objects for pleasure’s sake.

The Hunger Games is therefore prophetic; it reminds readers that amidst all the wealth and pleasure one can have, that moral duty should never be exchanged for comfort. To do so is to be blinded by the power of pleasure. The novels are mostly a critique of Western society; quintessentially, in the United States policy debates on ‘control’ abound in the public square: birth control, gun control, population control – and yet, discussion on the most important type of control is conspicuously absent: self control.

By: Carlos Garcia, an intern at WYA North America