Nightmare Night and Utilitarianism

I’ve decided to come back to the topic of Pinkie Pie and Utilitarianism by discussing an episode that showed Pinkie acting in a manner that is problematic: “Luna Eclipsed”. Her behavior is discussed using the concepts of Impartiality, Egalitarianism, and the Hedonistic Calculus.

Before going further, I might recommend watching this video to get some basic understanding of some concepts I’ll be talking about in the rest of the video:
Is Pinkie Pie an Ethical Hedonist?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-RtJEaWD7A

As I have stated in many previous articles and videos, I consider Pinkie Pie to be a utilitarian. In this sense, then, I consider Pinkie Pie and I to be kindred spirits, in that utilitarianism is the ethical system that I personally subscribe to. I have also recognized that she is not perfect, and prone to mistakes. In my view, the worst of Pinkie Pie’s mistakes occurred in the episode “Luna Eclipsed”, which admittedly damaged my opinion of Pinkie Pie enough that I considered her my least favorite character in the series until the episode “Too Many Pinkie Pies.”

My main point of contention in this episode is that Pinkie Pie, by constantly doing, well, this:

[Clip of Pinkie Pie yelling and running away and Luna being sold]

is deriving pleasure out of actions that are causing Luna personal distress and sadness. While normally discussing why this bothers me would most likely send me into a bit of a ranting rage, I decided to vent my frustration by analyzing Pinkie Pie’s actions through the utilitarian ethic. Before I get to that, however, I would recommend that for those of you who aren’t familiar with utilitarianism to watch or read “Is Pinkie Pie an Ethical Hedonist?” for an introduction, for I plan on expanding on the foundations discussed in that video.

In fact, I’ll be analyzing her actions in relation to several different utilitarian concepts:

First: Impartiality
Second: Egalitarianism
Third: The application of the hedonistic calculus

So let us begin.

“Each to count for one, and none for more than one

This statement of impartiality is attributed to utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham by fellow utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill. In more modern terms, this usually phrased as “equal consideration of interests”, but however it is stated, the implications are clear; when moral decisions are being made, the interests of all affected must be held with equal moral weight.

So we must first start by wondering is Pinkie Pie taking Luna’s interests seriously, or is she favoring herself? This is a rather hard thing to guess at without knowing Pinkie Pie’s thoughts directly, but I think we can take her statements in this episode, alongside with our knowledge of her behavior throughout the series, to get an answer.

The statement I think we can learn the most from is this one from near the end of the episode:

[Pinkie Pie’s “well duh” moment]

We learn from this that Pinkie Pie was simply having fun when she was screaming and running from Luna. And this, in of itself, is not problematic since, as we all learned by the end of the episode, being scared can be fun. Here is where the problem is; Luna did not understand this till the end of the episode. So for most of Nightmare Night, Luna was working on the impression that everyone was in fact terrified of her, which reinforced her own feelings of loneliness and isolation.

So now we find ourselves at a dilemma; did Pinkie Pie know about this? We’ve seen that generally Pinkie Pie does have a good eye for realizing when ponies are sad, yet she seems completely ignorant of how her actions are affecting Luna. While it is theoretically possible that Pinkie Pie simply doesn’t care, which would be a blatant violation of impartiality, that doesn’t seem to fit with Pinkie’s character.

What we do know, however, is that Pinkie Pie really loves Nightmare Night and takes it very seriously. We could then say that Pinkie’s love for Nightmare Night is strong enough that it messes with her normal empathic abilities to the point she was simply ignorant of Luna’s distress…which is still violating impartiality as getting so wrapped up in your own wants and desires to the point you are ignoring others makes it kind of impossible to take into account the interests of others with equal concern.

In either case, Pinkie Pie seems to be violating the principle of impartiality, and therefore is acting in a rather un-utilitarian manner. So I guess strike one for Pinkie Pie.

With the discussion on impartiality done, we can move on to egalitarianism. To start us off, a quote by John Stuart Mill

“The equal claim of everybody to happiness in the estimation of the moralist and the legislator, involves an equal claim to all the means of happiness…”

This sets up a tie between impartiality and egalitarianism, but there is slightly more needed to fully flesh out this principle. In utilitarianism, it is generally assumed that all persons have an equal capacity for happiness, with a few exceptions. While I will be glad to discuss the arguments for this assumption at a later time, for the sake of discussing the episode “Luna Eclipsed”, I think we can assume that both Luna and Pinkie Pie have equal capacity for happiness.

What this implies then, is that if everyone has an equal capacity for happiness, and that we must be impartial, then happiness is maximized only when there is an equal distribution of the means of happiness. Because of this, utilitarians generally argue for reducing inequalities in things such as education, income, and other things that contribute to a general state of well-being. In this view, then, taking from those who are already disadvantaged in order to benefit those already advantaged is simply making the problem worse, not better. Taking from advantaged to give disadvantaged is a little more complicated, but not necessary to discuss for our purposes.

So let’s look at the situation we find ourselves at the start of the episode. Pinkie Pie is obviously doing pretty well in the happiness game by being friends with everyone in Ponyville and is generally always pretty happy and generally being good at making friends. Luna, however, is not doing so well. She is a temporal fish out of water, unsure of how she fits within the world a 1000 years apart from the one she knew. When this social awkwardness is combined with the stigma of Nightmare Moon causing ponies to be scared of her, Luna finds herself unable to make friends, and contributes to her increasing loneliness and feeling of being unloved.

In short, the distribution of happiness is pretty heavily lopsided in Pinkie Pie’s favor, so taking pleasure in actions that are causing Luna distress and further isolating her from others is simply increasing the inequality more and more and therefore is preventing the maximization of happiness from every being achieved. Twilight’s actions are the more appropriate response to the initial inequality; by offering her friendship and helping Luna learn how to make friends, Twilight helped Luna to reduce the inequalities, and the ending clips show that happiness is being enjoyed by all.

So that’s now two strikes against Pinkie Pie’s actions from a utilitarian viewpoint.

—-

With egalitarianism out of the way, we get down to the final method of analyzing Pinkie’s actions; the hedonistic calculus. The hedonistic calculus is a list of dimensions originally proposed by Bentham through which we could theoretically estimate the utility of any given act. Now of course there are a lot of criticisms of this calculus, what with some of it being kind of tricky to measure, but even so the list of variables is useful for putting forth what kind of things must be taken into account when making ethical decisions. These variables are:

Intensity, which is how intense the pleasure or pain is.
Duration, which is how long it lasts
Certainty, which is the probability of occurrence
Propinquity, which is how long one must wait for it to occur.
Fecundity, which is probability of leading to the same sensations. Higher the probability the higher the fecundity.
Purity, which is the probability of leading to the opposite sensation. The lower the probability, the more pure the sensation.
and Extent, which is how many persons are affected

Using these variables, we can determine which is greater; the pleasure Pinkie Pie receives, or the pain Pinkie’s actions cause Luna.

Pinkie Pie’s pleasure is simply the “fun” of a good scare; a small rush of adrenaline that quickly fades. In short her pain is low in both Intensity and Duration. It is also very low in Fecundity; there is nothing that suggests the pleasure of a good scare will lead to any other kind of pleasure. Yet since she acts in a manner that is causing a very high amount of pain to another, her pleasure is also very low in Purity since her actions have a high probability of causing the opposite sensation in others. About the only thing going for it is that it has a large Extent since there is also the foals pleasure, but their pleasure has the same problems as hers.

On the other side of the scale, Luna’s pain is a deeply emotional one and is in many ways a continuation of the same feelings of loneliness and being unloved that caused her initial transformation into Nightmare Moon. This means her pain is not only very Intense, but is also of long Duration, and if not rectified is also very Certain to continue into the future. We also know the pain has a rather high Fecundity and Purity, as past history shows that Luna feeling unloved has a high probability of leading to even greater pain and suffering for her and others.

In short, when we weight Pinkie Pie’s pleasure against Luna’s pain, we find the net happiness to be negative as Pinkie’s short adrenaline rush simply cannot outweigh deep, emotional turmoil that it causes in Luna.

And that means strike three for Pinkie Pie.

—-

After going through all these concepts, it becomes very clear that Pinkie Pie’s actions in this episode, whether purposeful or through ignorance, were highly problematic, and serve as a good example of a clear violation of utilitarian ethics. My dislike of Pinkie Pie caused by this episode is in many ways, then, a sense of disappointment in Pinkie Pie, who otherwise does seem to make honest attempts to act in a utilitarian manner. At some point I guess I can discuss why the episode “Too Many Pinkie Pie’s” served to improve my view of Pinkie Pie, but I believe I’ve talked long enough. So if you have any questions or comments about utilitarianism, any of the concepts discussed, or Pinkie Pie’s actions in this episode, please feel free to say something.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

September 29, 2013 · 9:50 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s