Is Daenerys the real villain of Game of Thrones? asks Matt Miller.
Logically, he has a point; there was more than a grain of truth in Cersei’s denunciation of her. Her claim to the throne is founded on no more than her descent from a mad tyrant; she’s murdered hundreds of her opponents in cold blood; the Dothraki army is no respecter of human rights; her acquisition of titles betokens a dangerous narcissism; and she’s acquired weapons of mass destruction.
And yet I instinctively recoiled from Matt’s claim: noooo, not her. There are, I suspect, two reasons for this, which are in fact widespread.
One is the belief that our enemy’s enemy must be a goodie.
It might well be this sort of mistake that led many lefties to support the Venezuelan government: it’s antipathy to western neoliberalism was sufficient to win it support.
Not that the left is unique in this error. During the Cold War, the right supported (or at least tolerated) obnoxious regimes such as Pinochet and apartheid because these were anti-communist.
The underlying problem here is that we want the world to be divided between good (us, of course) and bad – and the wish is the father to the belief. We don’t want to acknowledge the truth that we are all more or less flawed and that we must all sometimes do bad things; it’s this reluctance that lies behind the hostility to Northumbria police’s no doubt difficult decision to pay a child rapist for information.
The second reason for not seeing Daenerys’ flaws is a halo effect.We want to believe that good qualities go together, so somebody that good-looking can’t be bad, surely? The New York Times has asked viewers to rate GoT characters along ugly-beautiful and good-evil axes – and most characters lie in the good-beautiful and ugly-evil quadrants*: Cersei is an outlier**.
Again, this is a common error. Cishet men’s reluctance to doubt Daenerys’ character is the same thing as women’s shock when Poldark raped Elizabeth.
Millions of people have been materially and emotionally damaged by over-estimating the correlation between looks and character. And it’s not just wishful thinking (“she’s the one”) that causes this. Juries seem to be softer upon attractive defendants than ugly ones. The magistrate who recently let off a model guilty of shoplifting perhaps wasn’t so atypical.
My point here should be a trivial one. Our ethical judgments, just like our judgments in politics and in investing, are clouded by countless possible cognitive biases. And yet people are so damned confident about them.
The link here cuts both ways. It could be that we don’t want to believe that evil people are good-looking; if Ramsey Bolton weren’t so horrible, he’d probably be rated as attractive.
** Maybe my sympathy for Matt's thesis is based in part upon Cersei's milfiness.