The Ethics of Lavos
by the Chrono Compendium
December 29, 2003
with direct quotations and contributing discussion from
One of the more ethical questions of the Chrono series has been the nature of Lavos; is he a mere thoughtless parasite -- a scourge to the universe -- or perhaps he is sentient, with the capacity for evil as judged in human light? At first glance, he seems inherently evil, raising intelligent creatures for harvest and destroying a vessel of life. The question runs much deeper, however; is this a meditated evil or the base instinct of a hungry, gargantuan parasite?
We first must determine the sentience of Lavos, which is mostly dependent on whether Lavos retains a consciousness of some sort. The good Doctor Shaft and Dhsu here offer beliefs that if Lavos were not an intelligent being, the events of Chrono Trigger could not have transpired.
Dhsu: Anyway, it's strange, I've never thought of Lavos as a sentient being...just operating on survival instinct, like most parasites. The Lavos Core does have a surprisingly humanoid anatomy, though. And with such incredible amounts of power at its disposal, to the point of being able to manipulate time and space, it's hard to believe there isn's some sort of alien intelligence present to control it all. When a creature is evolved enough to warp the time/space continuum, there's a good chance it knows what it's doing.
Doctor Shaft: On one hand, I would have just said it was animal... but then again, how can an animal with no preferences or understandings of anything other than its own survival, corrupt human kind?
We'd be giving an animilitic creature, a tick, a lot of credit for being able to completley manipulate the minds of intelligent, magic wielding humans. The idea just seems like a very large stretch for me, and also anticlimactic. the Fall of humans gets brought about by a tick.
If we look at the situation, Lavos could have been defeated somehow or someway if he had just decided to outright attack the Earth while Zeal existed. If he didn't control Queen Zeal, etc., Lavos would have been in some kind of trouble. However, we can see that the Queen is corrupted, and it doesn't seem to be blind corruption either. She isn't just a genocidal machine, with a bloodlust for watching magic power destroy nations. She wants to rule the world... forever. As Queen Zeal, she already rules... but with Lavos, she is immortal. How can a tick corrupt a woman into going into such lengths to achieve this... how can it even show her that such an idea of immortality were possible. It would have to be more than just an animal.
Picture your pet if you will. Dog, cat, turtle, whatever. Now imagine it had the power to destroy the Earth, blah blah blah, and grant you immortality... but it still possessed the intellect of your original pet. Do you think it could even convey the idea of immortality, or even the idea of becoming its partner and ruling the Earth, and convince you to use all of your friends and family? That's a big question.
Mr. Molecule adds: In Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, he proposes a scale of alienness: first, there's the utlanning, a member of your tribe; second, the framling, a member of your species but of a second tribe; third, the ramen, a member of a seperate, sentient species that you can reason with and live alongside; and fourth, thevarelse, a member of a sentient species with which there is no reasoning. These days, Card is completely batshit insane, but back in the day he had some good ideas.
In Chrono, there are a number of ramen; the mystics, the reptites, the demi-humans. (Note that just because you CAN live peacfully alongside a species doesn't mean you WILL.) Lavos, however, I beleive is varelse. It has showed sentience, (although NOT in its ability to corrupt people; people, eg Queen Zeal, corrupt themselves in pusuit of its power) but never communicate with people--in CC, it's the time devourer that communicates, and it's half-human, remember. Lavos can't be classified on our scale of morality, and it can't be reasoned with, not because it's stupid or stubborn, but because its thought run (metaphorically) perpindicular to human thought.
Again, that's not to say it's vastly smarter than humans--though it is more powerful than any single human--just that it exists on another plane of sentience. Its simple varelse.
This solidly answers the question of instinct vs. intellect; Lavos is thus proven to have conscious and cognitive ability. With this considered, could his actions be considered evil? If you will, please step out of the human position and examine it from the perspective of the parasite. One must determine what is evil, and how it should be applied to Lavos. Doctor Shaft once again argues a point, this one being that Lavos should be considered evil.
Doctor Shaft: In terms of "evil", that in itself becomes a big word. For now, when I say "evil", i'm talking that something or someone is doing something that isn't "right" or shouldn't be happening. We won't play CC or CT and believe that the murder of one of our characters was 'logical' or 'okay'. We shoudln't perceive Lavos this way either. We can discuss his motivations to be sure... and claim whether or not he does what he does... but I would be inclined to say that he's making a conscious decision to do wrong. Otherwise, the whole game is kind of null on drama. To say that CT is all about humanities mission to stop a dog from eating it's dog food is kind of... anticlimactic. Sure, CC has the themes of humanity going against the will of the planet as well... but that doesn't mean that only humanity is "evil".
However, this 'evil' is limited to a human vantage point. Radical_Dreamer refutes by drawing a bovine analogy.
Radical_Dreamer: So are you saying what Lavos is doing is wrong? Is it wrong to eat a cow? In India, the answer is yes, to a cow, the answer is clearly yes, but in the western world eating a cow is perfectly acceptable. The tricky part with Lavos is that now WE are the cows. I don't think that makes the games any more meaningless. Lavos makes a conscious decision, a decision to eat. It's one you make. It's one I make, it's one everyone makes. Lavos decided to preserve it's own existence, just as Crono and Co decided to preserve man kind. It's a battle of survival between to groups with mutually exclusive goals...how is that anticlimactic?
Evil, in a sense, can be thought of as non-applicable to Lavos. However, even if it cannot be labeled as such, Lavos still may be evil by human mental standards.
ZeaLitY: Upon her merger with Lavos, Schala within the Time Devourer is unquestionably plagued with feelings of hate and want of destruction. Though to Lavos, his own actions may not be evil, they can be classified as such by humans and are evident in Schala's mind. Destruction and hate give rise to evil acts. Also, is not the consumption of all reality by the Time Devourer such an act? In addition, might this course of action also be applied to Lavos - destruction of everything until total nothingness is achieved?
drumguy074: It's possible that Lavos is not "evil", but merely logical to the extreme. Lavos is not destroying the world simply for the sake of destruction, but rather to make the universe more perfect. Lavos absorbs and manipulates the dna of everything so it can become perfect. It would then stand to reason that the only way the universe could be perfect is if the universe was inhabited only by its spawn.
Doctor Shaft proposes a technical theory to oppose this commentary.
Doctor Shaft: The Time Devourer did this because that was it's very nature. it was birthed in the Tesseract, the forever zero of time, and it was a temporal anamoly. Schala and Lavos combined... and the combination doesn't exactly look natural. Something tells me that perhaps even Lavos wasn't exactly seeking to meld together with another human.... but somethings have to be done. It's power seems to be of a temporal nature if it is capable of simply devouring time for it's own consumption. Of course, when you fight it, it has no temporal power, just a bunch of powerful magic.
This question will remain unresolved unless Chrono Break clarifies. Returning to the central topic of this article, GrayLensman proposes that the title of evil is not applicable in any way, and cannot be conceived by Lavos.
GrayLensman: Lavos is not human, it is an immortal monster from outer space, and we should not project our own morals and thought processes onto it. To Lavos, humans are cattle, or better yet, lab rats. All life on earth only served as produce for Lavos. Lavos was never cruel or sadistic; it didn't harm anyone in any way except what was required to feed itself and reproduce. Should we label Lavos as evil because it didn't look out for the well being of a few measly humans?
In order to survive, I must kill lower life forms by the billions. Viruses, bacteria, plants and animals suffer untimely deaths because I live and breathe. There is no avoiding it. If I become a vegan, I simply reduce the number of higher mammals which die. While all this is going on, do I shed a tear for every head of lettuce or dust mite which dies to serve me? NO! These forms of life are so far below us that there is no grounds for moral concern at all. If I eat a hamburger, exempting some circles, it is not considered evil in any way.
In the same way, Lavos is so far above humans that there is no comparison. Lavos did what it saw fit to insure its survival and the continuation of its species and in doing so made use of lesser organisms. Lavos couldn't conceive of humans having rights or liberty any more than I could think a bacteria did. Indeed, Lavos could have been a very morally upright and just being--toward other organisms of its own calibre.
I don't see this as lessening the impact of Lavos as an enemy in any way. Lavos isn't a villain; it is a force of nature. Throughout the game, there is no way to determine Lavos' motivations or reasoning. When one confronts, for example, Magus, we can attempt to understand what's going on inside his head, but that is not the case for Lavos. To me, that makes Lavos more terrifying than any other threat.
When the party faces Lavos, there is no chance of pity, or even hatred. Lavos is defending itself against the equivalent of a bacterial infection. Just as there is no right or wrong in Lavos subjugation of the world, there is no morality in the Travelers' decision to fight Lavos. They are only fighting for survival as all life forms do.
At this length, Doctor Shaft once again debates the human perspective.
Doctor Shaft: The human/cow, Lavos/human analogy doesn't exactly work though, because of the nature of the battle.
It's man versus Lavos. Lavos is above and beyond us, as we have agreed upon. To just consider him a moving vegetable that defeats man kind would go against the idea that someone like Queen Zeal was easily subjugated by it. Humans crave power, but we need more than a little prodding to decide just how far we'll go to take it. Give us an ultimate bomb... sure, I think I'll press the button, or someone else will. But torture and subjugate my people, my children, etc., and fdeny all of my life to become immortal and lonely alongside an incredible tick? Probably not if it wasn't capable of intelligent thought. That's just going to be a lot of riding on the back of shell for eternity. I think we need to give Queen Zeal a little more credit than "she's just depressed/crazy/sad".
Anyway, we have to keep in mind just what lengths are gone through to ensure man's victory. We still have to keep in mind that the Entity exists in this game, that time has been sheared into key time periods, and that the circular time movement of the game has such a perfect flow that at the end we not only beat Lavos, but we soundly improve the lives of man kind. Granted, we also have Porre become a super-kingdom, Guardia falls, and we get Chrono Cross, but for a majority of hundreds of years, Crono and crew are directly involved in improving mankind. They do it because they have the opportunity... but why is that they get the opportunity?
I don't see this is as simple as man to animal. We eat the animals relentlessly, and I too do not shed tears for the deaths I cause to continue on. But the way Lavos feeds is far from our relationships with animals. Yes, like Lavos, we trap, we hunt, we fatten up our prey. All kinds of backstabbing. But we do not hold intelligent conversations with these animals. We do not corrupt them into killing themselves for millenia, and further more, we do actually eat the animals... Lavos does not eat us. We are not his food.
In Chrono Cross, it is clear that the Planet seems to have a defense mechanism of it's own. If Lavos pulls Chronopolis, the Planet pulls in an alternate universe where Reptites are king. It's clear that Lavos' is being fought back. If we are talking Lavos versus Planet... I guess I can agree with the man/animal analogy. But the way things 'conveniently' work out for humans seems to negate this possibility. If we're just food, or lower beings, or whatever, and Lavos is just acting out his will, why is humanity being given umpteen million chances to correct it? Who is doing it? Surely it's not Balthasar... that's Chrono Cross. We know that it's isn't Lucca's genius alone that does this either. Robo, a robot himself, believes, after hundreds of years to ponder it, that their is something or someone that allows them to travel through the time gates. I wouldn't take his words lightly.
I just can't see our battle with Lavos as man versus animal. If that were the case, when are we going to get the game were insects are allowed to travel through key time gates and eliminate man? Or snakes, or monkeys, or dogs? Are they just not smart enough? That's not meant to be condescending, by the way.
So, this is why I perceive Lavos as "evil" or not "right". I'm not saying his motivations are similar to humans. He isn't human. But I will claim that perhaps his decision to crash on the planet, and manipulate an entire species of human was. If it wasn't, then I just don't see the need or possibility of random warp holes appearing. I know the rest of you can though, seeing this as just a game of random man versus some other species... man wins. I guess so. On the other hand, I tend to view events like that as meaning that one of those sides was 'supposed' to win.
Mankind's effects on the planet are also cast in a negative light in Chrono Cross. The scene in the Dragonian Tower even goes so far as to call humans "progeny of Lavos". They weren't supposed to win the war with the Reptites, but Lavos changed everything. Humanity went on, but it's actions were similar to Lavos, and this was not looked upon with understanding and acceptance.
So I feel that the game can be seen in different lights. Is this game just a light show of evolution, strongest-shall-survive, with a little love thrown in for fun? A strong case can certainly be made. Reptite kill humans, humans take advantage, humans kill Reptites, Lavos kills all. On the other hand, was the war of Reptites versus humans rational? Humans were small, reptites were fighting humans, and vice versa, and there was no apparent good reasoning for it. Resentment? Regardless, the reptites seemed to get their just deserts in the game, in my opinion. Tragic that the struggle ended the way it did, but then again, it didn't seem wholly undeserved either. But that's all opinion and conjecture.
Dhsu: So I guess that brings us to whether Lavos is, in fact, "evil." Well, as implied by my use of quotation marks, that term really is quite subjective. When you think about it, we humans at this very moment are ravaging the planet, depleting its resources for our own purposes and giving nothing in return. Who gave us this authority? What gives us more of a right to the planet's resources than Lavos? Are humans not, in a cosmological perspective, every bit as much parasites as Lavos is?
But does this mean we're evil? To some individuals, the answer would be yes. This has been the rationalization behind the annihilation of the human race in many TV and video game plots, including Chrono Cross, as is revealed in one of the game's endings. Perhaps through our perspective, Lavos may seem like a malicious being, but through the Dragons and dwarves' perspective, humans are guilty of exactly the same thing. I guess it really all depends on whom you ask. But without an inherent definition or perspective for "evil" or "good," it's very difficult to provide a definite "right" answer.
Can a true answer be found? A dichotomy has been struck; to Lavos his actions may be considered necessary to his life -- and right to life is one of humans most desired civil rights -- yet to humans, Lavos causes rampant destruction and ends life all to feed. What of the Time Devourer? Would it be better to leave the universe to take its natural course and man to evolve, or eliminate reality as we know it to achieve a perfect state of nonexistence? Notwithstanding the blurry lines dividing the sides of this debate, the question of the ethics of Lavos attests to the Chrono series' capacity for incredible depth. Perhaps one will take these factors into consideration the next time one stands ready to fight Lavos or the Time Devourer.
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