So, yesterday I found myself putting myself in a 40k hypothetical. I was putting my socks on (so, naturally I was day dreaming as you do), and there I was thinking about what side I would have taken in the Horus Heresy. I realised I’d just hit on a damn moral dilemma. If you think about answering my question it’s a tricky one. On reflection, I feel proud and have now declared myself leader of a new group of gamers, the “Warhammer ethics committee” (it’ll catch on trust me, and then I’ll have the last laugh).
Anyway, back to the question at hand, “If you existed in the 31st millennium as a member of the Imperium, (be it a space marine, a member of the solar auxilia, or a humble member of the working class on Terra) would you join Horus or resist him? Firstly, it’s really important that the whole notion of “picking the side that you know won” is tossed out the window because at the time you had no idea, and hey who knows, maybe you could tip the scales in the traitor’s favour anyway.
Nevertheless, the implications of either decision on your own moral conscience is massive. For myself the decision would be a very tough one. From my perspective I’d be either risking my life to maintain a Totalitarian dictatorship, which takes for granted the worth of human life, and uses any individuals regardless of anything as a means to an end. It doesn’t matter whether you’re “good”, “bad”, peasant, Primarch, or anything in between. You all receive the same treatment from the Imperium. You are all used as pawns in the Emperor’s game of chess. On the flip side of this, if you were to turn renegade you’d be promoting an incredible amount of anarchy (I mean chaos by name, chaos by nature), potentially consuming the entire universe, bringing about more suffering and pain than even exists under the Emperor’s rule. Pretty scary stuff to be honest.
And that’s really the interesting part of this question. It’s not about if you’d rebel if you were a powerful influential leader amongst the imperium, or whether you would if you were a nobody. It’s about principles and making a decision, albeit a pretty bleak decision, but one which has real life worth, as often in so many situations in real life we are posed with such crappy choices.
See, for me the imperium is the Third Reich and Horus’ traitors are like Stalin’s red army. The imperium’s rule is a safe bet, after all it’s existed for so long. Although bleak and, well – grim and dark, it’s not going anywhere and there’s always hope. A chance, an unlikely one, but a chance nevertheless that things will get better, and that one day a person might actually hold some value on a real level to those who actually make the big decisions. Alternatively, join the rebellion, fight against the regime, and stick it to that arrogant bloke who’s behind all this evil and suffering, hopefully doing more than just giving him a permanent seat for the next 10 millennia (I mean the Golden Throne pfffffft it’s an easy job really). One must be careful of what they wish for however. Think a little further ahead of decapitating the emperor and you’ll soon realise that the future without him is also pretty bleak, like chaos level bleak.
There is a third choice I suppose. Take no part in any of the mess, and go off on a jolly around the universe as a fully fledged third-party renegad. Rob a spacecraft, and go out and explore the big wide world! Perhaps I’d join up with my personal favourite Alpha legion, and go along with their shady plan in the hopes that they know best. To be honest, I’d TRUST Alpharius to create a better world order than Horus or the Emperor (really can’t believe I just put that in writing, I mean you know you’re in a dire situation when you’d trust a dude who is probably not even who he says he is). This is a slightly romantic option, but I think easily the most attractive to me, even if it could be seen as a bit of a cop-out. If I had to choose between one or the other, then I’d begrudgingly stick with the Imperium because realistically the chaos alternative under Horus’ rule is going to be nothing short of indescribable awful.
However, the question is simply about what you would personally do if presented with the situation and how would you justify it. In short, I’d justify my renegade non-involvement with the fact that I want no part to play in the immense suffering both options pose in both the long-term and the short-term, and would seek a more passive way of living my life. I think the thought of “feeding the beast”, and contributing to the maintenance of a system that causes such a level of pain sickens me, but equally being a part of replacing that beast with another one makes me feel the same way. For me, I suppose, the choice between each option isn’t really a choice at all, and so I think opting to seek something that doesn’t endlessly produce war is the best choice, even if it is almost certain to be fruitless (at least I tried right!).
It’s then worth thinking about your own real life. By this think back to any decisions you’ve made, will make, or didn’t make, and think about whether you stayed true to your justification. For example, I can think of scenarios in my own life where I’ve both opted to take no action in a situation where two parties could suffer, and situations where I’ve opted to take action in favour of one party and pick a side. I don’t know if that makes me a hypocrite, a situationalist, or something else entirely.
Either way, the moral feel train that I set out of the station just by daydreaming with my socks is steaming down the track. Now I’m considering whether I should be having some kind of a meltdown at the fact that I may be immoral (I’m not but maybe I possibly should be… hmmm).
Regardless ask yourself the same question, then justify it and let me know what you would do at the outbreak of the Horus Heresy, I’d love to hear your thoughts.