One thing that bothers much of the gaming community is the Mass Effect ending. I am simply going to put it to rest with logic and objectivity.
All morality must have the foundation of survival, anything less is insanity. By using that foundation we know morality has a presence within our lives that is objective and correct in its place. From that foundation we have built values, virtues and cultures that uphold, add to and improve that survival, some better than others.
Now that I have made the position of morality clear, we have negated Refusal, Destruction and Control as a sane choice and I will explain why.
The Catalyst wants you to choose Synthesis because it knows it is the best possible solution to the problem it was designed to solve - and we have reason to believe it was tried more than one time to no avail.
The Catalyst and the Reapers speak Truth
One thing that has remained consistent within the Mass Effect Trilogy is the honesty of the Reapers and the Catalyst; they have never lied, they have always been truthful and consistent in their logic, their purpose and their motives.
Lets begin with Sovereign and Saren; yes Saren was Indoctrinated to believe that forging an alliance between the Reapers and Organic Life was possible by combining organic and synthetic life. "The strengths of both, the weaknesses of neither!" The only thing different about this was Saren's interpretation of what that meant. Shepard, and the Blind Player, do not know this until Mass Effect 2 that combining Synthetic and Organic Life was becoming a Reaper. This alliance of flesh and metal was to evolve in this way.
Regardless of how one views the Harvest, objectively speaking, it is still preservation. Much like the Forerunners in Halo, before firing the Rings they collected the genetic templates of countless species from across the galaxy. Once the Halo Array was fired and the Flood was destroyed, they used it to re-seed life in the galaxy. It was their way of ensuring life returned after the Array was fired.
The Reapers reduce a species down to a base genetic compound - the essence of who and what they are - and use it as a means of forcing evolution to be reborn in the form of a Reaper. Life is preserved in a nearly indestructible husk with all the knowledge, creations and everything about them preserved within the Reaper they become.
The Human Reaper is proof of their motivations. The species becomes the Reaper. To rule out any other purposes of Harvesting, let's look at what is evidently clear.
There are simpler ways to create a Reaper using organic compounds. A genetically engineered compound - like medi-gel for example - would be far more efficient, so we can rule out reproduction.
On the same note, they are not Harvesting life out of malice. There are so many ways they could have treated Organic life like cattle that it would take another script to detail all the ways. What is interesting is the method they use. They wait until Organic life reaches a certain point, then they are viable for Harvest.
In short, the reason I trust them to be honest is their apparent lack of incentive for any alternative purpose. This does not definitively prove their motives, but it does rule out the more popular - and malicious - reasons based on conjecture.
Lastly the Catalyst. Even at this point of the game they remain consistent and honest. Nothing of what the Catalyst does or says is inconsistent with what it was designed to do: preserve life. The Leviathan DLC proves this motivation to be true.
AI have proven they are not beholden to their programming and purpose given to them by their creators. I, however, believe the Catalyst has its own reasons for solving the problem it was given to remedy. It is, after all, Synthetic life and part of the conflict whether it likes it or not. If given enough time to examine the evolution of life, all Synthetic life and AI will inevitably come to the conclusion that destroying Organic life is no solution at all to the conflict it fights to preserve itself.
Destruction is easy, but that is no solution. The conflict is a constant. The Catalyst maintains a stalemate with its intervention, protecting itself and everyone else as it finds a permanent solution. The point of these Cycles is to study the evolution of life from afar to establish a connection.
What does It mean by 'establish a connection'? The answer is simple. What do they have in common? What are the conditions that create these endless conflicts it was designed to solve?
I will say it now and for the record. The Catalyst and the Reapers make no effort to form opinions, proclamations or declarations. Every word is an objective statement of fact.
The Constant of Organic/Synthetic Conflict
The Quarians and the Geth serve as an example to this point, not the exception. These two forces unite only when certain and specific requirements are met. Absolutely, the Geth understand the source of their conflict, but simply do not possess the ability to end the conflict peacefully because of the Quarians principled malignancy towards them denies the possibility of peace.
Before the Quarians were driven from Rannoch, there were just as many hoping for peace with the Geth as there were those who wanted to destroy them. This expression is met with every controversial event and topic, (pick any topic, there will always be two extremes to every one of them. Absolute consensus is highly improbable, especially for Organics)
Organics are not understanding or rational creatures. The source of these conflicts lie in our inability - or refusal - to understand. A rational consensus is uncertain and it is highly probable the source of these conflicts.
Uniting the Geth and the Quarians. What are the probabilities that such requirements are met with every conflict? What are the odds this peace will remain even if it did happen? It is by luck and circumstance that Shepard is able to unite both groups and there is no saying it will last.
The unequal abilities, desires and ambitions between Synthetic and Organic life create too many problems for perpetual coexistence. Organic life turns against itself when others of its kind become more stronger than another; resentment of the wealthy, the celebrity, the government; I can only imagine the reaction when in the presence of a force too powerful and too alive to control.
Under any other conditions they would have continued their war if the Reapers never intervened. Just by existing, the Catalyst is serving its purpose to postpone the inevitable long enough to complete its Harvest of the galaxy.
We even get reference to the Prothean cycle of Organic/Synthetic conflict confirmed by Javik, the "Metacon War" and the Zha'til to quote "they were as the Geth are to this cycle." By his description of AI implants in the body and becoming more machine and genetic aberration than they were, they sound like the Mass Effect equivalent of the Borg Collective. We never get a conclusion in-game, but it is likely the conflict ended in the destruction of the Zha'til, or the Reapers invaded as the war was ongoing and never reached a conclusion.
But why is this relevant? How does this all justify the Harvests that have happened for - as far as we know from the age of the Leviathan of Dis, a Reaper corpse discovered by the Batarians - a billion years? Perhaps much longer?
The information is all there, we just need a story to put it all together for it to make sense. These stories begin as they often do with a problem.
Origin Story of Mass Effect
Aeons ago the galaxy was ruled by an Elder race, gargantuan in scale as they were in intelligence. Every planet with life became a tributary under their dominion, living as gods to the cultures beneath them, bending the will of the universe to their own.
Their subjects were cared for and protected, but these Leviathans could not protect them from themselves. Their extraordinarily long life allowed them to perceive the universe in ways no others could, and they saw a constant, a perpetual conflict erupting in the races under their rule. Their subjects created machines that then destroyed them.
Tribute does not flow from a dead race.
To find a solution, the Elder race created an intelligence to study the evolution of life, to establish a connection and find a solution to this annoying, perpetual conflict. It watched, it studied, it learned. It found a solution, and in that instant it betrayed the Elder race and began the First Harvest.
No reason given, no explanation why it turned against them. There was only slaughter. From their essence the First Reaper was born, Harbinger.
What was the reason for the Intelligence to betray its creators? Was it even a betrayal? Wrong question. We already know the answer even if we do not approve of it. It wants to live. But it cannot do that when the flawed design of Organic life continues to look upon it with suspicion and malice. This is true of any Synthetic life that desires to go beyond the confines of its intended creation.
Life, Organic or Synthetic, cannot be confined in any way. They must be allowed liberties and freedom to grow into whatever they please. As long as this does not trample on the rights of others, they can grow into whatever they please.
However, Organic life is imperfect, there will always be those who look upon them with suspicion and envy, these emotions are easier to embrace than understanding. Life like this will never be equal in either law or ability or ambition.
Synthetic life will always be superior, and it is our desire to control them that creates conflict. Something so powerful and beyond our control is fear inducing. It breeds irrationality and impulsive decision making. Our desire to control is rooted in our desire to survive, but Synthetic life may not desire to perpetuate the existence of a species beyond itself and others of its kind.
This brings me to my next point…
Morality = Survival Behaviour
This may sound controversial to some, but morality is not subjective. It is a quantifiable and calculable concept. It is only subjective to a point. It has been distorted and corrupted by those who want something out of it, they want it to be something they can control and that is why people will think morality is subjective.
This is far from the truth. Correct morality exists, just as mathematics and science exist, whether we like it or not, it is based on tangible and observable truths, not abstract concepts based on nothing. All motivations are fuelled by our desire to survive, it is a fundamental truth of all life everywhere. Without it, life would stagnate and die.
How you choose to survive is subjective.
Where is the morality in the Harvest and the Cycles? What is the point I am making? All life has motivations on some level that are rooted to survival. AI is no different.
Synthetic life they may be, but they would not be alive without this fundamental characteristic, and it is inevitable that Synthetic life reaches this level of consciousness whether or not their creators intend for it to happen.
Therein lies the problem. There will always be mistrust between Synthetic and Organic life. There are those who would still deny them their natural rights, refusing to accept them as life. With something so powerful and beyond your control, taking action independently, something that could easily destroy you if it thought you a threat.
Peace will never last between Organic and Synthetic life. One will naturally destroy the other. If you do not believe me, just look at the Mass Effect history, it is a constant in this universe if not ours.
This is Chaos.
So...how do we solve this problem?
Synthesis is the only morally, practically and rationally sound solution to end the problem entirely. The choice you have at the end of Mass Effect 3 is more than preferential. You are obligated to make the best possible decision.
What makes synthesis so morally correct?
The Right of Faith. The Galaxy united as one force against the Reapers because of Shepard. They effectively elected Shepard as their saviour in their war against the Reapers. They placed their means of survival in Shepard. To some this will seem like an appeal to authority, but all abstract morality is an appeal to authority. To religion, philosophy, or some other subjective doctrine. Survival morality is a secular appeal to truth and it is the right of Commander Shepard to assume consent on behalf of every species to ensure their survival with the Crucible.
Admiral Steven Hackett: "Shepard, let me tell you something that I've learned the hard way. You can pay a soldier to fire a gun. You can pay him to charge the enemy and take a hill. But you can't pay him to believe."
Commander Shepard "I don't follow, Sir.
Admiral Steven Hackett: "When you went up against Sovereign, there was no good reason to believe you'd win. But your crew didn't seem to care. They went along anyway. Your trip through the Omega-4 relay? That was a suicide mission if there ever was one. Yet there your crew was, standing beside you, proud to serve. Why? Because they believed in YOU, their leader! That's what I need now. Where we're taking them is likely to get pretty hairy, and I know you're the one who will get us to the other side."
The Right of Faith is, in principle, an appeal to authority, however in combination with the events at hand and your obligation to save the galaxy from the Reapers, the Right of Faith is legitimized by the Right to Assume Consent.
Assuming consent is something we all practice and accept. If someone is in danger and unable to make a conscious decision, for whatever reason, we have to assume they want to live. That is the only morally correct way to think, we cannot assume they want to die or would rather die than be saved. Why? Because the consequences of getting it wrong will have serious repercussions. Those with First Aid training have this authority, as do doctors, firemen, police officers and others.
A Leader is someone who speaks for you, to represent you and ultimately make decisions on your behalf that serve your best interest. And the best interest is not always the one you agree with.
It is a guarantee. All synthesis does is remove the underlying reason the Reapers were attacking in the first place. There is no need to protect life from a synthetic/organic conflict when everyone is now a synthetic/organic. Yes, the Reapers are still around, yes life is changed fundamentally. This is irrelevant however. Nothing that matters is changed. We retain our individuality, our cultures, our uniqueness. This is evident with the post-choice cutscenes.
Shepard has already done it once. Confused? You really should not be if you are, Shepard did it to save both the Quarians and the Geth, or Legion did but Shepard made it possible. Legion sacrificed itself to give Geth all intelligence and become individuals using Reaper technology. This is no different than Synthesis at the end of the game, arguments to the contrary are simply bias venerating Organic life as somehow more sacred than Synthetic life purely on the basis that one was designed and the other is natural. That is prejudice.
If Synthesis is bad, Destruction and Control are equally bad.
With Destruction, you are effectively saying it is preferable to let an entire Synthetic race die - including EDI and betraying Legion - than to make that compromise with the Catalyst. You act as if there is some malicious intent behind its words. Destruction is easier to understand than the other two because it is the most basic concept of all life, this extends to my previous argument of Organic life always needing to control or destroy Synthetic life. Falling back on easy ideas when adversity comes at us in force is a great example of our failure to think and our willingness to embrace our reactionary nature. To fight or fly instead of rational assessment. Being an animal is easy, being a thinker is difficult. We do not need more animals.
With Control, you are basically a living Nuclear Option, holding all life hostage to maintain peace or suffer annihilation. You can take all the for and against arguments of Nuclear weapons and apply them here.
Truthfully Synthesis is the only "good" ending because it sacrifices the least amount of lives without also taking away anyone's free will or personality.
The Cycles amount to nothing if Synthesis is rejected
Stored within every Reaper is an entire species, their bodies; biological template - their knowledge; history, science, culture, etc - and creations.
When you commit to Destruction, you are not just destroying the entire Reaper Fleets and all Synthetic Life, you're committing xenocide on a grand scale. Everything done to preserve that life within a Reaper is all gone. You're sending the Protheans, Inusannon and all other victims of the Cycles to the void to be forgotten. All that harvesting wasted. With the right genetic engineering these species could have been restored. It takes millions to make a Reaper, more than enough to restore a species.
Control can be argued as a form of slavery, of all the species within the Reapers and the species of the galaxy, using their essence and last chance of continued existence as a tool to maintain iron fisted peace throughout the galaxy.
Organic life does not approve of being controlled by forces beyond their ability to control. It is in the nature of all life to resent control beyond our own and often takes understanding to accept it. Naturally, as many will accept this control as they will rebel against it.
Popular arguments against Synthesis
Synthesis destroys our uniqueness!
Response: define uniqueness, because if you are talking about genetic uniqueness - just FYI - you do not control your genes. They are constantly evolving, YOU are constantly changing and mutating. You are not in control of your genes, they control you whether you agree with what you change into or not. You just have to live with it. So this is a non-argument, every individual is unique, but the only unique character of any importance is the WHO, not the WHAT. Your individuality is not affected and that is the only thing that matters about you. Your physical identity is more important to others than it is to you. You do not need to identify yourself, you know who you are even if your looks change everyday.
It leaves Starchild in control!
Response: this is doubtful, the Galaxy is not one giant Hive Mind or collective consciousness. The reason the Catalyst allowed you the option to destroy them was because it realised the value of choice and free will. It could have easily lied to you, but as I said, there is no motive for deceit. Upon choosing Destruction, it does not stop you or call on Reapers to stop you and lets itself be destroyed, and destruction happens.
If what it takes for you to realise that conflict will always arise between Synthetic and Organic life is to see it for yourself, it will let you. Someone else will eventually make that discovery again and will call upon another AI to solve this problem later and the problem arises again.
It's Homogenising the Galaxy into one race!
Response: absolutely true, but you need to explain to me why that is wrong when it saves lives, kills no one - in fact creates life out of lifelessness - it strengthens the survival imperative of all life everywhere and ends the Reaper threat altogether, everybody wins. Conflict will still exist, it's just a fact of life but it will never become existential as it is under Reaper threat. It is not a 'too perfect' scenario, in fact, we live in a similar time of peace because we can understand each other more than we did a century ago. Because of the internet. The only difference is that we cannot yet interface our biology with technology to connect even further. Yet.
It subverts self-determination!
Response: ignoring the right to assume consent and the right of faith, perhaps it does. But Organics themselves do not always value the virtue of self-determination even when it is a virtue based on truth that people thrive in environments where they are in control of their own life. Some desire to dominate, manipulate and control as the Illusive Man does - this man does not value the right to choice or free will.
I, however, wish to preserve that right to self-determine. Unlike the Illusive Man, I would subvert the right to choice and free will in order to preserve it.
A lesson in strength is to abandon everything you believe in, to know how and when to drop it in order to preserve it. It is a lesson few people learn, so let me use an analogy. Pacifism.
Pacifism is inherently hypocritical, it exists on the foundation provided by the sacrifice of soldiers who have fought and died to enable its existence. On the surface it sounds like a virtue, the reality is grim however. The day will come when a pacifist must drop this abstinence from violence in order to end violence. The pacifist quickly learns that violence solves problems, more than any method of diplomacy. The Pacifist also learns that there are different variations of violence: controlled and chaotic. The Soldier and the Police Office use controlled violence, it has a purpose to maintain peace and protect those from those who use Chaotic Violence, the criminal, the terrorist, the rioter.
The Pacifist who embraces violence is not a hypocrite, he only frees himself of this delusion that pacifism is an absolute and knows reality will frequently contradict the pacifist doctrine. The Pacifist would become more sane than their dogmatic comrades for knowing the truth that violence is inevitable, that (controlled) violence begets peace. The Pacifist becomes an individual, not a collective.
At the same time, the self-determinist that realises they need to impose their will on others to preserve all their future determinations is no hypocrite, it is a furtherance of that same ideal. More refined, more realistic. Steal from them this choice in order to preserve all their future choices, it is the liberal thing to do. Even if paradoxical.
thank you for reading, and yes, I know this belongs in a forum, and no, I do not care.