Fallout 4 is loaded with many different philosophies. Lots of them pertain to synths and extend to AI as a whole. This article explores why Elder Maxson hates synths. Arthur Maxson is the leader of the Brotherhood of Steel during the events of Fallout 4, and can be met as a child in Fallout 3. Between the events of Fallouts 3 and 4, Maxson reunited the Lyons Brotherhood with the Brotherhood Outcasts and rose to the rank of Elder.
During the events of Fallout 4, a recon team stationed in the Commonwealth reported some disturbing findings. Maxson decided to deploy a large force to eliminate the threats. The player’s first encounter with Maxson is when he gives this speech.
Adopted Mission of the Outcasts
It seems that Maxson has adopted the mission of the Brotherhood Outcasts, which is to control advanced technology. This is done in the interest of preventing cataclysmic events like the Great War. The Brotherhood holds that irresponsible use of advanced technology was the cause of the nuclear apocalypse. So, they seize all the technology they can in order to keep it out of what they deem as the wrong hands.
Elder Maxson: Beneath the Commonwealth there is a cancer… known as the Institute, a malignant growth that needs to be cut before it infects the surface. They are experimenting with dangerous technologies that could prove to be the world’s undoing for the second time in recent history. The Institute Scientists have created a weapon that transcends the destructive nature of the atom bomb.
Synths are Offensive and Dangerous
In the following quote he makes a distinction between “free-thinking” and “free will,” but he does not specify the difference. I will attempt to define both given the context. I assume that he intends “free-thinking” as being able to plan based on a set of predetermined factors. “Free will” seems intended as the ability to expand upon innate factors to create new possibilities.
Elder Maxson: They call their creation the “synth,” a robotic abomination of technology that is free-thinking and masquerades as a human being. This notion that a machine could be granted free will is not only offensive, but horribly dangerous.
Maxson is also offended by the notion that synths can be granted free will but does not specify why. Perhaps he does not like the idea that humans can create as gods do. This concept of comparing humans to gods is commonly explored in Elder Scrolls. However, in later dialogues Maxson seems offended by the notion that synths have the same value as humans. Maybe he is offended by both suggestions.
A Threat to Humanity
Here, Maxson explains how synths are relevant to the Brotherhood’s mission. He sees them as threats to humanity. This belief is commonly held by citizens of the Commonwealth because of events like the Broken Mask Incident and the CPG Massacre. Furthermore, he compares synths to nuclear power. They both have benefits, but also the potential to cause harm. According to Maxson, the harm outweighs the benefits.
Elder Maxson: And like the atom, if it isn’t harnessed properly, it has the potential of rendering us extinct as a species. I am not prepared to allow the Institute to continue this line of experimentation. Therefore, the Institute and their “synths” are considered enemies of the Brotherhood of Steel, and should be dealt with swiftly and mercilessly. This campaign will be costly and many lives will be lost. But in the end, we will be saving humankind from its worst enemy… itself.
Maxson may see the Institute as such a threat because of his memories of the Enclave. His mentors felt that the Enclave’s technology was dangerous, which presented a threat. So, they destroyed the Enclave to keep that technology out of the wrong hands. Perhaps Maxson sees synths as more dangerous than anything the Enclave had, and determined that the Institute must be eliminated as the Enclave was.
Later on in the Brotherhood of Steel questline, it is revealed that Paladin Danse is a synth. Maxson has more to say about synths when confronting Danse.
Elder Maxson: Danse isn’t a man, it’s a machine… an automaton created by the Institute. It wasn’t born from the womb of a loving mother, it was grown within the cold confines of a laboratory. Flesh is flesh. Machine is machine. The two were never meant to intertwine. By attempting to play God, the Institute has taken the sanctity of human life and corrupted it beyond measure.
Now Maxson gets more specific regarding what he finds unethical about synths. There’s value in the love humans have for each other. Thus, he thinks suggesting that something forged in a laboratory has that same value demeans human compassion.
Also, Maxson may be sensitive about this subject because of his own upbringing. When he was very young, his mother sent him to Elder Lyons from the west coast. Eventually the Lyons Brotherhood lost contact with the west coast, hence Maxson lost contact with his mother. Maybe losing his family caused him to value human love and compassion above all else. Thus, he is offended by the notion that something worth the same as his mother can simply be made in a laboratory.
Machines are not Alive
Now, Maxson explains why destroying synths is ethical, because in his eyes they are not alive. According to him, any emotion, bond, or compassion that synths claim to have is really an illusion. As in, they are advanced AIs and nothing more.
Elder Maxson: How can you trust the word of a machine that thinks it’s alive? A machine that’s had its mind erased, its thoughts programmed… its very soul manufactured. Those ethics that it’s striving to champion aren’t even its own. They were artificially inserted in an attempt to have it blend in to society.
To Maxson, destroying a synth is no different than replacing a refrigerator. In fact, in his eyes it’s more like curing a disease. He thinks that synths have negative value and have no positive purpose to exist. Thus they should be eliminated like a disease.
To summarize, Maxson finds the Institute’s creations to be dangerous and unethical. That’s why Elder Maxson hates synths. If one chooses to side with the Brotherhood of Steel, then Maxson gets his way. The Brotherhood will carry out the destruction of synths along with their makers. However, the carnage does not end there. Maxson also orders the destruction of the Railroad for their role in supporting synths in their existence. His disgust for technologically altered life also extends to Super Mutants and Ghouls. If one chooses to side with Arthur Maxson and his Brotherhood, the Commonwealth will see much violence.
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The problem with this exploration is it’s lacking the key component to everyone’s motivations in the game. What the heck is the Institutes purpose and what are they actually trying to do? I have a character that runs it and I still don’t know. They say they want to save humanity yet kill people and replace them with robots. They say they don’t want to be exposed to the outside world yet but they take actions constantly on the surface that lead to conflict with others. What are the synths even for? Are they meant to be laborers? If they are then they don’t have to be as smart as they are so why make ones that are prone to wanting freedom? Just make them dumber until they can do simple tasks without wanting to know love. It just comes down to poor writing. The Institute’s goals are never clear because what they say and what they do are polar opposites. Therefore it’s impossible to understand the motivations of the other factions. I don’t think the Minutemen care beyond their goal to provide security for the Commonwealth. The Brotherhood just wants the tech or to destroy it and they’re obviously showing neo-fascist tendencies in the way they treat the locals. The Railroad makes the least sense. Why would these people care about Synths in the first place? What is their argument for them being “alive”? If the goal of the Synth program is to replace humans then why help them in that by spreading them around the US? And where does intelligence and free will begin and end. Should we stop using our poor smart toilets because they might become aware of their purpose? It’s just an awful story.