Personally, I’m invested in grey area when it comes to human freedom in Thedas. David Gaider recently posted about this very issue and made an apt analogy: “It’s more like a gun control issue—if there were people with guns that could go off and kill innocents by accident, and who couldn’t be disarmed without a lobotomy.”
That’s pretty much where I fall on the question of human rights when it comes to mages. I don’t ascribe nefarious motives or in-born weakness to them as a group. Each mage is a different individual, but one born armed and—without training—one who grows more dangerous over time.
To me, a Circle run by mages, more as schools than prisons, and not by some religious organization would be ideal. Sure, there will be the occasional Orsino who turns out to be an undercover scoundrel. The benefits to the people in the Circles, as well as society as a whole who would enjoy greater access to what magic can do to improve their lives, outweigh the bad apples you’d find in any barrel.
Tevinter adds a hefty swirl of dark to the Dragon Age universe, in part because the mages do not act as benevolent masters and in part because we really don’t know what goes on there day to day. We cannot claim that abominations are infrequent because they may not be. I suspect they have a much better system in place to react to mages who succumb to demon influence and that they’re not particularly interested in talking about it when it does happen.
That points up another benefit of increased mage freedom and self-rule. The people best equipped to deal with an outbreak of magical mischief would be able to respond without having to wait for permission. They could react faster and likely contain things with less violence than Templars raised to fear their power. Over time, increased exposure to mages who aren’t slavering fiends or weak-willed demon chow may convince the populace of Thedas that the Chantry had been overreacting.
I don’t mean to offer Tevinter as an example to follow. I do want to point out that the social issues there have little to do with the magical abilities of the overlords, however, except that they make it easier for them to frighten people into doing what they want. Slavery and political in-fighting are hardly limited to mages, after all.
The magisters have reversed the very discrimination that so upsets people about the Chantry Circles. Rather than mages living like any other person they’ve decreed that it’s magic that gives them the right to rule over mundanes. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t this very belief against which the Chantry has been reacting.
From what little I’ve read of the Chant of Light, Andraste doesn’t require that mages be imprisoned. It doesn’t prohibit them from having families, from marrying and raising children. It simply says that their power is meant to serve rather than to rule. The decisions of the Divine and the Templars they control have created the oppressive situations in which mages find themselves. Their propaganda has taught the general populace to fear magic, something the rumors coming out of Tevinter have done nothing but reinforce.
Thedosian mages need something run by and for them, rather than having their personhood taken away for political reasons. Unfortunately for them, the example of Tevinter and the scare tactics employed by those more interested in controlling the power than doing what’s best for all of their people have created an atmosphere where freedom is all but impossible without precisely what we now have—absolute rebellion.
Mages need to publicize the counter-examples of the Dalish and the Chasind, neither of whom consider mages inherently dangerous or feel the need to restrain them. Neither are they known for their tribes being destroyed en masse as Ferelden and other countries’ villages sometimes are when parents afraid of losing their children try to hide their powers.