>> Monday, August 1, 2011
If the title scared you a little, it just shows you know me. :)
Since Jeff asked when I wrote the previous post, I'll go into some examples that might help clarify things for Relax Max, given that he thought I was being too politic/cryptic. Perhaps I was. He's written some posts on this subject that are quite complementary and worth reading if it's a subject that interests you, as it is one that interests me. You can find them here, here and here.
First, to explain my moral ambiguity. I'm basically a pacifist, but I'm not a true pacifist like Gandhi or King, who would not kill even to save their lives (if we assume their words reflected their true beliefs). And I know there are other true pacifists out there. No, I would, I think be willing to kill to save myself, certainly to save someone else...but I don't think I would kill just anyone. In other words, I'd kill a direct threat to my life or someone trying to kill someone else "innocent," but I couldn't kill, say, another poor schmoe trapped in the lifeboat with me. In that case, since I'm not afraid of dying, I'd probably ask they kill me kindly in my sleep and eat hearty.
That I would kill at all argues that my morals aren't fixed (though I believe they are); what they really are is complex and depend on circumstances. The thing is, most people, I believe, do the same thing. Most agree killing is wrong, but most also don't look at soldiers as murderers (nor do I, unless they really enjoy it for their own pleasure), even though they go into harm's way with the intent to kill to do what they are ordered to do. (I'm not suggesting soldiers are bad guys or the same as murderers, just pointing out the rationalizations most of us do.)
I know I couldn't personally kill someone for wearing a different uniform (though I could do defend myself - can't do it preemptively because I'm well aware the other side may have no more personal interest than I do). I couldn't drop bombs or accept collatoral damage. I'm not saying soldiers are villains because they can. I understand that, if they weren't willing to, there are worse things that can happen as a result. If everyone felt as I do, Hitler would never have been stopped. That's a pretty compelling argument that I should be grateful others are willin to do the dirty work. Everyone must make peace with their own necessities and find out where the lines are they can't cross. They aren't the same for all of us.
Although I think all of us do this to a certain extent - set out what's right and wrong, but lace it with caveats and circumstances that we implicitly understand mean we can accept breaking the rules in ourselves, that we can accept others for doing things we couldn't do, I'm not sure everyone really thinks about that, realizes that we do that. I think that's why it so easy for many people to judge, see some bit of this or that sensationalized story in the news and make a judgement on it. I rarely do that unless I'm very cognizant of the specifics and, even then, I'm always aware of the limitations of my understanding. Without having lived in those shoes, I'm very wary of presuming I know what their necessities, their morals should have been. There are exceptions. There are actions I can't bring myself to be open-minded about, like rape and sexually abusing children, true slavery. Or, in those cases where the motive was pathetic and utterly selfish, I'm unlikely to be sympathetic. And hypocrisy leaves me cold.
I made several points near the end and I wanted to provide examples as I promised. I told Relax Max, on his blog, that I revel in writing characters that challenge my own beliefs in right and wrong, and likely those of my readers. I like creating societies and circumstances where what was "good and bad" is far different than we're used to. I'm going to list several things my protagonists (or allies that stay allies of my protagonists) do that many would have a problem with. In all cases, I feel I've made a strong case that what they've done, even in those cases where it violated their moral code, were justifiable, even laudable. I'm not particularly fond of antiheroes. You might be surprised at what can be justified.
- Kill for hire.
- Let your daughter die when you could have prevented it.
- Murder with premeditation.
- Seduce someone with the intention of killing him.
- Torture someone for information.
- Kill someone who is not a direct threat.
- Create weapons of mass destruction (including a deadly biological weapon).
- Abandon slaves you've just freed.
- Have sex in public with a stranger.
- Pay for sex (I'm not sure I actually have a character doing so, but someone thinks about it.)
- Kill people on suspicion of threat.
- Mandate someone's death if they found out a secret.
- Kill your own brother.
- Kill your own children in cold blood.
- Beat someone up for the satisfaction of it.
- Abandon someone you love.
- Drink "green bug shit."
- Look the other way when others do things you think are evil.
The ironic thing is that Relax Max is right in a way. There are lines I won't have a protagonist cross. Nor do I think anyone would have a problem differentiating my "good" guys from my "bad." And, depending on the circumstances and the particular characters, there are some actions that one character can do quite handily and another could never do, even if circumstances were similar. That's what makes playing with characters and dealing with people in real life so very very interesting.