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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

Part of being the good guy means doing the right thing even when it's hard?

It's 1183 and we're barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little - that's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.

--Eleanor of Acquitaine, per James Goldman (The Lion in Winter)

Or, the problem of moral relativism, and how it applies to writing fiction.

My work, very few will be surprised to hear me say, concerns itself largely with ethics. My idea of a really satisfying conflict is getting my characters into a situation where there are no good answers to their problems, and then throwing rocks at them.

And I try not to pick sides. Or, I should say, I try not to put all the good people on the same side, and all the bad people on the other one. (I have some pretty clear ideas of what makes a good person or a bad one, and things like ethics rank a lot higher for me than things like race, religion, politics, or creed.) This lead to an interesting discussion with arcaedia and mcurry recently, actually, in which I was trying to explain to arcaedia why, by my lights, Fred Valens was a Bad Person, even if he is on the same side as the quote unquote good guys in the Jenny books. I pointed out that he is utterly ruthless; that for him, the end totally justifies the means. He will do literally anything to anybody if he thinks its for a good reason.(1)

He's also a devoted family man and a very good soldier. But that doesn't make him good. It just makes him human.

She saw him differently, and pointed out that he wouldn't ask anything of anyone else that he doesn't ask of himself. And I had to grant her that. He's not a hypocrite.

We also differ on the moral compass of the main characters in The Stratford Man. I see Kit as the better of the two, and she prefers Will.

And there's the thing. Kit's cutting, flashy, sarcastic, extravagant, trampy, and full of hot humors. His morality is pretty much in direct contravention to that of his day. He's been an undercover agent for the Queen; he's betrayed conspirators to their deaths. But that unconventional morality of his... he sticks to it, even when it's hard. Will, on the other hand, is pleasant, unassuming, thoughtful, considerate, and laid back. He also cheats on his wife, holds other people to standards of behavior he can't maintain himself, and lies to himself about it.

On the other hand, when the chips are down, both of them are ready to step in front of a bullet if that's what it takes to protect the things they care about.

So which one is the better man? Well. Therein lies the question.

This is why I believe in due process and fair justice, by the way, even when it's hard. Even when we'd rather see somebody shot out of hand than take it through the courts. Even when they probably deserve to be shot out of hand. Even when vengeance seems easy and satisfying.

Because I like to think of myself as one of the good guys. And being one of the good guys, fictionally speaking, doesn't mean always being on the right side, or auctorial intervention to make sure you're fighting for the side that's "morally right" as determined by the Author. (Gack! Dark Lord! Gack!) (Generally speaking, at least in terms of world events and divorce, neither side is ever morally right. Things get complicated very fast, and arbitration is always a matter of approximations. This is hard and unsettling and requires sea legs to cope with; it's much less complicated to pick a side--both as a writer and as a reader. But far more interesting, I think, to try to understand both sides. Or at least to establish sympathy for them. Much less simplistic, anyway. This is one reason why I like both Faustus and Edward II so much: they're all about sympathy for the devil.)

But. Being one of the good guys does mean fighting the good fight. Which is a different thing than being right.

But sometimes the good fight isn't practical. Sometimes characters need to take it upon themselves to do something morally wrong for the greater good. (The infamous "would you shoot Hitler?" thought-problem being a case in point.) But I think, for me, the break-point in being able to establish sympathy for a character is this: that doing something wrong out of necessity never means pretending you were right to do so.

Necessity is not virtue.

Which is why I think arcaedia might be right about Fred, and I might be wrong, after all. because he might be Faustus, but he never once says that it's not fair that he's going to Hell.

(1) and may I note that I consider it a minor auctorial victory that reviewers can't decide if he's a protagonist or an antagonist in those books?

Prince Richard: He's here. He'll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn't going to see me beg.

Prince Geoffrey: You chivalric fool! As if the way one fell down mattered.

Prince Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

In a report in Science, a glaciologist in Greenland reports that warmer air temperatures are causing glaciers to melt faster and slide toward the ocean faster. The shifting weight of the glaciers is causing an apparent increase in local earthquakes, and a faster rise in sea level.

I've thought for a while that an upswing in frequency and/or severity of earthquakes might be a long-term result of global climate change (The Canadian basaltic shield is still rising after being relieved of the weight of the last glaciation, unless the geologists have changed their minds since I was in college) (I love geology. It is my favorite science.). I wonder if anybody's keeping stats worldwide. 

The good news is, Homo sapiens' success to date is based on adaptation, not prevention.

What cannot be cured must be endured. - Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599)



Our friends at the United States Geological Survey keep track of earthquakes, just like they keep track of volcanoes (and how about Augustine, up there in Alaska?).
Their site also has links to other monitoring sites, both for earthquakes and volcanoes. And they do hydrology, too! Such a deal. We do get our money's worth from them, where the tax dollar thing is concerned.

Also, you can order topographic maps and aerial photos from their site--see the main page for directions to that.
Find the street where you live! Well, yes, you can do that through Google, too, but they were doing it before Google did.

(Disclosure: Although I am not, and have never been, an employee of the USGS, I grew up in a town (Rolla, MO) where they have one of their cartography offices. Which makes for a really cool school tour, let me tell you. Why, yes, I like geology, too. Does it show?)
No, I knew that. I wonder if anybody's keeping public stats on whether they're getting more or less common.
There's a TV show out there now called 'The Shield' (I believe on F/X) that I have not watched, but have heard talked about at length.

The main character is a corrupt cop who often takes justice into his own hands, killing people 'who deserve it' and worse things. He's an antihero, or at least the reviewers have collectively agreed to call him that.

There's another character who's working for Internal Affairs trying to prove that Our Antihero did, in fact, shoot one of his own teammates (who was working for Internal Affairs) in the pilot. Which all the viewers know that, well, he did.

The fanbase is baffled by what to do with this moral quandary. The Antihero is totally in the wrong, by law, but they've got a satisfying emotional relationship with the character, and will go to almost any lengths to excuse his actions. And the IA guy is, well, clearly he'd be the hero if this were a different show.

So some reviewers have started calling him the Anti-Villain. :->

I'm glad of that term, anti-villain. You see that a lot--it's just usually unconscious, where the protagonist behaves badly, nd the author and fans excuse it rather than problematizing it. *g*

My friend Tom calls it the "faster-moving scum" problem. As in, the protagonists are just....
I've thought for a while that an upswing in frequency and/or severity of earthquakes might be a long-term result of global climate change

Define long term. :-)

Yes, there'll be an increase in the number of earthquakes in regions which lose ice cover, like Greenland, as the crust moves back into isostatic equilibrium.

Elsewhere, newly flooded regions would likely experience a relatively short-lived period in which there was an increase in micro-seismicity, as water percolated down to fill cracks and joints in the bedrock (effect has been observed in regiosn where new dams have been built).

So, yes, there would be an increased number of earthquakes happening. I don't know about an increased severity in the earthquakes, though... I need to think about that one.
how about, when you talk about the Antarctic ice shield, major fault lines in the Pacific and Atlantic?
My subconscious had pretty much decided I was going to like this post before I even read it, for the simple reason that you started out by quoting The Lion in Winter. It's on those list of things so brilliantly written that they can put me in a heap on the floor, despairing of ever being half so good.
If I want to hate my ability to write dialogue forever, I put on that and R&G are Dead.
that doing something wrong out of necessity never means pretending you were right to do so.

Yes. A difficult concept to grasp apparently, not only by fiction writers and readers but folks in RL politics as well.

Yeah, what you said.

And that's the complex thing, in a lot of ways. Nice people *don't* shoot Hitler.

But somebody has to...
Here momentarily from somewhere. I was on a Bulletin Board in the middle of the debate about torture that once asked an ex-Navy SEAL what he would do if he KNEW that a suspect knew information about an imminent terrorist attack but the only way to get it out of him was illegal torture. And he said one of the most moral things I've ever heard, something to the effect of, "I'd torture him but completely expect, even happily, to go to jail for it." He'd torture the guy to save lives, but trust enough in our justice system that he'd expect to be punished. In fact, he'd probably feel cheated if he weren't punished, like he had tortured for a country that wasn't living up the ideals for which he tortured in the first place. It blew me away. I think that's what you're talking about.
More or less, my reservations about the actual efficiency of torture for obtaining useful information aside. *g*
Do what you have to do, and fill out the paperwork later. If that includes going to jail, then go to jail. This is the same moral burden as "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" Spying is not right, lying is not moral, getting caught spying means paying a penalty.

If you dont know that in the first place, you are living in a book, not in life.

We will pass over the fact that Nathan Hale may not have said the above.

Perfect morality is not possible to mortal beings. That's the point of religion and having morals and laws and stuff.

Do what you have to and pay the requisite fines later.

All this torture moralizing ignores several relevant realities. Torture doesn't work, terrorists don't use time bombs, some people enjoy torturing people, the cell structure of conspiracies easily prevents agents from havening any usful knowlege, opposing forces often have mutually exclusive moralities, and so on.

But none of that is very "Big D" dramatic, is it? You could read what Ernie Pyle said about the romance of war. Ain't none.