--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)