morality

Monday Musings: No More Heroes? a.k.a. I Saw Batman v Superman …

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The image above is from Kingdom Come, one of the best DC Comics graphic novels out there, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.  It’s a tale that covers both the best and worst, the highest and lowest concepts of the superhero, both as savior and destroyer.  It was written and drawn by people who obviously understood the characters that move the plot and also have a deep respect for what these characters, our modern gods and heroes, mean and represent.

The alien immigrant who uses his uniqueness to make his adopted home a better place (a concept so incredibly American it hurts in today’s quagmire of xenophobia and idiocy) … a man who, through grit, determination, and skill, can manage to stand among gods (again, that spirit of determination and hope that we can all better ourselves) … a warrior who uses her strength not for conquest, but for peace (again, a paradox that is oh-s0 American, yet strangely compelling).  Above all, these archetypes, this Trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are bound by the principle extolled in the panel above.  Though they might not always be successful, these heroes, these paragons, always try to find another way, a way to succeed that doesn’t cost in the lives of others, no matter whose lives they may be.

Before I move on, from here on out, there will be spoilers for the recently released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  If you read further, you have been warned!

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Monday Musings: You Give, You Get a.k.a. Totally Karma, Dude

A short one today, folks, as the weather hanging over the household has my sinuses in a strangle hold, but I still wanted to say a little bit about effort, karma, and rewards.

I guess to me it’s pretty simple and something backed up so far by my near-forty years on the planet.  Effort plus moral choices equals payoff.  Maybe not immediately and maybe not for sometime, but it does eventually come back to you.  Effort plus rat-bastardom almost always has swifter payouts but always comes out in the end.  Laziness, well, laziness just goes nowhere.

The biggest problem with karma for we mortal beings, hampered by aging and death, is the time for that karmic payoff.  Sometimes our proper reward doesn’t come until far after our ability to enjoy it due to age.  Sometimes it doesn’t come in our lifetime period.  Sometimes it may not come to pass in our children’s lifetimes.  That fact alone makes the hard choices that much harder.  Giving into that desire for the easier, quicker reward is a terribly seductive prospect.

I guess the way I try to stay on course is not to focus on the big, end-game reward, but to look for the small kindnesses among the way.  Even if you wind up the loser because of your morality, there is almost always some kindness, some positivity generated by your good actions despite the cost.  That’s what I look for and that’s what sustains me until karma provides.

Keep tuned later this week for your usual writing articles, book reviews, and author interviews!  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Monday Musings: Sometimes It’s Right, Sometimes It’s Wrong a.k.a. The Importance of Context

Today’s Musings are going to hopefully be short and sweet.  Of course, by stint of that statement, I’m probably going to ramble.  Either way, today I found myself thinking about how much the context of a situation matters.  In many cases, the rightness or wrongness of an action can be determined solely by the context and other situational facts surrounding said action.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t absolutes out there.  I truly believe some things are wrong at their core.  There may be mitigating circumstances to interject some white into the black, but never enough to completely wash it away.  However, these things are surprisingly rare when it comes to the day-to-day existence of the average person.  Most moral issues we run into over our normal lives find their resolution in the context.

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Monday Musings: Totally X-TREME! … Or Not a.k.a. The Good and Bad of Extremes

So I wound up thinking about the American political climate lately.  Yes, I know this is a bad idea, one only destined to give me ulcers and headaches, but it did lead me to muse about the nature of extreme thoughts and beliefs.  Without that, I wouldn’t have a Monday article for you, so I suppose it worked out in the end, eh?

“The truth often lies somewhere in the middle.”  It’s a not-uncommon saying to hear, is it?  It speaks both of the fact that often the truth between two people’s sides of an event lie somewhere in the middle and it also can be applied to any ideological dispute between two extremists.  Often the best way to deal with a situation isn’t the one touted by either extreme of an argument, but lies somewhere in the middle.  It’s the classic case for compromise that many people like to think they hold to heart.

It’s a good saying, one I too like to say.  But there’s one part of that saying that a lot of people tend to ignore, and that’s the ‘often’ part.  Like many rules or sayings, it isn’t an absolute one.  Let’s take an obvious, extreme example.  One side argues that human slavery is fine and healthy for the country, while the opposite side argues that humans should be free.  Both of those sides are extremes, diametrically opposed groups.  Obviously, the answer isn’t ‘somewhere in the middle’ there.

The trick, then, comes down into finding those times when compromise isn’t called for.  The times when taking a stand on the extreme side of an issue is the correct and moral path to take.  This gets even more complicated when you look at the tangle of ideologies, belief systems, and the like that surround human culture.  When and where should draw your line in the sand?

I wish I could give each and every one of you reading an answer.  All I can say is that my personal belief is that freedom, equality, and happiness are my personal watchwords.  Whatever yours are, just remember to try to be receptive to compromise, but never be shy from planting your feet to protect your principles.

What do you think?  Where are your lines in the sand?  Are there really things on which we should not budge or is compromise truly the ultimate watchword?  Talk about in the comments below!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Morality and Motivation: Balancing ethical choices and realistic motivations

I write in fictional genres that classically lend themselves to a very old school ‘black vs. white’ mentality.  The truth is, though, that is boring and unrealistic.  It’s not that I don’t see morality and ethics as realistic, it is simply that the human mind doesn’t usually work in absolutes.  Even people we would consider to be saintly are not pure white in motivation and action and even the most vicious murderer is often found to have strangely positive points in their personality.  The human psyche is far too complex for such absolute moral stances.

In fact, it could be argued that the best conflicts in any piece, no matter how action-packed, comes from the inner turmoil of a good person faced with decisions with no clear positive outcome.  The classic ‘choosing the lesser of two evils’ situation can not only make for great drama, but tell more about a character’s mental state and moral compass than pages of ‘telling’ and pontificating.  The key, I would say, is to make sure such choice points themselves are not contrived or unrealistic.  If it all happens in the flow of the story, it will make for a dramatic and defining character moment.

At the end of the day, it’s the oft-repeated advice to make every hero have flaws and to make every villain have positive points.  I think the truth is a bit more nuanced though.  I think it could be valid to have a character that truly is so evil as to be irredeemable, but there must be a process to make a person that way.  That process has to come out, and in that process you can make a, for instance, heartless serial killer with no good qualities be shown to have once had them.  To show how that morality was purged by a spiraling series of no-win choices, the influence of other darker figures, and/or the occasional whim of fate could also be a fascinating addition to the story.  Much like you can show a protagonist’s rise through dramatic struggle, you can show the moral fall of an antagonist in the same way.

Maybe what I’m ultimately pontificating about is the simple act of not making characters faceless cutouts representing the archetype you need to fulfill your plot.  Archetypes aren’t by their nature bad; in fact, they represent vital tools in the writer’s bag.  It is the blank archetypes that can weaken an otherwise fantastic tale until it crumbles, unable to be supported by a base of cardboard cutouts.  Remember, for most types of stories, the characters create and support the plot, not the other way around.