Saturday, March 28, 2015

Law v Morality And The Conflicts Thereof

Laws do not define the behavior patterns of a society. They reflect the behavior patterns of a society. This, to me, is blatantly self-evident. A majority of the people are already acting in a particular way. A smaller portion is refusing to comply with the majority's defined standards of 'appropriate' behavior. So a law is enacted that gives the majority the official power to smack the minority into line and make them march to the tune of the proper drummer. If/when the minority becomes the majority, the law either becomes unenforceable and ignored, or it gets repealed. I don't understand, I guess I will never understand, why so many people get enraged when this idea is presented.

My male protagonist, Peteros, is trying to change the behavior patterns of his society. As a prince, and a member of a dynasty that has ruled long enough to be regarded with awe, he has a lot of influence. But there are limits. There are also differences in the behavior patterns between the classes of a rather clearly stratified power structure. He's running into trouble.

So how do I present this in a realistic and reasonable way? I am looking at our world and trying to find situations that I can adapt. There are a lot of prime examples here in the US. I don't even need to get into the politically provocative ones like gun control, or abortion, or drug Prohibition. There's a long list of minor laws that illustrate this. I don't need to find something in our world that causes major upheaval. I am looking for insight into the way people in groups think and react under circumstances like that.

One example is the highway speed limit. Originally it was set at 55 mph. It wasn't a bad idea, in theory. Most cars and trucks really do get better gas mileage around that speed. But people didn't like it so they ignored it. For a while it was a windfall as the local police made out like bandits writing speeding tickets. But it soon became a running joke everywhere across the country. Especially in places where towns might be scattered 50 to 100 miles apart. Eventually the cops stopped paying much attention once their ticket quota was full, unless someone was driving recklessly. Then the speed limit was raised to 65 mph, and then in some places even higher. The law had become effectively irrelevant because the behavior patterns of the majority had rendered it null and void.

The nifty idea of switching the US over to the international metric system was another case. For a few (brief) years road signs started displaying speed limits and distances in both miles and kilometers. Whereupon, as Dave Barry pointed out, the American people promptly shot them full of holes. The law was allowed to die of neglect.

The majority had an established behavior pattern. The government attempted to change the behavior patterns of the majority by decree. It didn't work. I have spoken to immigrants from China and Viet Nam. They tell me that even under oppression, people merely render lip service to the almighty state, then go back to doing whatever the hell they want, They just make sure not to get caught.

This also ties into the principle of jury nullification. Although in my kingdom trials are not conducted by juries, so this doesn't specifically apply. But in practical terms, if whoever is in charge of a trial, be it a jury, or a judge, or a magistrate, or a prince, decides to find the accused innocent then that's all of it. It doesn't matter whether they did it or not, if they don't get punished the law has no teeth and is irrelevant.

One more complication for Peteros is that what he is trying to do, while it complies with established civil law, is in direct defiance of religious doctrine. This does tie in with current controversies about abortion, and marriage rights, and posting the ten commandments in schools and courthouses, and prayers before legislative sessions, etc.

The difference is that the people of Kulhn are members of a society that is just coming out of the medieval period. They, like people in many places in our world, believe in their gods with all of their hearts and trust their priests and priestess to be the living mouthpieces of the dieties. To them, their religion is not a theoretical matter for debate. It is Truth to live by. To defy the will of the gods is functionally equivalent stabbing yourself in the guts. So it's going to get ugly.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sleep Deprivation

I noticed that my last post used the old, obsolete title when citing my latest book. That's what I get for trying to function on three hours of sleep and four pots of coffee.

The title is "Recompense". If I refer to it by another name again, just assume that I haven't taken my medication.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Human Psychology

My two primary beta readers for "Recompense" (corrected)  are moving with glacial slowness. Understandable, given that they both have lives and kids to care for. The only solid feedback I have gotten so far is that I need to trim some fat. Um... yeah. I figured that.

My main concern with this one is the villain(s). The reason I waver on single or plural is tied into the concern. Many of my antagonists are sympathetic characters in their own right. Or I think they are. They are doing reprehensible things, sometimes for reasons that most people here and now would find unacceptable. But they are not really evil. Well, one of them is. Ok, two. But even with those two, one of them is less evil, and more amoral. Like a cat. He's just out to survive and devil take the hindmost. Kinda like a U.S. Senator.

To me it's self-evident that nobody is bad or wrong in their own eyes. If they thought they were doing bad things, they wouldn't do them. At least in most cases, again excepting politicians.

The challenge I face, that every fantasy writer faces, is to craft a world with an internally consistent ethical system that is similar enough to our own to be comprehensible. Yet, it also has to leave room for behavior patterns that would get someone either arrested or shot in a heartbeat here and now. Slavery, summary execution by the nobility, religious persecution. Even things like officially sanctioned torture, which still happens under our current system, has to be presented in terms that make it seem different enough to belong in another culture.

The overriding theme of "Recompense" is a conflict between established power structures, who will go to any ruthless extreme to hold power, and an uprising by a long oppressed group who are equally willing to do anything, absolutely anything at all, to gain the revenge that they call justice. But neither group see themselves as evil, and both groups see their enemy as the distilled essence of darkness.

My individual antagonists are ruthless, but so are my protagonists. They are simply ruthless in different ways, with different lines that they won't even consider crossing. The target is to write a villain so real that when he/she goes down, the reader feels triumphant but with a tinge of sympathetic regret. Riding a unicycle across a tightrope might be easier.