Thursday, March 22, 2007

And out comes the old soapbox…..

DebR was chatting about her disappointment in one of Stephen King’s books recently, and said her one rule is that there must at least be a glimmer of hope in the ending. I fully agree with this, it doesn’t have to be a mushy ‘happily ever after’ thing, but I hate ploughing through 400 odd pages, just to be left feeling flat at the end, as if the whole thing was pointless.

I just finished reading an old Wilbur Smith novel, written in 1991 (Elephant Song). It was one of Smith’s usual rollicking adventure stories, set predominantly in Africa, and dealing (with a great deal of perception and insight) with the issues particular to this tortured continent. I enjoyed that aspect of it.

His main character is a larger than life hero, there is also a heroine whose path happens to cross the hero’s at some point, and there is the usual selection of unremittingly horrible baddies. By the end of the book, he had tied up all his loose ends, hero and heroine were alive and in love, pristine country was saved from the ravages of greedy oppressors and exploiters, and all the baddies had met with particularly gruesome deaths.

The odd thing is that, despite all that, I felt I was left high and dry at the end. The worst of the baddies is killed by the hero, and after the lurid description, that is it, end of book, and I sat there reeling from the grossness of the final scene. I almost got the impression he got bored writing this book, and so, having tied up the final loose end, couldn’t wait to put down his pen (metaphorically speaking, it sounds better than “left his keyboard”!)

I was stewing about why I was left feeling this way, and concluded that it has to do with the following:

I have commented here in the past that I seldom enjoy books or movies with 2 dimensional characters, because we all have the capacity for both good and evil to some degree. What got me thinking with this book was that, while the baddies were uniformly evil with no discernable redeeming features, I personally found the so called hero of the piece almost as bad, because I just could not buy in to the motives for some of his actions.

All the nastiness committed came down to 2 things, greed and revenge. The greed of the baddies was, naturally portrayed as inexcusable, while the revenge undertaken by the hero was portrayed as somehow noble… ‘Don’t worry, Johnny, I will avenge your horrible murder’….. and off he went to commit some rather nasty murders himself.

Clouding the issue further was the whole justification that, while in peace time certain acts are not in any way acceptable, it seems that, as soon as a state of war exists (declared or undeclared) it suddenly becomes heroic to perform the same bestial acts in the name of patriotism.

I just can’t buy into this reasoning. I don’t think that sadistic or murderous acts, whether for the nation in a state of war, or for personal revenge, are any more acceptable than cold blooded murder.

The thing about revenge is, whilst it sounds all heroic and noble, it simply perpetuates the evil ad infinitum.….
…You don’t like what I stand for, I don’t like you OR what you stand for, you protest with the odd petrol bomb, I send in a unit or two of my armed forces, you smash a plane into my building, I invade your country, (And I hope I can fool the world into thinking that all this was purely based on “noble” revenge, because the fact is that you also have so much of a commodity I really need….) you kill a bunch of my soldiers, I publicly execute your leader, you……

And so it goes, round and round and bigger and bigger. So tell me, is “greed masquerading as revenge” any better as a motive for killing than Religious fervour or just plain bigotry and hatred? Bottom line, everyone who commits this kind of thing is just as culpable as anyone else. Evil is evil, however it is rationalised or dressed up.

I have done a lot of reading lately about the opening of this continent, the early explorers, the colonial era, the slave trade, the wars, genocides etc.
From the perspective of the explorers, those who lived here when they arrived were uncivilised barbarians, capable of unbelievable savagery. Then you start reading about the acts committed for ‘king and country’ while the lands were being colonised, and you have to notice that the veneer of civilisation on the part of the colonists was extremely thin. No matter how they rationalised it, they committed atrocities equal to any the ‘savages’ lived by. (They just had tea and cucumber sandwiches afterwards, and built a few roads and railways, which made it all so civilised, you see!!)

If violence and killing were made unacceptable, no matter what the motive, so much of the ugliness that takes place on this planet would evaporate.
I realise this is all wishful and pointless speculation, because there are so many vested interests in keeping the world in a state of war that it is never going to end. The theatre may move around and different surgeons may be involved, but the operations will continue!

The bottom line is that human beings are all, (yup you, me, the sweet old lady down the road) ALL capable of some degree of ugliness when provoked enough. I have been shocked at the inner rage and desire for revenge I have grappled with since having a few personal experiences with violent crime recently. I find myself wishing all sorts of nastiness on the perpetrators, and then thinking ‘who are you and what have you done with good old easy-going pacifist Sue?’ Even though my veneer of civilisation is thick enough to prevent me from acting on the thoughts, I have been shocked that they are even there at all!

I guess the best we can do, on a personal level, is to examine our motives and actions, and choose NOT to embark on any form of vengeance, no matter how tiny or petty (I don’t think any of us are likely to commit a revenge murder anytime soon, but even hurting someone with a few well chosen words is a form of revenge…) And we can refuse to condone it or applaud it as noble when the politicians try and sugar coat it and sell it to us.

OK, the soap box has been kicked back under the bed…

More Spring Tide madness...

look at the height of these waves above the main freeway leading into town! Glad we were on the other side of the road!
Daily Pix:

Bonus pics:
Even ugly old powerlines take on some magic when bathed in orange light.
I love sisal flowers...
OK, that’s it for today, Cheers


Sheila said...

I agree with you whole hearterdly. I refuse to see a film where the plot revolves around mayhem and destruction, no matter how popular the actor in it. There is far too much of this in the real world, without accepting it as entertainment.
As for the days when people colonized new territories, you are right there too. There was and still is the prevailing attitude the 'we' know better.'We' know what is good for them.
Recently while on vacation we passed one of the first slave markets in that country, now a museum. As we walked by, and could hear the guide giving her group all the details, I noticed a black couple, hand in hand, standing to one side. I cannot begin to imagine what was going through their heads, or the emotions they were experiencing.
I'll put my soapbox away too now.

Thank you for the lovely photos. Even the bleakest landscape can be enhanced by a setting sun..!

RUTH said...

Really interesting soap box post and Sheilas comment too.

Deb R said...

I agree. My favorite stories (books, movies, whatever) are the ones where both the so-called good guys and bad guys are multi-dimensional. Y'know, no matter how awful something seems to us, the person doing that thing probably believes they have a good reason for doing it (even if that "reason" is the voices in their head telling them to!). I think it's rare for people to think they're the "bad guy" as they're living the experience. Others judge that later. I like books to reflect that.

Shirley Goodwin said...

I also agree. We all have a dark side and should acknowledge this. I have also been horrified at the actions of the so-called "good guys" who colonised the likes of Australia and New Zealand, after their portrayal when I was a child as practically heroes.

Love those big waves - if I'm a long way away!

RUTH said...

You were asking about Daylight saving in your comment on my blog; bit longwinded to explain and I'm sure it's different in other countries but heres a link that may help re the UK

Suzy said...

Keep the soapbox out, Sue. You know how I feel about soapboxes!

I just began reading a book that dovetails with your post. Nonviolence:Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky.

First interesting tidbit: There is no word in any major language for the concept of nonviolence, except for words that simply negate violence.

And for the record, I love old gravestones and would gladly have gone on that early morning walk. Beautiful pictures!