This week, I’m thrilled to host author M Cid D’Angelo. The author of the ARTEMUS DARK series has graciously agreed to stop by today and talk about the issue of the moral compass in writing. Enjoy!
The Moral Compass in Writing
“Morality is a hindrance. We limit ourselves because of our perception of social norms, of believing in fair play. The greatest magicians are those who are willing to accept the consequences of their actions. They do not believe in accidents, in randomness. They believe that they are forever at the center of their existence, in control of their fate.” The Red Queen, ENCHANTRESS ON THE EDGE (M Cid D’Angelo)
It was Machiavelli who illustrated well the philosophy of unreserved action without troubling oneself over consequences. He argued that the Prince should show no mercy when applying his will; that he should accept everything that he does and desire as so long as the Prince understands and accepts the consequences of his actions.
In this argument, morality is abstract; it is but a quaint invention of human society. Nature is cruel, but not cruel by intention if by design. Social animals and insects rarely thrust their individual needs before the group; their instincts hardwired into their behavior for the good of the hive, pride, what-have-you. These social structures in nature become one unit, acting at the will of what that society deems necessary to survive.
Human beings are individualistic social animals. We perceive ourselves with self-identity, yet, we also desire the survival tactic of being stronger en masse. The self-identity then becomes a random factor in what would be a true communistic society if everyone shared the same ideals and goals. We have those who show a great deal of altruism instead of selfish pursuits; we have humanitarians and murderers.
In Dr. Joshua D. Greene‘s essay, “Fruit Flies of the Moral Mind”, the philosopher proposes several well-known scenarios to illustrate the moral dilemma that human beings can face from day-to-day, offering altruistic or utilitarian choices.
The Crying Baby Dilemma
You have an infant in your arms while with a group of people. There are enemy soldiers nearby looking for your group. If they find you all, they will kill you. Suddenly, the infant begins crying, so you place a hand over its mouth. You then are faced with a moral problem: if you keep holding your hand over the baby’s mouth, you will end up suffocating it; if you do not, the infant’s cries will alert the soldiers and they will end up killing you all. What do you choose to do? Kill your baby, or face the wrath of the soldiers?
The Switch Dilemma
There is a group of people near a railroad track. At that moment, a train loses control and will jump the track and kill everyone unless the far switch is activated. However, there is no time to hurry over to switch it. The only recourse is to push an unsuspecting fellow into the switch as hard as you can, throwing him into the train’s path and killing him. The upside? You save the many people across the track. The downside? The man you push dies. What is the best option? The life of one for the life of others? Or is the choice of murdering the unsuspecting fellow too much for you to take on – at least if the group of people die, it was not at your hand?
In my Artemus Dark novel, Dark Running, one of the hero’s adversaries is a cold, calculating fellow who will stop at nothing to gain his objectives. He has no social moral compass, but he does possess the capacity for social efficiency, i.e., he does not kill or hinder anyone just for the sake of causing harm. This moral question is brought up again in my other novels, Darkness Becomes You and Enchantress on the Edge. In both we have “villains” who understand the need for social norms and morals for the group to survive, but, individualistically, they are quick to take the road of self-interest in furthering their own goals.
The moral compass of a character in a story, even beyond the dilemmas of the hero/heroine, creates a vortex of inner strurggle and turmoil. Are we altogether altruistic by nature, or just a society of individuals bounded by our own self-interest? After all, we live our lives subjectively. No one travels our same road. Whether we live for others or live for ourselves, we all reach the final fate.