Justification, or, Flush These Notes Out of My System Before They Wreck a Novel!
“Some guy at the bus stop disrespected me, so I blew his head off.” I could load this post up with a thousand examples, but let’s make it short and let that one serve.
I’ve been struck by the appalling notion that from the beginning of time people have come up with reasons for anything they take into their heads to do. Anything can be justified, articulately or not, in terms of logic, need, or desire. Let your mind wander over the hundreds of thousands of justifications you’ve used and which you’ve encountered. Innocent excuses for trivial daily impulses up through monstrous, utterly insane rationalizations for the worst possible horrors.
Justification implies deceit, betrayal, power hunger, control, manipulation, self-delusion. Is it built upon fear, fear which seems to demand some “reasonable drastic action”? Or do people zone out into a temporary psychopath mode in order to get things done without resorting to consulting a conscience? I have a feeling we have few true genuine psychopaths and that fear must be the prime motivator.
Why would we feel a need to “rationally justify” every action to ourselves, to an audience of one, or to the world in general? Yet somehow it seems natural to want to do so–either before the fact, after it, or both. It’s as if some inner lawyer comes to the fore to offer up a self-defined “law” that will, with its impeccable logic, convince others of the righteousness of the action in question. Even if someone decides to offer no explanation except “I felt like it,” or “I enjoy offing people,” that becomes a simplified legalistic assertion of a right.
Does positive, non-manipulative action require such justification? It seems not to. An explanation may be given, but the tone is one of creative urge rather than self-serving excuses:
“We need to build a regional airport here …”
“We could establish orbiting colonies at these Lagrange points …”
“I want to write a novel about…”
Even if some manipulators signed onto the airport project and were satisfied with their own reasons for plundering what they could out of it, the overall thrust of creation behind such a venture doesn’t seem to require justification. Maybe a lot of technical, financial, and political planning, but not self-serving, fear-loaded excuses.
In addition to just boggling at this justification concept, I’m looking at it as a way to assist in looking at characters and their motivations. In a novel somehow all this self-serving paranoia becomes “understandable.”
I don’t know–is there ever a way out of fooling ourselves? What if we meditate long enough?
Again–flushing some notes out of my system before they wind up marring some novel! A decent number of such ideas are rattling around for future posts. You don’t want your hero standing up at a cocktail party declaiming this sort of stuff!
Copyright 2014 by Michael D. Smith
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