I was thinking I should start putting some of the philosophical, sociological and moral issues I tend to think about, and possibly how they impact on my books in here.
It’ll probably make for boring reading.
One of the more difficult lessons I had to get my head around, growing up, was the concept that victims aren’t necessarily good. Or nice.
They’re just victims (or underdogs, or choose your word.).
I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, and had would have been considered a very (and I use this next word knowing it means different things in different places. It’s been usurped to mean anything but what it did, once) liberal education (not the Neo-liberal statist stuff that seems to get called ‘Liberal’ in the US now), with parents who didn’t support the system… and the contact I had with the underdogs in this system… as a result tended to be rather nice people, often bright and suffering from the discrimination that they were subject to. Then I left my fairly sheltered school environment and went to work and the army. Work – where I was a clerk on the railway, filling in the few months before the army… taught me that a lot of my fellow ‘white’ South Africans were a lot stupider than I’d realized, and lot more unpleasant. Not all of them, true. A few had been trapped in the need to earn a living, and a relatively easy road to nowhere. The army – I was conscripted into the medical corps, which was considered one of the ‘elite’ postings, as everyone had year 12/matric and we had a lot of graduates too, actually probably reinforced the victim=good person stereotype, although I did start to realize that people I liked weren’t necessarily good, and ones I couldn’t stand or agree with, could be. University did little to change the idea that somehow all the 35 million (at that stage) people of other designated racial origins besides European, were decent blokes I’d like, who had merely been deprived of opportunity, or they’d be just like me. Yep. I was very idealistic. Still am, I suppose, but I had real rose tinted glasses and blinkers then. I had however got the idea, firmly, that most of those ‘Europeans’ were as varied a crop as possible, good, bad, hardworking, lazy, illogical, moral, perverted etc… and all possible mixtures of that. That a certain percentage – probably around 20%, could and would do great things given the opportunity. That about another 30% could improve their lot slightly with some input, and that 30% wouldn’t sink into barbarism with a gradually increasing amount of effort. And 20% were stupid/so set in their ways / so despising of anything better or even different that all the opportunity (and there was a fair bit for ‘white’ South Africans, back then. They had every possibility with a little effort, except a long term future) all efforts for them were a complete waste.
It took getting out to work in rural Africa on a fish-farm near Hoedspruit in the then Eastern Transvaal (a place, where, IMO if they need to give world an enema, would the right place to put the pipe) to finally get me to see things in a different light(yep, more idealism. We were going to produce affordable good quality protein for less well off people. And at the same time make a living, provide work in a depressed area etc. The owner of the place was probably more idealistic than I was, and gifted with much more money. Compared to any other farm in the district the effort and money that went into staff and housing and support was enormous. The difference between my wage, as the manager, and the senior workers by the time you threw in all the perks was about 25%. Lord, we were trying so hard…)
I’ve never been suited to being an overseer who sat in the shade and occasionally came and had a yell. So I got in with them and worked myself to exhaustion every day, doing the work of 3 men, and 10 of my ‘workers’.
I expected them to respect this, to follow my lead. It had worked in the army. Worked at sea…
They hated my guts. I loved what I was doing, believed in it. I loved fish, and working. I thought it was a great opportunity… They didn’t. Anyway, that’s another story, another life-lesson.
I was there for two years, working next to them, going into their compound and being immersed in the situation. They adapted to me and I to them. I can’t claim I won them over, but they did teach me something enormously valuable. The region was pretty much a sink area, with most black men who had any get-up-and-go… having got up and went, so that did skew things a bit. But I did come realize I had been completely wrong. Victim-of-Apartheid did NOT necessarily equal ‘good guy’. In fact, if a miracle had changed the skin color of the workers on farm and put them in another world where they had precisely the same advantages and opportunities as every other person… if there been a dole, 50 % of them would have been on it, and continued to beat the crap out of their wives, pissing most of the money against the wall and being their charming selves. If there wasn’t, they’d have been manual laborers doing as little as possible no matter what the reward was, and still beating the crap out of their wives for late suppers or whatever. They were the bogans or rednecks or whatever your local term is for it, too stupid, hidebound, despising of anything but their own way to ever change. And seeing as they were the dominant group, they tended to break down anything any of the others tried to do. As victims, they were more than happy to victimize others. Seemed to enjoy it in fact. Far from using their position of relative privilege to build others up, they used to exploit the surrounding workers on other farms, the women who gravitated to the money and better living conditions the farm provided and tried to maintain, despite them. The other 50%, well, about 40% of them did improve their lot slightly, although it was dragged down by the PTB in that community. Given the miracle transfer, some of them would have ended up in lower middle-class employments (remember this was a sink area). They were decent enough people, just somewhat trapped by circumstances. They weren’t lost rocket scientists, but a few might have been foremen or happy as in charge of the meat section of the local supermarket. They didn’t have any realistic aspirations (yes they wanted to live like Americans on TV.) And the other 10%… were really victims, who given that new world with decent opportunity and no discrimination… would have done well. One had managed to teach himself basic electronics and made a fair bit extra fixing radios and minor electrical goods – with 4 years of not very great education – what he could have done with a good education!? Another few would have at least managed some kind of degree at University. I learned focus what I could do on the top 50%, and use the top 10 of that to help them, and me. And I learned, oddly, that victims are actually no different to anyone else. They’re just as human, just as likeable, just as obnoxious. And in many cases they treat other victims just as badly. Roughly the same proportions would do the same things – some of which are pretty vile. Sometimes of course the circumstances of their victimhood so color everything that it becomes central, and sometimes an aspect of what has been done stops them being like everyone else. A man who has never learned to read, or is too poor to even afford a place to sleep cannot download internet porn, because he can’t use a computer – so in that way those in that position would not be as likely to do this as the average human. But given the opportunity and taught… they still average the same. But that far from common or spread right across the entire spectrum of day-to-day life. Yes, if you’re beaten and starved and raped it can warp you totally… but it appears that even that doesn’t have to.
I’ve used this several books and stories. Notably my villain in CRAWLSPACE (which for some reason isn’t available on Amazon. I’ve asked Eric and have as yet, no reply) Laggy, Laguna is a former slave = victim… but as the story reveals that hasn’t instantly made him a nice guy. It’s also something I try to handle as the moral ambivalence and good in this respect, complete prick in that that I used in A MANKIND WITCH – where my hero starts anyway as a victim, who is also complete son-of-a-bitch… with a side that gradually circumstances and his reaction to the heroine bring out. He’ll always be something of a SOB. But hopefully his good side outweighs it.