1. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Morally wrong

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by w176, Aug 16, 2010.

    The stories I like to tell, and what fascinates me is stories of people making chooses that are morally wrong by westerns societies standard today. And not just a little wrong. Really wrong.

    Whatever it is to chose to serve a god that by all means are offensive, to be the abusive part in a relationship, give up free will or to betray someone.

    And neither tell the tale in a way that morally justifies it nor demoniazing the person making that choice. Neither Jake Sully in Avatar betraying humanity after in every way possible showing that was the morally right thing to do nor someone painted as unpleasant in the any other sense then that choice and normal character flaws and psycology.

    In the context of story of the type I described, what would you find interesting to see done, and what would you hate? And what tips and warnings would you give to someone writing something dealing with that sort of question?
     
  2. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    My initial feelings are that the reader must really care about what happens to the wrongdoer, i.e. whether the person is punished or gets away with it. I suppose if you can make the wrongdoer even in a small way sympathetic, the reader may feel they want the best outcome for them. If the antagonist does not deserve any support then it creates an interesting conflict in the mind of the reader. Ever felt bad for secretly wanting the bad guy to win?
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    When dealing with topics of morality, I don't like it when writers comes off as being too preachy. That's pretty much the only thing I hate.
     
  4. Jobeykobra
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    Jobeykobra Member

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    One tip I would give is that if you are writing from their perspective, or sometimes even in third person a la The Delivery Man, keep within the emotions of the wrongdoer. If the morally ambiguous character does not see it as wrong, try to make the writing objective and neutral, as that's the reader's job to decide what's wrong.

    As a writer of transgressive fiction exclusively, all of my characters are messes, whether they're immoral--breaking morals they grew up with--or are completely amoral to begin with, such as psychopaths and serial killers. If you want the reader to gain sympathy for the character, make the character question his or her actions, showing that he/she can tell something is wrong with his/her behavior. If you want to have a character who is everything you see wrong with society or a personality, feel free to make them hated by the reader, as I find this enjoyable to read as well, especially with books like American Psycho and A Clockwork Orange where the characters are pretty much irredeemable madmen. But, you can sympathize even with them as being victims of the society they're rebelling against.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My question to you, in this choice of morality (or lack thereof), is what are you trying to tell us about the moral construct which is being defied/attacked/broken?

    I would assume that using the moral as a focus, you are wishing to tell the reader something about the validity of the moral. N'est-ce pas?
     
  6. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a tough line to walk. You don't wanna get preachy but you don't wanna be too indifferent to something widely considered wrong lest somebody be disgusted.

    I am bad at giving advice. I'm better at doing it in direct conversation. :p In terms of what I would find interesting to see done, how about somebody who kills somebody likable to protect somebody else? There's a lot I'd like to see done though. So again, would probably be better to give advice in a 2-way convo. :p
     
  7. Phlogiston
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    Phlogiston Member

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    One of the big things you will have to examine is which 'modern western' morals are relative to other cultures, and which are objective.

    For example, murder is typically objectively wrong in nearly all societies, so there would be little point breaking that taboo in the story. However, slavery for example is considered wrong now, but in other cultures and other times it was considered perfectly acceptable.

    You could even go a bit stranger. How about a society where ugly people are required to cover themselves from the sight of others?

    It's a difficult line to walk. Ursula Le Guin wrote possibly my favourite short story ever about a mythical culture who's morality was very different to our own in that they saw a very specific case where quite horrific child abuse was acceptable. It's called "The ones who walk away from Omelas". I would heartily recommend it to anyone as one of the most powerful, short pieces of literature around.

    It's also a sound refutation of utilitarianism.
     
  8. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Slavery is still considered acceptable in some societies. Ask an Indian sweatshop worker.

    Murder is deemed to be acceptable in the realm of euthanasia. The law can't reconcile with moral standards because at a basic level, any act (actus reus) to end someone's life, coupled with the intention to end someone's life (mens rea), is technically murder. This is why euthanasia is illegal in most western countries.

    I digress. I wonder what the 'very wrong' deeds are that you want to write about?
     
  9. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I won't term it as 'slavery', but a case of too many people after few available jobs, unless the employees are children (in which case it is illegal under the law here). And it is not limited to the east, western societies are known to have been using illegal migrant workers for economic benefits.
     
  10. RotStern
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    RotStern New Member

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    It would be interesting if the character was in constant worry, they knew what they chose to do was wrong, but they are still compelled to do it, they want to tell somebody but they can't, they try to stop but they can't, and their previous ideas of what is morally wrong is steadily dissolved.
     
  11. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    My interest in telling the tale don't lie in the morale, as such. Rather watching people making hard choices and walking their own way, which get a powerful twist when they make choices that are not written to make everyone cheer with how morally superior these choices are.

    G. R. R. Martin is a writer good at doing these kind of things. We follow his character with wholehearted interest no matter if it the character that do terrible things for the wrong reason or the more heroic types.

    Whatever the values are western specific or not (I do not believe in universal values) as long as protagonist and reader have a hard time interoperating what they do at first.

    A story hired killer for example could be romanized in a story and given rule of cool moral immunity. That is not an interesting story for me.

    Having a hired killer murder people, showing what a hard thing this is psychologically hard and painful to to deal with and still have a character stick to this, to make the choice every single murder is interesting to watch. Making that choice in spite of societies and the values of the reader/writer is even more fun imho.
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    even evil people can be likeable. Hitler had a huge fan base. For me to read this type of story I have to at least find the character sexy or attractive. Think its why Perfume was my worst book ever, stinky frenchmen aren't my thing lol

    I like doing the opposite lol in my current story I have taken the Lord of all Evil character from the first book and made him no longer evil, he is understandable and human.
     
  13. Phlogiston
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    Phlogiston Member

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    Not quite the case. The definition of murder references the 'unlawful' killing of another human being. It's not that the law can't reconcile with moral standards over euthanasia, it is that it refuses to. Also, medical ethics includes example after example of doctors either withholding treatment or administering doses of painkillers which they know to be lethal. Similarly, state execution of prisoners is not counted as murder, a distinction was made for those cases where the intentional taking of a human beings life would be counted as an OK thing to do. I might add that state executions have been banned in most western countries, but not because it is considered murder.

    In short, it is perfectly possible to have someone act in a way that they will knowingly bring about the death of another human being, and it not count as murder.
     
  14. Speedy
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    Speedy Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess you could put the Gunslinger from, The Dark Tower series into this. A man who had one goal. No matter what he had to do, he'd do it to to reach what he was after. Shoot now, think later. Even if it meant killing those who he loved.

    Only thing is, the reader must understand at some level, why the character is like that and what he is drawing it from, otherwise the reader is left alienated.
     
  15. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    Morality is subjective, personal. Often there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice – that is why its called a dilemma…and that’s why it’s intriguing. Humans are driven to find adequate solutions, but sometimes there are none – that boils our blood.

    Would you save the life of your 40 year old lover over the life of a child?

    - excellent post Phlogiston
     
  16. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's an interesting point you make but I think you're coming at it from an angle that's too simplistic. If it is perfectly possible to have someone end someone's life and it not be murder, how is that actually done? More to the point, how is that regulated? Doctors administering lethal doses and withholding treatment are two entirely separate matters for the law. A lethal dose is murder. Withholding treatment is not. It might seem pedantic when the result is the same but the law has to deal in absolutes. Letting someone die is not the same as taking active steps to kill them. This is part of the problem.

    Not all taking of life that is unlawful is murder. Take for example, culpable homicide. In Scots Law this is death caused by gross recklessness. What it lacks is the intention to cause death and therefore it doesn't fulfil the definition of murder.

    It's not enough to say 'unlawful' killing is the definition of murder. You have to define what constitutes 'unlawful' because there is a broad spectrum. In Scots Law, murder is the presence of an act or omission together with the intention to end someone's life.

    Euthanasia/assisted suicide falls into this category. The only difference between true murder and euthanasia is that in cases of assisted suicide, there is presumed to be a lack of 'wicked intent'. However, I don't see how establishing wicked intent would be possible in a case where someone close to the disabled/terminally ill person purports their wish to die. It is too easy to cloak a motivation as being 'compassionate'. Can you see why it's not so simple?


    In terms of defining a law on mercy killing and assisted suicide that is separate from murder, it is an absolute nightmare. The reason we are where we're at isn't due to a lack of will to solve the problem. I studied this very topic for my dissertation at university and my Professor showed this is, legally, a technical quagmire. That's why I said the law can't reconcile with the moral standards of our society. Everyone would agree that someone who wants to end their life should be able to. However, if someone else has to administer a lethal injection or withhold treatment, it brings in a whole host of issues. With the ageing baby boomers and their increasing strain on the public coffers, it isn't going to be easy to forumulate euthanasia law that isn't open to widespread abuse. There are no easy answers.

    (Just as an afterthough, capital punishment is the State murdering prisoners. There is no other way to see it. That's why people are so against it. Just because it is the State doesn't make something other than murder).
     
  17. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    What I'd find interesting is to get from the story the consequences of his morally wrong choice in a way I can believe as real. The easier way would of course be to describe what the author considers to be the real consequences; in which case, I'd like the the story base on the author's skill in doing that.

    What I'd hate is everything else. i.e.:
    - Forcefully presenting unrealistic consequences for any reason. e.g.: to somehow justify the behaviour or to reach a "happy ending".
    - Not being able as an author of imagining the real consequences of such actions.


    Tips and warnings:
    - Don't write about what you don't know unless it's impossible to find help from someone who does know.
    - Don't lie to your readers. They're not much worse than you imagining consequences.
    - Don't expect all people to be scandalized or afraid of what you call immoral acts. I have done things that I think would make some people want me put down and I'm pretty sure there's other people in this forum that have done things I'd ask for their heads for.
     
  18. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yea. Shock effect might give you a few paragrafs of fun but then it runs out and people isnt that impressed by Jack in the box morally popping up. Building a story around it would just make a bad story.
     
  19. ojduffelworth
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    If it is perfectly possible to have someone end someone's life and it not be murder, how is that actually done? More to the point, how is that regulated?
    The doing (killing) is simple, the regulating is not.

    the law can't reconcile with the moral standards of our society.
    There are no easy answers.

    I agree with both statements. Laws deals with absolutes, morality is not an absolute, so the two are incompatible - either you compromise the law, or you compromise morality.

    Just as an afterthough, capital punishment is the State murdering prisoners. There is no other way to see it. That's why people are so against it.
    Which people? Not me…so what if it is the state murdering prisoners? On whose authority do you claim that that is always wrong?
     
  20. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never said it is always wrong, I said it is murder. A lot of people disagree with State sanctioned murder. I'm aware people agree with it too.
     
  21. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    w176, at first I thought you were talking about people who adhered to the moral standards of their own society, when they happen to be very different from ours.

    A classic example is the icelandic tale where a group of men sneak away with someone's possessions, but quickly start to feel guilty about it. So they go back and burn down their victim's house and kill everyone in it, so they can die honourably instead of living with the shame of being tricked.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's not overly simplistic. In fact, Phlogiston is absolutely correct.

    For example: if someone breaks into your house and brandishes a gun at you, and you shoot that person and kill them, it is not murder. It is a lawful killing. Self-defense. Depending on state law in the U.S. (Castle doctrine) the mere fact that they've broken in may be enough.

    If you defend yourself on the street and kill someone, as long as your use of force was proportionate and objectively reasonable, it is not murder.

    If a cop comes upon the scene of a shooting and kills the gunman, it is not murder.

    Executions are legal, and therefore are not murder (assuming you're in a jurisdiction where they are legal).

    Likewise if euthanasia were legal it would not be murder because by definition it is not an unlawful killing.

    It is overly simplistic (and false) to say that the intention and act to take a life is always murder. This is simply not the case.
     
  23. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Steerpike you didn't understand my post. Maybe I'm not making myself clear enough, it is extremely difficult to legislate to legalise an act which meets the strict definition of murder. Even more so in the context of hospitals, end of life decisions and vulnerable people.
     
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That may be, Peerie. I'm just supporting the previous post that said murder, by definition, has to be an unlawful killing. Specifically, you asked how it was possible to end someone's life without it being murder, so I provided some examples :)
     
  25. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Self defence and provocation reduces murder to culpable homicide(manslaughter) in recognition of the fact that there was no premeditation. Mitigating factors lessen the sentence and the 'label' but it is still murder under a different name. In practice, thre are degrees of murder, as opposed to lawful killing or unlawful killing.

    There is a risk of watering down the seriousness of taking someone's life. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

    In Scots Law, there is no lawful killing of intruders, State Execution of prisoners etc. I think in the US there is far too much complacency about these matters. This is probably partly why we are disagreeing.
     

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