This is one of my rare posts that applies to both writing and real life (that boring thing.)
I’ve always mentored people, since I was young enough in the craft that I frankly had no business doing it. But in this as in other crafts I attempt there is ALWAYS someone less clued than I whom I can lead in the rightish direction. (Early on this was often a case of the blind leading the blind. Weirdly, though it can do much harm, it can also do some good. In writing, to quote Heinlein, Too much alone isn’t good – probably because writing is a communication thing. And yes, the heartless individualist has always mentored people. I fail at heartless, sorry.)
About five to ten years ago, I started noticing a disturbing trend. Every fledgeling I had who was younger than, oh, thirty, didn’t understand the difference between victimhood and goodness.
If someone was being kicked around by fate, they were ipso facto good and heroes, even if the book failed to establish any of this and even, in fact, when their own story telling made them self centered and repulsive little maggots.
The worst part of this was the blank looks I got when I said “But what does he do to deserve ultimate triumph?” “They picked on him. So he gets to win.”
I told them that in reality, being “the meek” whether good or bad means the slice of Earth you inherit is six feet by two. But they didn’t hear, couldn’t hear. You see, they KNEW the way stories went.
I was of course dealing with extreme cases of story-absorption-syndrome. Though I’ve met a few, there are almost no people who decide to be writers without being addicted to story. These days about half of them REALLY want to write for the movies but think books are easier to get into (rolls eyes) and therefore aren’t readers as such but movie watchers (as their work shows) but still, they have been addicted to story as long as they can remember.
And this got me thinking. I made a post not so long ago, which I’m too lazy to look for (this convention has had an uphill recovery) about how Marxism has perverted things so everyone is trying to collect victimhood points.
And sure, Marxism is a factor in this weird twist of our culture, but so is Christianity (in perverted form) and possibly older philosophies. What I want to emphasize is that other than Marxism, in which this victimhood points thing is a way to undermine society, this is a perversion of whatever the original philosophy was. And the perversion is mostly because the “victim wins” has become a meme for us in the West
It’s not like that everywhere. One of the reasons Muslims believe that Jesus could not have died on the cross is that in their stories the victim is the loser. Jesus (their version) was a great prophet, so he has to have lived to lead armies and sire children.
You find this ethos in almost every ancient culture. If you’re a slave/on the bottom of society, then you or your ancestors did something to deserve it, so you’re being punished and contemptible.
This was arguably what sped the spread of Christianity, because you weren’t held contemptible for having been born “meek” but instead your greater trial in this life was held as earning worth for your reward in the next life.
The problem in our post-religious world is that the “if you endure with patience and saintliness, you’ll earn your reward hereafter” and we just get “if people are mean to you, you’ll win in the end, in this life, because… magic.”
This is not just false, it’s crazy. Oh, it worked to an extent, if you work in a field where the left dominates and your bosses/publicists are just as crazy. You present as victim, they’ll make you win, even if they have to make awards irrelevant and reward incredibly bad writing and puerile themes.
BUT life outside those cocoons doesn’t follow that script. And outside of school/academia/writing/arts there is no correlation between being oppressed and winning in the end. In fact, even there there isn’t since most who claim oppression are upper middle class white women.
In most endeavors being the victim and not fighting, just means you’re the victim.
But more importantly, and this was the part I couldn’t get through to my fledgelings: being the victim doesn’t make you good.
Terry Prachett is the only writer I know to say so explicitly. But it is an observable fact. As an inveterate “do gooder” (I really suck on the heartless part) I take up lost ducklings as much as I take up fledgelings (sometimes they’re the same.)
About 90% of the time, the people who are starving/lost/can’t rise in life/have no job/whatever are in that spot for a reason. And only about 20% (at a high estimate) are willing to change to get out of it.
I’m not saying they’re all despicable. There are a few of those, but very few. Mostly however, they are … human and very flawed, with the kind of flaw that will keep them where they are: they are unable to figure out things (without being dumb); they are “failed artists” and want to continue there; they have no ambition; they’re not willing to work at skills, writing or otherwise. They are mediocre and comfortable with it, and their occasional crisis are the price they pay to stay in that comfort.
It’s a life choice, and yes, it makes them “victims” in that they’re often in great privation. But they’re not willing to get out of it, which means, no they’re not going to win, and no, they’re not heroes of virtue and cunning or altruism and caring.
Sometimes you’re on the bottom because you belong there. And sometimes you’re on the bottom because you’d rather be there than make an effort to rise. And sometimes, yes, you’re on the bottom because you’re safer there. In a few rare cases, you’re on the bottom because of circumstances, and yep, a hand up and you’ll rise. (Which is why I feel morally bound to keep trying.)
Basically, people on the bottom are like the rest of us, only a little less adapted to life as it is. This doesn’t make them noble just like the life they think they’re adapted for isn’t better than ours (So tired of “radical losers” who think they’d fit in in the middle ages or roaming Amerindian tribes or whatever. Chances are if they can’t make it here, they couldn’t make it anywhere else! We ARE the easy mode.) It just makes them sad. And the extent to which they’re willing to struggle makes them worthy or not.
Someone once said, in a review, that my model for characters was the Fallen Caryatid as explained by Heinlein. You go down to hell, but you go down fighting and you never give up. Circumstances my crush you, but you keep trying.
I suppose it’s true, though I hadn’t noticed before.
This is not because I believe those in poor circumstances don’t deserve help – after all, I give help, on the off chance this is someone who will try – but because I believe help or not, it is your duty as a human being to do the best you can. Because the victim doesn’t win. And it’s your duty to try not to lose completely and become a burden on others.
Strangely, the policies I see from that tend to get me labeled as heartless (I wish.) For instance, I do my charity of my own purse and my own time, because government has trouble distinguishing between deserving and undeserving poor, that is, leaving morals aside, those who can rise above their condition and those who can’t. It subsidizes the undeserving at everyone’s expense and its rules prevent the deserving from attempting to rise.
Also, it does things like mess with everyone’s healthcare for the sake of the uninsured, only to find only about 1% of them sign up.
I also support putting malefactors – human or collective – out of our collective misery by any means necessary. That might make them (briefly) my victim but gives their victims the chance to rise (and live.)
And I believe in equality before the law, which is my most evil belief, because it doesn’t privilege “those who need it most” aka “those someone else has decided are deserving victims.” Or as a “Constitutional scholar” (ptui) once put it, it lacks “positive rights.”
But you see, if you give someone positive rights, you’re taking all rights from someone else. And this only works if someone outside decides who the victim is. Otherwise we’re all victims.
Which is closer to the truth. You don’t know what your neighbor is a victim of, not clearly. You only see yourself. And as such, it’s best to ignore it and do the best you can.
Oh, and if you write, please don’t write “he was kicked, and kicked and therefore he was saintly and then he won.” First, because it’s a cliché. Second, because it’s stupid. Being kicked doesn’t make you win. Third because being kicked doesn’t make you saintly. Martyrs in the religious sense are martyrs FOR SOMETHING and in order to achieve something, not just masochists. Fourth because you should be aware of tawdry tricks. It’s easy to make your reader sympathize with someone who is ‘a victim’ because humans are wired that way. But if you don’t back it up with solid character building, you’re selling gilded cr*p. It might look pretty, but it stinks.
THINK – both in life and in story telling, both as a writer and a reader.
There are lies that have a grain of truth and lies that corrupt the truth.
Make your fiction of the first kind.
For all our sakes.