Lately this ridiculous blog post has made the rounds, written by some guy who was mugged, but was sure he deserved it because of his privilege.
The blog post was not a surprise to me.
Years ago, an online friend about ten years younger and from a considerably more comfortable background than mine, was ambushed at the grocery store by someone who forced her – at gun point – to go to two or three ATMs in town and withdraw the maximum allowed and give it to him.
If it had been me…
First of all, it wouldn’t have been me, because I come from a more dangerous time and place. Someone tries to kidnap you from a store, and take you, in a car to another place, you fight right there and right then, with everything you have, even if it’s just screaming your heart out. Because there’s a very good chance someone taking you away from the populated place to a deserted one ah… doesn’t have your continued survival at heart. It has been pointed out to me (several times) that I’m a paranoid woman, or at least not a naturally trusting one. We’ll say that on at least a half dozen occasions this has saved my life.
So, if it were me, I would not have gone. I’d have kicked, screamed and applied elbow to stomach. Even if someone had picked me up from the parking lot of the grocery store, I’d figure at least there were cars around. (Hint, never park in a deserted area at night/when the parking lot is not well attended.)
More likely, anyone trying that trick would end up with a knife in an inconvenient place, because I usually carry more than one knife, and if you get close enough to press a pistol against my back where no one can see it, the least I can do is ensure you sing soprano the rest of your life. (And that’s if I can’t reach your gut.)
But let’s suppose that for whatever reason (I was on crutches and had laryngitis) this happened to me. How would I feel afterwards?
Mad. Hopping mad. Furious. I’d make it my personal mission to find the bastage and end his joy in life.
How did my friend feel? Guilty.
She sent out a long rambling message to the intent that really, how bad does someone’s life need to be that they’re willing to rob strangers at gun point?
Where do people learn this? This unearned guilt in anything good they have, and this bizarre belief that anyone doing anything bad had a horrible life/childhood/background.
They learn it from us. That is, they learn it from writers. Books, TV…
You’ve heard the thing about making sure your villain isn’t just a villain, right? You have to give him/her/it a reason for what they do?
Unfortunately over the years this has morphed into the more sinned against than sinning villain, into the repressed/tortured villain. Into the person who lashes out because, like a tortured dog, they can’t help it.
Humans are not dogs.
Yes, there are people who do horrible things because horrible things were done to them. What percentage of evil doers fall in that category? We don’t know. We don’t know, because if questioned, every evildoer will say that’s why they do evil. Every evil doer will angle for sympathy. “I kicked the puppy because the kitten bit me.” “I stole Bobby’s pencil, because Mike stole mine.” “I robbed the bank because I was beaten as a child.”
The problem with this is that all of us, every one here, I’d bet, knows someone who had a horrible childhood, was beaten, was kept in the cold and rain, or whatever, and has never committed a single crime. All of us know people who had a tough as heck childhood and who are strivers, good friends, honest as the day is long, loyal spouses, gentle with kittens and puppies.
To say that to be yelled at one Sunday when you’re three will cause you to commit murder is to wrong everyone who had a horrible childhood.
It’s possible that it’s true for some people. One of the things we’ve found out is that some people are more resilient than others. Some people break easy. Some people break bad. People are not widgets.
But the other thing we know – we have to know – is that not everyone who is evil is more sinned against than sinned. Not everyone who hurts others has been hurt.
Look, we’re all flawed. Laziness is part of human nature. So is greed. It’s perfectly possible for someone who is lazy and greedy to decide he’d rather rob than work. I’ve heard of it/seen it happen. And so have you. Even back in kindergarten I knew people like this, and so did you.
They rob because they can, and because no one ever stopped them/they don’t think anyone will ever stop them.
This is a reason too. It’s not a sympathetic reason, but it’s a reason. (It’s a little more sympathetic if you realize the people who never set boundaries helped in these person’s lives, while they could still have learned and become normal, nice people, did them a grave injustice.) Having people take a sadistic pleasure in their power over others, or think that others owe them a living is a motivation.
Your villains don’t need to be saints.
The problem is that the narrative of the saintly villain leaves the good people – or people who are convinced everyone else is good – strangely unprotected. Not people like me, mind you. We’re not good. Or not that good. We’re good despite our bad, if that makes sense. But people who are good because they’re good, those people will read the books and imagine that every menace out there is a villain-with-a-heart-of-gold looking for an opportunity to redeem himself. They’ll think that every wolf has the heart of a lamb. And that if they commit heinous crimes it’s society’s fault, or the fault of the person being wronged.
The problem with this is that wolves are wolves. Being a particularly compliant lamb gives nothing, except convincing the wolf his mode of life is right, and he should go on eating tasty mouton. And the next victim might not escape with just property damage.