First an apology for being so late. Tom Knighton sent me a guest post, and Bob sent me one a while back, and I have one from Chris Nuttall, but as I’ve said before, I don’t like giving my guests short shrift by putting them up late. And I was all set to put up Tom’s post last night, when I suddenly found myself in bed. I guess it’s like that.
I should explain this was actual abdominal surgery and not entirely laparoscopic. Which explains the slower recovery.
Also, while I’m now at a point I can survive without percocet which is good because it makes me feel like I just downed three whiskeys on an empty stomach, I came to the conclusion last night — exhausted and unable to sleep — that I still needed Super Motrim (I always imagine the bottle wearing a little cape!) Mind you, if past experience is a guide, percocet will take a week to work itself out of my system, so until then I’m getting a mini-preview of extreme old age or at least dementia. The whole “I can put my keys down in an empty room and ten minutes later I can’t find them” thing that the late (great) Terry Pratchett talked about. This is okay, as it provides amusement for the whole family. For instance when the bottle of antibiotic went missing last night, I had to confess not only didn’t I know what I’d done with it, but it was equally plausible I’d a) put it somewhere in the house, b) given it to a passing stranger c) thrown it in the trash d) pitched it from an upstairs window.
Turned out btw that that one wasn’t my fault. The guys have been pictching in to keep the house running while I’m down, and Older Son is… thorough. So in cleaning the kitchen, he’d put it with the other medicine bottles.
Anyway, all that behind us, taking the pain killer meant I slept very deeply and very long (since I only took it at midnight) which means I’m late with this. I’m sorry.
However the digression brings us to today’s post. You see, percocet (really any opiates for me) does something to my mind that means I do stuff on automatic, stuff I wouldn’t normally consider doing. On a normal day, no matter how hassled, I wouldn’t have considered whether I might have run out of the front door and given the bottle to a passing stranger. On percocet? Totally possible.
It reminds me of the recovery from concussion, a time at which to judge from the record, I not only half finished three novels of which I have no memory (one isn’t half bad, but I had to check that it wasn’t Amanda Green’s. Our style is similar enough and I didn’t remember writing this at all), no, I also wrote a full medieval romance. (Yes, yes, I know, but I have to read it to edit, and the whole thought of medieval romance makes my skin itch. To make things worse it seems to be B & D in the middle ages. Apparently my suppressed subconscious is kinky as all get out. Who knew?)
It is a trope in books to say that you won’t do anything in an altered state you wouldn’t do in your normal state. I have absolutely no clue if that’s true, and I sorta kinda doubt it.
Because while that might be true for normal (what I’d call non-induced) hypnotic states, I do know that these drugs (percocet possibly included) can scramble your brain and put it together again. And I have a vague memory of Heinlein in more than one book talking about how some drugs could break you and then put you together the way they want you to be together. Now he was extrapolating to the future, but we are in his future, and … call it a sneaky suspicion.
Older Son has been reading medical journals since he was 10, and he might be able to tell me whether this is true or not, but he was working till the wee hours and I don’t want to wake him.
However, I can tell you, as a writer, there are bright lines you can’t have a character cross. In other words, while it might be possible to make your character do whatever in an altered state, you can’t do it and keep your readership. (Though Good Lord, can I imagine a descent to hell story in which I write a character and force him to do what would break him in a situation where he can’t stop himself. To an extent that’s what Vampire musketeers was supposed to be with the third book the rise to redemption. Should I ever get my rights to it back, I’ll finish it. Because descent to hell without redemption is not how I write. Period. It’s not what I believe in.)
So? What does this have to do with the real world?
Oh, a lot of things, as we discuss the “genius” exchange of high ranking enemy for one of our deserters and people say but poor thing, he had PTSD.
First of all, he couldn’t have PTSD unless he came pre-PTSDed or was a bubble boy unable to face reality in any way. Or to put it another way, hundreds of thousands endured worse and served with honor; if he couldn’t the defect was with him, not his stars.
That said, I know what it’s like to be in life or death situations. I know what it’s like to be shot at. You do things you wouldn’t normally do, in ways you wouldn’t even consider normally. And that’s fine. It’s not, as all the movies are so fond of portraying a form of madness, and at least for me, in those situations, the “there are lines you can’t cross without breaking” applies.
I have great sympathy for things do in extreme stress, the point at which the animal takes over and you act out of sheer raw need for survival, which sometimes makes you do things you would disapprove of sternly in “real life.” There is an unending room for dealing with that in fiction. And if you know any vets, particularly WWII vets, because a lot went on in that war that was never mentioned, and you know the point at which they go very quiet when telling a story, you know they hit one of those places, and the memory is a hard thing to integrate.
In the same way I have great sympathy for Stockholm Syndrome. It is the reason I forgive a lot of my colleagues when they go on crazy anti-Amazon and “why only traditional publishers are teh awesome” rants. I spent enough time there that I understand that entire identifying yourself with your tormentors really. (And yep, always excepting Baen, geesh.)
But there are still bright lines. There are things that you look at and say “OMG, no.”
Off the top of my head, child murder is one of those. I don’t really care how crazy you are. You don’t kill children, period. And if you do it, you need to either be put away for life or be put down. (And I must be a curious kind of person, because in my case, I’d prefer to be put down. I mean, imagine they cured you. Would you want to live knowing what you’ve done?)
Child rape is another. People can talk themselves into all sorts of crazy things, but look, I read an article saying pedophilia is not a crime, it’s a condition. Oh, granted, and of course. It’s one of the reasons I approve of allowing them to have CGI porn in which no children are harmed. But the minute they act on it outside their own head, they’ve become a danger to society; they’ve become a predator amid the flock. So while I think the various sex offender registries are insane (guys can be put on it, by taking a wizz in public and someone seeing them) and while I in general disapprove of government solutions and of “lock them and throw away the key” and while I realize that it’s not a fault of their own, I think anyone with the condition and unable to control him/herself (we’re finding there’s a lot of herselfs, now that the schools are dominated by female teachers. Who knew?) should be locked up for the good of the society AND THEMSELVES.
Another unforgivable crime, another bright line that can’t be crossed, in my mind, is ingratitude and betrayal. I can completely understand killing someone in a fight, or someone you’ve had a long dispute with. I can’t forgive or understand deceiving someone and killing/harming him/her. Yeah, even animals. If I lured a tame animal somewhere to kill, I’d never live with myself. In fact, all forms of child abuse are a form of betrayal, because they don’t expect harm. And a lot of forms of adult-abuse. It’s what makes elder-abuse and family crime so horrific.
The thing is, the people who think everything is a condition and we’re all tainted, and no one can ever refrain from doing the most horrific things are partly right.
They’re right to the extent that given enough incentive/stimulus which might include powerful drugs, most of us can do things that cross those bright lines in our mind: things that break us; things we disapprove of.
They’re wrong where they think that everyone will do these at the slightest provocation; that humans are just savages waiting for an opportunity. Some humans, maybe. But humans vary and for some of us those lines are so bright we’ll never even experience the temptation unless we’re fundamentally broken already. And some of us experience temptations but can hold back (one of us, here, behind the eyes at one time thought she’d never reach thirty without killing someone) and do, even when the temptation is overwhelming.
This is called being civilized. It’s called having bright lines in your head that it takes breaking you to making you cross.
I don’t understand people who don’t know that state exists. In my mind, they’re jellyfish, formless and spineless, floating on a current of desires and stimulus. And I don’t even know if it’s true that they can’t control themselves, or if they have become convinced that controlling yourself is undesirable, somehow.
I do know, in either case that such a state of non-control, of free floating impulse and action, is inimical to the state in which humans can live together peaceably. And since I think that for 99% of the people (i.e. those of normal brain structure) control is possible, I think we have to stop whining about excuses: about triggers and ptsd, about conditions and helplessness.
I don’t mean all of this should be from the realm of law enforcement. I think society needs to get a grip and stop looking for fuzzy cozy excuses for those who cross the bright lines. It should also start emphasizing good behaviors.
If you grew up dirt poor, but your parents emphasized books and education you shouldn’t be told you have “white privilege” (particularly if you’re latino or black.) You should instead be told how lucky you were to have the parents you did, and how much you should carry that on to your kids, as should everyone. Because learning and education are habits that help keep the inner impulses of the untamed human at bay.
The same with thrift, deferred gratification, and refraining from violence. They’re all habits and most humans can learn them.
And as for deserting, most military people even those raised by hippies, manage to refrain from it too.
PTSD might be an explanation, but it’s still not an excuse.
For that particular critter, for us, or for our civilization or what’s left of it.
The fuzzy people (well, it works. Their hygiene is often spotty enough) accuse us of seeing the world in black and white. This is not true. I see infinite shades and colors and a lot of things I disapprove of but can forgive and empathize with. But I also see the bright lines that cannot be crossed without destroying the individual and society itself.
It takes a special kind of blindness to turn all that into a vague fog of shades of grey. And it’s a blindness that kills civilization.