Dec 15 2012

A few words about Newtown


I just wanted to say a few words of reassurance to my friends and readers of my blog:

First:  I live nowhere near Newtown.    No relatives of mine live there.   No members of my family were directly touched by these terrible events.   And as far as I know, no one connected with me in any way had any connection to the victims, or the victim’s families.   So, those of you around the world who read this blog, and who heard that it happened in Connecticut, and know that I live in Connecticut — be assured that I and my family, and my friends, are untouched, and safe.

That said, of course I’m affected, emotionally.   These events are horrible beyond understanding.

Writers think a lot about how people work; and what goes on in their heads; and how they make decisions; and how personality plays out against the backdrop of the world, and within the context of society.  We think about these things so that we can create imaginary versions that seem real, engage our readers, and drive our stories.

In past discussions with other writers, the question of portraying evil comes up on occasion.   And far too often, I hear my fellow writers saying that no one does something knowing that it’s evil — that people who do acts that others call evil actually think that what they’re doing is, in some way, good.

My response to that is always: Usually, yes. Always? No. There really are some people who undertake evil acts in order to undertake evil acts.

And argument on the subject follows, naturally. We’re writers, it’s all very abstract, we’re discussing our craft. And the reason my colleagues most often give comes down to: It’s simply incomprehensible. No sane person could do something intentionally for no other reason that to cause pain, misery, to destroy. No one would do a moral wrong on purpose — they must somehow be misinterpreting it as a moral good.

And my response is still: Usually? Yes. Always? No. The above might explain Adolf Hitler; it can’t explain Newtown, Connecticut.

There are people who undertake evil for the sheer, chemical thrill it gives them; or for the sense of power; or for fame — the whole world is suddenly talking about them. For a person otherwise powerless, these things are very attractive.

And I’m sure that there are other possible triggers to evil acts — ones that I can’t yet identify, because I can’t wrap my brain around them.

And that’s why intentional evil is usually badly portrayed in fiction. Because we can’t really wrap our brains around it. In fiction, the bad writers have cardboard “evil” villains, and the good writers have complex “villains” who are convinced they’re on the side of the angels. Or EVIL gets reified as some supernatural being or a force that possesses an otherwise moral person.

See that? See me get all abstract and analytical, there? See me safely distance myself, so that the truth of this dreadful, horrific massacre can rendered manageable and pushed into the background? That’s me being human.

But I know, I am convinced, that out here in the real world there are people who do evil, knowing they do evil, in order to do evil.

And I hope that the shooter in this case is not one of those people — because I want those people to be few, and far between, and almost never encountered. I want them to be vanishingly rare.