Monday, July 30, 2018

An Aside About An Eye for an Eye

I have previously mentioned that, as a gymnastics fan, I have closely watched the developments around the sexual abuse fiasco that has unfolded over the last year or so at USA Gymnastics and in the media. Former doctor Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to abusing hundreds of young women and girls and has been shut away in prison with an effective life sentence.

The other day, it was revealed in the media that Larry Nassar was abused while in prison. The fact that this happened to him is disturbing. These sorts of things should not be happening in our prisons. Nassar was put in the general population for some unknown reason, the result being predictable: he was attacked. Imprisonment is not meant to be a literal torture session. It's not meant to open the accused to the kind of treatment for which people are thrown into prison in the first place. It is meant to punish by confinement and restriction. In the case of criminals like Nassar, it's also meant to keep them away from more potential victims.

It does not mean it is okay for them to be victimized themselves.

The response to the news the other day was at least as disturbing to me as the news itself, if not more so. Some comments said that Nassar deserved to be abused. Some went so far as to say they hoped that his abusers had "not used gloves" (Nassar, per testimony from the victims, violated young women without wearing gloves). Some commenters posted gifs that literally applauded the abuse. This is sad and depressing to me--and so wrong-headed.

Is he a monster? Yes. Do I feel particularly badly for him? No. I'm not crying over the fact that he met with harsh treatment.

But my personal feelings of schadenfreude are irrelevant, and I recognize that they aren't morally on-point. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Two wrongs don't make a right. Cliches, yes, but still true: doing harm to someone just adds to the heaping pile of harm that's been done. Real justice isn't blind retaliation. It's measured and doesn't stoop to doing the very things that the "bad guy" did in the first place. This was not justice, and it should not be condoned or applauded.

This is just a step removed from mob violence. It's justice taken out of the hands of the justice system. Sure, the justice system is flawed, but that doesn't mean we can assault people who we think "deserve" it. We can't all react based on our own sense of outrage. That would invite chaos.

I also want to address one particular comment I saw. "Withholding sympathy for a rapist is not the same thing as 'celebrating rape.'" While I understand the intent of the comment, I have a major issue with its implications. We should NEVER withhold basic human sympathy from anyone, even someone convicted of a crime. To do so dehumanizes that person, and then you feel that just about anything (like, for instance, physical or sexual abuse) is okay because they aren't even human, really; they're a criminal. It's othering the prison population. This is wrong-headed in its entirety. It means that he (or other inmates) aren't human and aren't like us; in fact, people like us don't commit such crimes; normal people don't commit such crimes; normal people don't go to jail and so don't have to worry about being abused there (or anywhere, even; right?). The people around you aren't capable of such things, surely.  The people around you aren't monsters. Monsters don't look like you and me, don't put on a polite smile and say nice things.


Isn't that the kind of thinking that led people to dismiss young women's accounts of abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar? But he's so normal; surely he wouldn't do that. Shall we all just recognize that polite, kind people who look innocuous may also be capable of doing terrible things? When we pretend that we're different from people who do terrible things, it opens us up to all kinds of mistakes.

Sympathizing with someone doesn't mean you believe them to be a good person, or that they'll ever be a good person, and it doesn't mean you don't recognize that some people bring troubles onto themselves. But it does mean recognizing that they do, in fact, feel pain and hurt, and that we should always try to minimize that. If we don't, we become hypocrites at best.

I apologize for the moralizing lecture, but I was very disturbed by the fact and by the reaction to it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

. . . And Theme

I've been rewriting one of my manuscripts--yes, again. This particular manuscript has been through, no exaggeration, twenty distinct versions. This thing is nothing at all like the original. And as I rewrite it, I'm still finding my way. I'm trying to hit the right tone for characters, plot, and--importantly--theme.

I'm writing about the antebellum south. So, yes, there is a whole "can of worms" as far as themes go. It's almost bottomless, the tangle of themes. But I didn't want "slavery is bad" to be the primary theme, or at least not the only one. Not because it isn't true--it is--but because it's obvious to our modern sensibilities. Of course, that isn't to say there aren't echoes of the old sensibilities in the twenty-first century. But it always seems to underplay the complexity of reality to focus on that one theme. Like I said, it's a tangled web, with other moral threads weaving in and out of the ugliness of slavery.

So one of my goals on this rewrite has been balancing the themes. I have at least two major thematic threads in this WIP ("Channing"). There's the thread regarding slavery (y'all, it's bad). There is also Caroline's slow emergence from self-abnegation after a moment of exploitation--it's the story of her losing her identity (and sense of agency)  and then finding it again. And it's wrapped up with the issue of slavery, which is wrapped up with her husband, the one who exploited her. The trick is to not lean too heavily on one or the other and leave the other languishing for a scene--a chapter--two chapters. I don't want it to seem like the characters have forgotten about a thematic thread in their lives while something happens with the other. It's wrapped up with character as well, obviously.

I'm not much of one for moral nuggets--for moralistic nuggets. But I was pleased with the following passage, and I thought it summed up something important, bringing Caroline's theme to its end. Now, I've edited it a bit for the sake of spoilers, but here it is:

There were different kinds of inheritances. Money was useful—vital, in fact. But what was more vital—what was the very stuff of life—was love, real love. Not the sort that Harry practiced, but the sort that was open and warm and had a sense of humor to it. The question was not whether she would give up her son’s financial future for her own selfish desires; it was whether she meant to provide him a life in which he could come to a full understanding of love. And she would give up anything—anything—for that.