Thursday, November 21, 2013

Engines And Fuels

Forgive me, Gentle Reader. I dared to don my metaphysician's hat for yesterday’s tirade, and I'm having trouble prying it off.

(A metaphysician is not a metaphysicist. A metaphysicist studies metareality: that which gives rise to the reality we observe and experience. A metaphysician diagnoses and treats mental diseases that arise from trying to deny or defeat the laws of metareality as they're expressed in observable reality. The consulting fees are meager, but the jargon is lots of fun. Is your patient still obsessed with defying gravity, Doctor?)

Some time ago, when I was still maintaining Musings Of An Indie Writer, I wrote:

For many a writer, the why of a project never enters his consciousness. A plot idea occurs to him; it bonds subconsciously with some theme he holds dear; he adds setting and characters, and some time later a story is born. But there's a why even if he never allows it space in his conscious thoughts....It's what the writer cares about most passionately, whether he realizes it or not, that will power his best fiction.

Indeed, I would say that the core distinction between the "serious" writer and the "hack" is that the former makes use of his personal passion, consciously or otherwise, while the latter is concerned solely with "what will sell."

Atop that, I've come to believe that the books and dramas I've loved best are those which eloquently express a powerful passion solidly rooted in what the late Clarence Carson called "the moral order of the universe," and that that is exactly why I hold them in such high regard.

And with that we come to Sons of Anarchy.

If you're not familiar with this extraordinary F/X television series, repent of your sins, cruise over to Half.Com, and pick up the DVDs for the previous seasons. It's come in for some criticism because of its sporadic violence and other "adult content," but these things were and are inevitable in its writers' struggle to dramatize the moral themes that have run continuously through the series.

A dominant thread, developed from the very beginning of the series, has been the clash between group loyalty and the individual conscience. The major characters of the series, especially protagonist Jax Teller, are intensely loyal to the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club / Redwood Original chapter, commonly referred to as "SAMCRO." That loyalty has caused each of them, at some time, to commit acts from which a normal man's conscience would recoil, including murder. Nearly always, the perpetrators were aware of the wrongness of their actions. Indeed, in several cases, the doer has struggled to find a way to make amends.

The sense of obligation to the interests of SAMCRO is how the perpetrator rationalizes his act. He has a conception of a "higher good" that trumps whatver moral standards he might otherwise observe. The rationale is seldom bulletproof, which is why the perpetrator so often tries to atone later on.

However, the starkest clashes occur when a character elevates his own interests above both conventional moral precepts and the interests of SAMCRO. We see this in several instances, but most frequently and strikingly in the behavior of Clay Morrow, SAMCRO's president through the first four seasons who is eventually displaced by Jax Teller. The clash between them has more than one root -- Jax discovers in mid-series that Clay murdered Jax's father John, both to take control of SAMCRO and to reserve Jax's mother Gemma to himself -- but the essential evil of Clay's behavior is never in doubt, nor is the sense that by some standard, Jax's eventual campaign to depose and dispose of Clay is righteously animated.

Yet Jax mutates throughout the series as well: toward Clay's degree of amorality, though at least partly in service to SAMCRO as well as his own ends. The progression is unmistakable. Nor is Jax unaware of it; shortly after he assumes the presidency of the club, he tells another member that "You have to be a savage to sit in this chair." The pole of evil to which Jax's leadership draws him also draws his wife Tara, who descends to fraud, the perversion of justice, and miscellaneous subversions in her effort to get away from Jax, SAMCRO, and the northern California town of Charming they dominate.

As SF/military writer Tom Kratman has made plain in his "CarreraVerse" series, we tend to become what we oppose. Indeed, in a postscript to A Desert Called Peace, he steps forward and makes it explicit:

[I]t has been said more than once that you should choose enemies wisely, because you are going to become just, or at least, much like them. The corollary to this is that your enemies are also going to become very like you....

If I could speak now to our enemies, I would say: Do you kill innocent civilians for shock value? So will we learn to do, in time. Do you torture and murder prisoners? So will we. Are you composed of religious fanatics? Well, since humanistic secularism seems ill-suited to deal with you, don't be surprised if we turn to our churches and temples for the strength to defeat and destroy you. Do you randomly kill our loved ones to send us a message? Don't be surprised, then, when we begin to target your families, specifically, to send the message that our loved ones are not stationery.

This seems lost on the current enemy, but then, he's insane. It's very sad. Yes, it's very sad for us, too.

There's a universe of moral instruction in that remark.

Jonah Goldberg, in commenting on Sons of Anarchy, called SAMCRO's members' affliction tribal loyalty. And indeed, there is a powerful parallel between the bonding of primitive tribes, which causes them to regard anyone outside the tribe as rightless at best, an enemy at worst, and the ethical cement of SAMCRO. But even more to the point is the reaction of the tribe to one viewed as a betrayer, as Clay was eventually viewed by the rest of the club.

We frequently see examples of that in the political sphere. We might be about to see a world-shaking example in the case of Barack Hussein Obama.

In the eyes of many of his co-partisans in Congress, Obama has betrayed the Democrat Party. Specifically, his "signature achievement," the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is coming apart so badly that it makes him, his Administration, and any legislator who voted for the Act to look like an incompetent idiot. Yet Obama continues to press them to support this massive "train wreck" (Max Baucus). Some have done so...mainly those not facing the electorate in 2014 . Those up for re-election are painfully aware that being seen as a supporter of the PPACA is likely to cost them their seats on Capitol Hill.

The PPACA, now more commonly known as ObamaCare, is likely to cost the Democrat Party its majority in the Senate. That, of course, would doom the remainder of Obama's agenda. More than that, it would have a significant influence on the 2016 Presidential campaign. A credible Democrat candidate would have to run against ObamaCare to have a chance at the White House. Even that might not be enough to get him there.

Obama is aware of this. But he faces a cruel choice. If he presses his co-partisans too hard for their support of ObamaCare, they might react against him with maximum animus. If he doesn't press them hard enough, his "signature achievement" is likely to be repealed, or so compromised that its inherent flaws cause it to collapse. He must choose between a Carteresque legacy and being publicly "cast out" by the rest of his party.

By the choice he makes, we should learn the dimensions of his self-absorption and his moral sphere: in other words, exactly what sort of man he really is. We'll also learn how vicious Democrats, whether in federal office or in high positions within their party, can be toward "one of our own." They'll be useful lessons to those who reacted against George W. Bush's missteps by handing control of Congress to the Democrats, and who twice voted Barack Hussein Obama into the Oval Office.

Ayn Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged that "A man's motor is his moral code." That nicely captures the centrality of one's moral vision to one's self-command. But if one's moral code is the engine, it is also his brakes. His desires are his fuel. Where they stand in relation to his moral code constrains his steering.

The sociopath has fuel but no brakes.
We suffer under a State dominated by persons of sociopathic bent.
They will not stop themselves; they have neither the inclination nor the equipment.
After all that's come to pass, I'm tempted to say that the moral is obvious.
I shan't.

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