Showing posts with label Free Will. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Free Will. Show all posts

01 July 2014

Violence

by David Dean

Eve Fishers' recent blog titled, "Peace, the Elusive" was so thought-provoking that it has prompted me to pen something along the same lines.  In her excellent article she addressed the painful issues of both violence and it's impact, and the rage that she, herself, carries and how she deals with it.  And she deals with it in a very constructive way--she works with convicts on this very issue within prison walls.  A bold and a brave choice, in my opinion.

I can certainly relate to her anger when confronted with violence in all it's many manifestations, criminal, political, and domestic.  Violence is a baffling, terrifying, and life-changing (or ending) event for most people.  It's effects ripple outwards from its central act to touch and poison many, many lives.  It's a gift that keeps on giving.  Sometimes for generations. 

As a child, I grew up in an environment that allowed for a good deal of it.  As Eve pointed out, boys of my era were encouraged to stand up for themselves, and that often meant fighting.  And we did.  I literally cannot recall how many fist fights I was in as a kid.  The majority were fairly harmless and were mostly wrestling matches with a few punches thrown in.  Others were more serious.  This was generally because the stakes were higher--personal honor (being called a liar, or a coward, could not go unanswered), or slandered family members (things could get ugly with this one, and sometimes led to fathers duking it out in the street--no kidding).  In some instances, when friends or brothers had been beaten up in an unfair fight (two on one, older and bigger kids, ambush, rocks, etc.) a similar response was crafted and executed.  I planned, plotted, participated, and sometimes excelled in these endeavors… and I hated it.  The only time I ever felt remotely right during all this was when standing up to a bully; an older kid who was picking on me, or my friends.  Even then, I dreaded physical violence.  Yet, there seemed no end to it.

There were fights at home, fights at school, fights on the way to school; fights on the way back.  There were fights at parties, fights with friends, fights with enemies, and fights with strangers.  I was jumped walking down the street– more than once.  Being in the wrong place, with the wrong person, looking wrong, looking at someone wrong, or being friends with someone wrong, could all lead to blows.  Whether I won, or lost, I was miserable… and angry.  Fathers beat mothers and kids, siblings fought, neighborhood kids fought, and sometimes they fought kids from other neighborhoods.  Sometime there was murder.

Then, as I grew up, I realized that to a greater, or lesser, degree, that this was happening all over the world.  I remained angry. As a young man, an older friend, who would later be my son's godfather, said words to the effect of, "You can't make everything better, because you can't control everything.  It's not all about you, and doesn't depend on you.  You can only control yourself.  And that takes work, and discipline.  Just worry about making your little part of the world better, and the world will be better for it… but not perfect.  Never perfect."  He was wise, which is one of the reasons he godfathered my only son. 

Years later, long after I had been a soldier and then a police officer for many years, I found myself in the confessional telling my priest how I sometime longed to do violence against my fellow man; just as when I had been a boy.  Without going into the theological details, he offered me this: Forgive those you most don't want to forgive, and forgive yourself.  Not just because it is what we are taught as Catholics, but because it is the only thing that can set you free and give you any peace.  So long as you rage against the violence in others, you stir the violence within yourself.  Forgive, and violence starves to death.  

I suspect most of us on this site can, on one level or another, relate to my experiences. One of the hardest things in life to reconcile is that many people are not like us. And I'm not talking about color, religion, race, or creed, but behavior. They choose to do what is wrong, or certainly what we consider wrong. In some instances it is a result of what they have been exposed to, in others what they believe to be correct and right. In all cases it infuriates us that they cannot see what we see; believe what we believe, especially when it comes to violence. But they don't, and probably never will. It doesn't mean that we should cease trying to make a difference, on the contrary, it is important to always try, I think. Yet we can only control so much, hence the anger. Free will has bedeviled us since man first stood upright, yet without it, and all its demons, everything becomes meaningless.

Finally, in a comment by Janice Law on Eve's blog, she challenged us as writers to do something meaningful when dealing with the subject .  That is a worthwhile challenge, and who knows, by doing so we may make some small, but important, difference in the world.  It matters.

07 February 2012

Mind Control

by David Dean

I've just finished the draft of a story (a first draft according to my editors, the Professor and, his sister, Bridgid, that is. They both assure me that it is far from submission-ready.). This unpolished gem is rather loosely based on the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army of the roaring seventies. I'm too young to actually remember them, of course, but I have made something of a study of their antics. As you may know, they hit their high note with the kidnapping of newspaper heiress, Patricia Hearst–a strike directly at the heart of the "fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people"–soaring and repetitive hyberbole was the stardard for radical groups of this era. The kidnapping, in of itself, would not have made the episode so distinctive, rather it was the completely unexpected events that followed that set the nation on its ear: Patty Hearst appeared to morph from helpless victim of a rather terrifyingly single-minded group of self-styled revolutionaries into a full-fledged, gun-toting (and shooting) member! It appeared to be a near incomprehensible evolution. Cries of Stockholm Syndrome rent the highly-charged air!

 The SLA was not much of an army, as it turned out, though they claimed repeatedly to be operating cells nation-wide. In fact, the army that kidnapped Patty consisted of eight people. The only 'cell' they were operating was located in a California prison block where their other two members unhappily resided. These two were serving time for the murder of a school superintendent who had been deemed racist by SLA's revolutionary 'court of justice'. Apparently, actual trials of the accused were not required in their brave new world. They killed his aide, too. The victims were black men that were widely liked and respected in the Oakland, California community. This may you give you some inkling of the SLA's philosophy–possibly too subtle for most of us to comprehend.

The SLA sans Patty
 The group that kidnapped, and subsequently "brain-washed" Patty Hearst was made up of three men, two white, one black, and five women–all white. Patty made six; and she was also white. Their leader was the sole black member who went by the assumed name, Cinque ( pronounced 'Sin-kay'), and wore the impressive title, Field Marshal. All of the group adopted what they purported to be African names; their avowed purpose being the destruction of racist, capitalist, fascist, Amerikkka. Yes, that's how they both spelled it and pronounced it. Whatever you may think of this group and its aims, they were certainly a conflicted knot of humanity. Bank robbing came next.

The heist at the Hibernia was well-planned, if not executed. While liberating money from the corporate oppressor they managed to shoot and kill two unarmed people. Everything was captured on the film of the security cameras–including the newest addition to the guerrillas ranks–Patricia Hearst. Wielding a sawed-off M-1 (the rest carried an assortment of automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns) she announced her identity, purpose, and new-found solidarity with the cause of oppressed peoples as championed by the SLA! A legend was born. Patty Hearst was now Tania. This being the moniker of a female revolutionary who died with Che Guevara in Bolivia. Curiouser and curiouser–Alice had certainly stepped through the looking-glass.

Tania (Patricia Hearst)
Fleeing from the intensifying heat they had generated in the San Francisco area, the gang headed south to hole up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton. This would turn out to be mistake. After fortifying a small house in this predominantly black, and poor, neighborhood, it appeared some neighbors took note of this sudden influx of heavily armed white people. Took note and grew alarmed despite the SLA's assurances that they were, in fact, there to protect and liberate them. It seems that some did not want the kind of liberation they deduced might be in store for these guerrillas.

Oblivious to these concerns, Tania (Patty), in the company of William and Emily Harris (Now known as Yolanda and Teko… say what?) set out to buy some supplies for their new household. This did not go well. While in the store, Revolutionary Teko decided to liberate some sweat socks that he was in sore need of. Why he did this when they had the requisite cash (Hibernia Bank job, remember?) will never be fully understood by the bourgeois mind. A security officer employed at the store attempted to uphold the reactionary status quo, and a struggle ensued with Teko. Yolanda joined in. Tania, having been left in the van parked out front, became alarmed when she saw that her revolutionary brother and sister were in dire straits. She reacted quickly and decisively by opening fire on the front of the store with a machine gun. This did have the effect of inducing a sense of despair in the security officer, and he chose the better part of valor at this juncture. The dynamic people's soldiers rushed out to freedom and Sister Tania.

In something of a panic now due to the attention they had drawn upon themselves, the rest of the evening and next several days was spent stealing and switching cars. The descriptions of all three were instantly recognized and the L.A.P.D. now knew that the feared SLA was in their town. This was to have repercussions for the folks back at the ranch(er).

As word circulated through the media and the Compton neighbors realized exactly who the new folks on the block were, a few discrete calls were made. So, while Tania and crew tooled around L.A., the FBI and police gathered their forces and laid siege to Cinque's band of not-so-merry pranksters. Though they were repeatedly offered the chance to surrender, this had never been in their plans according to Patricia's 1982 autobiography. A fierce firefight ensued, mostly fought with fully automatic weapons. Tear gas and smoke bombs fired into the house by the police resulted in the building catching fire. This in turn began to set off the crates of ammunition and bomb-making material within. No SLA member offered to surrender and none survived. The house burned down around them.

Tania during Hibernia Heist
 The three remaining, at-large, members (including Tania) made themselves scarce upon hearing the news, and went on to reconstitute the SLA with new members, succeed in robbing another bank (during which Yolanda killed a perfectly innocent wife and mother with a shogun blast), and bomb a police car. In the fullness of time, they were at last apprehended and brought to trial. Tania (now Patricia Hearst once more) became the focal point of public, judicial, and political interest: was she a willing participant, or a helplessly brain-washed victim of terrorists? Theories abounded; talking heads chattered.

As for the jury handed her case– they weren't buying it. In spite of her attorney's attempts (a rambling, and almost incomprehensible F. Lee Baily) at convincing the jury that his client was simply another victim of the SLA, they just weren't having it. They found her guilty of robbery and assault and she was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. President Jimmy Carter foiled all this with an order of Executive Clemency after only two years served.

I must admit, that during these amazing chain of events (okay, I am old enough to remember–and a lot more besides) I was of the opinion that the jury got it right. Okay, the bad guys kept her in a closet (and not the walk-in kind) for seven weeks while blasting soul music at her day and night; but what's not to like about Otis Redding; James Brown? I'll also grant that being forced to listen to lectures on her political responsibility for the world's ills (largely because her father was what we now call a one per center) would try the patience of a saint. But joining up? To me, it just didn't add up.

Yet, we have the Stockholm Syndrome advocates. The general theory grew out of a bank robbery gone wrong in (you guessed it) Stockholm, Sweden. The robbers, foiled in their attempt to escape the bank with their loot took hostages. The police went to work trying to negotiate their release. The entire episode dragged on for days (or was it weeks? ) when lo, and behold, the hostages began to take up for their captors, complaining of their treatment by the forces of law and order. Some even went further, justifying the robbers' actions and blaming the police for the entire situation… including the robbery.

Still, in my mind, I'm thinking that's a long way from a hostage taking one of the bad guy's guns and opening fire on the home team. But, remember, Patty's ordeal was far longer and more intense than that of the Swedes: she was subjected to sleep, sensory, and food deprivation, constant threats to her life and that of her family, she was raped. A young woman in her very early twenties, brought up in a devoutly Catholic household amidst private schools and a close family network. Still, I'm thinking…

There's certainly a school of thought regarding behavior modification (Pavlov and his drooling dogs, etc… ) that argues a person's mind can be controlled through various methods. Naturally, as a writer, my own mind leaps to "The Manchurian Candidate"; "A Clockwork Orange". But wait, the would-be zombie hit man of the former defies his programmer in the end; foiling her plans rather decisively. As for the latter fictional example, Alex is not really changed at all, is he? Only his responses are; his violent yearnings remain (in the novel, not the film) forever unsatisfied, and he a clockwork organism pining for better; bloodier, days. Could this have been Patty during her Tania days? Was she acting as programmed while wistfully recalling the peaceful days of her 'other', lost life?

Tania/Patty
Her autobiography, "Every Secret Thing" would lead one to think so. I read it with a jaundiced eye, indeed. But, I must admit that she did manage to convey the pervasive sense of terror she endured during the initial weeks of her captivity. I thought of my own daughters in such circumstances… then quit thinking about it fast. What wouldn't you do to stay alive?

Ironically, according to Patty, the SLA crew, after granting her membership status (a propaganda coup dreamed up by the Field Marshal), repeatedly asked if she was doing so out of her own free will. This after seven weeks in a closet, blindfolded, threatened and raped. Well, they were liberators, remember, and had an image to consider. Additionally, they drilled nearly everyday for the final showdown with the "pigs" that they were convinced was going to happen. It was made clear to Patty that surrender was not an option. Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecy; talk about ideal conditions for Stockholm Syndrome. Remember Jonestown, anyone?

Okay, so I started moving closer to Patty's version of things. If she was to be believed, then her circumstances appeared pretty compelling. But how do you explain the hardware store incident? Remember Teko's socks? Patty was left alone in the van while her captors were inside the store–she opened fire with a machine gun in order to facilitate their escape.

Why didn't she drive away while she had the best chance she'd been given up till that point? I just couldn't get my mind around it. Had they really, and truly, made her into a convert? Or was she right where she wanted to be? Was it a genuine conversion, or a programmed survival mode she could not cast off? A young woman with no particular political leanings is kidnapped, only to emerge a few monts later as a violent urban guerilla. Things that make you go… hmmmm.

I've got to admit… I'm a little stumped. In the final analysis, the more information I considered, the more I dithered on a definitive answer. The jury was charged with considering Patty's acts while in the company of the SLA and got it right: she did participate in armed and deadly robberies, kidnappings (I skipped over that part as gilding the lily), and the firing of an automatic weapon on the streets of L.A. She did do those things. Why she did them is still up for grabs thirty-seven years later. Her own book never makes the claim that she was successfully "brain-washed"; only that she was very successfully terrified into unquestioning obedience to her captors. What do you think?
JB (Julian Brendan– English teacher, editor)
with JJ (James Joyce– a Big Shot Writer)

The characters you see portrayed here were not members of the dreaded SLA, but the equally feared Professor (see first paragraph) and collegue on an outing in Dublin. I'll let you determine which is which. I've not found a suitable photo of his sister for the line-up, but am working on it.


29 November 2011

When We Were Very Young

By David Dean

A number of postings on SleuthSayers have concerned the act and nature of creative writing and brought up a lot of interesting issues: outline or free-form, cozy vs. hard boiled, first person narrative or third; just to name a few; recently, Dixon Hill did one on endings which I enjoyed very much.  So I thought I'd throw something else into the pot--Why do we write?  And beyond that, why do we write what we do?  Things that we never considered when we were very young.

I'd like to think that I can write anything that I want (at least fiction), but when I seriously consider it; I'm not so sure.  For instance, could I really pull off a romance story of the ripped bodice variety?  My inclination is not only to say no, but hell no!  Why not, you may ask; you being the consummate professional you are?  Well, I would answer, "Cause it just doesn't interest me, and I seriously doubt I could stay focused long enough to pull it off."  Besides, I'm not very clear on what a bodice is exactly and am too shy to march into the nearest Victoria's Secret and demand a viewing.  But if I did muster the required nerve necessary in the pursuit of that ringing authenticity for which I am known; I would have to request the modeling of a torn one, and I'm thinking my Robin (not Christopher) wouldn't like that.  But a Western, maybe so…I think I could do that.  War story...ditto.  Horror...oh, yeah.  Literature...sure, I've got a thesaurus.  So, in other words, I've got limitations.  I'm not saying that I couldn't write the romance novel if there was a gun to my head, but I would have to be certain it was loaded.

I suspect there's a few of you who would agree that we don't just write what we know, but write what we must, to a large degree.  I still believe in free will mind you, but I also believe we work out of all the experiences and influences that make us who we are and inform our choices on the subject matter, genres, style, endings (happy, grim, or positive), etc., of what we write.  Even the fact that we write at all is a choice.  I mentioned in my first posting that I began to write as a requirement of a college course I was taking; but I didn't have to continue; that I chose.  It was what I wanted to do from that moment onward.  The sum total of my experiences, as Elizabeth Zelvin touched on a few weeks ago, had given me something to say.  Not that I grasped that at the time.  Self-awareness came later, and with it exile from the Hundred Acre Wood.

Once published (just once, mind ye) we become professionals; thrown in amongst the great of the land; the frailties and excesses of our youth no longer tolerable; all excuses to be checked at the door.  So we concentrate on style and craftsmanship and write and write...but what, exactly?  Well, in a sense, we write about ourselves.  The particular genre(s) that we work in probably say something about us right from the start.  In my case, it's laughingly obvious--a cop writing cop stories in the beginning, and later on, crime fiction of various bents and persuasions, but almost always crime stories.  Even when I wrote a family saga and a horror novel (both languishing in a desk drawer) they involved a crime or crimes.  It's what I know...but it's more than that; it's also who I am, and I don't mean just a retired policeman.  After all, you write crime stories as well as me, and not all here are ex-law enforcement. 

My best guess is that there are as many motives for writing crime fiction as there are people writing it.  I know that a love of order has a lot to with it in my case; and a desire for justice as opposed to the rather dry, unsatisfactory rendering of the law that the courts dispense.  Writing allows that.  Can you think of a single profession where the practitioner exercises more control over his creation than that of an author?  Almost everyone else has to work in a collaborative fashion.  That is only true of us when our work reaches the hands of a willing editor.  We may be called upon to make changes and alterations, but the content; the soul of the work, remains largely untouched.  After all, it's being published because of what the editor found there, not for what they wished they'd found.

When we were very young, it was easy and comforting to believe that we could accomplish anything that we put our hands to, but with the painful self-awareness of experience and, dare I say it, the onset of wisdom, are we not better off; better writers for it?  A greater understanding of who I am and what motivates me is not actually restricting at all, but ultimately liberating: the small world that I inhabit becomes just large enough to encompass the universe.

So what say you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury?  Could you just chuck crime fiction today and begin a new career in Science Fiction tomorrow?  How about plumbing or lion-taming? Any takers?  Well, let me know your thoughts.  In the meantime, I'm reconsidering that romantic novel career...the more I've thought about the research required the more intrigued I've become, and besides, a challenge keeps you young.