>> Tuesday, August 3, 2010
The other day, I was talking about violence, noting that bad guys and good guys might both indulge in violence, even killing/murder, in my fiction, but with distinctions as to what was or wasn't acceptable. But, there's something I often find even harder to justify than murder: apathy.
Often, I find characters far less sympathetic or appealing if they are completely passive, if they stand idly by as bad things happen to others, even though that is a frequent occurrence in real life. If they cower in fear rather than stand up for the "right" thing, I often find myself contemptuous though that is one of the most common reactions to oppression and brutality. Even characters who wander through their stories reacting to or having their decisions made by what happens around them rather than actively shaping or directing their own actions leave me, well, uninterested.
Truth is, I'm more likely to find a principled assassin appealing than such a character. Why? Well, for one thing, the assassin is, for whatever reason, taking a stand, deciding his own fate. I can respect that even if he's not a nice person. But I have limited respect for a character that allows him- or herself to be buffeted along by fate and circumstance without lifting a finger to help himself, help others, even do something that would change his or her fate.
Part of it is that, all too often, such characters take no responsibility for their circumstances. Fate and environment are blamed for all their troubles, and their own unwillingness to do anything to change the situation is completely overlooked. The excuses are legion. "I couldn't make a difference anyway." "I had no choice." "What could I do?" "It wasn't any of my business."
Part of it, too, is that apathy is so human, so common, so prevalent that it is part and parcel of almost every (if not every) horrible wrong that has ever been done. Apathy isn't necessarily evil, which is one reason it's so insidious - the practitioners do not engender hatred so much as contempt and pity - yet it is a vital element in the spread and effectiveness of evil.
Apathy is the ultimate enabler of evil. It is the enemy of change and progress. It is the protector of the predator as it leaves those most weak and vulnerable unshielded. Apathy is the tool of the manipulator because those who refuse to take action are always looking for excuses for their lack of action. It's easier, by far, to dismiss those oppressed or in need by believing they are unworthy (druggies, illegal aliens, lazy, devious, stupid, common, heathens, racially inferior, mentally incompetent, incapable [as women frequently have been called], sly, self-serving - they've all been used) than to take a stand and correct an egregious injustice. The path of least resistance is an ugly one.
So, you won't find many of these types in my books, not as a protagonist or even antagonists. Actually, I try to limit the number of apathetic characters as much as possible because, hey, I don't like them. The characters I'll focus on in my books are people of decision, even if they don't begin that way, who have morals and values and stances, who are willing to pay the price to do what they see is right.
It seems like a small thing, but, when you look at the history of apathy, of the harm it's caused, it's really not so small.