That may seem like an odd question. Why would people crave tyranny? No rational person would desire to have less freedom, would they? Most people hate being told what to do deep down, even if they know it’s good for them. The answer is in the other part of human nature, laziness.
As an author, it is my job to pay attention, close attention to the little details in current events and history. In turn, I can use these things to inspire my stories and make them more realistic. A general theme I have seen in history is that there is freedom and slowly those freedoms are chipped away until there is nothing left but tyranny. Sometimes power is seized and there is a sudden switch from freedom to fascism. However, other times power and freedom of the people is handed over to a government with less than good intentions.
In this post, I will not delve into all the historical examples, that will come later. Right now, I want this theme to be in the back of our minds as we consider what is happening in the world. We need to consider the possibility that sometimes people hand over their liberties in exchange for a false sense of security. The obvious example of this was the rise of the Nazis. When Ben Franklin was asked what sort of government America would have he answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Republics don’t have a good track record of lasting historically long periods of time. This isn’t a political piece and my intent is not to make people afraid. I simply implore my readers to pay attention, to listen, and to remember the past. Remember that once we hand control over, we might not get it back. It is something to think about as tensions rise in America and globally.
There is a trend lately I’ve noticed. Perhaps it’s been this way for a long time, but it didn’t start to grab my attention until about five years ago. I don’t know if it is the hypersensitive culture we now live in that’s contributing or not, but it appears that individual characters in fiction are viewed as representing a whole group. An example, someone I used to know made the comment he doesn’t like the show Home Improvement because Tim Taylor is aloof and a bad example of a husband, father, and a man in general. That assessment may be true, but that isn’t the point. Tim’s character isn’t supposed to represent all men it is an exaggeration of what some men might be like, or more specifically these are traits specific to his character that are hyperbolic due to the comedy genre.
I have come across countless critiques like this where someone will complain about a character poorly representing women, the LGBT, religion, race, or anything you can think of. There may be certain isolated incidents where this complaint is warranted due to shady motivations from the writer. However, unless there is evidence to support that the writer is using a character to propel stereotypes, that shouldn’t be assumed.
The personality traits of my characters reflect on them alone. If a woman has a weakness that doesn’t mean I think all women are weak or need to be saved by men. If there is a male character in my books that is a little dull that doesn’t mean I think men are dull or can only survive if a woman is there to prop him up.
Fiction, if done right, should not be afraid to have a variety of characters and the personalities of the individuals in the story do not necessarily reflect on a greater whole.
I discussed here evil and what it is and how villains in both fiction and reality see themselves as good. I briefly discussed this in that post, but feel that it needs to be further explored, would we recognize evil even if we saw it? Can a culture become so warped that it no longer knows evil when it infects it? History confirms without a shadow of doubt that it is very possible, look no further than Third Reich, or Russia during Stalin’s rule.
Those are just two small examples of long history when humanity has adopted a sort of reverse morality. This is a lesson to all of us, that we must be diligent. It doesn’t take much for evil to become popular and acceptable. Evil isn’t always a megalomaniac, it is often subtle, with seemingly harmless ideas. The difficulty of evil is that it doesn’t always look or feel evil or destructive. It seeps in and slowly poisons everything around it.
Fiction of all kinds address this very issue, and it should serve as a metaphor for what could happen in the real world. Real human history also shows us what happens when we allow toxic ideas to spread and infect until they are normal and they evolve into terrible atrocities. Other than being diligent ourselves how can we stand in the way of evil? The greatest way is to measure it against truth and to not be silent.
Often, we hear “don’t preach at me,” or “don’t lecture me,” when we share our perspectives on morality. Obviously, there is a way to share our thoughts in a way that is more receptive to someone else, but sometimes people simply don’t want to hear differing perspectives. Some folks are so married to their ideology that they cannot even listen to other views. This sort of attitude is never constructive for anyone and does nothing to help society. The thing is, we need to diligently keep an eye out for evil seeping into our lives and culture. Sometimes we need to be “preached” or “lectured” at. Surely no one would deny those saluting Hitler needed it. We see it in both fiction and history, an evil idea becomes popular and those who need to hear truth reject it out of pride and ultimately people suffer. Let us leave this sort of pride in fiction where it belongs.
We live in an emotionally charged world. Ideology is shifting greatly in America and at an exponential rate. What the people held to be true three years ago, is now questioned. People are inevitably upset and demand change, while others want to silence voices that disagree.
As a writer seeing this stuff happen it makes me wonder how much of Fahrenheit 451 might come to pass. I’ve written quite a bit on how easily offended we have become as a culture, but the issue has deepened. Opposite sides of believes often don’t even want to hear each other. People who disagree are now deemed evil, whereas once upon a time both parties might have been able to understand they don’t see the world the same and leave it at that.
Now if there is information that people disagree with there are “safe places” in colleges. There is an ever-growing push to not offend, while on the other hand some take that as a license to be unapologetically offensive. Offending or being offensive is now the worst thing someone can do, and some call for those voices to be silenced and it is already happening. Look no matter where your beliefs fall, you have a right to be offended, and someone else has a right to be offensive. That’s how a free society works. The reason for this is “offensive” is relative. What you are offended by isn’t offensive to your neighbor and so forth. Of course, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some limits on speech, such as threats of bodily harm. When we get to the point in society where we cannot tolerate being offended is when things like art become repressed. Will we get to a point that art is banned or books like in Fahrenheit 451? Maybe not, but extreme censorship is not that farfetched. Despite cultural swings, a writer never panders and never censors. It is the job of the author to tell the story as it is, no matter how uncomfortable. That also includes being true to the characters, and once again, not pander to cultural leanings.
It is interesting times we live in. Will we continue to have thinner skin in our culture as time progresses? Will we push the government to silence voices that hurt our feelings? Will we rise above this and realize that being offended is subjective and a choice? Time will tell.