Morally Nihilist (part I)

An agent of chaos.

Yesterday, I was having a debate with a few people about the concept of morality. It’s amazing how a debate about politics can quickly descend into ad hominem attacks and sny, subtle insults, but philosophy and moralty can be discussed with a rational calmness that I find enlightening.

During the conversation, I clarified my morally absolutist position against a more relative position. But the intrigue came from user ‘Mossy Toes’ whose claimed to support relativism but whose arguments sounded more in line to nihilism. I ended my point teasing, “Easy there, Joker.”
“Why so serious?” Mossy replied back. I turned down his offer to discuss it on the debate lounge for the time being. But I gave the manner some thought throughout the night and in the morning. Moral nihilism is difficult to discern. A kind of catch-22 of reason that is tricky to define or at least prove.
Why is nihilism so tricky? When you deny the concept of morality in general, there is still a cold assertion of logic that can serve as a basis of morality. Mossy Toe’s view was built around the biological juxtaposition of humans as animals, which is true. He cited a few examples of moral absolutism being undone by circumstances which challenge such values and find its believers wanting, such as a starving civilization finding the sacrifice of its children as noble, or even a moral duty.
You may live in the jungle and adhere to no “delusions of morality” as Ian Holm‘s character put it in the movie Alien. But that still creates a fundamental paradox, an acceptance of the survival of the fittest. Hence you have that ah ha moment, where in denying morality, you inherently accept a much simpler code of it instead.
As I considered that, I found myself thinking about the man who has been on everyone’s mind since 2008. Heath Ledger‘s version of the Joker was a triumph of moral nihilistic thinking, at least in his ability to challenge everyone else’s moral standings.
That was his raison d’être.
For anyone who has seen the film, which drew inspiration from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, the Joker’s real goal was to render away everyone’s morality. His approach was simply to create the extreme circumstances of which test our sense of what is right or wrong. Kill this man or he’ll blow up a hospital. Blow up the other boat and he’ll let you live. Take off your mask or he’ll kill someone.
Perhaps the Joker did bow to the “survival of the fittest” concept, but his application of nihilism was to scrub away the veneer of morality that people apply to maintain some order in their lives.
Moral relativists can be harder to break for that reason: They would often have an easier time accepting that the circumstances were dire and justify normally abhorrent actions. What works, works, as pragmatists would say. But sooner or later, they will get backed into a corner where they find, at the base of the flexible set of acceptable standards, a morally absolute bedrock that they will not cross. The line in the sand.
I would imagine that most, though not all, moral absolutists are like eggs. They might have some loftier views of ethics, but in the face of a moral test, they crack quickly. And are left with a hypocrite’s shame of being unable to live up to their own expectations.
But then there are those moral absolutists who hold on. Batman, with the exception of when he almost turned himself in, could be described as morally absolute. The kind of grounds we usually think of when we devise heroes and protagonists. We often mock people who publically declare their values, because we’re so used to being let down. It takes action, not words, to define one’s position. Conviction must be proven.
I’ve often found that people tend to have the highest respect for moral absolutism whenever we can legitimately hold onto it. When we don’t bow to the pressure compromise with our integrity.
And that, of course, is the hard part. 

Job Hunt and Writing Women

A brief update today. My day is not as productive as I hoped. I needed a few moments to write this out as to help me focus.

On the job hunt, I’ve got a really good one tomorrow. It’s a phone interview plus an assessment test I have to take. My Java studying has not been successful as I had hoped. I study but screwed up an assessment test last week that really ruined my Friday.

I’m determined, however, to finish everything on my “to do” list this week. And it is a very long list. Some of it is day-to-day, including working out, writing and studying. I’ve added cooking at home to cut back on expenses and to eat better. Besides this, I also have a number of other chores that need doing, such as getting my passport and doing my taxes.

I made time to do some writing this week. Or rather, I’ve set aside five sections of my list with 1,000 words a piece. What’s made this new piece more difficult is that it is:

1) More political, focused on the issues of a kingdom.
2) Takes place in an Arabian fantasy theme.
3) The main character is a woman warrior.

Now, that last one throws me. Anyone who claims to know what is going on in a woman’s head is absolutely lying, even if they are another woman. They don’t want you to know. And many will tell you they don’t like the thought of someone to have “cracked the code” on the mind of women.

The Yoga Master 5000.

Robo-Ripley, rip!

So I ask, why bother? Don’t get in her head. Let her have her secrets and just look at the action, at what they do. Besides, what people do is what really defines them anyway.

For every awesome strong female lead, there are probably a handful of bad ones. It’s pretty hard to do a great action heroine, but I can still think of a few examples. Sigourney Weaver in Alien and Aliens certainly was. Sometimes, certain actresses do well in that strong support role, like Lena Headey who played Leonidas’ wife in 300.

I can list off bad heroines, but why bother? In scientific theory, one can learn more from mistakes and failed theories than one can from a theory that is proven correct. But in engineering it’s the other way around, as those successful theories are widened and improved upon, expanded and further uses and applications are found.

Considering that I’m drawing inspiration from games like Diablo and stories like Berserk and 1001 Arabian Nights, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not pioneering a new frontier. So I’d rather figure out a character that works drawn from successful and interesting heroine, rather than try to devise a new archetype.

Bolt-Horror Reviews

There's no rule against the undead submitting stories, buuuuuuuut....

There's no rule against the undead submitting stories, buuuuuuuut....

The Bolt-Horror 2011 Writing Competition is complete. In the future, I will settle for a shorter name for the tournament.

Still, four writers submitted stories which you can read if you would like. They are Mauthos, LordLucan, greywulf and YeOldeGrandma. I will be reviewing their work here and now.

I thought long and hard about how I was going to do the review process. I did it by three ways

First, I put on some creepy music. Specifically, Nox Arcana and Behold the Darkness by Medwyn Goodall, great music for their creepy tones and lack of lyrics to make the reading easier.

Second, as I read the stories, I took down my favorite parts into a separate text file. I did this in order to review my favorite parts from each of the stories after I finished reading them all. You see, I think it’s common for people to really pump up a story after finishing it because of some sense of accomplishment. I sometimes feel that book ratings on Amazon tend to get pushed up by book lovers who become euphoric after they finish reading almost anything.

And third, I focused chiefly on only one thing: How much the stories creep me out. I let minor grammar and spelling issues go as long as they do not horribly weaken the story. They are, after all, stories of only 2,000 words in length and written in a period of a week.

Let us begin.

Untitled by Mauthos

Am I not loveable, mortal?

Am I not loveable, mortal?

As I read this piece by Mauthos, a few things struck me. First, I liked his ability to devise a setting in a concise manner. He had expended about a paragraph of words, and in the process had succeeded in setting up the stage for his story to be told upon. The setting is carefully maintained and cultivated as the story continues, suggesting that stage design is probably Mauthos best writing strength if this tale is anything to go by.

A few things about his writing style proved distracting, chiefly his use of run on sentences. There were a few portions which could have been broken down and apart to tell the story a little better. Second was that sometimes he got caught up in his descriptive words, as he sometimes tripped over them. One paragraph dealt with silence, and then mentioned rain, thunder and lightning. I also caught several homophones that were wrong. Headless over heedless, heal over heel.

These problems were markedly reduced towards the end as Mauthos seemed to hit a “groove.” The story picked up and took itself towards the climax, giving an explanation of how the main character was placed in such a desperation situation. The tale was satisfying, but Mauthos himself admitted that the story did not hit the theme of horror particularly well. If I were in Mauthos’ shoes with this idea, I would have taken this story and mixed a touch of the original Alien into it. I would have kept the setting but focused on the concept of knowing what your foe is and trying to come to grips with the terror it causes.

Little Harkan’s Adventure Behind the Mirror by LordLucan

Right from the start, LordLucan hits the nail on the head with a point some writers have been making for years. A fairy tale is really just a horror story for children and adults who don’t like horror. And doing a story this way immediately contrasts it with all the other tales.

LordLucan’s method is character dependent. Telling the story as though it were told to a child is both a blessing and a curse. It sacrifices details and plot for story and characters, but a fairy tale approach is more clever use of 2,000 words than a regular story in some ways. He doesn’t create the setting, but uses the cast to explain the stage for those who are Warhammer baptized. The story will ring clear as a bell for anyone who knows the Imperium and basic Eldar lore. For the uninitiated, this story would be confusing. Even I had to reread a few parts once or twice to make sure I understood the context.

But the creep factor for LordLucan’s work was undoubtedly there. As the story came to its conclusion, I felt a touch of nausea as to the fate of the protagonist. LordLucan was tasked with a horror story and sure enough, he delivered.

Residue by greywulf

First person perspective is misleading at times. Sometimes, the reader reasons that since the character is also the narrator, he or she will survive what happens. After all, if the narrator dies, the story is usually over. The beauty of FPP however is that things tend to feel a bit more graphic. It’s kind of a psychological trick. For example, a reader reads:

“Even though I was pulling against the black tendrils seeping from my fingers, the rope of bubbling pitch relentlessly dragging me.”

And in reading this, I have to fight down the thought that this is happening to me and not the protagonist.

Greywulf’s piece starts with a degree of creepiness that magnifies over time. From the get go, it capitalizes on claustrophobic fears and a subtle, slow sense of “something is wrong.” The writing style is stronger than some of the earlier entries with shorter sentences and simpler choices in words. This, both in setting and writing style, make it more accessible for general readers.

It was hard to find any particular flaw in greywulf’s work as I read and reread it a few times. And it slowly struck me. It was a well written piece overall and there are no weaknesses, but there aren’t any strengths either. There aren’t really any moments about it that captivate me. The story is a slow, chilling murmur where others are a shock or a scream.

It is Said by YeOldeGrandma

Forget characters and plot, let’s do a ghost story.

From the start, it was hard to stop reading the tale by YeOldeGrandma. It was short and sweet, the kind of story that isn’t meant to be read but rather heard over a camp fire. The repetition was tiring on the eyes when read, but when spoken allowed is meant to captivate the audience. And I know from experience that was exactly what it would do.

Rather than a description of the monsters outside, YeOldeGrandma cleverly left the monsters unseen and without explanation or detail. Doing so plays upon the word “monster” in our minds, conjuring an image of our own imagination. It’s a classic tactic, where the greatest motivation of our fears is our own design. YeOldeGrandma is merely exploiting our own over thinking minds against us.

Weaknesses? A few. With a few extra words to explain what Morrslieb and Drakwald are, I could recommend this story to anyone, Warhammer fan or not. And second, I have to pause and do some soul searching on it. It is a ghost story, but it feels like one that is meant to be told orally. It’s easy to forget that not all story tellers are writers. Is it a good story? Absolutely.

But is it a good written tale? I’ll dwell on it for a while.