Monthly Archives: January 2014

Morality is an Elephant and We Are the Blind Men

I was re-watching the pilot of Low Winter Sun, and was struck by Lennie James’ commentary on morality as they get ready to kill a fellow police officer. He explains that most people view morality as black and white. Then, some will go to a cocktail party and say it is gray. The character’s observation is that morality is a strobe, jumping all over the place. That made me think on the subject more deeply than I normally would. I don’t know what the writers’ intentions were there exactly, but it was an excellent line for an actor that is superb at playing complex, morally questionable characters.

Further thought led me to a more global view of the subjective morality strobe. The analogy that comes to mind is the story of blind men inspecting an elephant. Each has a different idea of what the elephant is. Since they can’t see from one another’s perspective, they don’t completely understand the elephant or each other. Their disagreement leads to conflict, and none of them know the truth, but presume they do or find themselves confused by a barrage of differing opinions.

Jack the Ripper, Canary in the Coalmine

Jack the Ripper wasn’t the first serial killer, and not the worst. It’s even fair to say that in the grand scheme of things, he wasn’t very interesting at all. Yet, he has a place in history, in the Western Popular Consciousness. The why has been analyzed to death. The newspapers and magazines of the time are blamed for this. However, they were merely the messengers. It seems more likely that the hysteria was incited by technology and this particular case just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

I was inspired to think about this after a conversation with a friend concerning the ending to Model Species. He had a quibble about a small detail which need not be mentioned. What did strike me at the time is that he was looking at the situation with very modern eyes. In some ways, I think this is why we regularly fail to understand the world before the autumn of 1888 when the story began to take off.

It is important to understand the environment at the time. Pictures weren’t common in newspapers back then. The process of converting an image into a plate for print was laborious. However, the technology of photography increased the incentive to automate the process of getting pictures into print. When I looked at the Wikipedia article on photojournalism, I was amused to find the following under the history section:

“The practice of illustrating news stories with photographs was made possible by printing and photography innovations that occurred between 1880 and 1897. While newsworthy events were photographed as early as the 1850s, printing presses could only publish from engravings until the 1880s. Early news photographs required that photos be re-interpreted by an engraver before they could be published.”

Numerous graphic pictures published with the first stories on the murders made the events more real, made it stand out in a way that was new. This reaction made the story a hot seller and spawned the world-wide phenomenon. The 125 years since have made us view news in a different way. It has also changed the way we view and prosecute violent crime. A jury is more likely to convict if they can see pictures of what happened to the victim. They feel compelled to act, whether this is to give just desserts to the powerful or to unfairly condemn those more lowly. The world of 1888 was new to this additional information and was transformed by it.

This has been a quick look at how technology can affect a society, but it reminds me of how monumental a task it is to create a fictional world. It makes me regret the lost opportunity to have made Model Species even better. However, it also makes me want to take a sidetrack from our Apothic Man storyline and explore how a newly devised emetanism changes Gaent and Teria’s next murder investigation and the future of Kenos.