Thursday, July 7, 2011

Topic: The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2011" My guest today Author M. Cid D'Angelo

Topic: "The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2011"

My Guest today. Author M. Cid D’Angelo.

"The Moral Compass in Writing"

"Morality is a hindrance. We limit ourselves because of our perception of social norms, of believing in fair play. The greatest magicians are those who are willing to accept the consequences of their actions. They do not believe in accidents, in randomness. They believe that they are forever at the center of their existence, in control of their fate." The Red Queen, ENCHANTRESS ON THE EDGE (M Cid D'Angelo)

It was Machiavelli who illustrated well the philosophy of unreserved action without troubling oneself over consequences. He argued that the Prince should show no mercy when applying his will; that he should accept everything that he does and desire as so long as the Prince understands and accepts the consequences of his actions.

In this argument, morality is abstract; it is but a quaint invention of human society. Nature is cruel, but not cruel by intention if by design. Social animals and insects rarely thrust their individual needs before the group; their instincts hardwired into their behavior for the good of the hive, pride, what-have-you. These social structures in nature become one unit, acting at the will of what that society deems necessary to survive.

Human beings are individualistic social animals. We perceive ourselves with self-identity, yet, we also desire the survival tactic of being stronger en masse. The self-identity then becomes a random factor in what would be a true communistic society if everyone shared the same ideals and goals. We have those who show a great deal of altruism instead of selfish pursuits; we have humanitarians and murderers.

In Dr. Joshua D. Greene's essay, "Fruit Flies of the Moral Mind", the philosopher proposes several well-known scenarios to illustrate the moral dilemma that human beings can face from day-to-day, offering altruistic or utilitarian choices.

The Crying Baby Dilemma

You have an infant in your arms while with a group of people. There are enemy soldiers nearby looking for your group. If they find you all, they will kill you. Suddenly, the infant begins crying, so you place a hand over its mouth. You then are faced with a moral problem: if you keep holding your hand over the baby's mouth, you will end up suffocating it; if you do not, the infant's cries will alert the soldiers and they will end up killing you all. What do you choose to do? Kill your baby, or face the wrath of the soldiers?

The Switch Dilemma There is a group of people near a railroad track. At that moment, a train loses control and will jump the track and kill everyone unless the far switch is activated. However, there is no time to hurry over to switch it. The only recourse is to push an unsuspecting fellow into the switch as hard as you can, throwing him into the train's path and killing him. The upside? You save the many people across the track. The downside? The man you push dies. What is the best option? The life of one for the life of others? Or is the choice of murdering the unsuspecting fellow too much for you to take on - at least if the group of people die, it was not at your hand?

In my Artemus Dark novel, Dark Running, one of the hero's adversaries is a cold, calculating fellow who will stop at nothing to gain his objectives. He has no social moral compass, but he does possess the capacity for social efficiency, i.e., he does not kill or hinder anyone just for the sake of causing harm. This moral question is brought up again in my other novels, Darkness Becomes You and Enchantress on the Edge. In both we have "villains" who understand the need for social norms and morals for the group to survive, but, individualistically, they are quick to take the road of self-interest in furthering their own goals.

The moral compass of a character in a story, even beyond the dilemmas of the hero/heroine, creates a vortex of inner struggle and turmoil. Are we altogether altruistic by nature, or just a society of individuals bounded by our own self-interest? After all, we live our lives subjectively. No one travels our same road. Whether we live for others or live for ourselves, we all reach the final fate.

Link to purchase "Dark Running" What are your thoughts on my guests post? Please join in the discussion ...


  1. Morality in writing - will tie it into sexuality for the purpose of my comment and this series.

    Is there such a thing as "immoral" sex between adults? I think not. I am not talking about adultery, rape, or other acts where there isn’t 100% consent between all parties. I’m referring to adults who willingly want to engage in sex with one another.

    Recently, I was a judge for a porn awards event and watched snippets of several films with a group of girlfriends. They were interested in seeing what my criteria was for determining whether a film was good or not.

    Before we even got to that discussion, one of the women said “That is just so wrong.” She was referring to an explicit scene with transsexuals. It’s not important what the scene was, but her comment really struck me. Wrong? How could sex be wrong? All parties were deriving pleasure from what they were doing, whether giving or receiving. Her definition of “wrong” behavior was someone else’s “normal.”

    I attribute morality in the same way to sex in film, literature, and ultimately in life. The rule I abide by is “First do no harm to others, and don’t incur harm to yourself.”

    Everything else is a matter of choice.


  2. Those are mighty tricksy examples, Mike. They appear to be about altruism because in one instance "we" end up dead and in the other we don't, but of course they're not. For me the instant "oh but of course I wouldn't do that" response they elicit illustrates one of the most repugnant parts of the human psyche, or which a *lack* of altruism is just a part. The lack of altruism is clear on reflection - in both examples you're in a group - how are you being altruistic towards the others in that group by so easily being able to shut out their lives from our considerations because we can more vividly imagine the suffering caused to one than to many? That's not altruism, it's conscience cleansing. And it leads to the second consideration that for me is one of the most widely held and reprehensible positions one can adopt - that we are more responsible for what we do than for doing nothing. We like to think that not speaking out or acting against horrors of which we are aware is OK when raising our hand to commit violence is not. It helps us sleep at night in a world where we know of countless horrors and do nothing.

    Eden, your comment excellently illustrates the relevance of Mike's post to sex - essentially in terms of harm and consent. I have to say, "harm" is another hugely slippery concept. What exactly is "harm" (and it's made more slippery by the reference to harm to oneself)? If it's purely pain, where does that leave consensual S&M? If it's something more holistic, possibly not connected to the immediate wishes of those concerned, then your prudish friends may well join in the argument by saying that is exactly their point. As a "self-harmer" for several years as a teenager, I would go so far as to say there were one or two times when causing myself physical "harm" was what kept me alive. I think ultimately what you mean by harm is damage to a person's autonomy, which is what lies behind most views about consent. That of course, in the sexual context (I'll be talking about transgression and paraphilias in my post)raises the further question of how to weigh autonomies against each other - when one person's expression of their autonomy involves the repression of another's, how do you weigh the two - especially given what I've suggested above about the equivalence of doing and not doing? I don't have any answers. But I hope I've made some sort of a case for the slipperiness of the subject.

  3. I generally follow the Do No Harm ideal, but as pointed out, sometimes "harm" is a subjective term. A moralist who believes "sin" harms the soul would argue that harm is being done despite the mutual pleasure of consenting adults.

    There is also the question of consent. We are driven unconsciously by instincts, needs, and desires--there is little choice in whether we eat, or drink, or sleep. Procreation and socialization are very basic human instincts, so how much behavior is consensual and how much is striving to meet a subconscious need?

    This post brings up interesting philosophical and ethical questions, but trying to stay on the subject of sex in lit--it can be argued that we have an ethical duty as writers to present sex in a healthy, positive way and not perpetuate the taboos and repressions which restrict self expression and fulfillment.

    But then, of course, we could debate the whole definition of what is "healthy and positive." In the end all we can do is what we feel is right and best.

  4. Dan, interesting thoughts...consensual S&M wouldn't be harm in my definition , but I agree it's not clear cut at all. What turns people on sexually is such a mystery - that's what I mean by "choice." Even if you are a masochist and someone else may classify your choice as being harmful to self (either physically, mentally or both) - at the end of the day, we should still have the freedom to choose what we want to do - agree - slippery, and worthy of much more discussion than is possible here.

    Max, wow...the concept of "sin " for me is more slippery than "harm" and definitely requires more than this forum to discuss. Suffice it to say that I don't categorize any sexual act as sinful , but that could be because I'm an atheist - not sure.

    Your 2nd paragraph is definitely food for thought - I like it, and it could open a whole different discussion on Darwinian thought of "nature vs nurture."

    I suppose there's a part of me that sits on the fence about ethics in writing fiction, especially where sex is concerned. After all, I'm not writing a "how-to" sex manual. I write to entertain, and not to preach, so although I write "real" sex, it may still be considered taboo to some.



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