Dialogue, battle, and the dangers of both
G. K. Chesterton once said that the world needs both soldiers and pacifists. Although the context of his remarks was disagreeable, I've always felt his statement was fundamentally true. Even if one eliminates the use of violence, there will always be people in every conflict who feel more inclined toward direct action against the enemy, as well people who feel more inclined toward dialogue with the enemy.
These two impulses need not be in opposition to one another. They may even be found in the same person, though I think most of us can honestly say that we incline more toward either dialogue or battle in societal conflict. In the end, societal conflicts cannot be won only through dialogue or only through battle. Not everyone can be reached through dialogue; not everyone should be fought in battle. Both dialogue and battle are needed in order to achieve justice.
But both impulses bring their own dangers.
In the first part of my Life Prison novel Mercy's Prisoner, Thomas is a man of dialogue. The conflict here is between the prisoners and the guards, who hold different views on the proper way in which to keep the peace in the prison. There's no question that Thomas's sympathies lie with Merrick and the other prisoners, who are being abused by the guards. Yet Thomas regards both sides as lacking a full perspective on the situation. So he engages in dialogue - and in more subtle, wordless methods - as a means to reach the guards and prisoners, so that they can both expand their perspectives.
When I began writing the sequel, Hell's Messenger, my heart sunk. This was the last thing I had expected: that during the years between Mercy's Prisoner and Hell's Messenger, Thomas would have sunk to complacency, appeasement, and withdrawal from the fight for justice.
Yet the possibility was there all along. Merrick had recognized that. He saw that, if twisted the wrong way, Thomas's desire to bring peace through dialogue could end up bringing greater harm.
Complacency. Appeasement. Withdrawal from the fight for justice. That is the danger faced by those of us who are primarily inclined to achieve justice through dialogue. But there is another danger too.
In the Three Lands novel Blood Vow, the Jackal provides Andrew with a choice: Andrew must side with the Koretian rebels and fight the enemy to bring about peace, or else Andrew must allow his native land to be destroyed by the enemy.
It is a false choice, one that Andrew ultimately rejects. Andrew recognizes what the Jackal fails at that moment to recognize: that treating the conflict as a black-and-white matter of Us versus Them will not achieve the justice that the Jackal aims for.
I've been reading a lot of posts and documents recently about the danger of dialogue - the danger of complacency, appeasement, and withdrawal from the fight for justice. These are all very good posts and documents for me to read, since my danger lies precisely in that direction. I have indeed fallen into those tendencies in the past, and despite my best efforts, I expect I will do so again in the future. This is a danger I need to fight within myself.
But I think it's also important to remember that being a soldier for justice brings its own danger. The danger is in adopting the same harmful techniques that may be used by your enemy. The danger is becoming your enemy.
Going from writing Blood Vow to writing Law of Vengeance brought me a different type of sinking feeling. It's no coincidence that who is the Good Guy and who is the Bad Guy is flipped in that novel. Because that novel is - among many other things - about the danger of demonization, the danger that you will adopt such a hard "Us versus Them" attitude that you will end up, not only with a distorted view of your enemy, but also with a distorted view of your potential allies. You will see the world as a matter of White Hats versus Black Hats, and you will fail to recognize how your own hat is growing dingier and dingier, the more that you build walls to divide yourself from the unjust enemy. Soon everyone around you, except for your close allies, are the enemy, and even your close allies are under constant pressure to demonstrate that they are faithful, true believers.
It's easy to recognize demonization when the enemy engages in it. It's darned difficult to recognize it when we engage in demonization ourselves.
This can happen to anyone, but it's especially likely to occur to the soldiers on the front lines of battles for justice - those who must engage in the painful, courageous task of directly battling against evil. This is the soldiers' special danger: Demonization. Adopting an "end justifies the means" tactic of warfare. "If you are not with us, you are against us."
I'm going to add here a series of quotes that I've kept close to me during the past few years, as I've watched the rise of demonization in society and, increasingly, within fandom. But before I do, I want to remind everyone that the other danger - the danger of complacency, appeasement, and withdrawal from the fight for justice - is just as great.
( Other people's thoughts on this subject )
Fight for justice. Defend those without power. But don't let yourself adopt poisonous tactics in the process. Don't become the enemy.