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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Too inappropriate? (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Too inappropriate?
Grumpy old guy
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Okay . . . what I thought would be a good short story for WotF has now morphed into a novel; need to start from scratch. Not being a 'natural' short story writer, I had to come up with a template for creating such stories. This is it:

Create a character with a problem.

The moment I came up with that concept, I had two stories beating away at the edges of my mind. One of them to do with gun ownership, inspired by recent tragic events.

My question: Would that be considered ghoulish, opportunistic or contemporary?

Phil -- extending his condolences to all affected by insanity run amok, aided a abetted by the insane idea that more guns on the streets makes you safer.

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MartinV
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quote:
...what I thought would be a good short story for WotF has now morphed into a novel; need to start from scratch. Not being a 'natural' short story writer...
That makes two of us, Grumpy. I aimed at WoTF's 17k but ended up with 30k.
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Grumpy old guy
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Don't worry Martin, it'll make a fine novella some day.

Phil.

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rstegman
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Whatever ideas you have, write them. Anything, however bad, can be fixed later.

using something that is happening now, allows you to get real details and feel into your story. If you write like me, the incident might be distant memory before it gets published.....

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Robert Nowall
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Had one written out, some six years ago, on the aftermath of a school shooting---a fantasy---but I was never satisfied with it to the point of submitting it anywhere. Numerous problems---not the least of which seemed that it was ghoulish, and every so often another incident like this past one would come along.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Okay . . . what I thought would be a good short story for WotF has now morphed into a novel; need to start from scratch. Not being a 'natural' short story writer, I had to come up with a template for creating such stories. This is it:

Create a character with a problem.

The moment I came up with that concept, I had two stories beating away at the edges of my mind. One of them to do with gun ownership, inspired by recent tragic events.

My question: Would that be considered ghoulish, opportunistic or contemporary?

Phil -- extending his condolences to all affected by insanity run amok, aided a abetted by the insane idea that more guns on the streets makes you safer.

Short works have foreshortened perspective; the camera obscura pinhole sees a snapshot. Narrowing a dramatic complication, like focusing a topic for an expository composition, is a convention of short works. World War II is a broad topic. The day Lenny Bullit gets shot in boot camp is a narrow topic, narrow dramatic complication.
quote:
]By Grumpy old guy:
Create a character with a problem.

This is part of a dramatic complication. Give a character a problem wanting satisfaction. The problem might be a want; a want for companionship, a want for surviving a bug-eyed invasion, a want for riches, etc., and place opposition to satisfying the want in the way. For a short work, a dramatic complication should take place in a focused amount of time, in a focused place, with a few focused characters, endure a focused amount of struggle, and result in a focused transformation outcome.
quote:
By Grumpy old guy:
My question: Would that be considered ghoulish, opportunistic or contemporary?

Self-serving agendas wait in the wings to say yes, tasteless. Uncovering the meaning of such a tragic event and artfully, meaningfully portraying its dramatic complication might pass muster. Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," 1966, was inspired by a Life magazine article about serial killer Charles Schmid published in 1964. The article and the short story were and are lauded for their artistic merits. The short story artfully borrows from the true crime but accesses greater truths, thematically.

My heartfelt condolences as well go out to the Newtown community.

My creative take on the event might not focus on a gun control agenda or violent gaming, being too broad and contentious, highly politicized topics. Like Oates, I might focus on personal responsibility for actions, say, at root, who, what, when, where, why, and how the event was incited, what it says about a society indifferent to family, friends, neighbors, and casual acquaintances' emotional needs. Speaking of contentious topics. But narrowed, personal focus.

[ December 17, 2012, 08:51 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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The time is always right for a thoughtful, topical story -- even one *inspired* by recent events, not just unfortunately timed. If you wait for good timing on this topic, you may never get it, given how frequently these kinds of horrific events occur.

When something like the Sand Hook shooting occurs, people want two things. First, they want to make sense of the event. Second, they want to fix whatever the problem is, fast.

It's questionable whether we *really* want to reach a point in our thinking where an event like this "makes sense", but I think we can reach a point where we can see a range of possibilities for how it came to be and what might have prevented it. Writers have a critical role to play in that process, for both good *and* bad. When we get to the bottom of this story I suspect we'll find a person who was tormented by a certain combination of paranoia and romanticism that's familiar to me from my writing research into 1930s fascism.

Romanticism is like a medicine that becomes poison when taken in high doses. Without it we don't see the possibilities in the world, with too much we begin to lose touch with a world that of course falls short of our romantic fantasies, and so we turn to dark fantasies. In that mindset the world is either paradise or hell, and it ain't paradise.

Writers have their place in both promulgating that mindset and in debunking it.

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rcmann
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By all means, write whatever your muse impels you to write. Not to do so would be a betrayal of your own self, the lowest form of treachery.

Just please recall that answers are seldom as simple as we wish they were. A day or two after the CT school shooting, I read a headline reporting a multiple shooting in Chicago. Yet I do not recall seeing mention of it on any of the major broadcasts that I watched at the time. Apparently it wasn't newsworthy enough for some reason. Perhaps because such things are more routine in Chicago than they are in Sandy Hook, CT? I decline to speculate on the reasons for passing it up. But I doubt that most people think Chicago's gun laws are too lax.

In Europe and Asia, where guns are harder to come by, there has been a recent upsurge in mass killings by blade. Except in some European countries - places where you *can* buy guns but with great difficulty.

Ultimately, the poor infants died because a madman ran amok. The issue, it seems to me, is keeping madmen from doing things like that. it has always been the issue, all through human history. Whether they were using clubs, or butcher knives, or Colt .45's, or shotguns, or baseball bats, or straight razors.

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Grumpy old guy
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Believe me, rcmann, I know only too well that there are no simple answers. I spent 5 years as a profiler of serial killers, similar to the FBI Behavioural Sciences Unit. The point about most serial killers is that they aren't insane. They know exactly what they are doing and why.

Killings of the sort in Sandy Hook are based on a rationale only understood by the killer. Any 'answers' us poor mortals come up with are really nothing more than guesses.

My 'gut' tells me the shooter was trying to 'save' the children. Yes, that's right -- to save them. From what? Simple, a life like his. But remember, that's only conjecture and really only a guess. I've been out of the game for six years now, so I don't have the ability to see how close to the mark my guess may turn out to be. I'd like to keep abreast of subsequent investigations of the shooter's family situation, but I no longer have access to those types of resources.

Phil.

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rcmann
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My personal definition of 'madman' doesn't necessarily correspond to what the law or a doctor might call insane. I admit that I tend to use the term as a generic catchall for most murderous psychopaths. Whether you are talking about the CT shooter, or Jeffrey Dahmer who kidnapped people and ate them, or any other kind of clear and present danger to the people around them.

Of course many fo them are not actually damaged. Vikings, Roman soldiers, cannibal headhunters, all have been documented as doing things as bad or worse. But they didn't see themselves as outcasts. There is a reason that social groups tend to consider their own value systems superior to the values of others. It's called self-defense.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I heard today that on the same day as the Sandy Hook shootings there was an even larger group of children at an elementary school in China who were attacked by a man with a knife. I haven't heard whether any of them were killed, but apparently several lost fingers and ears in the attack.

The Chinese have not made very much information available.

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Grumpy old guy
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No, Kathleen. None were killed, but a number were injured severely.

Rcmann, it's interesting that you mention Dahmer. John Douglas, an FBI profiler who interviewed him said that he was the only serial killer he had met who he did think was insane. Not clinically, because he knew what he was doing was wrong, but he genuinely could not help himself. Most serial killers 'choose' to act out their fantasies, Dahmer was 'driven' to commit his.

Phil.

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Robert Nowall
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One other note on the story-I-wrote that I mentioned above...if I dusted the story off and sent it out to an editor today, the editor would certainly think it's one of those things "ripped from the headlines," and was just written in response to that incident.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Phil, I have read more than one book on FBI profiling (have to look up the titles, but I know I've read stuff by John Douglas and Robert Renssler--hope I spelled that correctly), and I've also read the FBI's Crime Classification Manual (all the way through!), so I'm interested to know more about your experience in that sort of thing.

Maybe we could start a discussion topic in the Grist for the Mill area?

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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And thank you for letting me know that none of the Chinese children were killed.
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MattLeo
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This is an issue writers ought to think about.

Many if not most literary villains exhibit what I'd call "Augustinian evil". St. Augustine tried to explain how a benevolent and perfect God could have created evil. Augustine's answer is that evil has no independent existence and therefore was not "created" per se. Augustinian evil is the result of making faulty choices -- choosing a lesser good over a greater good. If I am angry at you and I punch you in the nose, it is *good* that this makes me feel better, but that is a lesser good than making peace would be. The habitual choice of the lesser good leads to a kind of derangement of the faculties of moral judgment, but the evil individual is still capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong. He just can't be trusted to decide between two rights.

Augustinian evil appeals to the sensibilities of authors and readers who have a certain psychological, or character-oriented bent. Villains who are evil through faulty choices strike us as credible, understandable, even to a limited degree sympathetic. And certainly this kind of evil is the most common type in the world, but there is evidence of an entirely *different* kind of evil, what I'd characterize as "Manichean evil".

The best examples of Manichean evil come from the serial murderers -- particularly serial *poisoners*. As a medical student Dr. Michael Swango, currently incarcerated in the Federal Supermax prison in Florence Colorado, developed a fascination with dying patients. Soon cases of unexpected death began to follow him from job to job.

Perhaps the most intriguing is Swango's account of why he committed the murders; the state of mind they put him in. Murder was an intensely aesthetic experience for Swango -- it wouldn't be out of the question to characterize it as a spiritual experience for him. And this is what defines Manichean evil -- it's adherence to an alternate, competing and incompatible version of "good".

The legal definition of insanity doesn't even get near what Swango is. It's all about conditions under which a person cannot be held responsible for his actions. But I think Swango is even *less* capable of doing right than somebody who is simply so deranged he commits s murder while he believes he's carving up a pot roast. Swango appears to be wired wrong, he couldn't get the psychological satisfaction that healing a patient would give an ordinary person, except by murdering the patient.

Swango's case provides examples of both Augustinian and Manichean evil. Swango of course is the Manichean evil, but his career was made possible by hospital administrators who considered the problem "solved" once they washed their own hands of him.

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rcmann
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I consider 'evil' to be an invented definition used to describe anti-social actions, or action with which the speaker personally disapproves.

IMO, ethical and moral systems arise as a response to survival conditions. Behavior patterns (again, this is just my opinion) that work against group cohesion, and thus group survival, are quite naturally condemned by the rest of the group. Our particular culture uses the word 'evil', or sometimes 'sick', or similar terms to describe such behavior.

The roots of such behavior (once more, my opinion) lie in the fact that we are all born as feral predators. The process of domestication is called civilizing. Different societies have gone about this process in different ways through history. But the occasional renegade comes about when one of the human pack ends up reaching maturity and only partly domesticated.

In other words, to me, evil is synonymous with behavior exhibited by someone who is insufficiently tamed. Someone who still responding to the natural predatory instincts to regard anything weaker than themselves as fair prey.

Note that this does not apply to the damaged individuals who have physical issues which cause aberrant behavior.

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MAP
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rcmann, I know it is just your opinion, but I think your logic is flawed. Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but it seems that you believe it is unnatural for humans to domesticate themselves and that the natural state is for humans to be murderous. This makes no sense in terms of evolution and survival of the fittest.

I'm not an expert on animal behavior (so please correct me if I'm wrong), but I do enjoy watching documentaries on animal behaviors. Animals coming together to form a "society" is pretty normal. Lots of animals do this. And furthermore animal predators do not kill just because someting is weaker. Animals kill for food, to protect themselves and their young, and for the right to mate. These are all survival instincts. I've never seen any animal just kill for the sake of killing.

And that is what I believe is evil. Killing and hurting without any reason. To me that is against nature, and evil is when humans act against nature.

It is natural for us to come together and form a society. It is natural to kill to protect yourself and others or because you are hungry, it isn't natural to go on a murderous rampage just to kill. I've never heard of any animals ever doing that except humans. That makes no sense at all.

[ December 19, 2012, 11:20 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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Grumpy old guy
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MAP, humans are the only animal that kills for no valid reason. However, higher primates, particularly chimpanzees, are capable of what we would call murder.

As for good, bad, evil and pious; these are value judgements of a particular society at a particular time. I'm a cannibal, you're a vegetarian. We both think the other is sick, deranged, bad and possibly evil. But I live in a society where eating human flesh is a cultural imperative that has survived for thousands of years. Humans are omnivorous, not herbivores, so the vegetarian is more of an aberration than the cannibal.

But this is all intellectual contortionism. In trying to create a profile of a killer, the profiler MUST divorce themselves completely from any value judgement at all. I have to understand what this person is thinking, why he is thinking it and how he feels. That's the scariest part -- turning my mind into a replica of a child murderer. I have to do this so I can understand what drives him.

Of course, none of this swimming in the muck will tell me who a killer is, only what 'type' of person they are. It's called a profile for a reason.

Now, in writing, most of the antagonist I've seen created by beginning writers are one dimensional. Well, actually, even less than that. To my way of thinking, the scariest villain is the likeable one. Some traits common to most serial killers; they are personable, likeable and engaging to their victims. And that's part of the horror.

You'd think, with my experiences, I'd be writing great crime/mystery stories about murder. Doesn't work like that. I need a fully developed personality behind the killings; and I can't create one in enough detail to make it real. That's what's wrong with most fiction stories around this subject. The author is forced to resort to the deus ex machina to make the story work.

Kathleen, that last point is why I don't think a thread on this particular subject would work too well. But, if anyone wants an opinion on something along these lines, I'm happy to oblige.

One last point. Although superseded now, I still prefer the murder triangle as a predictor of personality. So, if you know someone who's a bed wetter, lights fires and is cruel to animals -- stay away.

Phil.

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rcmann
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MAP, you misunderstood me.

IMO, humans evolved from roaming bands of hunter-gatherers. Starting as groups bound together by blood kinship, then gradually becoming more complex. The family growing into the clan, then the clan growing into the tribe, then the tribes forming alliances and morphing into the nation/state.

During the course of this, rules for individual and group behavior evolved as well. The instinctive "you hurt me so I am going to hurt you" didn't work any more, because it led inevitably to social self-destruction (feuds and clan warfare). Likewise, property rights had to become sacred, or at least recognized, in order for the individual to have a vested interest in sharing some of what they had with the group, in return for having the group protect the rest of their stuff.

It's all a case of pragmatic functionality. Laws and customs come into being by trial and error, not because people deliberately decide to make them the way they are. Behavior patterns evolved the same way physical characteristics evolved, by survival of the fittest.

The standard of, 'thou shalt not steal' evolved because it was necessary in order to maintain social cohesion and social harmony. Same for 'thou shalt do no murder', and thou shalt not commit adultery'. These are all behaviors that lead to social conflict and damage the stability of the group. As for the one about adultery, look at the divorce rate today and the result it has had on psychological and emotion damage to families. It all develops in response to survival necessity.

But we are predators. We evolved that way. As best I recall, our earliest ancestor picked up a rock something like 5 million years ago or so. I could be a bit off on that one. But I am sure that by 2 million years ago, homo habilis was splitting stone tools and eating the meat of animals several times his size. People argue whether they hunted or scavenged, but I don;t see that it matters. All hunters scavenge, and most scavengers will kill anything they can handle.

We have been killing and eating meat a lot longer than we have been human. So think about what that implies? Ever watch a cat play with a mouse or a bird? Ever watch two dogs grab a cat between them and tear it to shreds, using the small animal as a toy in a game of tug-o-war? Predators *like* to kill things. Nature is set up such that behavior patterns which promote survival are pleasurable.

Sex is pleasurable, because sex promotes survival of the bloodline. And for a meat eater, killing promotes survival, so killing is pleasurable. Watch films of lions, foxes, wolves, wildcats, etc. You will see the same type of behavior pattern. Cruelty is natural behavior for a predator. Hard coded.

But it is not safe to permit that aspect of human instinct to cut loose inside of human society. A society that permits behavior like that will tear itself apart. Or remain tiny because no other humans will go near it (read history, I won't provoke a flame by citing specific examples).

So we have, by antural selection, developed behavior patterns that condition our youg into supresing their natural predatory instincts. But sometimes it doesnt work right. Sometimes, the person is damaged and incapable of soaking up the training. Or sometimes, the training is flawed because they are being raised by a barbarian or a lunatic. Or sometimes they just fall through the cracks because nobody gives a damn.

When that happens, you end up with the functional equivalent of a feral dog. Or maybe a half-tamed wolf. Someone who might be tame enough to survive in normal society if they are not provoked, but who lacks the internal guidance system to keep them on the domesticated behavior pattern that society specifies.

That's my opinion, worth every dime you paid for it.

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MAP
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Well, we are not going to find any common ground here. Because I don't agree with your view of predatory animals.

I've had a lot of dogs and several cats over the years. And dogs enjoy chasing cats, and cats enjoy stalking mice, but my cats have always been disappointed when they accidentally killed the mice. They bat at it trying to get it to move. I don't think they enjoy the kill, only the hunt.

Cruelty is not the natural behavior of a predator. I do not think that animals are capable of being cruel. Killing seems cruel to us, but it is a necessity for survival for predators.

So I don't think that murder is something that is hard-wired in humans. It just feels like a flimsy excuse to pass the blame of these heinous acts. I'm not buying it.

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MattLeo
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You can't compare cats to humans, because humans have these enormous and sophisticated brain structures dedicated to communication and empathy. A cat playing with a mouse is engaging instinctive behavior which hones its hunting skills; it is incapable of putting itself in the mouse's position. We do that all the time. Sometimes we write about it.

There's no question that humans have evolved complex behaviors and sophisticated faculties which enable us to live in society more efficiently. It's not *all* socialization, some of it is "baked in". For example, create a group of young deaf children who have never had exposure to language and they will spontaneously develop a sign language -- not an awkward pidgin like adults would but full blown language with all the generality and grammatical sophistication of a major language like English or Japanese (Source: Stephen Pinker *The Language Instinct*, William Morrow & Company 1994). Given how elaborate language is, it would be surprising if that were the *only* adaptation for cooperative living that was baked into our genes. Having raised children, it's striking to me that no matter how hard to you try to instill the basic building blocks of morality -- fair play, empathy and so on -- how those faculties never show up until the kid's brain is good and ready for them.

That's not to say that moral education is useless; a great deal of day-to-day ethics is necessarily predicated on the specifics of a society. Take the taboo against sexual intercourse without state or religious authority sanctioned marriage. That's obviously a non-issue in primitive societies that don't have formal institutions, or with remote groups of people that don't have access to religious and state services. The latter also tend to have relaxed attitudes toward interbreeding with near relatives. Societies in which a substantial dowry is expected tend to look upon marriage between first cousins more favorably.

So what is wicked does depend somewhat on social conditions. There is no society on Earth, however, that condones what happened in Connecticut last week. So I don't think that good and evil are entirely arbitrary social constructs; there evidence for that is at the very least inconclusive.

We have to be careful about the lessons on human character we draw from nature, because nature always has more up her sleeve than is convenient for drawing morally tidy conclusions. Yes, she is red in tooth and claw, but what is most striking to me when I go for a walk in the woods is the remarkable prevalence of mutualism and symbioses -- often far-fetched and mind-boggling. Even predation has unexpectedly benign aspects. A population which is not predated upon necessarily ends up starving and disease ridden; a population in balance with its predators tends to be more healthy.

Humans being *conscious* and having *choice* also makes simplistic comparisons between them and a semi-mindless killing machine like a cat dubious.

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rcmann
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Either my writing was incoherent, or the emotions stirred by the subject has rendered some people incapable of reading what I actually wrote.

At no time did I equate, imply, or hint that people were the same as animals. Nor did I say that humans do not have big brains and more options than animals. I *said* that we evolved as predators, that those predatory instincts are still embedded in our genome, and that the training we receive as we grow up is what makes the difference between a civilized (tame/domesticated) human and a barbarian (Viking/Visigoth/Hun/Nazi/Klansman).

Here's something I came across tonight, from the Journal of Experiemental Biology. I found it interesting. I only include it here as an FYI.

http://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/i.1

FIGHTING SHAPED HUMAN HANDS
Kathryn Knight

The human hand is a finely tuned piece of equipment that is capable of remarkable dexterity: creating art, performing music and manipulating tools. Yet David Carrier from the University of Utah, USA, suggests that the human hand may have also evolved its distinctive proportions for a less enlightened reason: for use as a weapon (p. 236)....

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extrinsic
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I assert the issue before the chamber for consideration relates to persons who are indifferent toward the welfare of others, who impose their ideologies on others, often through coercive application of force majeure, without regard to the harms they do, who gain at the expense of others' suffering from their exploitation of persons unable to withstand their abuses of power.

A firearm is a powerful tool, a heinous tool in misguided hands. But indifference in its many forms, from ignoring to diminishing others to cold shoulders to shunning to exile for trivial slights, is subtler and more harmful, at least because the former leads on from the latter.

Ancient humans got along far better than modern humans, for no other reason than they had to to survive. Cooperation was and is a survival skill social beings acquire and practice for the greater good of a group, including expressing animosity toward outside groups. These are inconvenient truths and have been since institutional social stratification arose in humans' dawn times. Indifference and animosity, too, have to be learned.

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Grumpy old guy
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I’m sorry, but too many people are resorting to being anthropopathic. Apart from Homo sapiens, all animal life on the planet lives its life based on instinct and learned behaviour. Even the higher primates, despite attempts to try and prove otherwise. Two lion cubs gambolling in the tall grass are not ‘playing’, they are practicing their hunting skills.

What sets us apart from all other animals is that we can override our instincts. What some are trying to argue is the: I couldn’t help myself defence, or God made me do it. Of course you can stop yourself from doing it; but you choose not to.

If you do it, no one has pointed a gun at your head and said, “Do it!” It all boils down to your choice. If you annoy me I can kill you or not kill you. It’s my choice. All of us can make these choices, even the most mentally damaged. Only the insane cannot help themselves, they don’t know that what they are doing is wrong. And the legal definition is the best for deciding that, because all else is mental impairment. If they try and hide or deny what they did, then they know what they did is wrong. But they CHOSE to do it anyway.

The things that make monsters of some of us are set in early childhood. By the time a person is 8 – 10 years old it’s too late.

Yes, we are social animals – so is a wolf pack. Both have their own internal rules and structures. Where we differ from the wolves is that we choose to cooperate; they do it instinctively. Perhaps the life of a bee is something to strive for?

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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rcmann, I am descended from Viking's; should I take offence? Nah! I'm not berserk enough for that, yet.

Now, your mention of the human hand. Need to be careful there. A chimpanzee's hand is just as capable of fine motor control as is a humans. They are tool users too. What sets us apart is our opposable thumb. You can touch every finger of your hand with your thumb. No other primate can do this.

What does this allow us to do better than any other primate? Manipulate objects in three dimensions with precision. Now, precision is not a word I'd associate with war. Not stone-age war at any rate. But what it did allow our ancestors to do was to make stone tools. We had the dexterity to carve and shape flint axe-heads, arrow-heads and spear-heads. Yes, fine for war, but the overriding need was food.

Our opposable thumb, and our ability to work together toward a common goal are two of the things that havemade us the most successful predators on Earth. Despite our pitiful canines.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Three elements of a crime.
Mens rea: guilty thought, malice aforethought, premeditation.
Actus rea: guilty act.
Attendant circumstance; that is, that the guilty act is proscribed by a society.

A sudden impulse to steal when an opportunity presents does not of necessity constitute a mens rea. Concealing a stolen object does, as well as being a guilty act. Theft is the attendant circumstance.

Disposing of an implement used in the commission of a crime, like a firearm, a lock pick, drill, etc., or holding onto or dispersing the proceeds of a criminal act are actus rea. Planning to do so at anytime prior to actually disposing of the implement or dispersing the proceeds are mens rea. Planning to commit a criminal act and not following up is not a mens rea.

Demonstrating motive, means, and opportunity, while part of a criminal act, generally apply to circumstancial evidence. Purely circumstancial evidence has been successfully used to convict criminals; however, presenting an iota of corroborating fact evidence is a best practice.

Mens rea and actus rea behaviors often provide corroborating fact evidence. Lying about one's whereabouts during the determined time of a criminal act, for example, is mens rea and actus rea. Actually, that is guilty thought, word, and deed.

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, I think what you are describing is an existentialist view of a crime. A crime is an act against the prevailing notions of propriety. These notions are defined by the society within which the individual lives.

Posit a society where all 'right' thinking people believe the world is flat. Anyone who believes the world is round is outside the norms of society. They are 'fair game' for not only ridicule, but persecution. Persecution that may lead to death. Galileo is a case in fact.

What I am talking about is people who commit an act they know to be wrong because they want to. They know the consequences. They know, should they be caught, they will be punished, yet they commit the crime anyway -- because they choose to. Their desire for satisfaction (sexual, or psychological) takes precedence over their desire to 'belong' in society.

Again, it come down to the individuals choice. What's more important to me, my desires or your constraints?

Phil.

PS. Having a little think about it, perhaps we are both saying the same thing; it's just that I like my version better than yours.

Grumpy.

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pdblake
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The writer in me says yes, write what's in your head.

The parent in me, who has recently lost a child in tragic circumstances, is saying get ready for a lot of flack. Grief is neither rational nor predictable and this will indeed be seen as ghoulish by many, many people, whether it is or not.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
extrinsic, I think what you are describing is an existentialist view of a crime. A crime is an act against the prevailing notions of propriety. These notions are defined by the society within which the individual lives.

What about an act that is not proscribed by law that is nonetheless punished? Say a neighbor displays gnomes on his or her front lawn and there is no community covenant proscribing their public display. A majority group decides the gnomes are in bad taste. They decide the gnome owner will be ostracized from community social events and benefits. Legal, but punishment nonetheless. Warranted? No.

If the gnome owner knows the community will take offense at the gnomes' public display and goes forward regardless, is that a guilty thought or guilty act? It is noncooperative. Perhaps it is a guilty act from taking delight in flouting community sensibilities, though not criminal.

If a community group or individual decides to smash the gnomes and does, that is a criminal act, destruction of private property. Escalation would lead to more serious crimes. But for noncooperatively going against community sensibilities, and community intolerance, there would have been no escalation.

Misguided efforts to correct behavior imposed upon an individual to fit presupposed notions of propriety should not be practiced by biased individuals. Humans are biased, period. Is it right to tell a benevolent young person he or she is strangely nonconforming? Is it right to isolate a socially nonconforming individual? Is it right to be intolerant toward slight deviations from a presupposed expectation of normative behavior? No.
quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Again, it come down to the individuals choice. What's more important to me, my desires or your constraints?

Free will is as much a duty as it is a privilege. The duty is to responsibly exercise free will so it does no undue harm to others.
quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
PS. Having a little think about it, perhaps we are both saying the same thing; it's just that I like my version better than yours.

Yes; however, is that cooperative?
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MattLeo
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rcmann -- my point is not to be too simplistic about the conclusions you draw about "human nature" using broad evolutionary reasoning.

There is no doubt whatsoever that humans are predators -- the most formidable predators on the planet. But we're physically not very formidable, other than our tremendous endurance. We're pack hunters, like dogs or lions. Civilization is not simply restraining our prey instincts toward each other so we can work together cooperatively. Working together cooperatively is *part* of our prey instinct. By Phil's argument, human children playing together isn't "play" either. As Maria Montessori noted, "Play is the work of children."

By the way, I had read about Carrier's research, and I don't think much of it. Apparently he's never heard of a "boxer's fracture". Fists are extremely vulnerable punching, which is why boxers wear padded gloves and tape their fists. I've done some bare knuckles fighting, and while I've never broken a hand I've had two people break their hands on me. Safe bare knuckle punching is *not* instinctive, nor is it simple, nor is it all that safe.

This is representative of the kind of sloppy ways people use evolutionary thinking. Sure, making a proper fist does allow you to exert more force in the horizontally oriented punch, but that doesn't mean that a proper fist is instinctive, much less that punching has driven the evolution of the human hand. If that were so, the fifth metacarpal would be much sturdier.

I've done research on white supremacists, and the problem with their thinking is that they build these fantastic deductive structures based on what it seems to them human nature *ought* to be. Induction is a sounder basis for understanding humanity, because it starts with what people actually *do*, and from there proceed to what they *are*.

[ December 21, 2012, 02:31 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I still prefer the murder triangle as a predictor of personality. So, if you know someone who's a bed wetter, lights fires and is cruel to animals -- stay away.

And I guess my fascination with the whole profiling business is because I would like to know why they wet their beds, light fires, and are cruel to animals?

Literary connection: I recommend Dan Wells' I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER trilogy for a presentation of a very interesting (to me, at least) character who struggles with his own tendencies toward the above.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by pdblake:
The writer in me says yes, write what's in your head.

The parent in me, who has recently lost a child in tragic circumstances, is saying get ready for a lot of flack. Grief is neither rational nor predictable and this will indeed be seen as ghoulish by many, many people, whether it is or not.

But grief is natural, at least.

I hope that you have received some (though of course there will never be enough) answers.

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pdblake
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The coroner's inquest was a couple of weeks ago Kathleen. We got all the answers we are ever likely to. It seems our little girl was ill. Perhaps she never even knew why.

The grief is natural, but a parent will never know such a pain. It doesn't feel natural, in fact it feels wrong in every way. Those poor people are going through hell and many will hate a writer for what to them would be trivialising, even intruding, in their personal tragedy.

Anyway, I'm off to see what I can make of the Christmas break. I hope to start writing again in the new year.

Have a good one all of you.

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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Originally posted by KDW:
And I guess my fascination with the whole profiling business is because I would like to know why they wet their beds, light fires, and are cruel to animals?

The search for the ultimate answer. I don't think anyone will really ever find that out. I would hazard a guess that it is a combination of nature (a child's inherent outlook and reaction to the world) and nurture (how the parents and significant individuals surrounding the child comfort any distress the child feels).

As a child I was fascinated by fire, I have no idea why. I even wet the bed a couple of times, but I've never been cruel to animals. I think that last signals a capacity to be non-empathetic. It is that empathy that stops most people from doing 'hurtful' things to others. And by that I don't just mean violent things.

Phil.

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MattLeo
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I thought the MacDonald triad was discredited as having little predictive value.

It's very common to have factors appear in certain situations but have no significant predictive value. Let's take an extreme example. The vast majority of sexual offenders are male. So what predictive value does someone being male have of becoming a sex offender? Not very much. We can all see that because being male is very common.

When we see a striking factor like bed wetting, it's easier to jump to the conclusion it means something. But bedwetting is also very common, although not obvious or talked about openly.

The probability that someone wet the bed given that he is a psychopath can be high without the probability of someone being a psychopath given that he's a bedwetter being high too.

Let A be the statement "Jack is a psychopath"; let B be the statement "Jack wet the bed," and "p(A|B)" stand for the probability of A given that B. From conditional probability we have:

P(A|B) = P(A and B) / P(B)

Rearranging this we get:

P(B|A) = P(A|B) * [P(B)/P(A)]

The last bit in brackets is important. If bedwetting is more common than psychopathy, then the probability of bedwetting given psychopathy can be much higher than the probability of psychopathy given bedwetting.

The problem is that personal experience can reinforce this "confusion of inverses". In other words if you work a lot with psychopaths, you might start to implicitly assume psychopathy is as or more common than bedwetting.

[ December 21, 2012, 05:28 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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Grumpy old guy
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MattLeo, the three 'activities' are not taken in isolation. If a person does any two of the three, they can still be defined as being within the mainstream, general population. Even people who are cruel to animals. And, not all psychopaths and sociopaths are murderers.

It is when all three present together that an individual may show a propensity toward violence. It is by no means definitive, simply an indicator that someone is seriously 'disturbed'.

Phil.

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MattLeo
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Phil -- I don't think it takes much imagination to conclude that that someone who engages in cruelty to animals or impulsive firestarting bears watching -- much less both behaviors.

I more or less agree with you, but I'm choosing to be skeptical on the inclusion of bedwetting in the triad. Bedwetting is so commom it's hard to imagine it having any predictive value, even in conjunction with other risk factors. I've seen prevalence rates in he range of 15% of children in any three month period. I have a background working with public health data, so I tend to look for base rate miscalculations in statistical reasoning.

I also agree with you on the mis-characterization of murderers as madmen or mentally ill, except insofar we define serial or mass murder as mental illnesses. If we do that, then I guess we'd have to say that the co-morbidity with other forms of mental illness like autism or schizophrenia is low. That's an important point because we can screen for mental illness all we want, but until we have a reliable test for mass murder -- particularly one with a low false positive rate -- it won't do a bit of good.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Killings of the sort in Sandy Hook are based on a rationale only understood by the killer. Any 'answers' us poor mortals come up with are really nothing more than guesses.

The only answer I've seen that makes sense came some years ago from a Canadian priest who worked with troubled children. He said flat out that these events are not at all what they're painted by the media, but rather are loud, messy suicides: "I'll make you pay for how you hurt me, and you'll be sorry when I'm gone!" Lots of kids have such fantasies, but these few don't outgrow them.
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Grumpy old guy
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Reziac, that could indeed be one scenario. But, my questions then would be: Who hurt him and why? As I said very early on, I'd like more information. Definitely not 'public' information, but I want to know why he began with matricide, how many times he shot her and where.

The important thing with that is, he shot her in her sleep. That indicates to me that he was afraid of her. But, that's only conjecture on my part; I haven't seen the crime scene or the autopsy report.

pdblake, I had no intention of writing a story based on similar circumstances, but more of 'what if' scenario where you were required by law to carry a gun if you wanted to be a citizen. If you did, anyone could 'call you out', as in the 'westerns'. If you chose not to carry a gun, you had no rights. Just a thought in progress at the moment, but prompted by that act.

Phil.

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rcmann
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Any fantasy scenario is worth exploring. If nothing else, worth exploring as a thought experiment.

In the real world of course, you would be putting the cart before the horse. People generally go armed *because* they are afraid of being called out. In truth, most governments throughout history have been obsessed with disarming their citizenry, with the exception of the chosen few who are selected to defend the status quo.

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pdblake
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
pdblake, I had no intention of writing a story based on similar circumstances, but more of 'what if' scenario where you were required by law to carry a gun if you wanted to be a citizen. If you did, anyone could 'call you out', as in the 'westerns'. If you chose not to carry a gun, you had no rights. Just a thought in progress at the moment, but prompted by that act.

I see. I read 'inspired by' and assumed you were writing about similar events. I actually quite like the scenario you portray, though I would think it a bad idea to set it in a school, especially at the moment.
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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:

pdblake, I had no intention of writing a story based on similar circumstances, but more of 'what if' scenario where you were required by law to carry a gun if you wanted to be a citizen. If you did, anyone could 'call you out', as in the 'westerns'. If you chose not to carry a gun, you had no rights. Just a thought in progress at the moment, but prompted by that act.

Phil.

Now that I think about it, the scenario you propose does bear some similarity to Starship Troopers, where only military veterans were granted citizenship. On the premise that unless you were willing to die for your society, you were not fit to have a voice in it. Were you thinking of something along those lines?
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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Reziac, that could indeed be one scenario. But, my questions then would be: Who hurt him and why?

Doesn't matter -- what matters is that *he* believes he was hurt, and that someone oughta pay for his pain.
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extrinsic
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Wikipedia has a shockingly comprehensive summary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, including details about who was shot where and when and how. Many of the victims were shot eleven times and many in the head. That the Wikipedia page is as thorough and contemporary to events as it is I find incomprehensible.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting

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Grumpy old guy
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rcmann, the scenario was not prompted by Starship Troopers ( a book I enjoy reading from time to time) but the idea that if you carry a gun you are declaring that you can, and will, use it. So, put up or shut up! Or something along those lines -- the thought is still solidifying in my mind.

extrinsic, I've skimmed the wikipedia entry and I'm not certain of the veracity of it. Not everything on the internet is true [Smile] But, if Adam Lanza shot his mother a number of times in the head, I wonder if it was in the face. That would indicate hatred of his mother instead off simple fear.

Also, if what I read about his mother is true, I think he experienced a form of child abuse. She seems overly controlling and obsessive. From similar cases of young men being dominated by their mother, I can think of a few nasty little things that could have gone on in that family.

Phil.

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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
rcmann, the scenario was not prompted by Starship Troopers ( a book I enjoy reading from time to time) but the idea that if you carry a gun you are declaring that you can, and will, use it. So, put up or shut up! Or something along those lines -- the thought is still solidifying in my mind.

Phil.

You mean like entirety of western Europe at any point between the fall of the Roman empire and the early twentieth century? Although through most of it the weapon that a man wore was either a blade, or more likely a spear or club. Same principle anyway. Primitive weapons weren't as efficient as guns, but they got the job done. Especially since antibiotics weren't really in use until WWII.

Sounds like you are positing a world where dueling comes back into fashion, and cowards are considered unworthy. Not an unworkable story idea at all, in my opinion.

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MattLeo
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The thing is, I'm not so sure what Adam Lanza did in Newtown is really all that incomprehensible. The more I think about it, the more I believe I could write a credible scene with a character acting that way.

It's comforting to pretend the mindset behind the massacre utterly foreign to us, but it's quite common to see people doing things which betray a similar mindset. What I'm talking about is acting out a drama in which they treat the people around them as props. Sometimes its painfully obvious, as with the abusive boss who uses the office as a stage for humiliating his employees. But we all do it sometimes, every time we talk past each other. What sets us apart is that we don't have murderous fantasies or if we do, we're not so out of touch with the consequences we act them out.

Kant put his finger on this mindset two hundred years ago, when he wrote, "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means."

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Grumpy old guy
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rcmann, my idea was more along an exploration of bullying. A duel usually had a reason behind it, sometime spurious, but some rationale. I have a feeling, if I developed the idea further I would be entering a society dominated by psychopaths.

MattLeo, it is frightening how close we all are to madness. The only reason profiling works is that most people, once they get past the horror, can understand the motives behind the act. And, the horror is there because they know that they might be capable of the same act. But, as I said in an earlier post, the only reason I don't do things like that is that I choose not to.

Kant and a well known Book agree: Do unto others . . .

Phil.

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rcmann
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I see where you are going with this, but wouldn't you run into problems with suspension of disbelief? Bullies are cowards. The put up or shut up attitude you mentioned is not consistent with bullying. They do bluff that way sometimes, but a real bully seldom expects to be called out on his bluff. The ones that are, frequently back down.

The society you describe sounds more like (to me) the actual structure of western civilization prior to the recent advent of socially acceptable pacifism. Or the American frontier. Or any other warrior society where aggression and fighting ability are social virtues.

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