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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Loyalty in social context (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Loyalty in social context
rcmann
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Currently writing the next installment of my trilogy, wherein issues of loyalty and duty are going to play a prominent part. I have been considering the whole aspect of duty, and the way people in western civilization have regarded it throughout history. I won't attempt to address other culture's attitudes.

To me, loyalty and duty are swords with two edges. A leader who fails to exhibit the same level of commitment to his followers that he demands deserves to be impaled and replaced. But this attitude is far from common in western history.

Roman generals were expected to fall on their sword on command when ordered to do so, regardless of the reason. Medieval knights defended their king to the death, regardless of what kind of backstabbing SOB he might be. Although in fairness, many medieval knights were also backstabbing SOBs from what I have read.

Even today there are a lot of people who preach loyalty to a cause or a leader, at the expense of their own honor or common sense (in my opinion).

***Spoiler below in case someone might not want to want to read about my new book in advance. I should be so lucky.***
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Reason I am bringing this up, one of my main protagonists is a younger prince. He is going to launch a civil war to usurp his brother, who he believes is unfit to rule. Everyone in the kingdom, from the more powerful nobles down to the peasant farmers are going to be faced with choosing between them.

I want to present the quandary realistically. But I am inherently incapable of blind loyalty to anyone or anything, and I have real trouble understanding that mindset. Any suggestions? I don't think it will ring true to have a bunch of people in a medieval kingdom reacting like twentieth century college educated authors.

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Meredith
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LOL. I had a feeling that was coming from the first book. [Smile]

As one who's read it, you've already got a significant portion of the lower classes set up to support the younger. It's the "nobles" who are going to be your problem.

As with anything, I'd recommend treating them as individuals. Some are going to be traditionalists--it's just more comfortable to know all the rules and follow them without question. Some are going to feel the same about the older brother as the younger one does, especially since he wasn't originally the heir. Some are going to ride the fence and try to side with the expected winner or look for the best advantage--ie. can they get one side or the other to offer them rewards for their "loyalty". For some examples of this, look into the civil war that erupted when Stephen of Blois took the crown of England upon the death of his uncle, Henry the First, jumping over Henry's acknowledged heir--his daughter, Matilda. (A civil war that ended when Matilda's son, Henry the Second (father of Richard the Lionheart, et. al.) took the crown back.)

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redux
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Here are my thoughts on the matter. I think it might help to separate the "ideal" of loyalty from its actual application. Like you mentioned, Roman generals were expected to fall on their swords, knights to defend their kings to the death, and yet history is full of betrayals.

I believe the reason for this is that people want to uphold an ideal but are not always capable of doing so for many different reasons. This to me has to do with a person's psychology of self-worth.

When the world is at odds with people's view of themselves, a defense mechanism is to rationalize and justify their behaviors and actions in order to bring back the world to fit their personal view. In other words, people are more likely to change things around them rather to change themselves.

So, even the most loyal of subjects can be capable of poisoning his king so that the world re-aligns with how they see the world.

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Meredith
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FYI. The civil war mentioned above was known as "The Anarchy". Gives some idea of what Stephen's reign was like. [Smile]
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MattLeo
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Well, people don't think much about their day-to-day actions. Their actions and their opinions tend to reflect those of the people around them. And that's not such a terrible thing, in moderation. It's good to have simple, common, mostly reliable rules of thumb, like "obey the law" and "be respectful of authority", so long as the behavior those rules prescribe is consistent with reason. But when law and authority tell you to hand over Anne Frank to Gestapo, it's time to ignore those ingrained habits, which is not so easy to do.

The habit of loyalty to authority is ingrained by systems in which that habit works out well for the habitue; either in which the authority is just and competent, or the impact of the injustice and incompetence occurs out of the habitue's sight.

So what about when the character of authority changes, as may happen with a change of leader? Or when suddenly the depravity of leadership is revealed? Surely rejecting that authority would be the reasonable thing to do.

The problem is that this is an upsetting development, and under threat people tend to make a snap decision then filter out information which undermines that decision. Emotional thinking, cognitive psychologists tell us, is "refractory", which means you can budge someone who makes a decision because they're angry or scared.

So one natural response to finding out that authority is incompetent or evil is to fall back on the old habit of trusting that authority, then supporting that decision by rationalization. The newspapers are lying. The atrocities never happened, and the victims had it coming. That kind of thinking.

And it's easy to fall into that kind of thinking. Nobody thinks they do it, but most people do. Here's a question: how many times in a typical month do you spend at least a minute thinking about whether something you are doing is ethical (which is NOT the same thing as thinking about how to justify something you have done)? If the answer is zero, like for most people, chances are you are more susceptible to self-protective rationalization than you think.

So how does that kind of refractory thinking get turned off? Two ways. Either the threat is removed and in the cold light of hindsight you reevaluate your position, OR you keep doubling down on the losing position until your tolerance for absurdity is overwhelmed.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:
Here are my thoughts on the matter. I think it might help to separate the "ideal" of loyalty from its actual application. Like you mentioned, Roman generals were expected to fall on their swords, knights to defend their kings to the death, and yet history is full of betrayals.

Yes! Never assume the ideals of a society (especially expressed in fiction or political rhetoric) are representative of common practice. A society of perfectly honest, brave, and industrious people wouldn't even have words for those virtues. It's a huge mistake to assume the average knight was chivalrous, or the average samurai lived by the code of bushido.
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redux
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quote:
So one natural response to finding out that authority is incompetent or evil is to fall back on the old habit of trusting that authority, then supporting that decision by rationalization. The newspapers are lying. The atrocities never happened, and the victims had it coming. That kind of thinking.
Precisely. Sometimes people interpret the same fact (that authority did something evil) differently and rationalize it (the newspapers are lying) in order to bring that "change" in their world back into line with their fixed beliefs (authorities are always right and good).
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rcmann
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In my world, the old king was competent. He was a mean, selfish, manipulative son of a dog, but he was a ruthlessly competent statesman who held the kingdom together firmly and successfully maintained its interests against rival nations around it.

The current elder son is just as mean, but not nearly as competent. As a result, he is failing to maintain border security and falling victim to paranoia regarding internal power struggles. Law and order are crumbling and former allies are about to invade.

On this basis, the younger son (who had been exiled) decides to return with some mercenaries and organize an insurrection. His primary advantage is that he isn't a SOB and the peasants prefer him. The nobility used to sneer at him, until he killed the eldest brother, the original crown prince, in a duel and got exiled for it. Now they regard him with wary suspicion.

This is the backdrop. From here I need to work out the most likely reaction. Should I have it be a true insurrection, a peasant's revolt with the younger prince as leader? Or a re-arrangement of power with the main nobility switching over to the younger prince? Which would be more plausible?

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redux
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Feel free to tell me to jump in a lake...

I think you can have both - peasant revolt and nobles changing sides.

For instance, you can have a noble who was close or champion of the dead king and now among the new king's advisers. This new king's incompetence would certainly upset him, make him nervous about the impending invasion. Order must be restored, but does he remain loyal to an incompetent king and potentially allow the kingdom be destroyed?

Or does he rationalize that his loyalty is to the crown and kingdom, not to the person, and so maneuvers and schemes to bring back the exiled prince. After all, the peasants love the prince, and they will need as many people as possible to join in the war against the invaders. So the adviser cannot risk having the very people they are trying to defend be against the crown. This adviser could very well then try to incite a peasant's revolt, in order to justify deposing the current king and placing the exiled prince in his place.

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MattLeo
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Well, we need to know more about the power structure of the kingdom. Is it a somewhat modern, centralized state? Or is it more feudal with local power centers?

The devil that is far away is usually assumed to be more benign than the devil that is near, even if there is little or no proof. In a kingdom with locally powerful barons, *they* are the devil near-at-hand, and are apt to take the blame for local problems, even if those problems are the result of royal policies and practices. Perhaps the king is pressing the barons for more money, and the barons turn around and tax the local populace. It's the baron's men beating down the door to take your money away.

A clever king might well cultivate the myth that he cares about the common folk and it's the barons that are heartless. It makes the barons easier to replace. In reality he probably doesn't give a fig about the farmers, merchants, and even the low ranking men-at-arms; his natural focus is the aristocracy -- that's where he acquires political allies and suppresses rivals.

A strong baron might well prefer a weak and incompetent king. In the power vacuum, his personal status and power are enhanced. The lesser barons may well split, some preferring a stronger alternative as king and others throwing their lots in with other rivals.

Then there's the question of other institutional power centers in your kingdom, such as the church in the middle ages, chock full of archbishops and abbots drawn from the younger sons of great aristocrats. Or take Carthage, for example. Carthage was a *commercial* empire, built on trading. Membership in Carthaginian ruling assembly wasn't based on heredity, as in the Roman Senate; it was based on wealth, and wealth alone. This guaranteed Carthage a stead stream of pragmatic, capable rulers, which made them unbeatable by anyone other than the fanatical, grudge-holding Romans. Prolonged war was too wasteful for Carthage's taste, where the Romans were driven by irrational motivations like honor, glory and revenge.

So you could well imagine great merchants taking sides based on who they'd make the most money under, and a certain class of hereditary military leaders (as in Rome) motivated by a fanatical devotion to traditional order, with some equally fanatical on the other side due to some slight of honor.

There's no limit to the ways you can get people to line up on either side of a divide so they can slaughter the people on the other side. Both sides will claim legitimacy. Indeed, whose theory of legitimacy will prevail is one of the things being fought over. Generations of English schoolchildren have been taught to regard the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary as legitimate, and so I suppose it must be; legitimacy is like spelling, it depends on what most people agree upon. But if you believe in the right of the king to rule by birth (which I don't), you have to look at the Glorious Revolution as a usurpation of James II's throne (i.e. you're a Jacobite).

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:

For instance, you can have a noble who was close or champion of the dead king and now among the new king's advisers. This new king's incompetence would certainly upset him, make him nervous about the impending invasion. Order must be restored, but does he remain loyal to an incompetent king and potentially allow the kingdom be destroyed?

Or does he rationalize that his loyalty is to the crown and kingdom, not to the person, and so maneuvers and schemes to bring back the exiled prince.

He could go either way, and you could find historical precedents for people who conceptualize loyalty to the crown as being indivisible from loyalty to the person, and those who do not. Since the very idea of rule by a hereditary monarch is ridiculous, it doesn't matter which version of a ridiculous system of government he believes in.

The problem I see is that either way he is an uncommon bird; a powerful and influential noble who is motivated by principle than self-interest.

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redux
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The possibilities are really limitless.

That very adviser might have been powerful and influential once, but finds he cannot sway the new king. He might be a petty and selfish man and thinks to himself perhaps the young prince would be more manageable.

Maybe the young prince knows about the adviser's character flaw and decides to use it to his advantage.


We could probably spend all day here doing "what if" exercises [Smile]

Edited to add:

Which brings me to the point - what kind of person is the prince? What does he think of himself and the world? As protagonist, he is the one who will have to struggle to achieve his goal.

If he thinks of himself as a good and just person, how does he rationalize bringing in mercenaries to depose his brother the king?

Everything else is a history lesson, but novels are about people and how they cope with changes in their world and try to either change it or change themselves.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:
The possibilities are really limitless.

That very adviser might have been powerful and influential once, but finds he cannot sway the new king. He might be a petty and selfish man and thinks to himself perhaps the young prince would be more manageable.

Maybe the young prince knows about the adviser's character flaw and decides to use it to his advantage.


We could probably spend all day here doing "what if" exercises [Smile]

Now you're making the story sound really interesting -- not like the characters are automatons to fill out pre-defined roles, but like complicated, believable people whose personal foibles have great out-sized consequences.
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redux
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rcmann certainly knows his characters best, so I am just throwing out generalized ideas to help him brainstorm. Please know I don't presume to tell him how the people in his story should act.
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rcmann
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I sincerely hope to do just what MattLeo said, make my characters individuals.

The kingdom is a long term dynasty whose founder is revered as larger than life, an who laid down a system of laws that have been in place long enough to be regarded as semi-sacred (think US constitution to some people).

His descendants include the royal family as well as the higher level nobles who constitute a ruling council. The sole purpose of the ruling council is to ensure that the throne does not get out of hand and violate the Code. Otherwise, their loyalty to the throne is supposed to be absolute. The council's collective power is greater than the throne's, but individually they are not capable of overpowering the king.

Lesser nobles and commoners hold their positions by the pleasure of the throne and the Council.

I was toying with the concept of "the loyal opposition" on the part of the Council. My difficulty is trying to figure out the most compelling approach to take.

Anyway, thanks folks. You have given me a feast for thought.

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Grumpy old guy
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I'm coming in at the ar*e end of this and have only skimmed through the posts, so feel free to ignore me. I'm assuming this society is based on the western-European medieval kingdom in which case a peasant revolt is so not going to happen.

Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but the first popular uprising against the Monarchy was the french Revolution. All other uprisings, including the one against King John that resulted in Magna Carta, were instigated by the nobility simply because they felt their own power was being usurped by the King. And, taxes etc rarely had any input. It was always about power

Just my take on it.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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Loyalty and duty are another matter; just what is a leader and what makes him such? I think you need to distinguish between blind duty, the modern equivalent being the Nuremberg defense, and duty born out of loyalty to either a man or an idea.

A real leader is one who exemplifies the moral and spiritual ideals that the majority of the led aspire to. And therein lies a danger to the leader and the led. The leader, through public adoration, comes to believe themselves infallible and universally adored and is thus corrupted. The led, seeing their ideals personified, abrogate more and more of their moral certitude to their leader. In one, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the other, a messiah who can do no wrong is created and He would never ask me to do something that was wrong.

Exaggerated extremes I know, but indicative of historical events.

Phil.

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rcmann
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All valid points. The peasant army I was considering would be one that the younger prince recruited himself, using his own popularity, and had his hired mercenaries train into something resembling a militia. But as you point out, they still wouldn't do so well against professional fighters.

The younger brother would be the more charismatic one. The older brother would be able to claim traditional authority. So there's my conflict. People torn between established tradition, and the obvious welfare of the kingdom.

Two avenues suggest themselves.

Thanks.

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extrinsic
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In contemporary perceptions, the age of monarchs is a nostalgic fable mostly. Fealty to a monarch is based more on precedent of fidelity and a rigidly stratified social class standing than to loyalty and duty. The individual is subservient to the ideal whole's greater good. That's the ideal anyway. In practice, the human condition is a wild card. European medieval and renaissance and colonial era politics are a treasure trove of succession disputes.

Peculiarly, many of the European power struggle participants were related by blood or marriage to the Hapsburg dynasty, the right of accession or succession predicated on proximal lineage to the Hapsburg blood.

I suggest considering research and development of a representative succession dispute. Say, the Cromwell parliamentary power struggle, which reasserted the John at Runymede Magna Carta.

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rcmann
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I am more concerned with a realistic portrayal of the character's internal struggle on an individual basis, than I am in the broader sweep of things.

I tend to focus my writing on what happens to characters, and let the reader pick up on the larger picture of events in the context of the protagonist's struggles. The grand and sweeping dramas described in some narrative saga's simply do not interest me.

I care about people. Nations can take care of themselves, as far as I'm concerned. My idealism was burned out years ago. My trilogy includes a civil war, and it is one of the three main plot lines of the series. But I am not writing about the civil war. I am writing about the people who are fighting in it, and why they fight.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
All valid points. The peasant army I was considering would be one that the younger prince recruited himself, using his own popularity, and had his hired mercenaries train into something resembling a militia. But as you point out, they still wouldn't do so well against professional fighters.

Unless they were like the longbowmen at Agincourt, of course. Though they weren't noblemen, they also weren't peasants, per se. But your mercenaries could capitolize on what your peasants could do from their own capabilities and experience (guerrilla-type warfare?) and not try to mold them after the conventional ways of fighting.
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rcmann
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That's the general idea. The southern forest has long been a place of refuge for renegades, and the woodsfolk are mainly hunters and trappers, with subsistance farming to supplement. They woudl act as scouts and archers.

The peasants north of the forest are mainly farmers. About all I could see them doing is basic infantry moves, and only then after extensive training. Almost none of them have ever held a weapon.

I would expect a lot of reliance on traps and ambush.

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MattLeo
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Medieval longbowmen were a bit like place kickers in an NFL team: the played a vital but narrow and technical role. In England yeomen were required by law to practice their archery regularly, and which forbid competing pasttimes like bowling or quoits. A few years ago a vicar in Wiltshire found out that the law had never been repealed, and in accordance with the authority the law vested in her she called out everyone in her parish to compulsory archery practice.

As for how well a militia does against a professional army, it depends greatly on the commanders involved, the terrain, and knowledge of tactics. Professional or quasi-professional troops can rapidly execute maneuvers to bring force to an enemy's weak point, but if the terrain doesn't favor those maneuvers that advantage is nullified.

The Romans started with Greek style phalanxes, but these were ineffective on rough or sloggy terrain which is better for lightly burdened troops. Over the centuries the Romans adopted ever more flexible formations and severe training regimens so that they were all but unbeatable on land unless their opponents possessed an unusually skilled cavalry (e.g. the Nabateans). Even so a bunch of club-wielding Germans slaughtered three legions in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The legions were stretched out along a narrow road, trapped between a wooded slope and an un-crossable marsh. The German tribesmen swept down out of the forest and bludgeoned twenty thousand Roman soldiers to death, in a classic example of Sun-tzu's advice about choosing the place of battle to your best advantage. Hannibal too made great advantage of terrain, preferring to trap the Romans in impossible situations rather than to meet them on a level playing field.

George Washington was a fine example of a general who was great -- on the right terrain. In the Battle of New York he attempted symmetrical warfare against the brother and brother team of Admiral and General Howe. The Howes skillfully conducted an elaborate campaign of amphibious landings that overwhelmed Washington's forces with alarming speed.

Washington fled to New Jersey where he discovered an ability which soon struck fear in the British soldiers: an uncanny aptitude for running away. In the more rural terrain of New Jersey Washington might be lurking anywhere, ready to strike at any time, and by the time the British army had formed up to deliver a crushing counter-strike he'd have vanished without a trace. British officers also remarked that while the Americans weren't professional soldiers, they had certain native attributes that were prized in a soldier: industriousness, hardihood, and enterprise. The Americans could build earthwork fortifications with surprising speed, were pretty good shots, and could travel very quickly.

The New Jersey terrain likewise exposed the weaknesses of the British army. For one thing it required a huge amount of forage for its draft animals. This had to be commandeered by conscript troops from overseas who felt little connection to the colonists, and who were led by officers who'd purchased their commissions. Not only was the army crippled by lack of supplies, the inevitable atrocities undermined Howe's strategy, which in modern terms would be called a "hearts and minds" campaign. He hoped to win back American sympathies by quickly crushing the rebel army; instead he found himself bogged down amid civilians stung to fury by the murders and rapes committed by his men.

The Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War holds similar lessons. The Americans were licking their lips at a chance to fight in the hinterlands of Quan Tri and Dak To, where we could really unleash our firepower. Then the NVA and NLF launched a surprise urban compaign, forcing us to use that power in urban areas and villages. That's where the famous phrase "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" came from. Even though we won the body count by a five-fold margin, the destruction involved was critical in souring American opinions on the war.

While a non-professional militia is at an enormous disadvantage to professional soldiers, a commander who knows how to choose his place and time to fight, and who is adept at getting his forces out of trouble can turn the tables. This would be especially true in medieval warfare. Much of medieval warfare was little more than brawling with individuals hoping to capture an opponent for ransom; by ancient or modern standards their tactics were appalling. Note how the emphasis of personal invulnerability over tactical maneuverability yields the armored knight. It was more the rediscovery of tactics than the development of firearms that made the armored knight obsolete.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
The peasants north of the forest are mainly farmers. About all I could see them doing is basic infantry moves, and only then after extensive training. Almost none of them have ever held a weapon.

You may be surprised. I understand that there are at least a few weapons in history that started out as farming implements or as other kinds of tools used for simple living.

One example would be the two-handed flail--scroll down to the "non-agricultural uses" and follow the Flail (weapon) link.

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rcmann
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If I'm not mistaken, most bladed weapons started out as either farming tools or hunting weapons. I know that the first Egyptian swords were all but indistinguishable from their grain scythes. and the only real difference between a battle axe and a wood axe is the shape of the blade. Of course a spear is a spear whether you are going after fish, or pig, or man.

The problem is that corn and deer don't fight back. Wild pigs and bears do fight back, but most peasants never had the chance, or any reason, to face off against a dangerous foe of any breed.

I'm not saying that a peasant can't learn to be a fighter. But much of it involves social conditioning to regard the world with a competitive mindset, and a willingness to take the hits for the sake of hurting your opponent. That can't be learned overnight.

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MattLeo
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"Peasant" in a European contest has a very specific meaning. It's a kind of bondage to the land which comes with poor hygiene and nutrition. But people often use the term loosely to indicate any medieval farmer. It was bad health and small stature that made actual peasants poor fighting stock. A strapping yeoman farmer -- your typical viking, for example -- wouldn't need much training to be a formidable skirmisher.

My father was born in a village in deep southern Guandong Province, China, in the last decade of the Qing dynasty. The Qings never quite consolidated their control over the southern provinces, which teemed with bandits, rebels, and (seriously) pirates. So law and order was a local affair, and people provided for themselves. They banded together to drive off raiders and the toughest guys hired themselves out to merchants as caravan guards.

Now many people might loosely refer to the people in my father's village as "peasants" because they'd been farming the same plots of land for centuries (over five hundred years in my family's case), but let me assure you they were familiar with weapons -- real, purpose-built weapons, not improvised ones. My father remembered itinerant kung-fu teachers coming to town, although he himself left while he was still too young to take it up himself. At age 12 his parent sent him overseas to work and send money back to the family, which he did for the rest of his life. Poor, hard-working people can be incredibly tough.

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rcmann
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My family background is KY hillbilly. Coalminers, bootleggers, tobacco farmers, loggers. I know poor people can be tough.

I use peasant in the generic sense of rural commoner, although I realize that it could be more finely tuned. Since my own background is Celtic/Amerindian, this is the cultural heritage that I draw from when writing. I am not, or I am not yet, to a point in my writing development that I am willing to tackle an unfamiliar culture. I just finished my first novel. i want to get a few more under my belt before i get too experimental.

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MartinV
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Create characters with various backgrounds and with various reasons to support one or another. Some may be forced to choose between the two by geography, upbringing, religion, family, spouses, personal experience with the candidates or their families. There are literally infinite possibilities.
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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
I am more concerned with a realistic portrayal of the character's internal struggle on an individual basis, than I am in the broader sweep of things.

I tend to focus my writing on what happens to characters, and let the reader pick up on the larger picture of events in the context of the protagonist's struggles. The grand and sweeping dramas described in some narrative saga's simply do not interest me.

I care about people. Nations can take care of themselves, as far as I'm concerned. My idealism was burned out years ago. My trilogy includes a civil war, and it is one of the three main plot lines of the series. But I am not writing about the civil war. I am writing about the people who are fighting in it, and why they fight.

Same here. That's what interests me to read and to write. But I think you've kinda answered your own question... just write each character as the person you know him to be, let him react to others and events according to his nature, let events and reactions follow as they will, and the result should be inherently believable.
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hoptoad
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There are some long posts and I didn't read them... sorry. If I repeat anyone here, I apologise.

How does one identify what is 'right' and what is 'wrong' in your world? Does the context call for a belief in a divine mandate? Do the people believe in one? Does the protagonist?

The idea of doing something simply because it will produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people is an ethically dubious proposition when that action defies divine will, it is a fiery urge when one feels they have that mandate.

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hoptoad
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BTW: Saul and David.
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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by hoptoad:
How does one identify what is 'right' and what is 'wrong' in your world? Does the context call for a belief in a divine mandate? Do the people believe in one? Does the protagonist?

Through long acquaintance I've learned the following about 'my' world:

The people are humanoid but not human, and socially are leader-and-pack, not tribal (they evolved from a wolf-alike, not an ape-alike). A good chunk of the population have 'psychic' abilities, which have a physiological basis.

The two great crimes in their eyes are cannibalism, and rape. Why? Because 'eating someone's mind' can be a literalism (co-opting a relative's body can be done), and in their eyes rape is a similarly invasive preemption.

Murder, not so much... individually, they'll shrug and move on. But a 'pack leader' is liable to respond like "How dare you kill MY people??!"

They don't have any strong religions; there are two more or less prevalent religions, but objectively most folks would admit under their breaths, "Even so, we know the gods don't really exist; it's just a primitive interpretation of the energies some of us can feel from stars and planets."

I didn't plan 'em this way; they developed their own ideas without bothering to consult me.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by hoptoad:
BTW: Saul and David.

I'll see your Saul and David and raise you an Abraham and Isaac.

The issue of whether something is right because of divine will or whether God wills what he does because it is right has been a serious issue in moral theology since Plato, who raised this dilemma in the dialog Euthyphro. The binding of Isaac supports both potential interpretations: (a) When God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that made it the right thing to do and (b) God was teaching Abraham (or perhaps Isaac!) a lesson, but stopped Abraham before he killed Isaac because that would be a sin.

Even if you take the extreme "Divine Sovereignty" position and think that anything, even a heretofore evil act, becomes good when God commands it, you as a novelist have to remember you aren't in the position of God. Not even in the universe you create. The reason is that you are not absolutely sovereign over your universe; you answer to the readers. You can (through your in-universe divine proxy) order a character to tie up his son and butcher him, but don't expect readers to accept that.

So as a rule, morality in your universe has to be subject to reason. It has to be justifiable and it doesn't hurt if it's humane.

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Grumpy old guy
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I'll go a bit further MattLeo; the morality of your world must mirror the morality prevalent in the society within which you live. If it doesn't, the reader will either not understand the conundrums of choice that you place in front of them, or they will dismiss your work as 'evil' or 'trashy' or in some other prejudicial manner.

Phil.

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rcmann
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in order to answer the question about how morality is defined in my world, it's necessary to understand that there is no functional difference between a "witch" (an evil creature to be hunted down by all right thinking people) and a temple handmaiden (a chaste, beloved, and loyal servant of the gods who waits on the priesthood hand and foot). The distinction is that the witches made a break for it and live without temple supervision. That's a no no.

In my world, like in medieval Europe, the churches (it's polytheistic) are regarded as the ultimate arbiter of ethical standards. Also like medieval Europe, the degree of dedication to those standards is somewhat variable.

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hoptoad
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So, Rcmann, does the protagonist believe?
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hoptoad
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MattLeo, Saul and David story is about loyalty to the anointing not the man.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:

In my world, like in medieval Europe, the churches (it's polytheistic) are regarded as the ultimate arbiter of ethical standards. Also like medieval Europe, the degree of dedication to those standards is somewhat variable.

Well, at least one temple is going to be firmly behind the older brother. They've already tried to kill your protagonist, after all. So anyone who is swayed by the dictates of that temple is going to be a problem for him. But, what about the other temples? One seemed at least a little disposed towards him as I recall.
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rcmann
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Church Reformation, anyone? [Smile]
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MattLeo
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The thing about loyalty is that it's easy for some people to form *new* loyalties than others, thus what constitutes "loyal" is in the eye of the beholder

Let's say Alice is a person who is extremely open to new ideas; she's also makes friends easily and is easily impressionable by her friends. She's not very conscientious in religious matters. Alice can spend five minutes with a "witch" and form a new loyalty that overrides her lifelong loyalty to the church

What Alice sees as a "new" loyalty, Bob sees as a betrayal of the church. Bob does not like new ideas. He's suspicious of them, and extremely scrupulous in religious matters. He's going to turn in anybody he suspects is a witch. In fact he'd turn in his own mother if he thought she was being "soft on witchcraft".

Now it so happens that both Alice and Bob as described are vicious fanatics. Alice's "loyalty" is only good as her next infatuation. Bob's loyalty is only good so long as you don't stray from orthodoxy *as he defines it*.

The virtue of loyalty lay somewhere in between the extremes. It's a struggle to reconcile competing duties, but that is something neither Alice nor Bob experience, Alice because she leaps past it, Bob because he denies the very possibility of a dilemma in his values. There are other people who are Alice-like or Bob-like, but not so viciously extreme. They can experience divided loyalty, which is a powerful storytelling theme.

Now there are other personality traits to consider when talking about loyalty. One is self-interest. Even moderate selfishness corrupts loyalty; people rationalize their self-interest to make it seem like the right thing to do. It's a rare person who will do something selfless out of loyalty, but it's rarer still to find somebody who doesn't make an excuse to himself when he violates his loyalty.

So where greed is moderate, it generates internal conflict. I want to support the younger prince, but I think he's going to lose... Where it is extreme, it corrupts loyalty. I thought the younger prince was better for the country, but since the older prince made me Duke I see things differently.

So it's fair to say that greedy people tend to be less interesting, except insofar as they're heading for a terrible lesson, or if they can parlay that into anti-heroism. That's because they're less conflicted.

[ April 16, 2013, 06:45 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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hoptoad
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Yeah, Aristotle said the virtue lies suspended between two vices. He also said that the virtue is not necessarily the mean,but can be placed closer to one vice than the other. His analogy of the amount of food needed to produce a satisfying meal made that clear. In the case of loyalty, I suggest the virtue lays closer to Bob than to Alice. Alice is 'open' to the point of being fickle, this is not loyalty by any measure, ( without semantic contortions). Bob for all his vindictivness is at least steadfast.

The Alice vs Bob analogy does point out the interpersonal nature of loyalty ( and raises the question of loyalty to things and concepts and what it means to have 'misplace loyalties.)

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rcmann
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Leads me back to my functionalist attitude toward morality. Loyalty is moral if it promotes survival. Bottom line, the idea is to survive long enough to get the next generation up and running. Anything else is window dressing. Otherwise the blood line dies out and it's all a moot point.

Who remembers the moral victories of extinct cultures or races? Does anyone have a clue about the moral or ethical systems of the Neanderthal, or Erectus? Yet both of them lasted as long as our own race. They're gone now, so they whatever they thought about any subject is irrelevant.

Therefore, loyalty to a group, an ideal, or another person is valid only insofar as it promotes survival of the blood line. Looking at it from that point of view, I can see advantages for both Alice and Bob. Meaning no offense, Alive might be better off with her approach since she is female, and Bob might be better off with his approach since he is male. Different genders adopt different strategies for survival. That's just how it works in nature.

---later afterthought-----

Of course, it doesn't have to be either, or. The same person can have different degrees and types of loyalty to different groups at the same time. My loyalty to my family and and clan (lower case 'c", not capital K) is immovable. My "loyalty" to any political party affiliation is tenuous at best.

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innesjen
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While you probably have a good handle now, after such a long discussion, on what you're going to do I thought I'd add something to the mix. I agree with Meredith in that loyalty should be an individual's decision. While you can look at time-period reasoning, some things about humans are true no matter the time period. Personally, when considering loyalty to a government or family I think of the American Civil War (different time period I know, but I think some central human themes can be gleaned from soldiers' experiences). Reading about individual feelings in letters and biographies might be helpful if you want to explore personal reasons for loyalty or revolution. Or even personal conflict between supporting a leader and protecting yourself/your family. Sullivan Ballou wrote an interesting letter about this issue stating:
"If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield." In his experience it wasn't just a conflict between North and South but between family and duty. This is something complex characters might experience during a revolution.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Leads me back to my functionalist attitude toward morality. Loyalty is moral if it promotes survival. Bottom line, the idea is to survive long enough to get the next generation up and running. Anything else is window dressing. Otherwise the blood line dies out and it's all a moot point.

Well, by this definition of morality, people who are too old to reproduce and who are to sick to work ought to be killed, because they divert resources away from producing and nurturing another generation. Furthermore the only thing that matters about the means of killing them is the impact on the effort to generate and raise the next generation. Whether or not the method of killing these surplus people causes them suffering is irrelevant, because suffering neither adds to nor detracts from the "bottom line". For example taking the old and sick and throwing them alive into a pit would be more moral than caring for them in a hospice in your proposed morality.

Even better would be cutting them up alive and harvesting their tissues for uses that support the future generation project. That would be the most moral way of dealing with the non-productive elderly, provided you didn't waste money on anesthesia. It's not that causing them pain sick is desirable, mind you, it's that pain or no pain is neither here nor there. It's "window dressing".

There's a natural human tendency to become enamored with ideas. Falling in love with a beautiful-seeming idea not unlike falling in love with a beautiful-looking person. In the early stages of love you tend to be blind to or dismissive of the beloved's faults, but if you're planning on getting married it's wiser to be aware of the shortcomings and to be certain you can live with them.

I suspect that reducing morality to its impact on future generations may be a product of confusing necessity with sufficiency.

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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Leads me back to my functionalist attitude toward morality. Loyalty is moral if it promotes survival. Bottom line, the idea is to survive long enough to get the next generation up and running. Anything else is window dressing. Otherwise the blood line dies out and it's all a moot point.

Well, by this definition of morality, people who are too old to reproduce and who are to sick to work ought to be killed, because they divert resources away from producing and nurturing another generation. Furthermore the only thing that matters about the means of killing them is the impact on the effort to generate and raise the next generation. Whether or not the method of killing these surplus people causes them suffering is irrelevant, because suffering neither adds to nor detracts from the "bottom line". For example taking the old and sick and throwing them alive into a pit would be more moral than caring for them in a hospice in your proposed morality.

Even better would be cutting them up alive and harvesting their tissues for uses that support the future generation project. That would be the most moral way of dealing with the non-productive elderly, provided you didn't waste money on anesthesia. It's not that causing them pain sick is desirable, mind you, it's that pain or no pain is neither here nor there. It's "window dressing".

There's a natural human tendency to become enamored with ideas. Falling in love with a beautiful-seeming idea not unlike falling in love with a beautiful-looking person. In the early stages of love you tend to be blind to or dismissive of the beloved's faults, but if you're planning on getting married it's wiser to be aware of the shortcomings and to be certain you can live with them.

I suspect that reducing morality to its impact on future generations may be a product of confusing necessity with sufficiency.

I'm sorry, but that response was more than slightly unjustified by what I said. You took my words, inserted meaning into them that wasn't there, and then propped them up as a straw man for target practice. I don't appreciate that. I am not angry, but I am not going to let it pass without remark, either.

If you will re-read my words, and see what is actually there instead of what you think I may have meant, you will note that I said "up and running". Simply reproducing is insufficient. The next generation must be nurtured. They must be protected. They must be trained. They must be indoctrinated with the skills and conditioned reflexes that will not only keep them alive, but will also permit them to become effective parents in their own time.

Also, nothing I said - I repeat, NOTHING I said - in any way suggests that inter-personal bonding in human groups was anti-survival. To the contrary, Group cohesion, and mutual loyalty to other individuals in one's group (especially those who share the same ancestry) offers a very high value advantage in terms of preserving the bloodline.

Your suggestion that killing off the old people when the become too old to breed not only ignores the destabilizing effect that internal violence toward group members causes. It also ignores the value that aged individuals provide as not only caretakers but also teachers. Thus the morality of preserving other members of the family group is illustrated and my premise is supported.

Preserving the kinship group as a whole not only provides benefits to the group, it also reassures each individual that they, too, will be cared for when their time comes. Thus, motivation to willingly defer personal desires for the good of all is reinforced.

In terms of morality:

"But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."
- 1 Timothy 5:8

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MattLeo
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In other words "window dressing" is more important than it sounds. Good. Now what about people *outside* your kinship group? Exodus 23:9 -- Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
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extrinsic
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I think projecting meaning onto MattLeo's projected meaning of the discussion's projected meaning misses the probability he expanded upon the topic. Loyalty in a social context very much concerns cultural indifference if not outright hostility toward aging and infirm persons, if not gender and other differences. The U.N. council on gender issues observes that fifty million or more female newborns may have vanished without a trace during the twentieth-century in China. The gender gap is obvious in population statistics. Fifty-one percent, or thereabouts, of a population should be female.

When a society has no traditions or customs that empower aged, infirm, or other identity distinctions, like gender and ethnicity, from the majority status quo, those persons become for all intents and purposes disenfranchised and powerless. They are also fertile sources for dissent. Hence, loyalty in a social context declines among effectively disenfranchised groups and individuals due to powerlessness.

Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 speaks deeply to this. Reader, eh? Think you're better than everyone else? Onto the auto-da-fé along with your books you go.

[ April 19, 2013, 03:22 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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Let me make it clear I don't believe you want to euthanize old people. What I'm pointing out is that any kind of "bottom line" thinking in moral reasoning is highly suspect. It's not always easy to know the right thing to do. It's a struggle. It *should* be a struggle.

Think for a moment, not about what morality should be, but what it *does*. It takes an intent you have, and after some form of reflection modifies it. Somebody cuts me off in traffic, so I pull out my handgun with the intent of shooting them. Then after moral reflection I put the handgun down because that reflection has altered my intention. No matter which style of moral reasoning I happened to choose, it functions the same way: to modify my intended course of action.

So I ask you this: what sort of things *should* weigh in when you consider a future action? The interesting thing about approaching the question of ethics this way is that it becomes pretty clear you can't boil the universe of moral reasoning down to one and only one factor that ever matters, or even which matters all the time. That's why most people in practice use a mix of ethical reasoning styles (e.g. both utilitarian and deontological). A Christian might find ethical egoism morally repugnant, but in fact the question "do I really want to do this?" is a perfectly valid one, even for a Christian moralist. The wickedness in ethical egoism is *reducing* morality to one factor, even if it is a valid one.

Curiously, C.S. Lewis in his Christian apologia didn't place much store in the future of the human race (e.g. see *THE ABOLITION OF MAN*). For the same message delivered in fiction, see *OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET*.

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rcmann
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To continue your analogy, why didn't you shoot them? Because they were a member of your group, and the "social contract" forbids intra-group violence except under very strict guidelines, and in a very narrowly defined set of circumstances. Why does ti do this? Because intra-group violence fragments the group and weakens it, thereby reducing the probability of getting the next generation up and running.

WRT to the chinese tradition of female infanticide, I will point out recent news stories that mention a severe shortage of wives in China nowadays. In fact, some news stories I recently read have stated that women are being, in essence, purchased and hauled over the border from nearby countries to take up the slack.

Thus, the custom of killing girl babies reduced bloodline survival by removing members of the bloodline, and also by forcing the Chinese to dilute their existing bloodlines simply to survive. Note that this custom of female infanticide, in fact infanticide generally, was once commonplace. It was done in the days before birth control, under harsh survival conditions, when every group needed as many males as it could get just to stay alive.

Those circumstances no longer apply most places. Infanticide is also no longer commonplace in most parts of the world. I confidently predict that the custom is going to die out in China as well within the next generation or two. Because it no longer promotes group survival.

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MattLeo
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So far as I know, nobody in my family practiced female infanticide. Of course that didn't mean that a male baby wasn't a much bigger deal than a female one, but that doesn't mean that Chinese ethics condones female infanticide. Calling infanticide a "tradition" is insulting, like saying "rape is an American tradition" because some Americans rape.

China, like India, has a problem with sex-selection abortions. Traditionally in China there is a moral duty to have a male offspring -- at least one, but the more the better. This is because when a daughter marries she leaves her father's family and enters her father-in-law's family. This change in family identify was held to extend into the afterlife. It was eternal.

What this means is that under China's one child policy, your only shot at ensuring your family's survival is with a male child. The practice of aborting female offspring is actually *intended* to promote group survival. It is, by your criteria, the moral thing to do.

Of course that assumes by "group" you mean "the traditional Chinese concept of family, i.e. a continuous male lineage". If you mean "the Han people", well sex-selection abortions are neither here nor there because there is no prospect of the ethnic Chinese people going extinct. At current rates China is tracking to have something like 35 million excess males. In a country of 1.3 billion, that's not going to cause a population collapse.

If you take a "consequetionalist" stance toward aborting females (which you do), the particular consequence you are talking about (the extinction of the Chinese "group") is not on the table. The consequence that *will* come of it is social unrest, caused by 35 million men who won't be able to get married. It's a quality of life issue, not a survival issue.

The self-limiting consequence in this situation isn't "group" extinction. It's the rising value of young women in the marriage market. There's a tradition in China and some parts of India for the groom's family to pay a reverse dowry -- a "bride price", and these are going up. Already there are reports of grooms paying up to a 1 million RMB for a bride. This is bound to raise the status of women.

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