"Is evil some thing you are? Or is it some thing you do?" Brett Easton Ellis
I had to write a chapter in the forthcoming novel dealing with an act of extreme violence. This posed a moral dilemma not only for myself but for my central character. Jimmy Mack is a seventeen year old and no stranger to physical violence, resorting to it when necessary. Faced with an inescapable situation and serious physical danger to himself he has no choice except extreme violence. There is a point in the narrative when he questions this potential actions. The repercussions of inflicting serious physical damage don't just go against his moral grain they could end up shaping his future.
In essence the unwritten or unspoken philosophical questions must be, are we inherently evil or is evil the deed we commit? You could argue it's both. This leads to the inevitable next question. Can an evil action ever be justified? And it could go on ad infinitum posing further questions like what is evil? Can evil ever serve good?
As an author I obviously know the outcome of the violence in the storyline. I don't glorify violence, it's contrary to my personal beliefs. However, I do believe that there may be times when there is no other choice, when personal safety and well being are at stake. Violence is an unavoidable side of human behaviour common among young men. We may deplore such violence and we may wish it didn't happen. The sad reality is that it does and it has in every generation since time immemorial. The Sixties were no different from any other time. Street violence between the young was a matter of recorded fact. When Mack is confronted with an unavoidable situation he has to choose to fight or to fly. Flight may look like an option but it might be no more than delaying an inevitable consequence. Hence his dilemma in the story, fight or flight.
Life is a series of causes and consequences dictating our choices and we are the sum of our choices. Life is not a novel with a neat devised plot. Everyday is a page we turn where a single choice could result in unforeseen consequences. Extreme acts of violence can cause permanent injury or death. It could lead to a law court and custodial sentence. From a moral perspective writers ought to make their characters articulate reasons for their violent acts. Illuminating the possible consequences of such premeditated acts needs to be conscious too. Motivation is an empathic essential in fiction.
I often refer to James MacKinnon / Mack as Saint or Sinner? Can he be both a Saint and a Sinner? The difficulty is in deciding to what extent he is one or the other. Are his occasional violent acts evil motivated by the good? Or are the violent acts simply evil? When does good stray and become evil? As Solzhenitsyn wrote, in each one of us there is a battle line between good and evil. The question I contend is deciding where exactly is that battle line?