April 23rd, 2006

ozarque figure

Writing science fiction; the troublesomeness of Troublesome...

I asked Michael Farris for a clarification, and he commented:
"Anyway, once Responsible is taken out of the system, it seems that Ozark quickly degenerates into a kind of place where the things Troublesome has been devoting her full time asking providence for are happening, there is disharmony and imbalance, evil returned with evil etc. If she's consecrated to evil and her contemplations are sincere (and I can't imagine them being effective if they aren't, if she's just play acting) I don't think she would (or should!) go out of her way to try to bring things back into balance. She's spent years essentially praying for imbalance and then does a lot to try to undo imbalance when it comes.That doesn't make sense (to me)."

The theological conundrum -- Why does an all-powerful and all-good Deity allow evil to exist in the world? -- has traditionally been answered much as I've been answering it, by saying that without evil humankind could not be aware of the existence of good, just as without darkness we could not be aware of the existence of light. There cannot be an inside without an outside, and vice versa. [In some ways that's absurd, since if "omnipotent" really means omnipotent, the Deity could bring into being a world in which that isn't required. But that leads off into the nevernevers, and the human mind isn't able to deal with the consequences of such a concept; I certainly don't plan to try to deal with them here.] The next question ordinarily goes like this:

All right. So there has to be evil or we humans wouldn't be able to perceive the existence of good. Fair enough. But why does there have to be such an abundance of evil? Why wouldn't just one ghastly disease, instead of a multiplicity of them, be enough? Why not just one kind of weather catastrophe? Why not just one kind of venomous snake? Surely just one vivid example of evil would be sufficient, so why does the Deity (however identified) go to such extremes?

When I wrote the Ozark Trilogy I was interested in exploring this question, and I set up a fictional world which could function only when good and evil were in balance. Too much evil -- which is how this real world I live in looks to me -- and everything would break down. Too much good would have the same effect. And in every generation there would have to be three individuals, like Troublesome and Silverweb and Responsible, who were consecrated to maintaining that good/evil balance for the preservation of the Ozark world. Troublesome is there to make sure there is ample "raw material" for evil; Silverweb is there to make sure there's ample "raw material" for good; Responsible is there to make sure that the good and the evil are in balance, to make sure that neither one gets out of control and becomes more abundant than the other.

Troublesome has to be sincere in her efforts to establish and maintain evil; otherwise, as Michael Farris says, those efforts wouldn't be effective. On the other hand, she does what she does so that there will be enough evil to complete the whole, and she does that for the sake of all of the people of her world. And she does what she does so that the other Ozarkers won't have to do it -- so that they won't have to murder and rape and batter and pillage and cheat and lie and steal and blaspheme and all the rest of that filthy stuff. As I've said before, the more evil she does, the more good she does. She is contemplating imbalance so that there shall be balance, contemplating disorder so that there shall be order. And I haven't yet seen any way out of that fascinating paradox. It therefore does make sense to me that when Responsible is taken out of the system, Troublesome would join Silverweb in a desperate attempt to set things right; she is, after all, the designated expert on dealing with evil. But I understand why it also doesn't make sense; that is the nature of paradox.

I admit that I thought I had made all this clear when I wrote those three novels. I could have included a batch of those "So you see, Bob, what Troublesome does is...." warbles, and perhaps I should have, but I really thought that I was making it clear without them. Nothing is as impervious as the arrogance of a writer, you perceive.

Note: The Ozarkers left Planet Earth and set up shop elsewhere because they were so disgusted with the sloppy way that Earth was run. There's an easygoing short story about that ("What the EPA Don't Know Won't Hurt Them") at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/epa.htm .