On the first day of my quest for goodness, it seems wise to start by considering the pitfalls of righteousness. To do so, I offer this snippet of a previously unpublished interview I did with novelist Laurie J. Marks in 2007. The topic of discussion veered from Laurie’s writing to the dangers of being right.
Laurie is an old friend of mine and one of my favorite writers. I value the beauty of her style and the depth of her characterizations, but most of all I value the complexity of her ideas. I also consider her to be a supremely subversive writer.
Her most recent novels – The Elemental Logic Series – take on tough questions: What do you do when people are intent on oppressing you and will use any means to do so? Is violence the only way to meet violence? If you resort to violence, what cost do you pay as an individual, and what kind of society will you create?
The interview is after the jump.
LAURIE J. MARKS: One of several issues I’m struggling with in my writing, because I’ve struggled with it in my life, is the issue of how to accomplish anything worthwhile without yourself becoming the thing you most abhor. I’ve discovered lately that that’s sort of the Quaker way of thinking. Probably if I had any religious affiliation I might fit in with Quakers, but even they can fall into the trap of being self-righteous….I escaped religious self-righteousness when I dove into leftist politics, and then I discovered leftist self-righteousness and dove into feminist politics and discovered feminist self-righteousness. It seems to me that the biggest problem we humans have is thinking we’re right. Actually thinking we’re right is inherently dangerous.
LAURIE J. MARKS: If I’m right, that means everyone who disagrees with me is wrong, and I have the necessary sense of self-righteousness.
DIANE: And that means you can do some awful things?
LAURIE J. MARKS: Exactly There’s no limit in what you can do to other people to make whatever your vision is come true, whether your vision is a total-equality utopia, an ecological utopia where nobody pollutes, a world where Christ reigns supreme or where the whole world is one big American democracy and America rules, it’s the same problem. You eventually become your own worst enemy….We embrace certain truths because they make us feel good, whether you’re leftist, rightist or somewhere in between, you’re there because it makes you feel good; and a part of what makes you feel good is feeling better than anybody else….You can do anything if you are righteous. If you (think you) have the right ideas and the right goals then you find yourself doing really stupid things. If you’re driven by strong belief, you do really stupid things.
DIANE: Are you saying that we shouldn’t have strong beliefs?
LAURIE J. MARKS: I’m not saying that. Along with the strong beliefs you have to have an equally strong skepticism about your strong beliefs…. People are constantly mistaking their beliefs for the truth….I have a very clear idea that there is a lot of distance between what I think is true and the actual thing itself. What I think is true (about) good or evil is created in my head and doesn’t actually encompass reality. [Laurie laughs.] Of course, that means that everything I’ve said to you up to this point is not true!