Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

The Good Winners

by Daniel Abraham

We aren’t a culture that knows how to win well.  It’s not just something we see in the aftermath of a fight or an election, though that’s what started me thinking about it today.  The narrative of conflict we have stops too early.  There is a great battle and then someone wins, and then it’s over: the narrative of redemptive violence.

It seems to me that there’s another step, and that when you leave out reconciliation and reintegration, you wind up perpetuating a fight that should be over.  Tolkien understood that.  Even when his heroes won their fight, there was the struggle after the struggle.  Psychologists and psychiatrists who deal with soldiers returning from war understand the profound difficulty of moving from being in conflict to being in peacetime.  And when we skip that part, I think we don’t actually experience the release and calm that an actual end to conflict should give.  And so instead, we try being violent a little more.  Rubbing it in, keeping the conflict going in — it seems to me — a vain hope of squeezing that catharsis out of it.

Winning well also feel a little like losing because it means stepping back from the battle, letting go of the excitement and rage, and trying to acknowledge the humanity of the person or people you were demonizing just a little while ago.  The uncomfortable truth is that there’s a comfort in demonizing our enemies.  It makes things simple and permits a kind of anger that’s very simple, very comfortable, and almost always inaccurate.

I’m a liberal, and considerably left of President Obama on many, many issues.  But I have conservative friends and family who I’m sure are feeling anxious and despairing today.  I just wanted to take a moment to say that I know how you feel, and while I still disagree with all y’all on some issues basic enough to approach axiomatic, I’m sorry this part’s hard.  If my guy had lost, I’d be pretty damned down today myself.

I know from experience that there are more interesting and more profound conversations about this that we can have now that we’re not in a fight, provided we can let go of being in a fight.  I know that we’re in a media environment that deals with nuance and depth poorly, and that people are nuanced and we’re deep.  And I know that violence, even rhetorical violence, redeems nothing.

If any of y’all want a cup of coffee and sympathy, your loyal opposition is here for you. I’m happy to listen to whatever you have to say (short of violence and trolling).  I won’t agree with all of it, and I’ll call you on some of it, but I recognize that you are also citizens of my nation and of my world.  I’d rather our conflicts go through all the way to the end, where — win or lose or resting to go at it again later — we are capable of being reconciled.

13 Responses »

  1. As a conservative and fan of your writing, I say, “Thank you.”

  2. Well said, Daniel!
    I cannot agree more. The real conversation has the potential to start now!

  3. Excellently said, all the way around.

  4. Well said, and thanks for that reminder.

  5. Well said. We so often forget the resolution after the conflict.

  6. Actually I thought both speeches last night were conciliatory–especially Obama’s. Romney’s speech was nice, too, though it didn’t quite reach the heights of reconciliation that McCain’s speech four years ago did.

    But sometimes the battle doesn’t end, as it didn’t after McCain’s speech. I’m thinking of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Grover Norquist here. You can do some serious damage to the ends you were fighting for–even after you’ve supposedly won–by playing to a harmonious narrative that doesn’t in fact match reality.

    I don’t know if you’ve listened to Glenn Beck today, but the far right is not ready to kiss and make up, today November 7th. God love ’em, but if the GOP isn’t prepared to make the radical anti-science/anti-humanist wing irrelevant, they’ll deserve their next trouncing, too.

    That is, if the sane rest of us have the guts to give it to them.

    • Thing is, I don’t actually know Glenn Beck or Mitch McConell. I do know Tristan and Nellie. Their kid babysits mine. And know Lynette and Steve, and I must presume Uncle Randy, who have always been very polite when the family dinners start getting critical of things they hold dear. And my cousin out with the Texas branch of the family who’s a Tea party guy with a bunch of oil money and a good sense of humor who gets in his RV and heads out to lend a hand whenever there’s a natural disaster close enough by that he can help.

      I agree that the GOP is in trouble, and I’m just fine with that. I don’t expect the political apparatus to be something it’s not, but I also don’t feel any obligation to skip the part where I offer a little fellowship and consolation to the real people I actually know and care about when they’re down.

  7. Thank you for this message. I know that conservatives are despairing and liberals rejoicing, but I think it is incredibly important to recognize that the country is split essentially 50/50. We need to find a way to work together for our common benefit. We certainly won’t agree on many things but both sides need to learn to compromise. There a great deal of reasonable people on both sides. Acting or believing otherwise is narrow-minded and counter-productively divisive.

  8. Daniel,

    Thanks for your call for “nuance”. I am conservative on economics and liberal in social issues. Economics is more important to me, as I see the social issues over a longer term view and they are coming my way. On the economics, I think it may be the other way around. My worldview has a lot to do with why I love your writing.

    Whenever someone start screaming at me, I always present myself (Hi, my name is Carlos, pleased to meet you. Where are you from?). It takes all the rage out of the person when they realize you are a real person and not some image they have.

    Your characters are amazing, nuanced, and with very different worldview. Their worldview is not mocked, or distorted in order to force the head of the reader into liking or disliking the character. In Dagger, I like or not the characters by their actions. And Cithrin… In this world where banks are the evil of evils, you dare to give us Cithrin. You dare to understand the logic, to go further, and then making up your mind. Not to mention “The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairytale of Economics”. If I had to guess, I would guess you were a conservative, as liberals often don’t care enough to understand these issues. The fact that you are a liberal obviously does not make me like you any less. Having good people on the other side gives me hope.

    I believe in economic liberty and a smaller state. But that is just how I see it. I believe in it as the best way forward for all of us, especially the poor. (Won’t bother you as why I do so.)

    On the current problems, I think Obama is a very divisive president, and he can’t put the blame on the conservatives for all of it. When he had the congress in his side (first two years), he just crushed the opposition and never went for compromise. Obama left his mark already with the health reform. It’s going to stay.

    I just wish he would now focus on the very important economic challenges we have ahead and do what is right, not what sounds good. Obama just keep losing one good democratic economist after another in his team because his economic policies are politically engineered. I just wish he would appoint a good economic team and keep it, there are wonderful people in the democratic side. And most of all, I wish he could compromise and come up with at least a delay on the fiscal cliff, and not let it over the cliff to force the hand of the republicans. If he does that, he will win the vote, but the world will have four years just like the last two; bitter politics and nothing done.

    The country is divided, Mr. President, please throw us a bone. You are the president, please take responsibility. If you compromise over the economy, I will never forget.

  9. I miss civility most of all.

    Thank you for this. I find myself very much in your position, except that I don’t think any of the conservatives in my life will accept a liberal shoulder to cry on. I sincerely hope that yours are willing to talk.

  10. Wow, Daniel…as a very frustrated conservative, I really appreciated this. Thank you. A little more of this and a little less victory gloating, from both sides, might help us to come together now and then, not just when 9/11 or some such crap happens.

  11. I have been (what other people would call) quite far to the left of our President since I was quite young. To me, the idea of humanity governing itself in harmony with other planetary lifeforms merely seems rational and obvious: neither left nor right. (In this matter, I always thought the crude concepts of left and right political parties must come straight from Flatland.) In any case, it is easy to see that our President is technically an Eisenhower Republican, since that is as far “left” as the American public can imagine at this point. And even then, We the People are not about to listen to his prescient final advice.

    Everyone sane wants to live peacefully with others. But the concept here of healing and unity is riddled with troublesome underpinnings. Yes, normal people naturally do not wish to live as rabid political animals. Yet many “good people” have aligned themselves with our peculiarly vicious version of “end stage capitalism”. They refuse to do the math, or reflect on facts—let alone understand exactly what it is they are really “conserving”. Do you like Thomas Jefferson? Read his grim warnings about ever letting corporations get the slightest grip on the Republic.

    So we are basically talking about critical mass as to our future Either/Or. Either we will continue being run by the criminal greed of the corporate 1%- or we will get it together to govern ourselves, according to the ordinary needs of humanity we all share. How is any sort of unifying compromise even remotely possible between such extremes? We can be polite and friendly to individuals- and I am sure most of us are: but only until the very idea of America is mentioned. In other words, I don’t think this argument is going to go away, but can only become much stronger. Then what? I can only imagine that increasing imbalance in Nature, and consequently more and more terrible natural disasters, will eventually cause us all to rethink everything in a new light. But other than that…

    Perhaps it all depends on just how identified we are with having thoughtful discussions among differing views about the meaning of good of the whole. At a certain point, politeness offered to emotionally-oriented, wholly unthinking individuals no longer seems like a social benefit. In other words, Daniel, I appreciate your optimism—but I’m with Captain Holden.

  12. I’m European (Belgian).

    Quite a lot of my friends consider me a conservative (I vote for the Christian Democrats). Nevertheless, my friends in the US – I travel a lot in the States and I was privileged to befriend some wonderful people over there – think I’m very much to the left of them.

    And yes, I think same sex marriage should be allowed (it is in Belgium), well regulated euthanasia can be a solution, I cannot make my mind up on the issue of abortion, soft drugs for recreational use should be allowed (and know I never drank alcohol or smoke a cigaret in my whole life).

    One of the things I noticed in the US is, how society in the land of the free is governed by fear. Fear of speaking your mind. People are hesitating to give an opinion for fear of conflict or unpleasantness. In Europe, discussing politics, religion and ethics is a great pastime. No one, feels threatened by it. Discussion helps you focus and refine your own beliefs.

    But you know,

    I – like almost everyone in Belgium – followed avidly the elections in the US (every night on national TV in prime time for more than a month!) and I have to admit both Obama and Mitt Romney were very graceful in their victory and loss.
    And the simple fact that they could feel empathy for each other and their families in the hour of truth, bodes well for the future of your country and our world.