Alexander Hellene

Guard Against

I sometimes think about the world we live in, how boundless it seems but how constrained it is.

Anything is available and everything is for sale. And I mean everything. Life is transactional, there for the taking . . . for a price. We live in a world where mail-order brides are a thing. Where cheap labor is the straw that stirs the economic drink. Where entire industries are built on the easiest ways to have relations, either with another human being or with yourself. There are no limits, no boundaries, no guardrails.

If you don’t like yourself, change yourself. If the skin you’re in is too constrictive, change it. There are doctors who have built their careers on lopping a bit off of here and sticking it onto there, of opening holes where none previously existed. When the pills don’t do the trick, when your analyst just isn’t helping, there’s always the scalpel. Or if you live in Canada, might as well just die.

You can move wherever you want, right? Need a job that’s in, I don’t know, Korea? Move to Korea. Or just work remotely for a Korean company. Or just bounce from metropolitan area to metropolitan area. There’s no need to stay kicking around your own hometown when there’s a whole world of airport terminals and hotel bars offering exciting new adventures.

At the same time as we have this personal freedom, the physical world is closing in like a jail cell. The old refrain is that the world has gotten smaller thanks to travel and communications technology. Nowhere is that felt more than the utter lack of a physical frontier on Earth. There is no escape, no way to go off the grid. We are born with a number and a massive debt and spend the rest of our lives toiling away to pay for this. Buying a patch of land in some far-off, untouched beyond is not an option, because the total state will find you. You got a license for that, sir?

Even this choice is an illusion. The freedoms we’re sold also come with a laundry list of caveats in the fine print. You can have anything you want . . . as long as it falls within these parameters. You can have any idea you want . . . as long as you select from this menu. And the powers in charge of the world all cook the same recipes. Imagine that!

It was a classic bait-and-switch, this reduction of life and virtue to the massive expansion of personal preference in every aspect of life. The bonds that tied families, clans, and nations together, whether they be of kin or of faith, by necessity had to be broken in order to usher in this brave new world of no limits.

Pay attention, though. Pay attention to who is telling you there are no limits to anything, and what they are putting limits on. Sex with animals will soon be a human right, but don’t you dare complain about crime and urban decay. “Who has the right to draw boundaries?” they argue. “Who sets the standard?”

And so, to tie this into writing, you can figure out goodness or badness, hero or villain, by observing who has standards, what those standards are, and who tries to tell you everything is relative to what a given society thinks is right or wrong at any given time.

Spoiler alert: relativism is a ruse. The relativist actually does have standards. They just use the seductive power of unlimited freedom of personal preference to obliterate the standards they hate to replace them with standards they love, similar to how atheism is also a cover for deeper, darker forms of ancient worship. As with everything, you have to ask whose standards are being imposed?

If you ascribe to any one of the world’s major religions, you have standards. For the Bible-believing Christian, God sets the standards. These standards are immutable, and all human actions, whether they be laws or personal predilections, stand or fall based on how they comport with the Word of God. It’s rich when people castigate the West and mockingly call it “Christendom” when they comment on disgusting behaviors like public drunkenness, drug addition, euthanasia, and irreversible hormone therapy for pre-pubescent children. 

My friends: “Christendom” hasn’t existed since at least 1918. Maybe it died in 1848. Maybe it even died in 1776. All I know is that the West has been secular for generations, centuries. Christianity teaches self-control and restraint. Secularism destroys all barriers and tried to replace them with codes of ethics that are constantly subject to change once the firmware has been updated. Human beings aren’t perfect, and there are often things that were tolerated by the religious that we now see as terrible things, like slavery, that eternal low-hanging fruit. But it was Christian nations who led the charge in abolishing that horrible practice which still exists in wide swaths of the planet. In the absence of immutable standards, who is to say one man’s slavery isn’t another man’s perfectly acceptable division of labor?

We’re seeing the western world run into this as rainbow-flag wearing Americans and Europeans run descend on the Muslim nation of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Suddenly, enthusiastic support of homosexuality is a non-negotiable proposition, the sine non qua of the civilized world . . . but why? Who is to say that the Qatari attitudes aren’t just as valid as the American and European ones? Who gets to set the standard, and why should it be enforced?

Lots of these things come down to crotch-level because the wicked know that unleashing sexual passions is a powerful vector for control. Does the high divorce rate, prevalence out-of-wedlock births and fatherless homes, and other sex-related ailments sicken you? You can’t blame Christians! Well, you can insofar as the various churches didn’t take as strong a stand against the sexual revolution as it should have. Our human institution are comprised of humans, imperfect and fallen beings, trying to follow the narrow path. Even kings were subject to the authority of the church once upon a time. Now, the supposedly accountable public servants we have laugh at the idea of any constraints on their corrupt behavior. They only feel bad when they get caught.

A villain promises a limitless existence free of any sort of guilt or shame or self-improvement. “If it feels good, do it,” went the Boomer refrain, and we can see how well that turned out. “You are perfect the way you are,” they say. False. You are not. You are fallen, and need to work on your flaws. I’m not talking about people born with mental retardation or physical handicaps. I am also not saying each man and woman is an icon of God—we all are. I’m saying that we all have things we need to work on.

“Character flaws” in stories are there to instruct, to teach. A tragedy is where the flaw leads to a character’s downfall. This is a warning. Many other stories feature the hero overcoming their flaws in order to triumph gloriously. We cheer at this because it is inspirational and aspirational. We can be better. We can always be better. And a part of being better is having hard limits and standards we know and understand and strive to live up to. A religious person is susceptible to cries of “HYPOCRISY!” because they have standards. The standardless can live their life not caring who or what they harm because it’s their freedom to self-actualize or whatever it is they call it.

Characters in stories don’t have to have flaws. But these types of characters, often called “flat-arc” characters, still do great things. They struggle. They have moments of self-doubt and maybe even self-pity. Because they reflect us as human beings. I stand by my statement that all fiction is message fiction because of this reality.

Think about this when you read a novel or watch a movie. What is the villain promising? So many don’t turn away from God because they read the Bible or the Koran or the Rig Veda some other religious text, studied the writings of the Church Fathers, and came to a rational conclusion about the nature of existence. No, they likely watched a movie or TV show where the Christian character was a stick-up-the-butt loser who couldn’t get laid and was ultimately humiliated by the cool kids banging each other in the church basement.

No limits. No boundaries. Express your true self. But is it not said that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” and that “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies”?

I propose the inverse of an inverted world: seek frontiers that allow you live in accordance with immutable standards and reject those that encourage you to give in to your animal passions. You don’t have to become a monk or a nun, but maybe that actually is the path for you. Edward Dutton has a fascinating theory on the psychology of the religiously celibate. To paraphrase, they are often those who subsume the desires of their hearts and direct their energies to positive ends. There is no shame in this, no defeat. It is, in fact, highly honorable and worthy of emulation.

We all compete against ourselves as much as those who seek to destroy all barriers and, I don’t know, try to live forever. My theory is that the transhumanists are in such a rush to download their consciousnesses into machines because they truly fear death. In other words, they know where they’re going, they’re too prideful to change their ways, and it freaks them out.

Use this knowledge to supercharge your writing!

Guard your heart and beware of those who urge you to follow it above all other considerations. They are the villains in these stories, and in the stories of life.

– Alexander

See if Elpida can overcome her worst instincts in A Traitor to Dreams, my first novel, an urban fantasy/weird fiction mash-up featuring a girl with a screwdriver and her winged friends fighting mythological creatures created from Elpida’s own fears and desires.

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