Following on from my most recent blog of a few days ago, I am reminded of a project I did back in my university days. My final year thesis was an investigation into the feasibility of teaching a subject on Creative Reasoning within scientific studies, and one of the points I discussed which was the value of right and wrong.
It is interesting how both my theatrical interests influenced some of my research, and how some of my research has influenced my theatre. This came into rather interesting clarity when, recently, I was discussing the complexities of character development with some nice young people, after one of my Quiz Night gigs.
The concepts of right and wrong are uniquely human. Echoing my previous blog, they are not natural. In fact, the concepts of right and wrong can actually be inhibitive to creative reasoning, which tends to work better when encouraged to break the rules. Creativity general works better with a measure of worth, rather than fixed points of success and failure.
One of the biggest struggles I have had to face as an actor is how to convincingly portray a character who is so completely opposite me in belief, and moral direction. Pantomime villains is one things, but real villains… that is hard. I don’t like paying simple lip service to a character, and hoping that will get me by. I need to make the character believable, and that means relate-able. I have to be able to understand the motivations if I am to convincingly portray them.
I believe it is the exceptionally rare individual who is able to see themselves as evil, and relish in that knowledge. Most would rather admit that they have done some pretty bad stuff, but that they are able to justify their actions somehow. How valid that justification may be to others is questionable, but to the character, it is enough.
You see, what is “right” and “good” is subjective. It is an opinion. When enough people believe in the same concepts of Right and Good, then it becomes a standard, or moral. Yet that does not make it ultimate Right or Good, because in reality, neither exist. Deeds that one may see as utterly evil, another may see as a necessary step towards an ultimate “good” according to their perceptions.
In nature, we see many examples of processes or actions that, under a moral code, would be deemed evil, nasty, or bad, but if you change the moral code, they can look very different. Humans, with the higher order brain matter, and the need for language and labelling, are the ones who create the codes, and therefore define what is evil.
But where do these perceptions come from?
This links back to early blog posts where I talk about choices and perceptions. The choices one makes in life construct the path that influences their future. Our choices are the decisions and reactions we make when faced with the effects of the world around us, and those we interact with. Sometimes, these choices can be subtle. Then again, they can be monumental.
In a world where there is no right or wrong, just one’s perception of it, anyone could be anyone. Had I not made certain choices in my life, I would be a different person. Maybe subtly different. Perhaps completely different.
As an actor, this is huge. I really could be anyone, if I could only understand the choices I would need to have made, and the justification I told myself to live with them. What would the moral code be like?
However, following this line of thought alone doesn’t create a character with depth. It would suggest that all characters were “satisfied” with their lot in life, and we all know that this is simply not true. We can all point to people, and maybe even ourselves, who are not “satisfied” with their lot. So there is something else at work here.
Our unique power for self-deception. It is our ability to lie, to others and to ourselves, that make for the tortured and emotional characters the populate our lives. Perhaps our past choices were based on lies, or half-truths. Perhaps it is our justifications that simply don’t have the ring of truth to them, no matter how hard we try and convince ourselves. Maybe we frequently gave away our one true strength, and let others choose for us, let them tells us their truth, and now live a life that contradicts that burning yearning inside.
The one thing that differentiates us from most other animals on this planet, is our ability to ignore instinct, and see choices. It is what gives us our ability to see things things that don’t exist, imagine fantasy worlds, or inventions. We are able to create explanations for the world around us by observing the world and perceiving meaning.
It is also one of our biggest weaknesses, because unchecked, it can run away from us and have us imagine things that can frighten, annoy, hurt, and enrage. Deception and creativity are very closely bonded, because they are both two sides of the same talent.
And this is the source of right and wrong. It is opposites, or extremes, but it us who have labelled these extremes as either right or wrong.
Maths is the only real subject within which Right and Wrong can have absolute meaning, and even that is human invention.