Jonathan sat at his desk. Outside the window he could hear sounds that warmed his heart; his children laughing and playing a game, the murmur of some of the social class as they idly walked by in the lazy afternoon, the chirp of a wren. All these things were to be found here in Charleston, a city of beauty, charm, and history. Not the history of an older city, say, like London or Paris, but a city who’s inhabitants could look back in the near past and recall stories of how their blood kin molded and shaped the city, the countryside, the very country itself, with their bare hands, facing down famine and Indian alike with grit and piety. Yes, this was his home, his state, his people, and he would, before God almighty, keep all that those before him, had struggled so hard to amass. He would take what he had been given and leave it better than he found it.
So I wrote on the train (and I am now on the bus) as the first paragraph of a book idea that I have. I’ve expressed this idea before in the past, and I did so last night over a sidecar. The idea came to me thusly, in reading American history, in particular, the era between 1783 and 1860 and the question of slavery and the polarization that it had on citizens, churches, and Congress itself. I read some of the accounts of defenders of the institution of slavery and they were very articulate. One cannot simply say that those who were for slavery were idiots and backwards people. Just as I cannot say that John Kerry is an idiot. I like to, I believe he is an idiot, but to resort to calling him an idiot is to forget the capacities that got him where he is. It is often a fun game for people to poke fun at the President, and he doesn’t stir one with an overwelming sense of intelligence, yet don’t overlook the fact that he did get elected twice. This is, for whatever reasons one might attribute to it, an accomplishment indeed. Recall the Greek philosopher, his name eludes me currently, who was in poverty yet he talked about the virtures of poverty and a simple life. Everyone told him that he felt such because he was making excuses for being poor. He turned around and used his intelligence to amass a great fortune in olives, and then lead a simple life again having thus proved his naysayers wrong. I thought of this today while listening to a Spearhead song. So many people I’ve met are outspoken proponents of what Michael Franti sings about, and yet some of these same people I’ve watched, changed their lifestyle from the ‘ghettofabulous’ lifestyle of the bar industry, to a career that brings them lots of money. It is amazing how fast they forget their ‘help a brother out’ and ‘share the wealth’ posturings when they have money and power. Hippocrites are found on the left and the right and wherever humans might gather, for virtues live only within our hearts and minds and only in dynamic experience are they enlivened.
So back to my story. In reading the arguments for slavery, many of them struck me as the same arguments that I’ve heard from goverment and corporate spokespersons regarding environmental regulations. Many environmental arguments, we contest, are not arguments about economics in the slightests… but are purely morale arguments. So I had an idea… I wanted to write a story from the point of view of an intelligent, nice, likeable, man who is a congressman from one of the southern states, say… South Carolina, a powerhouse in southern politics at the time. I wanted him to echo all the sentiments of his time and to do so as well as I could. It is hoped that any modern reader will automatically see slavery as an evil. This is an important part… for if the modern reader can come into the story knowing that slavery is evil, and if I can get the reader to empathize with the character that is defending slavery, then it sets me up for the second half of the book where I make my point.
The second half of the book I don’t see as clearly in my mind. I don’t know which side I want to write from, but I am leaning to the side of the corporate CEO. After the reader reads a compelling story, I hope, of a man who was in all respects a good, honest, and decent man but simply had one aspect of his moral compass out of whack… and then finds the story changing to the year 2000 (ish) and reading of a good, honest, caring person who is very good at business, but simply has his moral compass slightly out of whack… whereas he allows his company to do actions that are environmentaly harmful. The excuses are the same… money, cost, jobs, tax burdens… same arguments used against abolition are used today by companies not wanting tougher air pollution laws.
It is my hope that should I be able to write such a story, the reader can get out of the current mindset that many environmentalists and anti-environmentalists paint society into as good and bad, savior of the earth or raper of the earth, and into the notion that there are good people everywhere and that perhaps some environmental practices, regardless of their cost saving, are morally wrong.
It is, I believe, a story that if done well could make an impact… and what more does a writer want than this?