Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

How Every Self-Justification Builds Walls Between Us

When there are disagreements between us, walls, they are often over beliefs we’ve clung to for a long time; even if those beliefs become outmoded. Such clinging is self-justification.

Are we immoveable in our politics? Unwavering in our belief our religion or lack thereof is the only way? Did we inherit these beliefs from our family, the way we inherit eye color? Are we truly, logically and emotionally convinced we are right?

If not, what if instead of converting those who think and feel differently, we understood, with sympathy, their beliefs too have become an unquestioned part of their identity?

These are the questions I ask about my characters. At the psychological roots of my characters lie the same self-justifications leading to the conflicts, which divide individuals, communities, and nations.

How Coping Creates Walls

The characters of The Consecration of Jacob Jordaens must cope through self-justifications with the one big elephant in the closet: one of their own is operating a child-sex trafficking ring over the internet.

A bleak prospect, to say the least.

Whether a character denies to themselves or others this business is nefarious, represses knowledge it exists, or worries whether their role is to reveal the sex-trafficking ring to the authorities, they handle the resultant negative emotions through coping, through self-justifications.

Those self-justifications, create the barriers between the characters and generate the conflict, which moves the novel forward.

Belief Systems: The Building Blocks of Self-Justification

What do the characters of The Consecration of Jacob Jordaens believe?

Moira Connery was born to raise everyone up to greater heights. As a little girl, she believed in her Guardian Angel. As an adult that Angel has morphed into a Master in a grand spiritual hierarchy. She is an aspirant: someone on the Path. A natural optimist, Moira is confronted with the darkest aspects of human nature. Can her faith all humans are on a progressive path to enlightenment be sustained in the light of an overwhelming evil?

Karen Vaughn will not be a sucker in a dog eat dog world. If she creates victims, they are victims of their own choosing. With her mom as her role model, Karen knows she is made of strong genetic material, built to survive. Can Karen’s faith in her own cleverness, her intelligence, bear her up under the weight of her own wrong doing?

Shay Vaughn has always believed the odds have been against him. Fortunately life offers compensations, like drugs and gambling. But can Shay escape, blind himself, to his wife Karen’s involvement with the sex trafficking ring? Will he ever see his denial is what enables her?

Nick Vaughn believes he is destined to be famous. Why else was he given his intellect and the blessing of a fine education and a wealthy family? Or is he driven by the need for his father’s approval? The subtext of every interaction with his father is his father’s disappointment Nick is gay. Thus, Nick so needs his father’s approval, he has convinced himself the child trafficking enterprise is just another business. Can Nick’s “sophistication” stand up against the evidence against his family, evidence of horrors committed against the most innocent?

Lexis Jordaens believes she can leave the past behind, and create herself anew whenever needed. She once believed in the supernatural and the esoteric. Now she’s stronger, a good mother and professor of feminist theory and history. Pressured by terrors, she would have once called psychic attacks, can she abandon her former beliefs in good and evil, reduce it all to political theory and logic?

Our hero, Jake Jordaens discovers his past heroes have feet of clay and gravitates towards Karen, who intrigues him with promises he can control his own future. Yet when he learns Karen’s empire is founded on the broken bodies of children, and he is an accomplice in building that empire, can he do the right thing?

Self-Justification vs. Self-Knowledge

A character, who grows, travels from self-delusion to facing the truth about his or her justifications. Where they are in this journey to self-knowledge determines whether they will act: whether they are reticent or ready.

Karen feels she is ready to act, because she has to. She doesn’t lie to herself. She just believes those who get hung up on good and evil are fools. If she doesn’t run her business, someone else will, and there is no one going to take care of her.

Shay has no vision of the future, beyond not losing his comfort. He doesn’t know how to do more than react.

Moira hesitates, because she is engaged in a battle to save souls Yet, who is she to have such lofty conceits? But she has no choice. She is driven by a moral imperative to serve the group good. Therefore by sheer will she transforms her reticence into action, in spite of emotional and physical pain.

Nick Vaughn wants to fulfill his destiny, his dharma: he is supposed to create works of art. As long as he pursues his goal with single purpose, what others do is none of his concern. If they say he’s selfish, they don’t understand.

Same Tier/Different Ethics = Conflict = Walls

These characters’ ethics are determined by their tier: survival, personality optimization, service to humanity.

Andrew Vaughn, although monstrous, does counter Moira Connery on the service to humanity level. Andrew just believes the greatest good is to eliminating the weak, rather than lift them up.

Lexis Vaughn counters Nick Vaughn, she too wants personality optimization, but doing so means being the mother Jake needs and a voice for women’s rights. For Nick, it means completing his opera and proving to his father his value. Both Nick and Lexis, unlike Moira and Andrew — who have left behind their personality concerns to operate at a higher level — are hampered by doubt they have what it takes to succeed.

On the survival level of trying to get by, we have husband and wife, Shay and Karen Vaughn. Shay, deluding himself his self-destructive behavior can do anything but destroy him, and Karen, refusing to depend on others, survives by destroying others.

We All Self-Justify. We’re All Human.

Few people, or characters, are outright evil. Those who do evil, are often self-justified: they need it to survive, they have been wronged, etc.

Therefore, when we look at world issues, you name it — gun control, immigration (regional or worldwide), nuclear proliferation, climate crises, etc. — we can examine the different positions as reflections of justifications.

If we remember behind both sides of an argument, there are weak areas, soft bellies being protected, we’ll realize our common humanity and in that perhaps is the beginning of a solution.

Next time you feel like lashing out in anger at a social media post or something you overhear at a party, stop and ask yourself, why would they hold this belief? What in their background or current context would contribute to them clinging fiercely to that position? You’ll be surprised: you’ll start seeing what you have in common. And that “in common” is the bridge between what separates you.

2 Replies

  1. Lori

    Isn’t what we all have in common… is that we try to justify what “we” believe!!! Rarely do we try to justify what others believe !! And most of us are to self centered to see any other side… Welcome to DT’s world and his followers !!!

  2. Chris mccaskill

    Your discussion of the 3 tiers is interesting–similar to Maslow’s hierarchy. It provides a good framework for analyzing the characters in your book and in any book where the characters are well developed.

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