Sunday, July 16, 2017
The Great American Pragmatist
Before I start, you may, while reading this think I’m talking about a non-fictional person. In the front pages of many novels before the story starts, the author or editor says something like, any resemblance to someone real is purely coincidental. Just to have fun I’ll say deliberately coincidental
Is your character a pragmatist or idealist? Pay attention to the core values of your hero/heroine and other characters because it goes to what motivates them. Infusing philosophy helps tell a valued story. How strongly does your character hold these beliefs or lack thereof?
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition popularized in the United States around 1870. For those philo geeks, there is also the closely related Utilitarianism. Nobody claims to be a Utilitarian because it’s too hard to spell or pronounce.
Put simply: what is useful is good and what is pragmatic is good. They seem interchangeable but there is a subtle difference. Pragmatism is a more active philosophy. They choose to do something that will reap benefits for them. A utilitarian chooses something to take up or take because it is useful to them. Somebody else may have already done the work. Stealing said work is often done by the Prag/Uti character, if they think they can get away with it. If they think… Both philosophies are egocentric.
These philosophies may seem glorious statements of what made our Country great but they are at odds with the Constitution. All men are created equal if it is useful or works to the character. Many religions condemn these philosophies, calling them false gods. The struggle for the character’s soul is a human condition that transcends national boundaries.
Every day the character makes useful or pragmatic decisions. Is it better for health to eat more because it tastes good or should there be more strictness about cholesterol or sugar? Does a character go to a wedding 2500 miles away, spend the money, or focus on work and make money needed to survive or live more comfortably? Innocuous actions creep up on them when it comes time to make a really important decision that may involve moral values. The problem moral steadfastness starts with habituation. It’s hard to change and so they choose to make a moral mistake hardly noticing that they have become the Great American Pragmatist.
Some characters observe the world and see that those who grab the gusto or perhaps bend the rules to suit them (pragmatism at its core) get ahead in life. They make money. Some take it a step further and get pleasure out of besting another human being. Substitute screwing for besting here, if you like.
American politics and business are the most obvious places to go for examples of American pragmatism. Many of our leaders cherish and fully understand the constitution because they live their lives by core values in which they treat each human being fairly. All men are brothers, right?
Your character can demonstrate his/her core beliefs through habitual action, willfully wrought or not. They also can grow or change. One often needs an arc for this, LOL. The heroine sets out to tame her man, as an example.
In pragmatic politics and business or life in general not constantly confronting, reflecting on the moral value of habits, can land the character(s) in jail or worse.
Fifty Shades of Grey, Promo for movie