You love the thunder and you love the rain
What you see revealed within the anger is worth the pain
And before the lightning fades and you surrender
You’ve got a second to look at the dark side of the man.
Jackson Browne: You love the thunder.
Humans are a little like having a lion for a house-pet. Yeah, you raised it, trained it, fed it, cuddled it. It may die one day with its great head on your lap, having lived a happy, contented life with you, as your adored pet.
But there is always that chance… that something, somehow, will take it back to you being prey and it being a very powerful predator. The capacity is there, and, if it remains a lion, always will. Humans… well, I was on the periphery of a bunch of typical SJW attacking a bloke I know. He wouldn’t thank me for identifying him, so I’ll leave it at that. But while he was being gentlemanly and his usual polite self, it did occur to me to wonder if what would happen if, somehow, they took one step too far. I mean, they were norm for that type – internet ‘heroes’ with the physique of a tubercular chicken. And this was someone perfectly capable of tracking them down, ripping their arms off and beating them to death with the wet end, if he snapped.
It’s equally true that while the SJW ‘heroes’ were very ‘brave’ in a mob, on the safe physical distance of the internet and their attempt at anonymity, there is the real dark side to them, too. Yes, their choice is probably stabbing someone in the back while they’re asleep, or being part of a nice big lynch mob with an unarmed victim – but that same dark side is there. If anything, it’s closer to the surface, and less controlled. The same capability to do serious harm is pretty well part of being human. Even part of that Jain who goes out of his way not to even kill an ant. Lions are soft, cuddly and as dangerous as Koala bears compared to the dark side of humans.
Of course, the dark side has cookies.
It’s a choice of phrase that has been rather tainted by the associations with Star Wars. You might prefer to think of it as humans without that very thin veneer of civilization. Western civilization, and culture, are a thicker veneer than most (Yes, there are exceptions, like the Jains I mentioned earlier. But the exceptions only survive by being protected (and possibly, respected) by other, larger and thinner-veneered civilizations or extreme isolation (the Moriori as an example) but humans – and monkey tribes – are held in check from being permanent open season murder and rapine simple brute thuggery, by social mores – which 99% of the time most of us think are a good thing.
I mentioned the monkeys with some intent, as yes, it goes back a long way, even if — in the monkey troop — it was simply a social compact enforced by the biggest and meanest male in the troop who did the murder and rape… and largely restrained the rest (that is if his chosen mate of that moment was unwilling. Avoiding a long aside into animal behavior aside, that too is rare). Yes I know about bonobos. By all means feel free to explain to modern feminists just how to imitate female bonobos keep our society peaceful in an imitation of what is a female dominated and ‘ruled’ bonobo society. I’ll watch. In fact, I’ll sell tickets.
But… every now and again, people snap back into some degree of that highly unsocial beast. And, rather like looking at that lion or deadly taipan or great white shark – there is a horrid fascination to this. It’s part of the writer’s stock and trade. And part of that, of course, is that many of our nobler attributes, the people who run towards the sound of the guns/the disaster, stem from precisely that dark side. The lion remains a lion. If you didn’t want a lion, you should have got a sheep. They always run away, and won’t defend or help… but won’t eat you.
So: back to writing. There is very little for the story-teller in the life of untrammeled passive virtue. Overwhelmingly, our stories are about conflict between the dark sides of humans, or at least drawing on the courage that is an aspect of that. The conflict may be between the lion who tries not kill its beloved (the controlled or limited violence), and the lion that kills anything it can, or between two sets of lions with limits at least to their loyalties (a conflict between two foes, both loyal to their own) or degrees therein.
When you come down to analyzing and building your own heroes and villains, it really about how much of the primal dark side (which, yes, humans, particularly females, DO find attractive. It’s about survival-potential in the genes, not logic. It’s why the bad-boy (and lesserly girl) hero has sexual appeal – a step too many humans take in life, let alone fiction) and how that is expressed and controlled that makes them heroes or villains. And – because we’re a social species – it’s a conflict within the character we like to see won by control (not by turning into a sheep, but by turning into the lion that only eats the home-intruder, and merely intimidates your mother-in-law. Honestly, it’s better for domestic bliss than having mother-in-law scented belches from the pet lion, regardless of your opinion at the moment.)
Build the dark side, and the potential for it to be totally unleashed, for good or ill, into your hero… and you’ll have one worth reading about. Do without it and you have metrosexual milquetoast.