Robert Louis Stevenson on the Moral Bargain

In my recent article on William James, he taught us How to Know a Good Man, and part of his argument referenced a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson:

Stevenson says somewhere to his reader: “You think you are just making this bargain, but you are really laying down a link in the policy of mankind.”

I was intrigued by that quotation, and I decided to return to the source material to read the entire quotation in context.  Here’s what I found on page 20 of Stevenson’s fine book, Lay Morals:

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The Moral Code of Babies: Hardwiring Good and Evil

We know babies are born selfish and power-seeking — and we’ve met the Kindergarten Contract Killers.  Now we turn our frightened, Panopticonic, eye to the scientific notion that babies are embedded with a moral code:  They are born knowing the difference between good and evil.

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Invoking the Cross and the Gun

We rely on stereotypes a bit too much in the theatre to provide a crafted, but logistical, shorthand for wringing out the emotion from our audiences.  How easy is it to invoke the Angel and the Badge to provoke push-button reactions?  We must always be wary before invoking the Cross and the Gun.

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How to Evaluate Effectiveness

Few of us are taught how to provide effective feedback when we’re dealing with an artistic creation.  In my classes, I do not allow the use of “good” or “bad” in a critique because nobody has any real, shared, sense of what those value judgments mean in the scheme of the overall community.

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From Boy Box to Plastic Man

There is something viscerally pleasing when your fingers have to dig in to the corners of a candy box to lift the flaps to reveal a hidden taste from the void.  Unfortunately, the boxed candy of my childhood has been replaced with the convenience of — and the impossibility of tearing open — a plastic bag.

Continue reading → From Boy Box to Plastic Man

Plowing Hollow Lives in Fallow Land

As an author, you must focus your life on writing good stuff.

Many authors are more obsessed with achieving fame instead of creating greatness in their words.

When fame is the locus of your life — instead of good writing — your perspective is skewed to serving the middling taste of mainstream success.

When you instead concentrate on construction and on craft — you are concerned about the story and the showing of the drama in the lives you hope to perpetuate — and that means you feed the world instead of starving it with selfishness.

If your writing is good, fame will follow.

Fame without good writing plows hollow lives in fallow land.