Monday, October 03, 2005

A Writer's Responsibility--Part Two

In the comments for my post about a writer's responsibility, Patriot said...

What if the reader is child or an adult with diminished mental capacity? What is the author's responsibility then? My whole point was Tech's poem was a powerful statement for paganism, yet he says he doesn't hold that belief and isn't responsible for anyone choosing to be a pagan after reading it. May be he's not responsible for their choice, but he is responsible for creating the right mood for that choice to be chosen. That's all I'm saying.

I doubt Patriot and I will ever totally agree. But he hit on one of my pet peeves--dragging in children and adults with diminished mental capacity to bolster a specious argument and I don't want to let it slide. His questions, "What if the reader is a child or an adult with diminished mental capacity? What is the author's responsibility then?" fall apart on logical grounds. Children and people of diminished mental capacity act as a "Red Herring", bringing in irrelevant material. The reason it's irrelevant material is that he's not postulating that "authors have a different responsibility to children and people with diminished mental capacity than they do to everyone else" or that "writers must only write to that part of the population to make sure they're protected." He's postulating that an author is responsible for the possibility that someone reading his words might choose to believe something the author doesn't believe, which has nothing whatsoever to do with "children and people of mentally diminished capacity." That's particularly true when you consider that people in those two groups are unlikely to read Tech's blog. It requires a certain amount of maturity, literacy, computer literacy, and intelligence to find, read, and parse the poem. I suspect a child or person of diminished mental capacity would need a parent or caretaker to explain what the poem's about, if he were to manage to read it.

As for his being responsible for creating the right mood for that choice, well, that's irrelevant, too. I doubt you can find one single person who chose to become pagan just because he read Tech's poem. There's not enough information in the poem to allow a person to figure out which pagan religion he might want to follow, let alone choose to become one. From reading all of the comments Patriot made, I suspect that the writer's responsibility argument is an attempt to take the specific idea that anyone who is a Christian has a responsibility not to do anything that in the slightest way might promote something that's not Christian, according to his view of what's Christian and what's not, and turn it into a more general argument that he thinks other people might be more willing to agree with. I don't suppose it occurred to him that there are many Christians who believe that their responsibility is to live their lives, as best they can, according to Christ's example and that's it. I've met many who don't believe it's their responsibility to tell me what to believe or how to live my life and who are of the opinion that my beliefs are between me and God. And it's entirely possible that Tech is one of those, which is why he's able to understand the viewpoint of his friend and write such a moving poem.