What does it mean to be a good person? Exploring the themes of Duatero

My novel Duatero is coming out late May 2019. It explores the question of how do we make good choices when we don’t know what to do. What does it take to be a good person in a messy world where the stakes are high, the problems are complex, and uncertainty shrouds the path forward ?

This is an important question. Regardless of your political leanings or belief system, the world today is filled with problems that are vast in scale and scope. The ramifications to our society of making a wrong choice are severe. For many of these challenges, this is the first time in history we have faced them. We, therefore, do not have tried and tested methods to resolve them. The future is always a journey into the unknown, but many of us feel that today is different, that our civilization is at a crossroads. Making the right choices will lead to a bright future in the stars, but the wrong ones will lead to calamity.

The characters in Duatero live in a society sitting at such a crossroads. Duatero is a lost interstellar colony. For thousands of years, it has struggled to survive on an alien planet. It is now losing that battle. Food production is decreasing for unknown reasons while an ancient, exotic disease is evolving as it spreads through the colony. Each of my four main characters embodies a different approach to facing this situation. Let’s explore them each in turn.

Live, laugh, love. There is joy in life and beauty in the world. Our strength comes from bonds of care and loyalty we share with one another. We do our job, we do it well, and we do it with a smile. This is an attitude that greases the wheels of social interactions. The beauty of the universe this attitude channels gives meaning to life, a reason to fight for it beyond mere survival. But how effective is this attitude at generating solutions to intractable problems and then convincing others to adopt them? How effective is this attitude at challenging power?

Focus on yourself. Learn how to succeed. Work hard. Only the strong survive, so be strong. When society is in danger, it needs strength. When survival is on the line, weakness is a luxury you cannot afford. Climb the ladder, be the strength that society needs, push aside the weak that hold it back. This perspective embodies a lot of hard truths. Perhaps weakness is a luxury society cannot afford when its survival is at stake. Competitive self-interest allows the cream to rise to the top. But cultures are a collective. Societal problems, therefore, require collective action. Can a civilization truly thrive if it only values the self? 

Rely on tradition. Our traditions exist for a reason. They work. Traditions embody values and beliefs, which serve to unify society and give it purpose. Traditional practices encode the wisdom our culture has gained through surviving past hardships. When we face new dangers, the knowledge of the ancients guide us. Our histories tell us what works and what fails. When problems challenge us, falling back on what worked in the past has merit. But the world evolves. How useful is this approach at adapting to a dynamic universe?

Be curious. Explore. Experiment. The universe is mysterious, and it is foolish to think we understand it. Approach problems with an open mind. Humble yourself, assume you do not comprehend the nature of what is challenging you, and then seek to understand it. Be willing to try solutions, fail, learn, adapt, and try again. The universe is dynamic, and we need a flexible approach to face down our problems. But experiments have risks–they often fail. When survival is on the line, is that the time to try something new, especially when failure could mean death? 

Or is it folly to think that only one of these approaches is the answer? Perhaps each of these has their place in a flourishing society. Wisdom, then, is knowing which to draw on when the road before us branches and we do not know our way. This is the challenge facing the people of Duatero. 

Duatero comes out late May 2019. It is published by Bundoran Press

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