Tour’s Books Blog

August 14, 2009

The Pecuilar Morality of ‘The One’

You see it time and again in romance novels, ‘The One’, a Heart Mate, ‘Life Mate’, an inescapable destined mate – and more often than not, there can be only one.  Werewolves do it on an almost universal basis.  Dragons do it, especially shifter dragons.  Vampires do it, though it’s less universal.  Even some cats do it, though more often than not cats with just one mate are seen as the family oddball. (Nik Vorislav in Shelly Laurenston’s hysterically funny Here Kitty, Kitty)  But the morality around securing ‘the One’ seems to get a bit flexible.

The idea that a male has one true mate to exclusion of all others and is destined to monogamy with that One is remarkably attractive to women.  That makes it a very attractive trope in paranormal romance.  It might not insure they’re loved for themselves, but it does insure a faithful, caring male.  In the majority of the books I’ve read, the ‘One’ is often the only one capable of acting as breeder as well.  Occasionally, breeding is separate, but it is usually an exclusive right of the One. So now you have a male (on rare occasion a female) with a biological imperative that’s two fold, the need to secure a desirable mate and the need to procreate.  This makes the female irresistible.  It also provides the stability and emotional security for the female – the guarantee he will remain exclusively yours and value you as the prize you are.  A seductive idea with great appeal, but one that often comes at a price.  To reap the benefits, your mate must be a True Mate or Life Mate, as opposed to a mate (lower case), because otherwise it might well go the way of broken marriages in the human world.

Here’s where things get sticky.  The entire foundation of human morality in the Western world is based on the concept an individual’s free will and choice – with certain legal and moral limitations.  It is the individual that makes the decision.  If the individual’s will is limited or circumvented – for example with mind control – then they are no longer responsible for their actions.  The concept of intelligent life is built on our ability to distinguish between right and wrong.  Part of this is cultural, part societal, and religious/philosophical beliefs.  We, as individuals, decide on whether or not to accept these things.  We are, therefore, responsible and accountable for our actions – or inaction.  We rely on our core of religious, moral and ethical teachings to guide us and understand we are accountable.  An action can be legal yet immoral or illegal yet moral depending on your perspective, but at all times it is the individual who acts that makes the decision.  An extreme example would the cannibalism of the Donner Party or the Andean plane crash survivors in 1972.

Now allow an individual to take away that ability of person to make an informed decision (withholding information) or deliberately place a person in a position where they are suffering and there is only one cure (mating musk, enzymes, and others) and you have coercive behavior.  Time and again these plot devices are used in romance novels to justify subjugating the free will of the ‘One’ by removal of choices or engaging in what amounts to rape to achieve the ‘mate bond’.  For some odd reason, readers give these ‘heroes’ a free pass on behavior that would put them in jail under ordinary circumstance.  If Ordinary Guy drops a pill in a human female’s drink and has sex with her while she is in a willing condition thanks to the chemical, we’d call that rape.  If Werewolf Guy emits a chemical  ‘mating musk’ that has exactly the same physiological effect as the pill on the same human female, then it’s OK.  Huh?  How did that just happen?  How is a human an immoral scumbag that goes to jail and the werewolf a hero who deserves to win the female?  And most importantly – why are romance readers morally flexible on this?

The argument of ‘nature verses nurture’ is near and dear to the hearts of behavioral psychologists, but on a philosophical level, one of the main things that separate human and animal is ‘free will’ and ‘free will’ says each of us makes our own choices.  Genetics might make us fair or dark, tall or short, smart or average, but it’s ‘free will’ that allows to determine what to do with what we have.  Do we make the most of whatever we’re given by genetics and heredity, or do we just go through life allowing circumstances to make our choices?  Now replace ‘free will’ with a kind of biological imperative and suddenly we are at the mercy of something beyond control – and accountability goes out the window.  If we are to follow through on this, then by definition, our genetic predisposition to say alcoholism would excuse a person being a drunk.  Many alcoholics, however, successfully stay sober using programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.  So human will can and does win out over genetics.  Yet most shifter novels and many other paranormals grant these beings a pass on destroying the free will of the ‘One’ and makes them, and their paranormal mates, victims of genetics.  A human using chemistry is wrong, a paranormal using chemistry is acceptable and even desirable to the reader.  Does the reader buy into this fantasy because it has the much desired happily ever after – with the assurance that the Mate will never desert the heroine for another?  Does the idea that the bond does not rely solely on emotion but on biology as well, make it acceptable?  Does the assurance of fidelity and/or love matter more than right and wrong?

Very often, especially in shifter stories, the ‘animal’ part of the shifter pushes the ‘human’ half into certain behavior.  If we are to believe that shifters and vampires have intelligent thought and free will, then they become responsible for their decisions.  Does the duality of the shifter existence – part animal, part human – exempt them from moral and ethical (nor to mention legal) consequences of their behavior?  Often I see a strong sense of superiority with shifters, vampires, etc.  Because they are stronger, immune to disease, can overpower human will, they hold themselves as being ‘better’ than humans.  Lauren Dane has Lex Warden in Enforcer express bewilderment at Nina Reyes reaction to her brothers unwilling conversion to werewolf and her lack of ready acceptance of his werewolf ‘claiming’ – something he never bothered to explain before initiating sexual relations with her. He also does not disclose the fact that she will require an ‘anchor bond’ that is established by her having a one time sexual encounter with another werewolf of equal or higher rank – in this case, his brother Cade, the pack Alpha.  This too is a biological necessity or the chemical changes occurring in her system will drive her insane and likely take Lex with her.  What choice does she have here?  Go insane or mate.  Now there’s a choice.  And should she press criminal charges for Lex’s actions, then all she does is harm herself.  No matter what she does, she’s now stuck with a fait accompli and she must deal with it.  Think about this for moment.  The reader is presented with a hero who knowingly has sex with a female who is willing, but unaware of the consequences of the act and now must deal with the fact she has irrevocably tied for the rest of her life to this one male.  Lex is the hero.  How did that happen?  And why do variations on this exist in many other stories?  Romance readers are apparently very willing to suspend the rules – or break them outright – for the paranormal hero.

Then there is coercive behavior.  This happens in surprising variety, but all rely on human chemistry in some form or another.  In Taming Samantha, J.D. and his twin Caleb use mating musk, which effectively destroys the females ability to resist while making her horny, to temporarily subdue Sam and make her receptive to sex.  But the musk has only short term affect, so they must still find a way to win her permanently.  In Trouble Comes In Threes we meet the Lyall triplets, three werewolf brothers over 230 years of age who have yet to find their One.  In this instance, each has found a ‘one’, but she hasn’t been the ‘One’ for all three and that’s what they require.  Then Elain Pardie, a local newswoman, is in their small town to cover a Highland festival and two of the brothers realize who she is.  Two of the brothers go down on Elain after a lunch date.  By doing so they create in her a biological crisis.  She cannot find sexual release and is in a constant state of acute arousal.  This is actually a serious and painful problem that can cause many health problems – something overlooked in most books.  In short, the two brothers committed an act that altered her life.  Even suffering through it was no guarantee that she could ever have normal relations with anyone else – and she now has just two choices, suffer or mate with all three brothers.  Ain, the Prime Alpha, refuses anything else.  (I’m now on the third book in this series and still think Ain is a world class alphahole and I still do NOT like him.)  The brothers are obviously morally and ethically wrong, yet they are rewarded with a mate.  Ain uses the ‘destined mate’ excuse for what happens and then uses it again in her most recent installment, Three Dog Night.  This is the old argument of ‘the end justifies the means’.  In Three Dog Night, Ms Dalton creates a unique situation to make her argument – an alpha male werewolf discovers his One is a human male.  Both are heterosexual males.  The claiming is effectively rape, but because the human male is ‘happy’ in the end, it’s OK.

Wait a minute, what happened to that human male’s right to choose?  Where did the concept of ‘informed consent’ go?  Oh, we just sweep these pesky things under the rug because the One is now ‘happy’.  Obviously the poor sap didn’t know what it was he needed to be happy and it was the right of the alpha werewolf to make that decision for him.  Why?  Well because he was the werewolf’s One and obviously that supercedes any rights the human might have.  And well, he’s happy now, so it’s OK.  NOT! What kind of self-serving nonsense is this drivel?  The attitude is ‘we’re superior werewolves and because I can create a chemical change that will make you happy to be screwed in the ass makes it OK for me to rape you to do it’?  Since when?  Do we need to revisit that pill in the drink scenario again?  And how credible is it that a heterosexual human male will suddenly be happy and content to be screwed by another male – one who raped him?  I do give Ms Dalton kudos for having the balls to frame the argument, I just refuse to buy that any individual can have their internal conflict screwed out of them overnight, no matter how good it feels.  Guilt, shame, self-hatred, would all be huge psychological issues and the werewolf good fairy couldn’t wave her wand and make decades of cultural and religious beliefs evaporate in an orgasmic orgy.

This idea that human law does not apply to werewolves, but werewolf law applies to humans is again demonstrated in Enforcer.  While claimed by Lex but still human, Nina is abandoned to her fate in a fight to the death with a high ranking pack member where she is nearly killed and is also infected with the werewolf virus.  Dane makes much of Lex’s attempt to help her and Cade’s refusal to stop what happens because the pack is more important than any individual. Here we have an even bigger moral and ethical quagmire and an impossible dichotomy.  Pack supercedes not only human law but individual right to life.  By allowing a fight between a small female human and large male werewolf, Cade Warden virtually condemns his new sister-in-law, and with her his own brother, to death.  The ‘survival of the fittest’ pack law that allows the challenge is actually based on humans being seen as less than werewolves and having no ranking within the pack despite being mated to the second highest pack member – another very fundamental issue of inequality in itself.

In a society where it’s survival of fittest, only the strong survive and procreate – not the worthy, not the smart or creative, or even most valuable, just the strongest. If that were true in real life, brain surgeons would be subjugated by anyone strong enough to beat them – which would be any prison inmate over 25 years of age.  The older and more experienced would automatically give way to the young and the strong – but not the wise and the smart.  Living by the law of the wild effectively places physical power above intelligence.  There can be no Gandhi in Werewolflandia.  They who are stronger and have special abilities  regard humans as lesser mortals, but wallow in very human comforts and benefit from human ingenuity and science, all the while gloating about how superior they are.  What a strange reality they live in and we mere mortals visit them and adore them for the Neanderthals they are – between the pages of a book.

What is it about vampires and werewolves and other paranormal creatures that is so attractive to the romance reader?  In real life, any human male that did these things would be locked up and turned into Bubba’s bitch in a heartbeat.  But in Romancelandia different rules apply.  The proliferation of alphahole males is astonishing, especially in erotic romance.  They are patronizing, condescending, controlling, dominant, and suffer from an acute superiority complex.  They’re always irresistibly attractive, virile, well hung, often kinky, strong, like to have their ears and belly scratched when furry – and even when they aren’t.  Some are businessmen, many former military.  They utterly adore their mates and will do anything to protect them.  And that’s the real attraction.  Yeah, the sex part certainly has its allure, but let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be adored, protected and coddled a bit?  Yup, we forgive a lot when we are adored.  But given the choice between alphaholes and Nik Vorislav, I’d take Nik any day.

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