Idle Thoughts on Motives

11 Jun

Might be of interest, though more random than anything else.

Idle Thoughts on Motives

We’ve been so busy trying to work out if [the murderer] is into boys or girls that we haven’t stopped to wonder if that’s his actual motive.

-Wee Hughie (roughly paraphased)

The basic idea of The Witch of Turlingham Academy books is that Sophie, a Witch, is BFF (yes, these are kids books) with Katy, a Witch Hunter.  The first book follows the two girls becoming friends, almost despite themselves; the successive books follow them trying to conceal their friendship from their families, then convince their families to accept their friendships.  Book Four makes things more complicated when a new Witch comes to school and her parents raise concerns about Katy.  Sophie’s mother (muggle, but married to a Witch) points out, rather frostily, that Katy has every right to an education too.  The new Witch’s parents aren’t too impressed and it’s fairly clear that, if they hadn’t needed to have their daughter at the school, they would have taken her elsewhere.

Are they being discriminatory?

Katy has the same problem as a bunch of other sharp-edged characters (like Hermione Granger).  If you’re predisposed to like her, as her BFF obviously is, she’s a wonderful person.  If not … she’s rather less wonderful.  And, as much as it pains me to admit it, there are good reasons for the new girl’s parents to view Katy with a degree of wariness.  For example:

-Katy is a Witch Hunter from a family of Witch Hunters with a very bad (and very well deserved) reputation.

-Katy (and her brother) genuinely did come to school to track down and depower a witch, a process that would have been directly or indirectly fatal.

-Katy only changed her mind when she discovered the Witch in question was her BFF. 

-Katy’s brother and parents continued to pose a threat until they were forced to choose between saving their daughter and continuing the war.   For this, they have been cast out from the Witch Hunters.

Now, if you know Katy (as Sophia and her mother do), you might feel that there’s no reason to fear.  Katy has more than proved herself a true and loyal friend.  But if you don’t know Katy, you might think otherwise.  Your daughter is at stake.  Would you take the risk of allowing her to share space with a Witch Hunter?


Midway through Prince Caspian, as this writer reminds us, Nikabrik the Dwarf proposes summoning the White Witch to aid the Narnians in their fight against the Telmarines.  Anyone who’s read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  or The Magician’s Nephew knows just how bad an idea this is.  The White Witch is a monster who destroyed her entire world out of spite, introduced evil into Narnia and – eventually – plunged the land into endless winter until her death.  It’s easy for the reader to understand that Nikabrik’s idea is pure madness.

Nikabrik hasn’t read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  He never saw the endless winter.  To him, the White Witch is a creature out of legend.  A threat, perhaps, but one the Narnians survived. 

And the situation is desperate.  The Narnians are losing.  The Telmarines will exterminate the talking beasts (and everyone else) if they win.  Surrender is impossible.  There’s little hope of conventional victory, let alone escape; there’s no reason to believe help is on the way.  Defeat means the end of everything. 

All of a sudden, summoning the White Witch doesn’t seem such a bad idea. 


Viewers of Battlestar Galactica recoiled in horror when Gaius Baltar was elected President of the Twelve Colonies (or what was left of them) at the end of Season Two.  They knew, even if the characters didn’t, that Baltar was indirectly responsible for the fall of the colonies, the effective genocide of mankind, the death of the fleet’s legitimate commanding officer and the electronic signature that eventually doomed the settlement on New Caprica.  (To be fair, unlike his original series counterpart, Baltar never meant to do any of it (with the possible exception of assassinating Admiral Cain)).  To viewers, electing Baltar seemed an utterly unbelievable mistake. 

Is it?

Baltar ran against Laura Roslin.  Again, if you are inclined to like Roslin, you’ll probably think well of her.  But if you’re not so inclined, a more disturbing picture begins to arise.

Roslin did not become President through running for election.  She became President through the death of everyone higher up the line of succession.  She was unwilling to admit this and hold new elections in season one until she had her hypocrisy pointed out to her (by Lee) and selected Baltar as her VP.  She then induced an officer to go against the chain of command, triggered a near-civil war within the fleet which risked splitting it at a crucial moment, plotted to assassinate the fleet’s legitimate commanding officer, tried to rig the election and quite a few other dubious choices.  She’s also a religious fanatic who bent the knee to other religious fanatics and, perhaps worst of all, a person with a knack for making promises and breaking them at the drop of a hat.

Now, you can argue that some of this was justified.  Admiral Cain really was a lunatic who had to be removed.  The split in the fleet led to the discovery of the way to Earth.  But many of her other decisions were not.  And not all of this was known to the average citizen of the fleet.

Baltar would not look bad, from the average citizen’s point of view.  He’s a legitimate war hero.  He’s a man of science, not a religious nut.  He doesn’t have a record of making bad and/or dubious decisions, as far as the average citizen knows.  And Roslin picked him as her VP, which suggests she – at least – was happy to run the risk of Baltar being her successor.  In short, he might not seem such a bad choice.

But Baltar isn’t the only issue.  The colonials have a choice between settling New Caprica and continuing on a desperate quest to find Earth.  The fleet leadership believes that settling on New Caprica is asking for disaster, rightly so.  But consider it from the point of view of the average citizen.  You’re trapped on a fleet that is under constant attack.  Supplies are constantly on the brink of running out.  You’re living under martial law.  You’re either sitting around doing nothing, defending the fleet or working in dangerously unsafe conditions to keep the fleet going (and, all the time, resenting the officers on Galactica and Colonial One, who don’t find it so bad because they have private cabins and suchlike.)  Moving to New Caprica suddenly seems like a very good idea, all the more so as the planet is practically impossible to find (no one knows the detonation will eventually lead the bad guys to the colony). 

Sure, there are risks inherent in settling on New Caprica.  But there are also risks in not settling on New Caprica.

All of a sudden, the idea of electing Balter – the man who pledged to set up a colony on New Caprica – doesn’t seem quite so insane.


Now, you can reasonably argue that the people in all three examples above were dangerously ignorant, at the very least.  This would be true.  They don’t know things they need to know to make a proper judgement, they don’t know that Katy is a good friend, that the White Witch is a terrible menace and that it’s only a matter of time before New Caprica is discovered and occupied.  But, based on what they actually know (and their past experiences), they’re making good decisions.

The problem facing the good guys, in all three examples, is a certain reluctance to admit the other side has a point, let alone try to deconstruct it.  It’s very easy to refuse to recognise that the other side has legitimate arguments, as – in this day and age – merely considering their arguments seriously runs the risk of being accused of agreeing with those arguments.  It’s also possible that the weight of those arguments is so strong that they simply cannot be deflected, even if they’re wrong.  The colonials of Battlestar Galactica are in such dire circumstances that even clear proof of Balter’s failings would not change the simple fact that settling New Caprica looks like a very good idea. 

And yet, deconstructing the other side’s arguments is the only way to progress.

People have feelings.  They have needs and fears and a certain degree of self-interest.  If you dismiss those feelings as foolish or wrong or whatever, even if they are objectively so, you’ll harden their hearts against you.  They will reach a state where throwing the baby out with the bathwater seems a very good idea.  However, if you recognise that they consider their arguments to be legitimate and engage with them, you may convince them to recognise that your feelings are also legitimate.  For example:

Sophia’s mother could have stood up for Katy and pointed out that there’s no reason to think that either Katy or her family pose any threat to the new Witch.  She could even have offered to ensure the girls slept in different dorms, limiting the contact between them as much as possible.

Prince Caspian could have pointed out that the war is not completely lost.  They can make preparations to summon the White Witch, but refrain from actually doing so until they are on the brink of total destruction.  Caspian would have looked more reasonable and, as help was already on the way (IIRC, in the next room), there’d be no need to take the risk.

Roslin could have proposed a compromise.  The fleet would lurk in interstellar space while slowly and steadily developing New Caprica.  The planet would be turned into a source of food, with the long-term intention of eventually settling the world completely.  In the meantime, one of the battlestars could have continued the search for Earth.  When the bad guys turned up and invaded New Caprica, Roslin would have looked very far-sighted indeed. 

I don’t pretend that listening to the other side would solve all of our problems.  But refusing to accept that they have legitimate points – or think they do – will only make our problems worse.

5 Responses to “Idle Thoughts on Motives”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard June 11, 2020 at 5:12 pm #

    Haven’t read “The Witch of Turlingham Academy” books but have one thought about the idea of “Witch Hunters”.

    While most fantasy witches are generally good, many (if not most) Folklore Witches were not.

    The African Witch-Doctor was a person who “undid” the harm done to people by Witches. IE Illnesses were the result of “spells” placed on people by Witches.

    So if there are people with magical power causing harm to others, what’s the problem with having people who have the job of hunting down those sort of people? 😉

    We can argue if the “Witch Hunters” are targeting non-Witches or if the magic-users they target are Not Evil but what’s the problem with hunting down people who deliberately cause harm to innocent people? 😉

  2. Billy June 11, 2020 at 9:00 pm #

    About listening to the other side:

    I still remember that first day (Or so) Obama was in office. I was full of hope that all that *we can work together during Obama’s campaign to become president was real.

    Paul Ryan and some other Republicans went to Obama’s office and had a meeting, Paul Ryan brought a stack of stuff he thought they may could work together on.

    Obama did not even look at it or say * Put that on my desk and I will glance at it later.

    Obama said *Elections have consequences ! – and basically: Don’t let the door hit you on your way out !

    I knew right then what was in store for the country.


    Another one is here in the USA the Republicans had a idea to bring down the cost of Health Insurance was to allow Health Insurance to be bought and sold across state lines.

    So instead of only one or two insurance choices in whatever state you lived in, you would have hundreds of choices and that would bring down the price greatly due to competition.

    Since the Republicans thought that up, the Democrats fight to block that idea no matter what.

    And if you ask the Democrats * Is that a good idea ?
    They will answer because the Republicans thought it up it is a bad idea even if it is a good idea.

  3. PhilippeO June 12, 2020 at 2:23 am #

    Agree with all above.

    But connecting it with Modern politics is dubious. From point of view of Liberals / Leftist, they DO listen to other side. Accusations that the Left never listen to other sides is just that : Accusations.

    For example’ buying health insurances across state lines is rejected for good reasons, it would make state with weakest regulations become de facto regulators. For those who concerned about health care for poor, that would be disaster.

    That happens on every other issue. The fact is the Right fears and self-interest is fake hoax (pizzagate, antifa, etc), breaking fundamental rules like Equality before the Law (Race, Immigration, etc), or only benefitting the Rich (health care, regulation, etc).

    If it for self-interest of rural whites, Appalachians, or WWC then Left do never dismiss it. Obama is considered by many Left to be too moderate. Remainers and EU support subsidizes North England. US Democrats always agree to massive farming subsidy, etc.

  4. Edward A. Daniels, Sr., Senior Chief Petty Officer, US Navy (ret) June 13, 2020 at 8:38 pm #

    Christopher, I am currently reading Knife Edge. It is the 20 plus book of yours I Have read. As are all the others, it is exceptional in many ways. Simply, as always, “a good read”! I have one (tiny) criticism. When a marine captain embarks upon a ship his rank is “accelerated” to major or, as in Knife Edge, to colonel. As a veteran of over two decades of naval service (some years spent in Scotland) I can tell you that is hogwash. In fact, one of the ships I served on in Scotland had four captains: the CO, the commodore, the medical officer and the marine captain. Carriers may have as many as a half dozen. Young sailors are taught the difference between naval captains and army/Air Force/marine captains. It never leads to confusion, at least it did not on any ship I served on.
    Please be healthy and keep writing.

    • Neil O'Dea June 14, 2020 at 2:26 pm #

      that can be a cork of the setting.

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