Justifications and the Circuits of Pain

So maybe this is a bit out of left field, but yesterday I thought a lot about the examples given in the previous threads, the subtext notes and Jim’s articles. I needed some sort of “complete logic” to help me understanding things better.

As far as I can tell, most (if not all) of the examples fall under one of four categories, each one requiring five premises to be established implicitly or explicitly in the text to be considered “Conflict”. If one of these premises is missing, then something is missing to make it “painful.”
Another thing I noticed is that these categories can be phrases differently to go from one category to another; whatever fits the illustrations best. (lower Greek letters are processes, capital Latin letters are contexts)

Let me know if this makes any sense

Being married to an engineer, I understand the desire of a linear person to want to parse this this way, but I think this is too complicated.

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In light of today’s writers room, I think we can bring everything back to the original phrasing for justifications. “People (can/want/need/should) blank in order to blank unless blank.”

In the example “people need air in order to breathe unless they want to die”, we’re saying that people need air. The context for this statement is that people want to live. But the counter is that people don’t need air if they want to die. Wanting to die negates the need for air. Maybe people can/should/want air, but they don’t need it.

Or another example, “people need to Do in order to Learn unless they Understand”. We’re saying there is a need for people to Do. We’re justifying that by saying that people will Learn if they Do. But we’re then saying that the NEED to Do is no longer prescribed to those who already Understand. If you already understand, learning won’t change anything and the need to Do fades away. Maybe you still can/should/want to Do, but you don’t need to do. So the story would show us how people who need to Do but who don’t Do don’t learn, while those who don’t need to Do but who do Do waste their time Learning because they already Understand.
…or something like that.


I can concede to this being complicated, maybe even too complicated, but for me, this was in exchange for the nagging vagueness & ambiguities of the previous examples and approaches. Going through the examples mentioned in various places, and applying these circuits to them at least gave me the impression of having a better understanding.

Since I don’t have access to the writer’s room of 2020-11-19 I don’t know if this is a representative example, but it seems like this is no longer a dilemma; there is no real choice here, whether the people are aware of their (lack of) understanding or not.
The same seems true for the breathing example. If you want to die, then “not breathing” is a pretty simple decision to make, or you can keep breathing and find a different path to death; doesn’t matter.

Though I can see it with other (modified) examples: “You need to ignore your loved one’s bad choices in order to avoid anger, unless you (A) fear moral bankruptcy OR (B) want to show love.”
(In my circuits, this version seems to skip the β process)

It’s not about the context. It’s about the need for air. The first context justifies the can/want/need/should. The second context provides a counter to that first justification.

You’re right. It’s not controversial to say that if you want to die that you don’t need air. You CAN have air, or maybe SHOULD have air, or might WANT air, but you don’t NEED air. That is the point of the second context.

The dilemma comes from a character wanting to breathe while being told she doesn’t need air, or a character that wants to die but thinks he needs to keep all the air to himself while others would like to breathe.

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The way you described these examples makes it sound as though it is required for the characters to be ignorant/misinformed of the state of affairs or how the world works. Is that the crux of this?
Or maybe it’s not that these character are just very confused, but rather that

  • the one character wants to breathe but does not have air (whether because she was told she doesn’t need it or because she can’t get any)
  • the other character wants to die but not only has air, but takes it from those who do need it (whether because he believes he needs it does not matter)

Or is that wrong?

One way or the other, this form of “dilemma” seems to be very different from the “dilemmas” we have been talking about before on this forum. Not wrong; it’s still “conflict” but very different.

“People 1 in order to 2 unless 4” is pretty close to “people 1 in order to 2 unless people 3 in order to 4.”

The first just makes the assumption that 3 is the same as “not 1”.

“People 1 in order to 2 unless 4” becomes “people 1 in order to 2 unless people don’t 1 in order to 4”

But if you use 3 instead of “dont 1”, then your statement can go from black or white (1 or not 1…need or don’t need) to black and white vs grey (1 or 3…need or should). But either way, the second context counters the original justification. It gives you something that you can’t hold as true at the same time as the original justification.

The conflict comes from characters trying to have both at the same time. From characters who try to need while not needing, or from needing while shoulding.

The whole statement is about what the story-or the author-wants to tell the audience. It doesn’t matter what the characters do or do not know. A character that needs air to breathe might know she suddenly has gills. But if she just got those gills and doesn’t trust them, then it doesn’t matter that she knows she doesn’t need air. She still feels like she needs it. Not sure that was really a great example, but no, it doesn’t depend on what characters know think or feel at all.

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Thanks for clarifying. I will need to think about it more.

Updating what I previously said, the original form isn’t “people should 1 in order to 2 unless 4” where 3 is assumed to be not 1. Instead it’s “people should 1 in order to 2 unless 3” and the 4 is left blank. But I stand by the rest in that you want 1 and 3 to be incompatible rather than 2 and 3.

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This hits the nail on the head for me.
I think there’s a more conversational approach to generating conflict than to use the formula of People (conceiving) in order to (being). But I also think it totally works. My approach is a more analytical look at what you’re saying which can yield some powerful universal justifications which can translate to any context an author desires.


What’s really cool about this is how it circles back to the Dramatica definition of justification (Rationalization) – trying to “have your cake and eat it too.”


So, would the original Catch-22 be an example then?

People need to request an insanity evaluation in order to be excused from flying (on the grounds of insanity)
they are insane

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Long time since I read the book, but isn’t it

People need to request an insanity evaluation in order to be excused from flying (on the grounds of insanity)
requesting an insanity evaluation not to fly into combat is sufficient proof of sanity.

Therefore the army justifies Yossarian having to keep flying bombing missions despite the clear evidence he sees everywhere of the mounting insanity of the army and the war.

But your question stands - is this a Dramatica-style conflict of Justifications (I think you’re right that it is)? I can’t remember - does Yossarian keep trying to prove he’s insane to get out of flying, the way Klinger does in MASH - but without violating the Catch-22, which always turns out to be impossible? Or does the insanity evaluation’s Catch-22 strip him of agency and he just become a helpless passive observer of the army’s Russian Doll network of Catch-22’s everywhere he looks?

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  1. I read the way you worded it before reading the Catch-22 you linked to. Just based on the one you wrote, I would say it’s close but still needs a justification (can/want/need/should) after the unless. Unless they want to be insane, unless they should do something insane. Unless they should not be evaluated.

The idea here is that even if you are insane, you still carry the need to be evaluated in order to be excused. The reason you would no longer carry that need to be evaluated is if you wanted to or should do something insane for some reason. Or if you wanted or should not be evaluated for some reason. You still NEED to be evaluated to bring about the context of being excused. But if you don’t care about being excused because you want, can, or should do something else, then it doesn’t matter if you do what is necessary to bring about that context. If you should, you don’t need. If you need, you can’t should.

  1. After reading the Catch-22 you linked to, I think I’d list the conflict as something like One needs to be evaluated in order to be labeled unfit for combat unless one should avoid any sign of sanity in order to avoid being labeled sane.

The short version would be One needs to be evaluated to be labeled unfit for combat unless one should avoid any sign of sanity.

The conflict comes from the need to be evaluated while also trying to avoid any sign of sanity. By grasping on to the need for evaluation one misses out on the context of avoiding being labeled sane. But by grasping on to the idea that you should avoid any sign of sanity, you cannot be labeled unfit for combat.

Same sort of issue going on here. There’s nothing to justify against the first statement, nothing to COUNTER that statement. All this does is imply that you don’t really need to be evaluated.

People need to be evaluated in order to avoid combat unless being evaluated doesn’t get you out of combat…in which case you really don’t need to be evaluated after all.


Nice! I think you got it.

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I haven’t read the book (or watched the movie), so it doesn’t really matter to me whether it would actually apply any of this justification business. But I am familiar with the logical “paradox” which is why I wanted to see if it could apply.

It seems like the inequities/dilemmas/conflicts we’ve been talking about can be thought of as “logical paradoxes” rather than the other terms which have

Thank you. I was trying to work with the Three-part version of the template, but obviously something was missing there.

For me, this is a good example of why the circuits would help me get started (this example being Exclusive Processes + Closed Circuit), but not necessarily all the way. I would have trouble thinking of both “avoid being labeled as sane” and “avoid any sign of sanity”

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The very nature of a group of people discussing theory leads to a standardization of terminology. But I thinks it’s fine to think of conflict as arising from a paradox or a catch-22 or whatever if it helps. Any context for conflict (the entire statement of people 1 in order to 2 unless people 3 in order to 4) is inescapable as long as both sides are given equal weight. In that sense it is a bit of a paradox or catch-22. The only way to escape is to give one side more weight and resign oneself to losing out on the opposing conflict. That is, in order to escape you have to pick a side. (Note: I suppose a true catch-22 would be one in which some context was always unattainable regardless of which side had more weight, such as being unable to attain being excused from combat even when giving more weight to the need to be evaluated)

Just so I don’t leave anyone thinking the only way to deal with a paradox is to escape it, let me also add that you can “solve” the issue through balance. One can be resigned to having only one context for a while and then switching to the other context for a while.

From a linear standpoint, this doesn’t look like an escape from the paradox because they still carry the same spatial weight. While enjoying one context, there is still the can/want/need/should for the other context keeping you locked into the space of that paradox. Switching back and forth looks like a continued struggle to solve the paradox.

But from an holistic standpoint, this allows one to give more temporal weight to one side and then to switch. And it allows for a dynamic where one side can hold more weight for a longer time than the other or for a shorter time. It allows one to hold onto both contexts at different times. So it looks to an Holistic mind like escaping the paradox first one way and then the other.

I think you’re onto something with a true catch-22 where some context is always unattainable regardless of which side has more weight. I would think that’s the whole point of an inequity, simply that there are two things that cannot coexist, not necessarily that a choice has to be made.

I recently stumbled upon an interesting thought when looking at a Changed vs. Steadfast character, regardless of Linear or Holistic. It seems a Changed MC will “escape their inequity,” like you’re saying… but a Steadfast MC STAYS in a place of inequity. The very fact that the MC lives with their conflict enables them to influence the other POV’s and maintain the POV.

Conversely, I would imagine that a Changed MC would be looking at an OS and IC that also maintains their conflicts (for Good or Bad, Success or Failure).


Which is why I think it’s fine to think of it in those terms. Although an Inequity doesn’t suggest to me that there’s one side that can never be attained. Only that it cannot be attained while holding to the other side.

Totally agree. One doesn’t have to make a choice just because one has an inequity. Making a choice…or giving more weight to one side…doesn’t solve an inequity by allowing two things at once. It just eases the pain of not having the context of the other. One can give up the pain of not having one context or maintain it or balance it or not.