There’s only one thing writers do – this weaving of words, this thinking of characters, this reaching for stuff that might surprise you are incidentals — What we do is make sense out of nonsense. We weave reality into a sequence where there’s a beginning, middle and end, where actions have consequences and where, at least if we’re human wave, the good are rewarded and the bad are punished at some level. Even if the level is that the good die heroically and the bad have to live with themselves.
And even though it’s a limited format, quickly ended, we get a satisfactory reward from the story, and we hold onto it.
We know it’s not true, but we also know parts of it are.
It is my belief that the reason Indo-European civilization (it appears not to have been a race so much as a culture that co-opted other cultures) beat the pants (and there’s another way to spread your culture) all their neighbors and has survived through the ages and spread like wild fire is that, at least according to some linguists, they really liked their sagas.
These sagas, often told at banquets to display wealth, also incidentally hammered in the values of Indo-European culture. It is believed that the Iliad and the Odyssey are much like these sagas and probably fairly watered down/mishmashed versions. Which means that the sagas propagated values of courage, standing up before the gods and screwing everything that moved and some things that might have been standing still. But as weird as they seem to us, clearly these values were an improvement on most of their neighbors who wanted to imitate them.
Or perhaps there was the fact that they were sagas – coherent stories that could be memorized and had satisfactory logic (for the time.) Not all cultures developed that, and clearly the culture that did had an upper hand.
Because we like stories, we do. The world is a confusing mishmash of inputs and often not satisfactory at all, so we like having a place where it is satisfactory and makes sense.
This is a good thing in terms of teaching things like delayed gratification and kindness to others, things that are good long term civilization wise, but aren’t really very good short term, for the individual – or at least are not immediately, obviously good.
It is also, at least if it’s decently written fiction, good for building empathy. We can’t be anyone else. We can’t experience anyone else’s life, and we live only in our own time, but I tell you I’ve stood guard at the palais royale with Athos, I’ve flown through space with Lazarus Long, and I have most assuredly gone into hell with a werewolf and his witch wife in search of our child.
All these are good things. But stories like all potent medicine have side effects.
Which means that stories get in your head, and it’s all too easy – if you don’t take care to also study history and, you know, have a life – to forget that things that work in stories don’t work in real life. This is, I think, particularly true when you realize that most story people consume these days – particularly incurious people like our politicians and other poseurs – are told on TV, which is a very limited and simplified format. (Yes, they SAY they read all the literary stories. Sure I believe them, don’t you?)
This is a problem because not only doesn’t real life work like stories, but because in real life things that work in stories can be downright stupid. Or, of course, horrible.
I got in an argument recently in a closed Facebook group I belong to with a man who thought we shouldn’t write any women at all except those like Jane Austen’s characters or Shakespeare’s heroines. Besides displaying a stunning lack of understanding of the conditions of that world or the fact that those characters were in rebellion against it, he went on to state that women are, NATURALLY not prone to violence, so not only shouldn’t they be in an army (something that can be debated ad nauseum. I note Israel has women in the army) but that they shouldn’t fight at all. Women’s proper role is working in the home, and being excellent housekeepers and mothers.
We’ll leave aside what would IDEALLY be the role of women, shall we? I mean, ideally, come paradise, yes, woman as an archetype, not an individual, is supposed to be a wife and a mother. Or at least, evolutionarily we are sorta kinda designed for that. Or at the very least, and despite the semantic contortions of our language, it would be impossible for a biological male to give birth and absent bio-wombs someone has to do it.
Where this man’s vision turns horrible is when it runs right up against the fact that humans are not ideal – they’re not a model, stamped from a factory – but real, breathing individuals.
What Jane Austen was capturing, and why her books are far more than the fluffy romances those who don’t read them think they are, was the very real danger women stood in if they didn’t find anyone SUITABLE whom they wanted to marry and who wanted to marry them. Then there were women not allowed to marry, women in awful marriages, women who were sterile…
The list goes on and on. The IDEAL of woman might be to be a wife and mother, but the way that works out goes wrong in a myriad ways. And because this is not a story in that man’s head, but the real world, and there’s ways for things to go wrong that would never fit in a story, if someone tried to enforce his system, we’d end up in a horrible dystopia where women were forcibly married off and by necessity we ended up with something like sharia law. I’m sure that’s not what he wants. (Well, at least I hope not, though I’ve wondered if he’s a false flag operation.) But in his head, since feminism is wrong, we just reverse everything they say, and confine women to their role as housekeepers and mothers and voila, everything is fine and dandy.
He’s read too many stories.
Then there’s our president. I read this article by Michael Ledeen, which unfortunately might very well be a good analysis of the truth. He thinks the president is trying to establish détente with Isis before joining in the fray as an ally of Iran.
From things I’ve heard, this is already going on to an extent, behind the scenes. But here is where it all goes wrong. I don’t think that’s what Iran wants. Or could take even if offered. And I don’t think when it’s out in the open, it will be accepted by the US either.
I think the president suckled a narrative with his mother’s milk that told him that everything America did was wrong and in particular everything Reagan did was wrong. (To be fair, it was from the perspective of a red diaper baby.) So, as he announced, he intends to reverse everything that Reagan did and everything America does abroad. Because if that was wrong, then this will bring peace everlasting, right?
To make it worse, being a man of my generation (groan) I think he’s imbibed too much of what I call the style of plotting of “Kirk’s trick.” You know, faced with a centuries long problem, Captain Kirk finds the one facile trick that fixes everything.
It’s a beautiful story, but that’s not how real life works.
I think it was this bizarre idea of Kirk’s trick that led him to traipse into Fast and Furious, because finding that our guns were killing Mexicans we’d give up our guns – of course! – and that of course would make it easier for the government to fundamentally transform us.
I don’t know what he thinks he can do to make us think an alliance with Iran is acceptable, or if he just hopes to somehow subdue us into compliance.
What I do know is that the story in his head is very seductive (to him) but the real world has a hundred different ways to balk it. And then he gets upset, because stories tell him this should work.
It goes without saying that having a man who thinks in stories in power is a problem. But it is important too to strive to write “realer” stories. I say that as someone whose son yelled at her recently that what’s wrong with her current novel is that she forgot the world outside the seacity existed. (I’m fixing it, I’m fixing it – grumble.)
But more important, we must remember that there are stories and there is reality. When the all pervasive stories of the left are wrong it’s important to remember that doesn’t mean the opposite is right. It’s entirely possible for just as solid a narrative to be wrong. In fact too solid a narrative will be wrong. Real life is composed of millions of individual stories and therefore unpredictable.
And it’s important to remember that, as we head into interesting times.
UPDATE: I’ve changed To The Dragons so that it snow feels “Tuned” right. I spent the entire friggen night dreaming of the care and feeding of dragons, so I hope it’s right. It’s up in the subscriber space. It will have to fit around the other stuff, but I’ll try to update semi-regularly.