This is not a blog about writing. This will only sound like a blog about writing at the beginning.
Here’s the thing: fiction is not real. I know, I know, this was my exam in my last year of Theory of Literature, and I spun a whole lot of cr*p on fiction being the reality and the reality we think we know just the shadows on Plato’s cave wall. Sue me. I’m good at spinning fiction after all, and that’s what the teacher wanted to read, and I could serve it up. (The second question about the use of punctuation in a poem was more worrisome, since I missed the classes on the use of punctuation in every language I learned. That’s my story. So I had to ace the first.)
That was a piece of fiction, yes, but it served the essential purpose of fiction: to cut reality into a logical fragment of action-reaction the reader can understand (in this case the action being I flattered the teacher and the reaction being I got the degree.)
Seriously now, in real life any event has way more than an origin. Those of you who are war gamers know that. Those of you who are historians, too.
On my shelves sit several books entitled “the causes of WWI” or words to that effect. They agree on say 80% of material, but the rest will be different, and the chain of sequence will be different.
Yes, some of this is for the same reason I wove the nonsense about Plato. You need an original thought for a thesis, so you extrude one no matter how unlikely.
But the other is because in the real world complex events – not even wars, but things like “why did this meeting happen at this time” – involving several people can be interpreted from several angles. It’s a big like a puzzle. Was it the shooting of the archduke? Was it the theory of war the colleges had been teaching? Was it the machine gun? Was it a million other big and small events: the lack of access to a warm port; Germany’s ascendant industrialism; the family politics of England. Etc. etc. There is no definitive answer, no clear chain of events.
Fiction is satisfying because it presents you with a clear chain of events. If the horse hadn’t thrown a shoe, the battle would have been won. Or, if the tyrant hadn’t ordered the arrest of the revolutionary, then everything would have gone smoother. Or—
Humans like clear chain of events. It’s entirely possible that it is what led to our ascent to primacy as a species (after grass. Everything in this world is designed for the comfort and convenience of grass.) But the events we’re supposed to chain in a sequence are simpler chains. They usually involve an individual.
It’s sort of like they say our brain is rigged to relate to maybe 100 people and civilization and population growth have outstripped our ability to connect? Also, we tend to think people we see routinely, even on television, (not me. I don’t see television routinely) are friends, so people overestimate the size of their circle? Like that.
Our brain is supposed to be able to chain action reaction on a simple scale: Ogg went hunting tiger alone, Ogg got digested. Bad idea, don’t be Ogg.
Our simplest stories, which formed the base of learning in pre-literate society, run along those lines. The moral is clear, the story short (sagas served a different purpose, usually the binding of a human tribe together or the impressing of the neighbors) and the chain of action clear.
I was born into a very old culture. Some of the stories I learned were Roman and probably come from older cultures than that. Like the one with the mother asking the goddess to grant her boys the greatest boon possible. She struck them both dead. Grim people, the Romans. But what it meant is that you have to be sure what you ask for is clear to the other part. And the chain of action/reaction is clear.
That is the root of our fiction. Well, that and the sagas. Those fit the way our brain works. Because our brains, let’s face it, were designed for things other than the world we created with them. Even the sagas have simple chains of causation.
Even the Illiad. … “the son of Peleus was furious, and his heart within his shaggy breast was divided whether to draw his sword, push the others aside, and kill the son of Atreus, or to restrain himself and check his anger.”
The beginning of the chain of events that ends in grim classic fashion.
And that – THAT – is how our brain works. It’s also why we tend to get frustrated with grey goo fiction where you pull the strings and nothing happens.
But this is not a blog about writing.
We’re living in a world saturated with fiction. Novels, games, movies, tv-series. It could be reasonably argued that the common person, in the day to day, has never had more fictional narratives pushed at them. We’re fed stories from the moment we’re born.
But, you say, wasn’t it always like that? Grannies told stories, didn’t they?
Sure, grannies taught them. But grannies had limited time, and so did kids. Read sometime about 5 year old colonial kids minding the cows.
We have more leisure than any other humans at any other time. And we have more fiction.
This in itself is not bad, and you won’t hear me complain. I labor in that vine.
To an extent, even novels aren’t that bad. They allow a chaining of events that has more than one source. Well, the best ones hint at it, sometime. For all the complaints about Heinlein he did that.
But our favored sort of fiction, the action/reaction is in control of the hero. We want a minimal of elephants falling from the ceiling. And that’s what good writers give us. Successful writers.
This is not a blog about writing.
This is a blog about the human brain, about its preference for simple stories, about having its stories fed back to it in the form it prefers.
This is a blog about how it’s important for us to check ourselves. I consume as much fiction as anyone else. Maybe more. So I have to check myself. Particularly when an idea sounds seductive.
Lately there has been talk about “how long America has” and about “America having an amicable divorce.”
I’m told the talk is on both sides of the fence. I have been sick/busy lately (getting much better, thank you, and finally reading and writing. I think for several reasons – not just one cause – my brain has been shutting down from the top down, and it’s now recovering from the bottom up. Eh.) and haven’t checked lefty blogs. But I’ve seen this on the right.
“Amicable divorce” for a country the size of ours.
What a pleasant dream. No more engaging in the culture war, nor trying to change the political equation which, yes, is down stream from the culture. What an alluring wonderful dream.
In a country the size of ours.
The fight over the assets alone would turn hot in a New York minute. The division of people by belief? How do you even accomplish that? How many of you are in politically mixed marriages or have kids or parents who don’t agree with you and who, for some reason, can’t be moved away from you? How many of you work in an industry/are trained in a skill in a field where most of your colleagues, let alone your boss, is to the left of Lenin?
How can grown people, humans who are otherwise smart, talk about this, as though it were even an option, something on the table?
I know they’re thinking the USSR broke up into multiple nations without major blood shed (so far. Nations collapsing/empires collapsing is something that involves decades. Never mind.)
But that was an ersatz empire formed of ancient nations/entities. It was a conglomeration of tribes. When pressure comes, humans return to their basic tribal affiliation (which is why Europe is going to get very ugly in the next few decades.)
The US isn’t tribal. The Marxists (I first typed this Marxissss. We should start hissing it back at them as they hiss other words ending in ist at us – mostly mistakenly. Only we won’t be mistaken) have managed to convince some of the more begnited that they’re a tribe, but even they aren’t, and when pressure comes they’ll fall apart.
We’re a nation of belief, and our division lines are along belief lines. Individual versus group; state power versus individual action; free association versus regimentation; distributed benefits versus earning your way.
There are shadings to beliefs. There are shadings to tribes, too, but people can believe they belong even when fractionally related. It’s harder with beliefs.
Into how many groupings do you break this country? How do you make people move? What happens when they don’t want to?
Could it happen? Peacefully? It could be argued it’s happening. People tend to move where they feel safe and can thrive. Hence the benighted being left in control of the wrecked cities.
BUT such a natural process, to happen peacefully (and peaceful is relative. There will be incidents) will happen over centuries. It’s not over night. This is not a story. This is not a made-for-tv movie. There is no Kobayashi Maru trick that hands us the keys to a safe “divorce.”
When dealing with millions of people and a nation the size of a continent, fast isn’t peaceful and peaceful is glacial.
Because it’s not a story.
In the stories we’re steeped in from childhood the chain of events has to be clear to be satisfying. In the real world, when dealing with more than 10 people, chains of events and decisions get muddled. Dealing with millions, you have a chaotic system and those are dicey to maneuver.
I was puzzled how anyone could even suggest that. Intelligent people.
I’m used to the left side of the isle coming up with this stuff, at least in their fringe elements. They also thought they could levitate the Denver Mint. But… rational people? Rational people who know history?
And then I looked from the other side. It’s a wonderful dream. And our culture is fraught right now. It’s fraught because we’re fighting back. So there is a “war in heaven” or at least a war in haven, from our hobbies to our work place, to our very families.
It would be easier, it would be oh, so appealing, to be able to say “depart from us in peace. You do your thing, we do ours.”
Unfortunately that’s fiction. That’s not something we can cram into the lifetimes we have allotted in reality.
In reality the best we can do is to continue the dirty, tiring, slogging fight in the cultural trenches.
Remember the left screams loudest and gets more unhinged when they’re losing. When they’re winning they can pass for reasonable. And remember we conceded this fight before, and that’s how we got here. We conceded it because we thought culture didn’t matter, only political decisions did. We were wrong.
Now we must fight to take culture back: inch by inch, hobby by hobby, profession by profession, discipline by discipline.
I doubt we’ll finish in our time, though we might get lucky. It might flip suddenly. But it won’t flip cleanly. It won’t flip without a fight.
You can choose to fight mano-a-mano with words and thoughts, or you can have your divorce. But it won’t be amicable, it won’t be easy or fast, and people like me will probably end up with nowhere to go. Heck, most people will. After unimaginable devastation most of us will end up without a homeland of the heart.
Or we can stay together and fight for our culture. The only way out is through.
In the end, we win, they lose. But we must keep fighting.
Be not afraid.