There are sentences you are reading that suddenly change how you view the world. For me that was a Terry Pratchett sentence where he basically said “We’re all prisoners in that space behind the eyes.”
He’s right you know?
The immediate response to this is to lash out. I’ve been everywhere, I’ve read the great works, I’ve lived! Or as one early short story my brother wrote “I’ve lived a thousand lives, I’ve sailed on wooden ships in alien seas, I’ve traversed space and time.”
But I haven’t really, of course. I mean, even the things I’ve really done: have children, go various places, love and been loved, all of them are filtered through the narration behind my eyes.
Which brings us to the XKCD cartoon (which is on my fridge.)
So, what is the point of this depressing contemplation?
Well, it is exactly the point of the cartoon. We’re all prisoners inside our own brains, victims of the narration (and narrative) behind our eyes.
So, if you realize that it doesn’t make you special, but might make you curious.
I’ve long ago maintained that movies and other visual media is inferior to books. Why? Because you’re observing things happening to other people.
HOWEVER when you’re reading a story, particularly first person, though others work too, for a moment it replaces the voice that narrates your life. For a moment someone else is behind the eyes.
Powerful writing can even create the impression you LIVED something.
In other words: novels, written by people we’ll never be, about experiences we’ve never had and never will have, are the only escape from being a prisoner behind your eyes. They’re the only way for you to truly experience being someone else. And they’re a great way to build both sympathy and empathy for others, and a wide enough experience so that in our non-exciting times, we can grow through the harrowing experiences of others. It also helps build up our imagination, so that we and our problems are not the sum total of what we can imagine.
So. There are people — okay, not a lot; most of that community seem to be coff bots — who believe that we want to reduce “diversity” in science fiction or literature in general.
Even if this weren’t crazycakes on account of a lot of us being female and of foreign origin, or in my case so very diverse I often disagree with myself, it would be crazycakes for someone who REALLY enjoys reading. The more diverse the better, particularly in science fiction. Hell and damnation, I’ve read books whose sole recommendation was that they presented a time and place I’m not familiar with, like, say, ancient Egypt. (I wonder why so many of those suck?) Or ancient China (A lot of those suck too.)
Then you find out their idea of diversity is a little different: you’re only allowed to write people who are exactly like you and have had the same exact social experiences. Because people don’t want to read anyone who isn’t exactly like them, who hasn’t had the same exact social experiences.
It is at this point that you sort of scrabble backwards going “What the heck?” and start looking for the pods.
Sure, SOME kids might need this. In fact, some kids prefer to read books in which the character’s name is their own. (My kids always hated that, btw, with a burning passion, because they knew d*mn well that they hadn’t done this.)
But if the kids are more than 10 and proficient at reading, I suggest they need to be weaned of that, before they ossify into the position of thinking they are unique, alone, and only someone who matches them absolutely could understand them. That we don’t need more of.
Because it’s bridges between people, and being able to understand people very different from you that make society function, particularly a society like ours, built to be plural and where we’re supposed to tolerate non-conformists.
No, I don’t mean we should prescribe that people read books about people different from them either. Some will never like them. Heck, some will never like any books, and the fact our school system turns out “barely literate enough to fill a form” doesn’t help. Reading for pleasure requires proficiency enough you can enjoy the story without thinking of the medium or the words, anymore.
BUT I think those who think diversity consists of reading in our narrow paths and only about people like us are the jailers in this jail where our own cell is the space between our eyes.
Me? I’m not a jailer. I’m more the Count de Monte Cristo, trying to communicate by taping with the prisoner in the next cell, and training a rat or two for company.
Because I know the space behind the eyes. Sure, it’s safe. But it’s boring. The world is full of different persons and different experiences. And history is full of even more so. I want to escape this space and experience those things.
Plato’s cave is okay. It’s safe, dry and comfortable. But I want to turn around and see the world.