I realized recently that I have a “hunger and thirst” for the truth.
This might be strange for someone who writes fiction, and knows she does, (I always giggle at “this book was dictated by a supernatural entity/famous dead person” because I know that when I get a fully realized character that’s what it feels like. The voice comes through (no, not auditory hallucinations, though some writers have them) but just a consistent voice in my head, and the story is told to me, as though it came from elsewhere. But I know it comes from my subconscious. I know if I exert will I can shape it and change it (sometimes harder than others) and I know it’s just a story.
But working in that half-light is part of the reason I need the truth, or to approximate the truth. Look, I don’t think it’s possible to know the full truth this side of death. The human brain is simply not designed to process it. But knowing even a part of the truth, knowing what’s behind things like economic or political events, knowing when I’m being lied to, knowing why, all that is vitally important to me.
I spend a great part of my life reading about biology and evolutionary biology and paleontology and archeology, because … because I thirst for “as close to the truth as I can get to.”
Even building imaginary worlds should be based on a general truth: truth about people, truth on how things work. I can have much fun with stuff like the brooms and anti-grav in Darkships, because a) it’s cool and b) I think one should introduce an element of “that should be impossible from what we know today” into any science fiction more than 100 years in the future. This is because the future is not only weirder than we can imagine, but I guarantee some of our certainties will be upended.
On the other hand, stuff like the biological effects, I try to stay as close as we can to real science. There are things we don’t know about the body and genes, and places I can fudge, but I try to stay within “what we expect will happen” because that is of course the “science”part of the book, the “true” part, and the cautionary tale and dream all rolled into one. (Weirdly, except in the actual engineering of humans, I haven’t even gone beyond today’s science. All those viruses? Yep. Biology graduate student, high school lab, about 10k in materials. It does suck.)
And of course, I try to make humans work as they have historically. Because if you’re not writing about people who feel and act real, why bother.
There’s more to my craving for truth: I grew up in a village, where finding the truth of even the most ridiculously small event was almost impossible. Each household, each head of household, each cleaning lady had their own version, and you had to be master detective to figure out who stole the schoolmistress’s hairbrush and why it turned up in the fishmonger’s stand.
If I’d loved that kind of slipperiness, I’d have made a great politician, but I didn’t. I wanted to know what had really happened. And the times I managed it gave me more insight into the village and the hates/personalities/loves roiling through than anything else could give me. It gave me a firmer place to stand, a place to act from.
The truth, when you figure it out, is a wonderful thing. When I find a book that reveals a facet of some historical event that is obviously true and obviously illuminating, it’s like turning on a lantern in my mind.
Also so many of the lies I was told growing up were such limiting, destructive lies: “Humanity is a blight upon the earth and is killing it.” “There are too many people” “the individual doesn’t matter, the future is inevitably communist.” “We’re going to run out of fossil fuels in ten years.” “You’ll live to see an ice age.” (Well, that last one… never mind.)
Of course, we can’t be everywhere or know everything, but there are guidelines I’ve found to discovering the truth:
1- If a story is too smooth, it’s a lie. Whether it’s a political theory/prediction or a narration of an historical event, if everything fits, works together smoothly and everything clicks, and particularly if it tells you about history always moving in ONE direction, it’s a lie. Real life is messy, self contradictory and confusing. Real history stumbles, falters, weaves across the road like a spider on LSD. I mean, sure, we live better than in the 19th century in many ways, but we lost other things along the way. Are we freer? Well, in some ways. And in other ways–
Which is why, btw, either triumphalism or utter despair about the cause of freedom are always wrong. Always.
2- If a source, be it person, newspaper or school lies to me about one thing, I’ll never trust it about everything again. Yeah, the lie might seem minor and inconsequential, but how can you trust the big stuff now. I don’t dismiss them out of hand, but I verify, verify, verify.
3- Never trust anything coming out of a country that tries to control all flow of information. Particularly do not trust GOOD reports coming from such a source.
4- Never trust something awful said about someone you already hate. Verify verify verify.
It would be impossible to manage this, btw, if I gave a hang about most people’s private lives. I don’t. Trying to learn what I can of the truth about science, politics, economics and current events is about all I can manage.
And it’s also why, btw, I — and our side in general — doesn’t try to silence anyone. Even if we know they tell us lies, their lies are a way to discover the truth behind them.
The other side? The other side is enamored of a “Just so” story, a convoluted morality play in which it’s always the fault of someone else when you fall and break your nose. It’s a weird system, so smooth, so perfectly fitting and so without flaw, provided you don’t apply it to real people.
Because real people are messy and real history is confusing, and yep, “victim groups” can be victimizers and groups you hate can produce saints.
Admitting that would crack their entire system to pieces. And so they must keep us muzzled, must pretend that we too believe in the system, and that our attempts to poke holes in it come from “hatred”. Which is how they come to call supporters of almost no government “nazis.”
It’s also why they want to tear down statues and destroy physical reminders of the past. Because if they manage it, nothing will rear up to disprove their oh, so smooth, so internally consistent system.
Except they don’t realize that humanity itself would still do so. Because humans don’t work the way they think they do. And their system will never survive an encounter with the truth.