Above us, Only Sky

Politics, Philosophy, Science, and Everything Else.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Fiction and Ideology

There are plenty of books out there that use fiction to convey ideas about philosophy and ideology. At least some of the earliest Greek written philosophy is like this, with the ideas being conveyed in conversations , though some of these conversations may more or less have taken place. More recently you have writers like Camus and Ayn Rand who write stories that try to convey their beliefs by showing how the world is from their perspective, and sometimes what the results might be if the world were run by people of a flawed, alternative philosophy.
I have long classified the types of books I read as either ones I'm just reading for enjoyment, and ones that actually have something to say. Within the second category there have often been philosophy books, but within the first I generally choose fantasy, science fiction, and thriller type books, they're fun to read and kill time but they don't make you think much. Now I've discovered that my 'fun' books have been infiltrated by a number of ideological books. Apparently there are any number of authors using there fiction to convey strong ideological positions.
PZ Myers over at Pharyngula has been posting about Micheal Crichton. Personally I have enjoyed most of what I've read from him, but I'm not a scientist, so I don't see all the discrepancies that PZ does. I suppose thats one of the best reasons to condemn him: he's using his popular author status to misinform people about real science. There are a couple of authors whose ideological bent is obvious to me, however, and they're often right in the middle of the pop-fiction section.
Tom Clancy: Okay, so I'm probably a latecomer to the realization that he's a bit of a right-wing nut. Not much needs to be said beyond that. It is most glaringly obvious in 'Red Rabbit', when he goes on at length about the British public health care, and how much worse it is than American health care, blah blah blah. I'd say the whole British medical establishment should sue him for slander (he makes their doctors look like inept delinquents) but I'm betting no one clever enough to be a British doctor has bothered to read any Clancy books lately.
Terry Goodkind: The only Fantasy type writer who I've read (and I've read many) that uses his books as a platform for his political philosophy. It isn't hard to show that one political philosophy is better than another when you're creating an entire world around them, but that doesn't make your analysis applicable in the real world. At one point, he has the heroes cutting (literally) their way through a crowd of unarmed people yelling 'no war'. In the narrow context of the book, this action can be seen as justified, because A: The world in which they live is beset by a clear and unambiguous evil. B: the crowd consists of people who are wilfully blind to that fact. C: there is no other choice for our heroes but to either surrender to an endless nightmare under the Great Evil or to go through this crowd of insane pacifists.
What Mr. Goodkind is doing here is trying to show a belief system (pacifism) is flawed because when that belief is taken to an illogical extreme (trying to stop a group of liberators from using violence against your ceaselessly violent oppressors) it results in stupid behaviour. This doesn’t go to show that any modern day type pacifist (Ghandi, people who dislike the invasion of Iraq) is wrong, because none of these people would say that the Kuwaitis should have wilfully used themselves as human shields when the coalition came to liberate them back in the first desert storm, which is the appropriate analogy. Mr. Gookind also has some interesting ideas about socialism and democracy, and in the end I’m hard pressed to say whether he or Mr. Clancy is further on the right fringe. One thing I will say in Mr. Goodkinds defence, he also has no tolerance for the kind of self-flagellant religious belief that denies all value to this life, so at least he avoids that creepy religious undercurrent which Mr. Clancy has in spades.

Perhaps I only notice these undercurrents of ideology because they are opposed to my own beliefs. I’ll have to look more closely at the other books I read for pleasure from now on. At least these authors try to address issues. Most of the books read for fun as a younger person had a reasonably simplistic worldview, with a clear Evil and a clear Good and no real ambiguities in between. SO kudos to these guys for trying to install some content into their work, too bad their ideas are mostly wrong.


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