No pony reviews today. Just random rambling about a blog post over on FimFiction. Flee now or face my diluted opinions mixed with links to other people talking about various things. Addition after I mostly finished typing this all up: Huh. That turned out to be even more incoherent than I expected. So, double beware I guess.
So I just finished reading the comments for this post about art from Bad Horse. About a week old at this point. The comments veered a bit away from the main subject matter of the post but were still interesting to read. Ah, the joy of reading intelligent people (many of which are better educated than I) politely argue points.
Writing this in bits and pieces while staying up a few hours later than I should. That glorious time where the part of my brain that tells me not to do things, but the rest of my brain is still going. For a little while anyway. I started this with a vague overarching idea of a point. Whatever it was has fallen apart and I’m not sure what I was trying to say. Which is one of the reasons why I didn’t want to slide even the shorter version into the conversation over on Bad Horse’s blog. Coherence and constructive comments are big flags for my personal judgement as to post something or not. If I doubt I can manage both of them I tend to not post anything. But this is my blog and it’s primary purpose is to vent thoughts in my head as they come to me. The pony fan fiction reviews is just a hobby and a way for me to pretend productivity when my brain doesn’t have anything interesting to say.
As I do on occasion, I have some thoughts on various things being discussed on the blog post that jump-started this whole thing, but I have something of an aversion to conflict. To the point that the polite back and forth in that comment thread was making me a bit uncomfortable just reading it. So not going to reply there. Almost did, backed out before hitting the green reply button. Yet I don’t want to bottle up everything because that’s not healthy for, well, anyone. Either my own mental health or society in general.
First off, I think the fact that the discussion was framed using mostly as western/European art references/metaphors is a bit limiting. A single reference to China, or Inca, or African art would have done a lot to broaden the point of either side. If there were such mentions I must have missed them. Here is a pretty neat overview of art history done by the guy who does the gaming blog D&D With Porn Stars. That link is a table of contents sort of thing. The one that the comment conversation reminded me of was the last one titled: D30 Ways To Be The Worst Critic In The History Of The World.
I do think the guy saying that all stories teach/display/state morals is defining things a bit too broadly. I will say that I believe that all authors (of fiction or even non-fiction) are shaped by the world around them. Their biases of the society/world/life will shape what they right whether or not they are consciously aware of it. I think that is different from trying to teach/question/impart wisdom on the reader as a conscious act. a book can be just entertainment, or be a author working out something themselves with no real expectation for what it will pass on to the reader. Lots of fan fiction is works in that vein.
I do think there is a useful division between a work meaning to have morals and/or exemplify or vilify a particular worldview, one that is meant to ask or raise questions, and a story just meant to entertain.
One of my points of view on the world in general is thus:
Trying to define things is less useful for getting actual solid definitions. Just about everything gets fuzzy around the edges. Always something that doesn’t quite fit. The useful thing about definitions is that it lets us look at things from different angles. If the definition of Art is A, what does that tell us, get us to think about, let us compare various differences against each other. Then you switch over to if the definition of Art is B, what does that tell us, get us to think about, and how does that compare with the things Definition A showed us. Get a broad enough view and you get to see more things. Get a narrow view and you can see lots of detail. A naval captain uses a telescope to see what ship is on the horizon, and the ship’s doctor can use a microscope to see if there are any bacteria in a blood sample.
Another point of view of mine:
There are a lot of conversations about ‘do books influence people to do bad things’ or any form of media you want to replace ‘books’ with in that sentence. Yet I run across very few mentions of something I figured out/discovered/realized (I’m not sure which it was honestly). That individual stories don’t really matter on that scale. Does Lord of the Rings portray a totalitarian worldview? Sure. Good/evil, white/black, simple and clear cut and obvious. Very few people would disagree with the broad strokes of what that trilogy paints as good and evil, even if the details might be worth quibbling over. Many would argue that the very fact that it sets out good/evil in a very strictly defined and easily judged way is the problem, not what the actual values for each is. Yet I feel that doesn’t matter all that much.
Whether this book doesn’t or that book does, what matters is the broad scope of all literature. It’s important to talk about problematic things in a book not because that particular book is a bad influence, but because we need to identify trends and problematic things to watch out for in other books. Not censorship, but identifying warning signs. One book with strict and easily defined good/evil morals isn’t a problem. You aren’t going to have kids turning into future space Nazis because a lot of them (or even all of them) read Lord of the Rings (or whatever other book might be argued to cause that), but if every single book in a school library has the same black/white good/evil morality and the kids don’t read anything else, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if a majority of them turned out to be less open minded than usual.
I had a point I was going to make with that lead up. It has escaped me now. Hmm. Oh well.
I’m also reminded of a scene from Babylon 5. Book of G’Kar: “What is Truth, and what is God?”
If I take a lamp shine it toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth, for understanding. To often we assume the light on the wall is god, but the light is not the goal of the search. It is the result of the search.
The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the sense of revelation upon seeing it.
Similarly, someone who does not search, who does not bring a lantern with him, sees nothing.
One of my takeaways is that the more certain you are of something, the brighter that certainty makes the result to you. Remember, personal certainty is not truth.
Part of it comes down to my belief in there is no absolutes. Always something that slips over whatever edges you try to impose. (Yes, even the speed of light. Though that is more hopeful faith than anything else. I don’t believe that we will ever surpass the speed of light, but I want to believe there is a workaround, a loophole, hyperspace or quantum teleportation, or other sideways to acceleration path to take so sapient beings somewhere can explore the universe in something other than bulky generation ships.)
Funny thing is that playing XCOM2 has me thinking about vaguely related topics. Since you (the person enjoying the game) are playing the commander of a small group of rebels against a technologically superior foe with global resources that is bringing peace and prosperity to humanity. Terrorists, basically. Sure the game makes it clear that the aliens are oppressive dictators using humanity for some nefarious purpose. Abducting and experimenting and being callous with the lives of citizens. Yet it also makes it clear, almost as an aside, that the aliens are also pretty much wiping out all disease and medical issues. So it gets me to thinking about my favorite thought-experiment, the basic sharp extrapolation for contrast. What if the aliens are experimenting on people, kidnapping them at seeming random, perhaps even crushing any dissent with a iron fist? But they have eliminated all hunger, poverty, disease, war. Let’s say the deaths of the human race has been reduced by 90% and everyone around the world lives in pretty close to utopia. Is that trade-off worth it? You can honestly have near-perfect utopia, but only if you don’t complain about things. Does it matter if people are given a choice or simply tricked/forced into it? We all know that humanity in general doesn’t have a great track record in making good decisions. Now, how does the answer to that equation change if you toss in a sinister end game? Like the aliens are working on a project that will erase the human race from the universe? Sure in a game that is a pretty clear decision. Good guys right, aliens bad. But the thing that always hits my brain when I hear people talking about that sort of thing is, how do you tell? Lots of groups have claimed that some good ruler or law will lead to disaster down the line. Some might have been true, some not. But when the group claiming it is a terrorist group that is a holdover from the previous global order of war and violence, and whose very first mission in the game (non-tutorial) is to blow up a huge monument?
Like I said, the game is very clearly good guy hero underdogs fighting against the evil alien conquerors. But I still can’t help but ponder the extrapolation of what it presents.