The best fiction appeals to us, not because of what it reveals about or to us, but rather because it re-affirms a process of revelations or plot points of how things ought to occur. In the best fiction, this structure is utterly invisible, often including to the people who create it.
I think that being able to tap into this natural narrative form is what talent is as opposed to technical skill or learned ability, not only writing, but in the case of movies and TV, also directing, filming, editing, set decorating, costuming and other visual and audio crafting along with actors who strike the correct emotional balance and surrendering of person identity to stand wholly in for another person. All of which more organically rather than intentionally – going by the DVD documentary behind the scenes extra features – synthesize the inherent truths and processes that allow us to truly grok.
Grok being a word coined and used by Robert Heinlein in his Stranger in a Strange Land book to denote a manner of meaning that is more encompassing than merely intellectually understand, but to actually go beyond understanding to knowledge from all sensory input capacity – a manner of knowledge that is deeper and more meaningful than the usual understanding of knowledge, more than mere command of facts and capacity to put those facts in relationship with other facts. But rather to perceive the fact as a single one among masses of facts, to feel the pull of each fact, the twists and turns of masses of facts.
We often refer to some person or event has changing the course of history, which on the surface makes no sense, as history plods along but not on any given course, so to really grok that history has actually changed direction, that this event or person was significant in the course of history as to redirect it, is to grok that while history and the world will as it will, that it can – from time to time – be redirected in a purposeful manner by people who are uniquely positioned in a place and time and circumstance or events that disrupt how history would have unfolded had these people or events not occurred or not acted in the manner to make the change.
If for example, Elvis Presley had listened to his parents and become an electrician and married the girl he was dating at the time to start making the grandbabies, rock n roll as a culture force and the dependant musical genres that followed and the social movements that depended on these cultural shifts, the world would be a different place than it is now, with perhaps a lot less human rights advances and the American social experiment begun by the founding fathers could potentially have been reversed under the paranoia, anti-Jewish, anti-union, anti-anybody not heterosexual and white and ideally male of McCarthyism. Luckily for us, Elvis wired himself and not buildings and rock n roll became a social force of equality between black and white Americans who have largely not embraced what could have been possible.
White artists had previously covered black music and watered it down into a musical pabulum, and Elvis and those who followed performed black music as their own and brought their musical sensibilities into the highly sexualized mix. Elvis after all, performed R&B music as country, country as R&B and delivered both with a fevered gospel vocal delivery combined with a total body commitment to the spirit of the music – each performance amounting to shedding social norms and status in an orgy of emotional, sensory and physical release – socially equalizing everyone in its path and wake.
An equalization that has not followed, given that country remained white with few exceptions and R&B remains black with few exceptions – and that the audiences for distinct musical genres dominated by white artists have white followings – heavy metal, punk, country and that black dominated genres rap and hip-hop have more mixed but not balanced black and white followings, with some disparity on the white audience as posers or copycats, somehow less authentic although no less enthusiastic.
The opportunity for equality ended when a portion of the white audience crossed over to purely black music, but that the black audiences largely have not crossed over to embrace any genre of purely white music. Which may make sense as a population that continues to struggle with carving out a group identity distinct from the mainstream society that their ancestors never sought to be a part of and who had rejected their full membership and participation for decades after the enslavement ended.
Perhaps part of the difficulty is that most cultures default to conservative values and for a minority to gain equality, it is liberal values that must be asserted and gain sufficient political leverage if not power and certainly social acceptance. But liberalism holds that every group is equal and this does not allow for much consideration of any unique circumstances of the various minorities in a predominately conservative society, which is tolerant and dependant on inequality between social groupings.
The European domination and decimation of the aboriginal peoples of the Americas and Australia in truth, becomes less harsh than the European domination, decimation and distribution for slavery of the aboriginal people of Africa – but that is not a truth that anyone would directly acknowledge out of a lack of will to create classes of more victimized than thou, when it is embarrassing enough that anyone was victimized. Of course, the “victimization” of people who lost their group sovereignty to people with superior technology is what was known in earlier historical times as simply conquered people to be absorbed into the new dominant culture. The Romans certainly would never have become a world dominating empire had they ever considered conquered people as anything other than the newest province required to pay tribute to Rome, and in exchange, spread Roman technology, science, arts and civilization throughout the known world.
Romans would never have come up with a reservation system to manage conquered populations, they simply absorbed people into Roman society as laborers or gladiators or gladiator targets. The Romans were basically the historical basis for the Star Trek Next Generation’s Borg – assuming any newly encountered civilization into its own and eventually, equalizing them into a cohesive unified whole. Well, until it couldn’t anymore – there comes a time where any civilization becomes unwieldy and continued growth/expansion is not only no longer possible, but not sustainable. Corruption eating at the centre and the disenfranchised at the fringes resulting in a collapse and re-grouping into smaller and more manageable groups. Until another civilization begins to band these groups into a sum greater than its parts and begin the cycle of civilization rise and fall all over again.
Which brings us to the present, when there is no more land for expansion, and a global diplomatic structure which discourages the invasions of one’s neighbors and where civil wars can be waged in war as in most of the world, or diplomatically as Canada has demonstrated with Quebec.
People living in societies that are secularly governed – or who are supposed to be in the case of the USA – and who are liberal are a minority in the world without apparently even realizing it. We have a tendency to think that other people now and in history think as we do. This is not the case with liberal thinking. Most of humanity is conservative in morals and outlook, not only now, but especially in history. Which explains a lot why in history, conquered people were conquered and absorbed or conquered and exterminated. Only in modern liberal thinking should there be reparations and reconciliation with people who ended up on the conquered side of contact between civilizations. Of course, to say conquered isn’t correct liberal thinking, but it would be intellectually dishonest to use less accurate and more emotionally fuzzy terms.
Humans have strong inclinations towards conformity – even in those subcultures who do not conform to the majority have their own uniforms and behavioral norms to conform to in order to be deemed a real whatever the subculture or sub-subculture. Maybe even especially in sub-cultures that do not have a strong over-arching uniform conformity – after all, what is a lesbian if there are many ways to be one?
I have been to several lesbian potlucks and been demonized for bringing chicken wings since real lesbians are vegetarian. Funny, since I thought being a lesbian was about who you ate, not what. In any event, the meaty wing goodness was often the first platter of offerings that are wholly consumed, presumably the invisible carni/omni-vores quickly consuming the offending wings while my being chastised is a distraction to the self-appointed food police or perhaps a sense of rapid consumption to remove the offending dish from tainting the purer veggie offerings. It wasn’t that I didn’t learn from the experience and continually repeated it, but rather, an unwillingness to alter my identity for the comfort of the mainstream is consistent in my unwillingness to do so in my sub-culture. Some people call this enjoying arguing with people you mostly agree with, but it’s less a devil’s advocate position than remaining true to one’s self, regardless of the social cost at any level in doing so.
Being willing to pay a social cost to assert individuality rather than take the path of least resistance and conform, seems to be what’s novel in liberal thinking and absent in conservative thinking. This is what the American social experiment was that no previous civilization had attempted.
Iceland’s Althing, Britain’s Parliament and Magna Carta and other nations ruled by written codified and enforceable law rather than the whim of a hereditary or conquering dictator (secular or religious) began the civilization change were “the people” had rights & privileges and the responsibility to conform to social hierarchy and these same laws in order to enjoy the freedom defined by the law or be subjected to the penalties for failing to conform.
Conservative thinking’s primary concerns are purity, authority and group loyalty – all of which is critical to define who’s included in the civilization and who is not. These are critical factors in group identity and mechanisms by which to reinforce shared characteristics and behaviors, cultural and moral values. So, it makes sense that the majority of people through history and in present day are conservative.
Until America, the idea of the individual as a meaningful unit of society was unheard of. Individuals didn’t matter – the extended family and tribal unit mattered, the ethnicity within a geographic region mattered. America changed that and declared the individual as being the smallest social unit of consequence. This was liberal thinking and the primary concerns of liberal thinking is fairness and harm.
Liberal thinking is novel in human history. Novelty is tolerated by a minority – and as each of us thinks about the social groupings we belong to, the smallest minority possible, is one of the whole entirety of humanity.
Liberal thinking is to say that the individual matters and is of unique consequence – this is revolutionary in a primarily conservative world where group identity determines what rights, freedoms, and responsibility any given individual has, in accordance with their group identifiers.
So, I had the thought today of how many minorities in society do I belong to? Canadian of all the world, with Eastern European and Scandinavian heritage within Canada – lesbian, atheist, science fiction geek, Elvis fan, drawn equally to arts and science with no interest in sports unless I can play, politically active with thousands of volunteer hours in social justice causes logged, political views being fiscally centrist and socially left and anti-religions, thousands of volunteer hours logged in the regional arts community, a career spanning retail, professional, non-profit and public sectors but ultimately, the smallest minority that I belong to is me. More than the sum of these parts but also something less of the whole possibility of my potential self had I been more inclined to conform to groups than to stand as one.
The individual is novelty in the world, to be an individual, one must tolerate novelty, which requires one to be liberal and novel – to be an individual and to see others as individuals and not as members of a group. Conservatives are members of groups and related to people as members of the same or other groups. Conservatives tolerate inequality because they simply cannot see members of other groups as being equal to their own group.
As long as conservatives dominate secular government, then the American social experiment has failed to produce an individually centered society. This is why the separation of church and state is so vital and why freedom for any group or individual is measured by the distance between church and state. Moreover, why conservatives do not understand that is it the state that must be protected from the church if there is to be any meaningful freedom for individuals.
And why liberals are concerned with unfairness and harm and conservatives are not, because it is the conservative worldview that not only tolerates inequality, but creates and depends on inequality inherent and required by the worldview.
Conservatives can only adapt to new social norms when forced to and only after time has passed – which is where there are no objections or comedians joking about women getting to vote anymore – but interracial marriage is still a sore spot and why they cannot let go of Roe vs Wade as long as there remains a glimmer of hope to return to the old glory days.
And why, although conservatives understand the issue of reparation payments to conquered and abused groups and individuals, why they fight bitterly to oppose gay marriage, without consideration that gays may one day be in line for similar recompense arising from the baseless withholding of full citizen rights now.
Perhaps appealing to them on a cost effectiveness basis – gay marriage now to prevent future claims for pain, loss and suffering.
For conservatives to accept a social change as a norm means that the change must pass beyond living memory – conservatives only accept what is the status during their lifetime and assert that this has always been the way – only slightly better – in the past. Regardless that modern status has not been the tradition. Marriage as a partnership between two people based on romantic love is a modern and largely western idea – marriage remains a mechanism to create alliances between families or tribal groupings, to consolidate wealth and power and in many modern cultures, polygamy and the rarer polyandry is often the cultural norm.
So, conservatives never really accept major social changes, they resist change to whatever they experience as normal and apply it backwards as if the conditions were always the standard. This is why they continue to fight Roe vs Wade 40 years – or two generations after the legal change. It’s not out of living memory.