OK. I’m going to tell an allegory. This is inspired by a blog post written by Sarah Hoyt. Sarah and I disagree on some things. That’s fine, I disagree with just about everyone.
What matters more than our disagreement, is understanding why we disagree. In my opinion too many people view the world in a simplistic fashion. I suspect that they think I view the world as too complex. Our opinions are based on the sum total of our experiences, and I was looking for a way to explain that. For that, I choose allegory.
My apologies if this is a bit long, but what Sarah said really resonated, but maybe not in the way she expected. I’ve always had a mind which had a tendency to come at problems sideways. That’s what it did here.
For the purposes of this allegory Human Society is roughly divided into two classes of people:
- Influencers – those who have ideas and scatter them to the winds
- Normals – those who receive the ideas, and hopefully use them to good purpose
There is some transfer between the groups of course. Some Influencers give up and become Normals. Harper Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird” and never wrote another novel.
Some Normals aspire to better things and become Influencers. Many of the early Science Fiction writers were drawn from the ranks of the fans who took part in the letter columns of the magazines. Most writers in any genre are readers who decided that they could do it too. That’s how I started writing.
In my allegory both classes of people are blind. Their eyes have been glued shut by the Gods, who think this is a hilarious, cosmic joke.
All of the population of Earth is in one enormous room that stretches off to infinity. All of the dead are in another room, which contiguous in space, but in another dimension which is only a tiny distance away. When the living die, they are instantly transported to that other dimension. Communications from the dead do arrive sometimes, in the form of letters, manuscripts, etc. found by the heirs.
The Normals are standing passively, and blindly. Every once in a while a piece of paper blows into them. They grab it, and feed it into a badly designed Optical Character Recognition Scanner. The device reads out what the paper says to them through an earbud.
Because the system is badly designed, they often do not understand what the paper says. The Optical Character Recognition Software garbles words. Sometimes the piece of paper is written partly in languages they don’t understand. This causes confusion.
They tell their friends and relatives who are standing close to them, who tell their friends and relatives, and so on. It gets passed along by word of mouth, with the attendent accuracy problems (see Chinese Whispers)
Meanwhile the Influencers, which is to say writers, singer/songwriters, and other creative types are standing around a bunch of beasts. The Influencers believe they are all standing around a single beast.
They are attempting to determine what the beast is, but are suffering a great deal of confusion. Since they are standing around 1,000,000 beasts, both real and phantasmagorical the results they are shouting out at each other make no sense. To make things even worse, some are bare handed, some are wearing thin gloves, some are wearing hockey gloves, baseball mits, astronaut gauntlets, and just about every conceivable type of hand wear. Some aren’t using their hands, they are using their tongues, feet, buttocks, breasts, thighs, and other body parts to feel the beasts, in their attempts at understanding.
As they investigate, each Influencer extrudes sheets of paper which blow away among the normals. How much paper, how many sheets, and how far the paper goes, is determined by popularity, which is often determined by luck rather than skill. Some Influencers cheat in various ways to get their paper into more hands. having bribed some of the Gods.
An added form of confusion is provided by the Gods. Loki and the other tricksters are guiding Influencers from beast to beast, so that an Influencer can be feeling the snout of an elephant, and then the tail of a dragon, and not realize that he/she is feeling a different beast. Odin is really pissed at this, and is trying to head Loki off, but he’s being interfered with by Frigg, who is upset that Odin isn’t paying enough attention to her. Thor is tossing his hammer at Loki, but missing, and hitting Influencers, killing them. All of the other pantheons are there too, having their own problems.
A few Influencers have managed to crack one eye open a bit, and know something is wrong. None of them can see a lot, no more than parts of two or three beasts, and those not clearly, because all of them are wildly myopic. Nothing makes a bit of sense, but at least they know that something is wrong.
From the room of the dead sometimes a piece of paper comes. This happens when someone finds a document in storage, documenting the dead Influencer’s attempt at understanding the beast he/she was facing. Of course that beast may be long dead. Or possibly the Influencer was under the sway of interesting herbs and spices that Colonel Saunders wouldn’t put on his menu. Who knows, and who can prove anything now. The Influencer is dead, so no one can ask. For that matter, it could all be a hoax.
End of Allegory
Effectively what I’m saying is that Sarah is right, and Sarah is wrong. From the data in front of her, she’s right. From the data in front of me, she’s wrong. I’m holding a different part of a different beast, and I’m wearing a different pair of gloves. Or maybe I’m using my buttocks, or my forehead to investigate it, and she’s wearing oven mits. Who can tell?
Sunday May 5, 2013