Politics, Literature, And The Nature Of Truth

In Writing by Matthew HazelwoodLeave a Comment

Politics, Literature, And The Nature Of Truth

“There is no distinctly American criminal class-except congress,” so sayeth Mark Twain. A man who, while having the mind of a writer, had the heart of an activist. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a bold political statement that shook his countrymen in their seats. But what is the exact role between writers and politicians? With the election six months ago of Donald Trump, policy has shifted. What should us writers say about it? Should we say anything? Can we come to any conclusive results? But to ease your conscious, this article is not going to be me shoving my political opinions down your throats. Although obviously you all need to vote for {name edited out}, {name edited out} and {name edited out}.

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Nevertheless, take the ancient comic playwright Aristophanes. Under the article Socrates in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it mentions Clouds. “In the play, the character Socrates heads a Think-O-Rama” where you learn “slick argumentative techniques”, how to avoid “repayment of debt” and how to “beat your parents into submission”. This was intended to be humorous. But the article also mentions that “Plato’s Socrates says at his trial (Apology 18a-b, 19c) that most of his jurors have grown up believing the falsehoods spread about him in the play.” Socrates was, as we all know, executed. Whether Aristophanes is directly responsible for the death of the philosopher is irrelevant. Plato thought he was influential enough to mention him in the Apology and use him as a character in the Symposium.

Another example is Margaret Atwood‘s article for the Guardian Orwell and Me. Here she is talking about his book Animal Farm:

“The Pigs browbeat the others with ideology, then twist that ideology to suit their own purposes: their language games were evident to me even at {age nine}. As Orwell Taught, it isn’t the labels-Christianity, Socialism, Islam, Democracy, Two Legs Good, Four Legs Bad, the works-that are definitive, but the acts done in their name.”

She goes on to say: “Animal Farm charts the progress of an idealistic movement of liberation towards a totalitarian dictatorship headed by a despotic tyrant; Nineteen Eighty-Four describes what it is like to live entirely within such a system.” Once again, a writer having influence in political discourse. Phrases so common to us now, like “thought police”, “big brother”, and “doublethink”, originated with Orwell. As you think this through, one is reminded of a quote from Edward Abbey: “But it is a writer’s duty to write and speak and record the truth, always the truth, no matter whom may be offended.”

This may be diving too deeply into semantics but what is a “writer”? What is “the truth”? You cannot help but think quotes like that are more fanciful and idealistic than truth. Why does the writer have a “duty”? What is said duty? Some of these questions seem silly at first; obviously, for example, a writer is someone who uses the written word to communicate! But what kind of writer are we talking about? A journalist? A novelist? A poet? What genre are we talking about? History writing? Science communication? Screenplays?

Also, “the truth” is another one of those “spooks” as the philosopher Max Stirner might put it. Going back to politics-Trump supporters feel they know the truth. But the people who dislike Trump feel the same way. I have said before: in the game of objectivity, there is only one king–natural science. We use experiments, observations and mathematics to understand the workings of the universe. Everything else is subjective and uncertain.

Does that include political leanings? Yes, for there is no mathematical equation that lets us know what to believe about abortion or healthcare. This is where the “writer’s duty” comes in. No matter what you are writing, it is a very introspective, subjective act. This here article you are reading, is a subjective perspective. While I try to use reasoned argument, who is to say I am right? There are no clean solutions! But If we cannot be objective, what’s the point? Why talk about this at all then?
It is an understandable question. But it comes from scientism. Wikipedia defines scientism as “belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most “authoritative” worldview or the most valuable part of human learning-to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”

We are walking on thin ice here. “Matthew, how are criticizing this when you seemed to be agreeing with it earlier? You said science is the king of objective.” I did say that and I believe that. But what if someone said “I have a mathematical equation for happiness” or “I can prove experimentally that Andy Warhol is not an artist but Michelangelo is”? We would laugh that person out of the room. That, though, does not invalidate artistic taste or a desire to be happy. Subjective does not mean false.

This goes back to politics. We can never be objective in political orientation. That does not make politics any less important. What we must do with topics that are more open to opinion is to communicate. Exchange ideas in the hopes that we can come to a collective understanding.

This is what writers mentioning any social or political issue are for. They start up conversations, bring perspectives to light, make you question what you might have thought before. This is, at least, the goal. So next time you or I come across someone we disagree with politically, talk to them. Try to understand why he/she thinks a certain way. Explain why you think the way you do. We all have similar desires and experiences- -“human all too human”.

Matthew Hazelwood

Born and raised in the United States, I am a self proclaimed nerd which means I enjoy learning and asking deep questions. But if you take a look at my home library, you can easily see how scattered my mind in. By scattered, I mean I like skimming the surface of most subjects but before you can go in depth, I've moved on to something else.That is why I am working hard to write for a living. You can write about art, science, politics, anything really. I hope you enjoy my work and don't hesitate to comment. Feedback is important. Have a great day!

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