Could Reading Fantasy and Sci-Fi Ease America’s Political Tension?
The first Clinton-Trump debate since the two have been formally nominated by their respective parties was the most watched Presidential Debate in American history. The fact that the two candidates are the most hated nominees from each party and the huge television audience is no coincidence. Unfortunately, the reason for the large viewership seems to be lost on both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, who spent the entire time vilifying each other. It seems almost as if the candidates have picked the same strategy: “You may not like me, but the other is worse!”
In short, according to the Clinton campaign, Trump and his followers are the xenophobic, (insert your favorite hot-button phobias here), war-mongering, out-of-touch backwards idiots that will be the doom of America. Clinton and her supporters are likewise the communistic, corrupt, self-serving, whiny, entitlement-filled liberals that have been ruining this country for the past 50 years and she’ll finally push us over the precipice to the point of no return.
In other words, both candidates blame each other and their respective constituents for America’s problems, but curiously nobody seems to be proposing mutually beneficial solutions. The blaringly loud, though unspoken, solution is obvious: all we need to do is rid ourselves of these “deplorables” (to use Mrs. Clinton’s terminology, though many in the Trump camp would use the same term for the other side) and America will either become great again or continue progressing onto greatness.
Never once did I hear either candidate say if given the chance how he/she would ease the fears of those terrified of what will happen if their candidate loses come November. Quite the opposite; both sides increased the fears of their opponents. Clinton never sought to ease the fears of those concerned about a mass influx of Middle Eastern refugees while still helping those genuinely in need by showing what measures she would put in place to both keep America safe and help the displaced. Trump never addressed how he would help Americans feeling disenfranchised by their own country. Of course, there are many other concerns from both camps, but the tactic by both sides is to dismiss the others’ concerns as hate-filled hogwash.
The zealousness that the candidates, which are a mirror of the American public, defend either their Progressivism or Conservatism has more in common with fierce, blind fanaticism than in united policy making. Both candidates try to paint their opponent as an immediate danger to those that disagree with him/her. The scary part is that the candidates don’t try to alter that image, reinforcing the already overwhelming problem that Americans DO believe that their fellow Americans are a threat to them.
To quote GK Chesterton: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”
So, that is the problem. How in the world could Fantasy and Science Fiction help alleviate this problem? Well my rhetorical friend, I’m glad you asked.
Before we can begin to move towards mutual understanding and attempts at unity, we must first get ourselves out of defense mode by having discussions far removed from our present circumstances that are generating so much fear. What better topic than another world, one far removed from our time and place? Instead of discussing our problems and our solutions, let us get lost in the stories of other characters. Let us journey together and share in the sense of discovery, of mutual concern for these characters, and mutual joy and sorrow in the outcomes. The fact that the locales and characters are fictional does not at all lessen the reality of the journey we as a society can take together through these places.
Even better is if we can see the conflict our characters experience from multiple perspectives. See characters that circumstances have pitted against each other, regardless of how they might have otherwise felt if they had met under more favorable circumstances. Whether the characters mutually aid each other, destroy each other, or one or more is victorious over others is not important. All such outcomes have happened and will happen again, and hopefully we will all read multiple stories where each happens. The point is to familiarize ourselves with the process and see things from multiple angles – both the fictional characters we are drawn to and the ones we know we would not get along with if we ever were to meet. In witnessing these fictional conflicts, we can bring back real lessons when we return.
Of course, for this to work, the world must be truly different. We can’t just have our circumstances mirrored with new names. The instant the people sense allegory, they will abort the journey and rearm the defenses, and their ferocity will be even greater now that they know you attempted to take advantage of their lowered guard.
But if you can craft or recommend a truly new world for us to dive into, please share it! Think of what could happen if the individuals of this nation were able to truly see the perspective others that they have little in common with besides their humanity. Imagine if they actually felt the greater similarities between them just from that alone? Instead of seeing a threat, they would see a man. A man whose desires and fears are understandable once you get to know them. Whether conservative or progressive, the people you disagree with become easier to understand once you attempt to see what they have been through. It doesn’t mean you will ever agree. Anyone that tries to sell you that is selling you emotional snake oil. But we have a name for the truly incomprehensible; they are called sociopaths. Everyone else, no matter how wrong or hopeless, can be understood with compassion. And when you have compassion, you stop wanting to beat or rid yourself of your enemy and help him instead. Of course, you can’t force him to walk with you. But you can be more patient, and if you are, he will take notice. He may even try to get you to walk down his road. And when that happens, perhaps you all will both walk down paths neither of you expected to tread.
This is a skill America desperately needs: compassionate understanding with those we have nothing in common. We need a safe place, where all of us enter with arms laid down. There is no safer place to learn than the realm of the Fantastic.