Just because a lot of people believe…

We all know the saying, “Just because everyone believes it doesn’t make it true.” Most people understand this is truth intellectually.  At the same time how many people believe things just because it is popular, or due to authority figures or intellectuals adhere to the same beliefs?

A common phrase I hear “studies say” is used to shut down conversations with supposed intellectual superiority.  Someone may know of a study’s findings and suddenly they are armed with absolute knowledge.  However, studies always have flaws.  Sure, they are they are the best we got to gather information.  Studies are useful tools, but they are based on averages and probabilities, not absolute truth.  There are almost always exceptions.  I have seen and heard countless discussions about what studies say such as “Liberals are more…” or “Conservatives are more…” which might be true based on what the sociologists discovered, but that hardly is supposed to be a justification for blanket statements.

It isn’t just studies that are abused to justify beliefs, so is science in general.  Disclaimer, I am not anti-science.  I really like it and appreciate it.  I simply do not believe using the phrase “most scientists believe…” as evidence in and of itself.  That is an appeal to authority fallacy.  Show me the proof as to why scientists came to the conclusion they did, do not tell me what they believe.  I want to know why.

These are two reasons I’ve seen large amounts of people believe something, and many times the data is warped to the point it becomes untrue.  Ideology often gets in the way of facts.  We certainly see that in the modern political sphere.  Liberals are apt to criticize Conservatives and Conservatives do the same but neither side regularly critiques their own.

It is an easy trap to fall into.  It is our duty to sift through truth, even if we must dig deeper.  Truth is often masked in ideology and buzz words these days.  The result is large crowds of people believing something just because others who think like them believe the same.  We see things through the lens of ideology and emotion more often than we use facts.  There is a cultural pressure to believe certain things right now, and those who disagree are branded with harsh labels at minimum.  Once again, just because a large amount of people believe something, or pressure others to think the same way, doesn’t make it true.  That pressure is transitioning to us creative writers.  Our job as authors is not to pander, as I’ve said before.  We must tell stories that people can learn and relate to, not become popular through forcing certain tropes.

Open-Minded

We hear about open-mindedness a lot in our culture.  It is often viewed as a good thing, a virtue even.  Those who adhere to traditional values on the other hand are viewed as the antonym of open-minded, and the enemy of diversity.  While that certainly can be true, open-mindedness, like everything else must be tempered.

Being open to ideas, experiences, and other people’s beliefs is a generally a good thing.  In a society that is so divided, a little more of that would do wonders to bring about healing.  Not all ideas are equal.  Some view all religions, political beliefs, and philosophies to be the same.  If only people would understand that, then there would be peace, right?  Not exactly.  Many belief systems are destructive, and because we are human, even the good and true ones often get warped.

A balance should be struck between the hardened skeptic and the hippy that believes anything goes.  Listening to people is always important, but that doesn’t mean their ideas are valid, in fact they might be very toxic to society.  How much toxicity have we allowed into our culture for the sake of being “open-minded?”  That is a question the reader will have to answer for him or herself.  I certainly do not have the answer, but with all the dystopian media I have consumed along with the insane ideas now peddled as truth, I cannot help but wonder if fiction is closer to reality than I had thought.

Quick thought on cliches

I have written about avoiding clichés, and even pointing out clichés that aren’t discussed often.  Something else came to my attention recently.  Most stories have clichés, in fact I cannot think of a single book, movie, or TV show that completely avoids clichés.  Perhaps there is something out there that doesn’t utilize an overused trope in its story, but I do not believe I encountered one.

The issue is how often do clichés appear and how they are utilized.  There are common threads that bind genres together, obviously, that is what makes them genres.  Yet, when something like a magical weapon that must be found, or destroyed in order to destroy the big bad is used, we automatically think of Tolkien.  In fact, that cliché is so overused in the fantasy genre that a story guilty of using this type of plot will be accused of being a Lord of the Rings rip-off.  However, lesser-used clichés, like a character finding what he needs in the middle of the book will be less obnoxious and more forgivable.

Stories that have noticeably less clichés and strive to be their own tale, instead of a repackage of their inspiration are what authors strive for.  In the search for originality, it is easy to loop back around into the territory of cliché once again.  Us writers should always intend to avoid things that are over used, but sometimes it is inevitable.  Just like in the real world, things repeat.  It is simply important to know when and where to use them and to be careful.

Pondering Morality

This is a sensitive subject for many people.  Differences in perspectives on morality cause division, some minor, and some large.  At the heart of these perspectives is one question: is morality relative or absolute?  This is a topic that affects everything, including my works of fiction.  There are some who believe the same as I do about Jesus, but feel enjoying Fantasy is immoral.  Are they correct?  Is there even a right answer to these questions?

An entire book series could be written discussing in depth why there is morality, what morality is, and if there is an absolute basis for said morality.  Here I simply want to address the question, is morality absolute or not?  In short, my answer is yes.  Morality, like many realities are more nuanced than merely yes or no.  While the idea of moral relativism and absolutism appear incompatible, I argue it depends on the approach one takes.  An absolutist version of either end up with absurd logical conclusions.  Absolute moral relativism would mean that morality is determined by the individual and society.  However, when we study history we agree that the actions of the Nazi’s and Stalin’s Red Army were unquestionably evil.  I am familiar with the argument that there is no true right or wrong, just what we make of it, but I don’t think many truly apply that belief.  Sure, there are moral relativist apologists from the common Facebook user all the way up to professional philosophers.  No rational person would agree that just because it was culturally appropriate to commit mass murder in Nazi occupied territories means it is okay.  In the 21st century few would argue that slavery is evil and a terrible thing that happened not only throughout history, but has remained in various forms throughout the world.  Sometimes slavery has been used as an example of this philosophical position’s truth.  It is true centuries ago slavery was more accepted than it is today, the issue once again was that those that were enslaved were thought of as not entirely human. Ultimately, I find it difficult to get around the conclusion that moral relativism will lead to individuals doing what they please, while not pleasing anyone.  Much more could be written on moral relativism, and within that think tank there is diversity.

On the other side of the spectrum there is absolute morality.  This essentially states that there is a moral code that is universally true for every human being.  I believe this is a little closer to the truth than moral relativism.  Those who disagree with this point of view will mention the differences throughout history in society’s values and morality.  However, there are more similarities across cultures then one might realize.  A common example would be that murder has not been freely allowed in cultures.  Now of course there are cases of cannibalism, genocide, and murder of every kind, but the difference is the victims were not considered people by their oppressors.  Even in Nazi Germany murderers were punished.  Those who adhere to this moral philosophy may cite holy religious texts or scriptures.  What absolute morality fails to take into account by itself is the different sensitives of other people’s consciences.  This looks like tastes in music, books, television, basically any consumable media.  Where some may be deeply disturbed by a film and may deem it to be immoral, others may gain something from it.  Another difference may come in food and drink, where one may see eating meat as wrong, another may see supporting agriculture as wrong.

In the above cases, I feel it is down to the individual to do what is best for them, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t overarching moral truths that apply to everyone.  Murder is wrong, but self-defense is typically seen as fair and at minimum a less punishable act.  Within certain cultures people have been deemed less-than-human but murder remains illegal.  Some believe enjoying media with magic in it is wrong, while others do not.  This is an example of where morality is somewhat relative, while there are things should all agree on are wrong like murder, thievery, and slavery.

Does Anyone Care?

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In case you live in a hole in the ground, you know there was an election.  It was not just an election year, it was a very emotionally charged election year.  I know, every time there is an election there are emotions, but this time things seem much more volatile.  Anyone on social media has seen passionate posts, or maybe you are the one writing them.  We have seen moderates berate both sides, we have seen Trump supporters demonize Hillary, and Hillary supporters insist Trump is the next Hitler.  This post isn’t about my political views, but instead I would like to pose a question.  Does anyone really care about yours or my political views?  Especially when we expound them on social media or in our works as writers?  

Political views stem out of worldviews, and worldviews are how we see everything. The person on the other side of the spectrum sees things very differently (obviously) and most likely will get angry, annoyed, or ignore the post entirely.  Therefore, is there really any point to posting it to begin with?  Yes and no, somethings are worth taking a stand, and there is nothing wrong with sharing one’s thoughts, but things have gotten overboard. There is point in which social media becomes not a place for sharing views but beating down and bullying all who dare think differently.  All sides do this, and now it is saturating our entertainment too.  As a storyteller, I must pull back and analyze just how much sprinkling of my worldview do I need to include in a tale? 

I doubt anyone changed their beliefs based on a Facebook or Twitter post.  This is coming from someone who has done this before as well.  I feel passionate about something, and five years ago I was much more idealistic and even sought out “discussions” with those who believe differently.  You know what that accomplished?  Nothing.  My mind wasn’t changed; the other person’s mind didn’t change.  Ultimately all it did was cause tension, anger, and for both sides to end up grossly misrepresenting our sides due to elevated emotions.  That is the natural conclusion for such things.  Now, I’m not saying politics or religion should never be discussed.  They should be, but I’m specifically addressing the plastering these views all over social media obsessively, or going out of your way to argue with strangers on the internet.

The only ones that care about these posts are the ones who already agree with you.  If you then are speaking to only those who agree with you anyway, why do it?  If you are doing it to convince others that their beliefs are wrong and evil then it may seem noble, but again that isn’t how people come to different conclusions.  The only way to influence another person’s perspective is to empathize with them and their views, and to care about them as people.

It is human nature to get passionate about something and share it with the world, and somethings are worth fighting for and taking a stand.  That is where discernment comes in, something which has been sorely lacking these past couple years.

As a writer, I find this fascinating.  I see people’s true beliefs and worldviews coming through since the election.  It is excellent fuel for characters.  So many people take to the internet to state their views over and over and the only ones who listen are those who already agree.   Personally, I don’t put much faith in any one politician, especially right now.  It is interesting seeing those who are so emotionally invested in ideology that they alienate and even create divides within their own families.  Reality is the greatest inspiration for fiction.  Immense loyalty to ideologies, for good or bad, makes for compelling characterization.  Although, the all-too-common “think like me or you are evil,” thinking that is emerging isn’t helpful for real world relationships.  Even if the person really is right.  Throughout this I can say one thing, at least it is dripping with inspiration.