Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Truths Our Stories Tell

Almost every story has a moral, whether it's the heavy-handed, explicit kind, or a more subtle presentation of a theme.  But more than that, every story has a worldview: it takes place within a particular vision of how the world works.  I'm not talking about stuff like "is magic real" or "is Rainbow Dash a lesbian," but more cultural/ethical/sociological matters.

So I'm gonna talk about that.  Head down below the break for my thoughts.

As I'm finishing Project Horizons, on thing that's struck me repeatedly about the story as I compare it to Fallout: Equestria is how Kkat and Somber are both using the same setting, and both have similar themes when it comes to the innate goodness of all people contrasted with the obvious evils of the world, focusing especially on how nominally noble goals can lead to villainy when not paired with a commitment to using noble means to reach those goals... and yet, take those identical themes and settings to completely different places.  

Fo:E tends to ascribe a veneer of  virtue to its villains before pulling back to show the hypocrisy of their actions.  It contrasts their intentions with their actions, showing (sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly) that these characters are ultimately driven by more base desires: greed, power, and all the rest.  Even as they genuinely do strive for peace, stability, and the like, these are shown in truth to be secondary ends.  At the same time, the base desires of the heroes are explored as well.  The ultimate point is that "good guys" and "bad guys" aren't defined by their motives, but by how they weight identical goals, and which they're willing to sacrifice to achieve others.

PH, on the other hand, consistently roots evil actions in tragic backstories.  Most often, the source of viciousness and cruelty is shown to be some fundamental hurt which a character has suffered, one which drives them to revenge, to violence, to overzealous attempts to eliminate their pain, simply a need to feel something.  It also looks at ultimate origins and how one can break that cycle of pain; Somber tends to portray "bad guys" and "good guys" alike as victims, with the difference being whether one is able to rise above that which is inflicted upon them, or if they come to be (/let themselves be) defined by their victimhood.

Same theme, broadly speaking.  Very different worldview.

"Worldview" is a difficult thing to define, because it's so pervasive.  It can be cultural, moral, political.  I remember one example of the latter from my first pony fanfic, which used as part of its premise the idea that Equestria was on the brink of economic collapse centuries ago because ponies spent so much time partying, and that Celestia helped organize a secret society of party-curtailing ponies to keep productivity at sustainable levels (it was... kind of a weird premise, in retrospect).  And I remember getting a comment on the story's EqD page from someone who was livid over how miserable my understanding of economics was: 
     1)You fail economics forever. Equestria is expressly a capitalistic society, not a collectivist one--- and in a capitalist society, the balance between labor and rest is self regulating. Those who work less, prosper less, and are surpassed by their competition. If you're partying all the time it's because you can AFFORD it... and if not you and you alone pay the consequences     An "unsustainable lifestyle" would be one where the government dictates productivity from the top down (covertly or otherwise) as presented in your story. One would think this would be self-evident to anyone who has seen what a raging clusterf*** that the government makes of even simple jobs like delivering the mail or balancing the budget. People didn't starve in breadlines in Russia because of excessive government efficiency, after all.
     2)It would take an absolutely rotten, vile being to even conceive of such an arrangement, much less execute it. thank you so much for making a minor, albeit likeable character into a tool of a repulsive government bureaucracy.
Leaving aside the tenor of the comment, let's look at the underlying belief of this commenter: that the invisible hand is an absolute force, and that "not enough production" simply can't happen in a society where that hand is given something approaching free reign; supply will rise to meet demand, or demand will curtail.

Obviously, that's not my view--or rather, it's obvious that I don't share that view, based on my story.  There's probably a lot more that you can tell about how I view the world, based on the fiction I write.  Much of it probably wouldn't even occur to me as something I "put in" my story, any more than I "put in" a critique of lassiez-faire economics to a story about professional party-pooping.

But that's the wonderful thing about fiction: it allows us to view a different world through another person's eyes.  And that doesn't just mean seeing fictitious adventures, nor does it even "just" mean being exposed to morals we might personally be inclined to disagree with: a good story can immerse you in a worldview which might be totally alien to you.  A great one can make you understand that worldview, and even if you continue to disagree with it, help you see what people who do agree with it actually believe.


  1. All very true. And it's interesting to see how changing worldviews while keeping much of the rest the same results in different products, as with the "Star Trek" reboot movies compared to the old TV shows (or, alternatively, thinking about why the worldview has changed, and whether it's just about a different time/zeitgeist or if it's coming from the format).

    Of course, as with anything else, incorporating, intentionally or not, worldviews can be dangerous when done without thought. (And sometimes things can get so muddled it's hard to determine if there was even a coherent worldview to begin with.) My go-to here is a recent "Dr. Who" episode, "Kill the Moon." Without the narrative coherence to back its worldview up, there was no chance for that immersion, much less developing an understanding of how it came about or why it was espoused.

    On the economics post: I'd like to point out that in Real Business Cycle macro, the major branch of modern academic theory probably most associated with free market boosterism, one of the potential causes of recessions is in fact a change in everyone's preferences towards leisure and away from consumption. So yes, under that system, pretty much what you described could happen, and at least some academics have pushed the idea that the Great Recession was really the Great Vacation.

  2. You are so much better at this than I am. c.c

  3. And what also happens with pretty bold takes on worldview is that you get people who angrily tell you that you're absolutely, objectively wrong about it, despite the lack of any evidence for or against it in canon, and who can never concede that your way is possible, and intelligent people can just agree to disagree, and...

    This has happened to me several times lately. I'm not bitter about it.

    I'm not.

    1. I don't know why, but you do seem to attract readers who are eager to tell you that their headcanon is objectively correct...

  4. So if a great story lets you understand a different worldview and what the people with that worldview believe, does that mean a terrible story makes you understand a worldview even less and make you even more opposed to the people that believe it? Because I remember the comments section of FoE back when it was popular, and that doesn't bode very well for it.

    1. It absolutely does (make it harder to understand someone's worldview, that is): one need only look as far as Jack Chick to see someone who stumbles into self-caricature and who renders their own beliefs incomprehensibly moronic.

  5. I swear, I wasn't that commenter! Kinda sounds like me, though

    Now I wanna read some Chick tracts again! This one's a personal favorite. Obviously, I'm a big fan of Dark Dungeons as well