The Curious Tale
Part 3: Finally, Meta Politics
Saturday, April 21, 2018
This entire miniseries so far has itself been "meta-political": a political consideration of politics itself. If you accept the two premises I have laid out thus far—that political intrigue is only one part of politics, and that politics (in its fuller sense) is pervasive throughout The Curious Tale—then an interesting question arises: What is my political goal with the Tale?
Galavar's goal in the story is the Galance Ideal, and of course as a humanist and an imperialist I do share his general line of thinking—the idea that ethics transcends political and personal boundaries and that those who stand for justice must act in the pursuit of justice no matter what claims of sovereignty and "internal affairs" stand in their way.
And it would be simple enough for me to claim that the political goal of The Curious Tale is to give the Galance Ideal a fair shake, while also laying out my other political views.
But that wouldn't be the whole story.
Meta Politics in The Curious Tale
Many characters in The Curious Tale are politically intelligent and aware, quite starkly so. I'm pretty liberal with endowing this trait in character archetypes, because it makes conflicts more interesting, and because I want most of the interpersonal antagonism in the story to have philosophical legitimacy. I don't want Galavar & Co. to go plowing down a bunch of straw mates.
Even someone like Rennem acted legitimately, from his point of view—i.e., he acted consistently for someone with his principles and convictions, which are themselves plausible and not immediately dismissible as rubbish—and, for as debatable as Rennem's justification of his invasion was, his prediction of the conquest that Galavar would eventually attempt indeed proved true (and ironically Rennem himself greatly expedited and coarsened it).
I am interested not just in laying my own political explorations and ideals into the story, alongside those of many others, but in taking the politics of politics itself into the story:
"Never mind that," said Galavar. "Are you getting the cooperation you need from the public?"
"Individuals are being very cooperative, almost docile. There's no bravado at the moment; there's no room for it. Enterprise is cooperating too. Most businesses have excused most of their employees to join our public operations, and are loaning or giving resources as they're able. I know we'd argued in the past about some kind of emergency seizure policy. It turns out we never needed it. The people have a sense of duty. There's been some isolated grousing—people do have their own interests to worry about—but overall it's clear the sense of Selish community is prevailing. Everyone is working together."
My meta-political goal with The Curious Tale is to teach readers, or at least show them, that "politics" as we know it isn't really politics at all: that the drama of social posturing, partisanship, and so forth is only a small facet of something much larger. Politics is everywhere; it addresses a fundamental problem of sapient existence that shall never cease so long as there are societies.
I want people to understand philosophy better, and practice it more often. Philosophy belongs in our daily lives, and politics is a part of philosophy—the most dangerous and consequential part. We need to be smarter about it, and so we need to apprehend and engage in it more thoughtfully and deliberately in our daily lives.
Fantasy and sci-fi do not generally do a good job of this at all, even when particular stories are vaunted on moralistic grounds for their political wisdom, often expressed in terms like "shades of gray," "realism," and "gritty." Oftentimes the ethical conflicts presented in fantasy stories simply exchange one form of moral oversimplification for another, edgier, less mainstream one.
In my personal life, I've learned enough about real-world political conflict over the years to understand that its representation in storytelling is usually very weak, especially when it comes to fantasy (and, to a lesser but still significant extent, sci-fi). In particular, storytellers almost always fall into the traps of oversimplifying and implicitly delegitimizing their opponents' interests and priorities, oversimplifying political conflicts themselves, and oversimplifying (and conveniently omitting many negatives of) their preferred resolutions to those conflicts (or, alternatively, throwing up their hands and saying there are no solutions).
I'm here to say that this isn't an uncrackable nut, that it isn't actually all that hard to do a better job of representing politics and political conflict in our storytelling. That's my meta-political goal.
Galavar is the most direct voice for this in The Curious Tale, but it is present in many characters from many societies, with many affiliations. As you shall see, lots of people in Relance have something valuable to contribute to this message of the significance of political awareness that transcends our puerile comprehension of politics as mere political intrigue.
But for now I will leave you with the words of Galavar:
"I said to you that my logic of youth was an incomplete logic, one of the reasons being that nature itself teaches that some suffering is inevitable, and yet not always completely bad. Here is the other reason: Even when it comes to the agents of evil, we can't simply fight a war and be done with evil forever. As the Galan Conquest begins, let this night be a thinking time for all of us, to remember that we go to war because we hate war. We go to war to bring opportunity and dignity to all peoples. We go to war to bring the peoples of the nations their right to self-determination. And with our successes in war, and the sway that we gain over the nations, we must also guard against the reemergence of evil under our own power. We must be not only liberators but stewards, vigilant and kind.
"But what does that mean? What does that actually mean, in the space of our own thoughts, from day to day?
"It means we must be honest, and forthright with our honesty. We must ask questions rather than make assumptions. We must resist the fear to squish or stifle what we don't understand.
"It means we must seek to help others, to press ourselves to come to their aid even when it is inconvenient or laborious for us. We must be mindful of other people's journeys for the same fulfillment, purpose, and happiness that we want for ourselves. We must be responsible members of our community, doing our part to keep gutters and conversations alike as beautiful as Relance deserves.
"And it means we must respect our Kindred heritage that says people will live differently from us and sometimes outside our sense of what is proper or proportionate. We must understand and accept that some people want to sing in places where we would be quiet. We must accept that people have different customs from our own, and that some people want to indulge in life's pleasures, taking many lovers, or growing fat on the delights of good food, or expending great sums of money and passion on clothing fashions or collections of things. We must accept that some people want to miss a little bit of work some days because they stayed up late to watch the stars—or because they stayed up late to get drunk and make noise. We must respect differences, and accept that we are distinctive individuals. We must come to possess the sparkling wisdom that tells us the integrity of our worldview and even our own worth as Kindred mates does not depend on others being shadows upon us. We must look out for one another, even for those who hate us—even for those whom we hate. Anyone not destined for the sword must be welcomed by the harp.
"If we can fulfill those obligations, there will be many wonderful firsts yet to come. The discovery that we can live with each other, and with ourselves. The forging of friendships across cultures and societies. The collaboration of disparate peoples in common endeavors. The sights that lie ahead of us, the joys and happinesses that someday we will see for the first time, they are the stuff of the air, the stuff of dreams, and they await us to bring them into the Relance. Those will be the days, Sele! Not at all like today. Days of Awe!
"I didn't know it, that day when I first saw Relance, what exactly 'Galance' meant. I didn't even have the word, yet. Those trivial details would be years in coming. What I did have, and what mattered, was a declaration: I would change the world...for the better.
"I founded this city in the name of all my desires for it. Every one of you—every single one of you—is here because of my declaration. You have all agreed to support me in my ambition to change the world, and to make it, each in your own way, your ambition. Whenever you feel anger or depression in the days and seasons ahead, remember why you are here, and remember that Relance awaits your contributions.
That's all for this week. I hope you enjoyed this miniseries. Please let me know your thoughts! And join me next week when I talk about the tension between putting my favorite character into the story versus holding her back.
Until then, may you find good fictional politics.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!