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Dr. Who and the Noble Lie
There was an episode of Dr. Who where they go back in time to 1814 London. For some reason or another, about a fifth of the people are black. This was not so of England in 1814. When asked about such politically correct deceptions, the executive television producer of Dr. Who, Steven Moffat, said:
And we’ve kind of got to tell a lie: we’ll go back into history and there will be black people where, historically, there wouldn’t have been, and we won’t dwell on that. We’ll say, “To hell with it, this is the imaginary, better version of the world. By believing in it, we’ll summon it forth.”
(I suggest that you watch the video for just two minutes. It is well worth your time.)
Moffat’s quote is immensely fascinating to me. I don’t understand why you would feel compelled as a storyteller to change history when you can go into the future or a different dimension where bigotry doesn’t exist; where reason and compassion triumphed over the darker devils of our nature.
Take the approach of Star Trek the original series or Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first interracial kiss on mainstream television was done on Star Trek and Martin Luther King himself was a big Trekkie. In the series, bigotry is a thing of the past and all the different (human) races got along with each other to advance science, enjoy art, and most importantly, admire Nyota Uhura’s legs.*
Through reason: respect for individual rights and sex appeal, other alien races could be peacefully integrated into the Federation. It’s an optimistic vision of what humanity could be after centuries of moral and technological progress. Dr. Who could do the same and still accurately, depict 1814 London as being filled with boring white guys.
Ctlaw made a great point that accurately depicting the black citizens of the British Empire would be a politically correct no-go. The African colonies were still backward. Meanwhile, in Jamaica, the black population were either slaves and blighted by ignorance and superstition or were themselves owners of slaves. Thus if you need to fulfill your diversity quota, pretending that there were a great many black British in 1814 and they all wore funny clothing is the path of least wrong-think.
But let us assume that Steven Moffat genuinely believes in what he says and that he wasn’t pressured into a diversity quota. I for one believe in his sincerity, just reread that last line, “By believing in it, we’ll summon it forth.”
It reminds me of Orwell’s depiction of Big Brother propaganda in 1984. “The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” I doubt that Steven Moffat would put it this way but he might as well say, “The past is alterable. The past was not altered. London was a racially diverse city. London was always a racially diverse city.” I spot an uncomfortable parallel.
More importantly than the obsession with skin-deep diversity, is the elasticity of truth and the all-importance of telling the ‘correct’ story rather than recognizing reality. This is probably why English departments are much more lefty than Political Scientist Departments and why (until recently) Science departments weren’t all that interested in being woke. In a similar pattern, James Burnham has noted that the more one’s job relied on words and less on reality, the more inclined one was towards some variant of leftism.
Words as the DNA of the future
Quite possibly this goes back to our belief that words have magic powers. In one story about the power of language, a worldy Navajo wiseman says, “In the West, it is said that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the East, it is said the man of flesh brings spiritual power to words.” In one Japanese creation story, humanity was fashioned from the Earth but they became men and women when the Japanese character for life was written on their bodies. J.R.R. Tolkien described the world as being created through music. In the Witcher mythology, a miscarried child if it is not named is more likely to come back as a zombie-monster because names are powerful seals. Egyptian and many different kinds of Native-American mythology gave great import to the power of names.
Perhaps most relevant to the Ricochet audience, in our American tradition, our Declaration of Independence secured in the American collective soul the idea of liberty and through its words helped shaped American history.
Furthermore, before any human ever existed, there was genetic information that would eventually form to create them. In a similar fashion, every building, every corporation and every piece of art existed as an idea beforehand. In a similar fashion, scientific experiments start with a scientist thinking about things and making a hypothesis. When thinking about the power of information and ideas, Steven Moffat’s seemingly magical belief that “By believing in it, we’ll summon it forth.” sounds much less fantastical. When an entrepreneur wants to start a corporation and he doesn’t have the money to start it, he convinces other people that his idea for the corporation is good. By convincing other people, he summons something that didn’t exist forth.
So count me as a big believer in the power of ideas and information. Whether the information is a gamete, or a script for a movie or the plan to ask someone to marry you. Dreams can become reality.
The Return of the Gods of the Copybook Heading
But I still disapprove of Steven Moffat changing history to fit his political agenda while I approve of the interracial kiss in Star Trek. This is because while I fundamentally agree with the power of language to create new things, the historical facts of the past and the fundamental rules of reality don’t bend to language.
Look at transexualism and the use of language. According to modern dogma, if a person with a penis and an XY Chromosome says that he is a female, calling him a female makes him a female (without malice I must bend to genetic reality and use the real pronouns.) Using the biologically accurate pronouns destroys the created ‘reality’ of language. Notice that transpeople say that people who use the accurate pronouns are denying their existence, that referring to Kaitlyn Jenners’s previous name of Bruce Jenner is deadnaming and that using the accurate pronouns is related to violence. This perfectly dovetails with the modern left’s obsession with hate speech.
I suspect that the modern woke left, hereafter referred to as Wokism doesn’t believe in objective reality the same that most Ricochetti do. I suspect that they believe that by changing the language they can change reality. Let’s go through the quick list of things that Wokists believe that are easily and provably untrue.
In reality, Scandinavian countries are very capitalist countries with big welfare states that are designed to minimize the harm done to capitalism. Woke people insist on calling it socialist. In reality, there isn’t that big a gender gap when men and women do the same work for the same amount of years. But progressives and Wokists keep insisting on the 76% myth. In reality, Chick-fillet always hired gay people and paid the health insurance for their partners and all that jazz, but the left insisted constantly that they discriminated against gay people.
I could go on and on and I’m sure that you can too. While the Right certainly isn’t lacking in anti-capitalist and anti-empirical nonsense, the Left promotes narrative over facts consistently while conservatives tend to recognize that, as John Adams noted, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” [emboldening mine]
Many Trump supporters during a particularly obnoxious tweet saying, “Don’t pay attention to what he says but what he does.” In other words, look at the policy actions rather than the words. Meanwhile, lefties and some conservatives seem to focus on the tweets and the petty insults more than Trump’s actual foreign and domestic policy. Many of these same people heaped praise on Obama for his ability to say the right things and speak in honeyed tones. It would seem that words matter more to both leftists and intellectuals.***
Kipling vs. Muffat: The Epic Battle
Speaking of leftist, let’s go back to Steven Muffat, he can never write a story that makes the actual London of 1814 racially diverse. He can tell stories that inspire humanity to be better and I wish him luck in that pursuit. Particularly if he hires actors of color who look like Uhara and have a thing for pasty white guys from the American Midwest.
But I fear he ignores the gods of the copybook heading.
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings represent common sense and Gods of the Market Palace represent man’s ambitions and foolishness.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
The Gods of reality stayed real and solid and all the rules stayed the same. But the Gods of the Market Place where like wind and could change into what we wanted them to. The poem goes on to explain why the Gods of the Copybook Heading were shunned.
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
Of course, reality reasserted itself even though we denied it. Out of necessity, humanity had to reorient itself to what is real rather than what they wanted reality to be. We don’t want to do it. We want to live in a world that is easier and nicer and fairer. I understand Moffat’s desire to live in that world. But as Kipling noted, we are ruled by the gods of the copybook heading even though we would much prefer to live in the world promised by the gods of the marketplace.
Human Potential and its limits
I believe that humans have untapped potential. I think we can be a bit better than what we are now and to do that we need to tell the right stories. I hope that Moffat’s stories help us manifest that potential. But to paraphrase Kipling,
As ice will always be freezing
And fire will surely burn.
The Gods of the Copybook Heading
Without mercy shall return
*Hat tip to Boss Mongo who mentioned Uhura’s sex appeal.
** Hat tip to Sea Writer’s much more pithy post on a similar subject. https://ricochet.com/712047/qotd-truth/
*** Old Bathos wrote a clever joke about NeverTrumpers and their emphasis on language from a Pro-Trump perspective.
Twenty years from now, if Trump is remembered for ushering in a new economic golden age, the rollback of wars, the fall of oppressive regimes and substantive government reform, will elderly NeverTrumpers still be saying, “Yes but those tweets ..and he was so rude …and what he said about…” to their incredulous but wealthy grandchildren?