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The value of literature for the political student

Go to a library or search the internet, you will find endless theories about ethics and politics clamoring for a place in your limited mental space. Endless ideologies on offer filling dusty volumes and repetitive blogs. Great doctrines that can fill the young and old alike with enthusiasm, and fill that void in our hearts for purpose, mission and simplistic truths.

You could literally read every day from sunrise to sunset and would drop dead from boredom before exhausting the material on political, legal, economic, moral, theological, philosophical, ethical, psychological theory, ad infinitum.

Whole generations of highly educated and intelligent people have been swept away in ideologies, fallen for fads and devoted themselves to movements that came to nothing, or produced results entirely contrary to what they thought they were advancing.

How can a person distinguish, in one short lifetime filled with work and pleasure, between all the proffered systems, theories and ideologies of all these self styled experts? One would have to become an expert oneself, in every field, and hope to be the very smartest expert, to be able to discern the needle of truth in this contradictory clusterfsck of a haystack.

But how choose? On what basis does one decide if this or that system and theory will have a better outcome? How decide what goals are best? Right off the bat you must admit that if you're out in search of a theory or system, you are already an anomaly and abnormality from your peers. Take note of that and beware of yourself! What is really motivating you and driving you toward this pursuit?

Our own deepest dispositions, biases, our social milieu; these and other background factors weigh deeply on us and narrow the field of viable systems and ideological options. Caution! Those predetermined factors are scarcely obvious as sound bases for judgment, and confirmation bias looms in every corner.

So be it, we can't run from our nature, and we who are driven to ideas have to pick the ones that suit us.

So many gurus, experts, egos, attractive personalities, all offering seemingly sound bases for their goals, making grand promises of the benefits to come from following their nostrums and dictates.

Is there not some better way? I believe there is.

Alcohol, an open mind, good will, and reams of non ideological books. The alcohol is not required, perhaps you like the magic smoke of a colorful plant or just the exhilarating rush of activity and a strenuous life. The key ingredient is literature.

The problem with all the systems and theoreticians is that they tend to lack that familiarity and practical knowledge of human nature that comes from a full life of interaction, astute observation, emotional intelligence and penetration into real people and their peculiar ways. It is these wonderful plants to whom the systematizing and theoretical horticulturalists look for their raw material. It is this field the ideologist must ultimately cultivate and still stay on this side of reality.

What could be a better and more enjoyable pursuit than leisurely absorbing all the best, classic literature, without fuss or mental anguish, from those authors and artists who penetrate the real, inner human nature and life, passed over by the theorist? The nature not derived from analytical thought, from studies or data, not inputted into models and discovered in labs, but ascertained from experience and insight by the sensitive and non theoretical minds.

Not every book will accurately capture such truth, but every book might show you a part of the picture, an undisguised glance into at least into one real man, the author. He's not out to prove or persuade, not always, but to produce some little truth from experience or insight about what people really are.

He writes the dialog. To even write dialog presupposes something that the theoretician most often lacks. There is less danger of being deceived, as you are not the subject or patient, being convinced and led by arguments. There is not necessarily any motive to convince, with all the dangers inherent there.

To absorb a full knowledge of the natures expounded in literature, both the characters and the author himself, is second only in value to experiencing the widest range of personalities oneself in the real world. And even then, you will find truths you won't find even in the most active engagement in this or that restricted social setting.

We have a treasure trove of knowledge available to us in the centuries of literature, from ancient humanity to now. It was not written to convince us but to show us the insights gleaned from knowledge of the human heart and soul, pain and experience, by the author and shared with us. History too! Read history.

With such a stock of background knowledge, one is far less prone to fall for unworkable systems that would run aground on actual human nature. One is proof against the lies of ideology if one is at home with the real human. It will make us all more realistic, pragmatic, and cunning in our politics, and more fulfilled, better people.

Without this rich filter of background knowledge to distill political ideas, one is at an absolute loss to make heads or tails of the endless ideologies out there. One is floating entirely in the breeze, no anchor, no grounding, easy prey to every crank, charlatan and utopian creed on the market.

Whether you agree with me or not, think I'm a reptillian freemason servant of the new world order, you can agree with me that knowing our fellow man as well we can, both in real experience and through the common heritage of the species, we will all be better equipped to find the grain of truth in the sands of ideology.

We have a compendium of human inner experience in the great literature of all human cultures, and if we can gird ourselves with such steel plate, we we will be immune to the lies of political propaganda that pass themselves off as panaceas for our ills, and promise us the Moon we are after.

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Recommended reading

for the fiction-impaired?

Jury Nullification is a power of the last resort against tyranny.

A Moveable Feast (Hemingway)

...is one of my favorites.


"Alas! I believe in the virtue of birds. And it only takes a feather for me to die laughing."

"There is less danger of being deceived" - to the contrary

It is easier to influence a person's political views through fiction than through non-fiction. When reading fiction, the mind tends to accept things uncritically, because it knows it isn't real, it's just entertainment. But there are often political messages lying beneath the surface, which the reader absorbs without even realizing it (and which, for that matter, the author himself may not even recognize) - and more easily than if the same ideas had been presented to him frankly in a work of non-fiction.

Steinbeck made more socialists than Marx.

Rand made more libertarians than Rothbard.

Why do you think governments censor fiction?


P.S. To be clear, I'm not against fiction. I'm not even against fiction which contains nefarious political ideas. I'm saying: learn how to think first, then you can spot the bullcrap and be unaffected by it. And reading non-fiction critically is how you learn to think.

"Alas! I believe in the virtue of birds. And it only takes a feather for me to die laughing."

Those two examples

don't undermine the 10k other examples of classic lit which either don't push a political agenda, or which cancel out other views. Very few fiction authors are emotionally obtuse, reality-challenged political ideologues. Good fiction authors, even if they have political ideas, have to know people to write dialog that rings true.

Take Steinbeck. He didn't write his books just because he had a political ideology. He had a keen sense of the reality of social inequities. His works blatantly showed human inequality, it didn't hide it at all. Also, his works did not advocate communism. Social justice will always be a moral theme in literature, because it is a real moral theme in the human heart during many social epochs.

Silly basis for criticizing literature!

I'm not critizing literature

I'm saying that fiction can be just as political as non-fiction, and more effectively so.

And it doesn't matter whether an author intends his work to be political propaganda (not that anyone else would ever know for sure what his intentions were anyway). The political views of an author can seep into his writing without him even realizing it.

"Alas! I believe in the virtue of birds. And it only takes a feather for me to die laughing."

Let's agree that knowing how

Let's agree that knowing how to think and knowing people are equally important, and failing to know either lead to ruin. If you don't know what people really are like, you might think communism can work in practice. If you know people but don't think critically, you might take up their cause without realizing there are other people with different interests that exist. Or maybe you think simplistic solutions are possible to complex problems, such as the minimum wage solving poverty.

My advice is for the presumably critical thinkers already attempting at least to think clearly. Since lots of critical thinkers don't have a proper respect for the non-malleability of human behavior, they make huge errors. It is very easy to get your logic in order and have false premises about people.

If someone combines false understanding of human nature with poor critical thinking (for example, thinking that the premise of an ethical system is synonymous with its outcome), no good will come.

Sure, knowledge and reason are equally important.

I didn't mean to suggest anything to the contrary.

But I don't think literature is particularly good for attaining either.

I don't see much knowledge of human nature coming from literature.

Literature (and art in general) is for the development of taste.

The god of literature is Beauty, not Truth.

"Alas! I believe in the virtue of birds. And it only takes a feather for me to die laughing."

Guess we'll

agree to disagree on that one

You have to admit to yourself that you're an INCOMPETENT FOOL

Who knows nothing. Best way to learn.

Adapt and revise your world-view constantly.

Never be set in your ways.

Balance logic with intuition.

DON'T read some idiot professor telling you what you should think about Plato, Socrates, Herodotus, Thucydides, Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, Ovid, Dio, Lucretius, Homer, Livy, Virgil, Cicero, Augustus, Aurelius, Hesiod, Aristotle etc.

Read them directly yourself!!! You will be all the wiser and will never regret it. Form your own opinions. Think independently.

Most of our founding fathers had a full classical education. Do not underestimate it.

"Books are only good for 3 things...

highlighting words, writing in margins and bending corners."

-Christov Cuduckski, Memoirs

Defeat the panda-industrial complex

I am dusk icon. anagram me.

a very well-asked question

There are two kinds of people in the world.
Those who believe that rules and laws exist for a higher reason, and must be obeyed absolutely, especially for the sake of proving the reason, and will use force to make sure since it won't happen otherwise.
And, Those who are absolutely sovereign within themselves from the very moment they become aware of that option, and are not only absolutely unwilling, but are psychologically unable to submit to any higher authority within their own minds. They generally refuse to use force other than to defend themselves and their loved ones.

The first type are authoritarians. They believe in authority for the sake of authority, and argue that civilization could not exist without them.
The second type are sovereign individualists who know intuitively as well as empirically that the first type are about to destroy civilization.
Everyone else is just confused.

From James Gang Rides Again, Garden Gate
The captain’s in the chart room,
Navigatin’ on a star,
He can’t know where we’re goin',
Cause he don’t know where we are.

Don't ya think I don’t know
How to tell the time?
Can’t you see, you can’t sell me
Somethin’ that is mine...

— Joe Walsh

"To the morally inverted, war appears as a quick, clear path to the top." -- Preston Parker

Do not listen to this man! He

Do not listen to this man!
He will betray you!

Once you start reading, money in your pocket will vaporize, and you will soon be wrapped in newspapers living next to the homeless shelter once all the expenses roll in.

Why not take on a cheaper, safer hobby such as watching TV?

Southern Agrarian

jrd3820's picture

Which is why I chose a lit major

in undergrad. All of the human experience is there in lit. I happen to believe there is just as much to be learned from fiction as there is to be learned from nonfiction.

Read Dickens and you can learn about the daily lives of people in all classes of socierty in Victorian era England.

Read Tolstoy and you will learn about life in 19th century Russia.

Read Shakespeare to learn a little of everything.

All authors are in a way social critics, and their characters are their mediums.

"Whether you agree with me or not, think I'm a reptillian freemason servant of the new world order..."

Think? We all know Bill, there is no need to pretend otherwise.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

Never denied it.

Been reading Tortilla Flats today by Steinbeck. Almost as funny as Twain as points... Good stuff. http://www.amazon.com/Tortilla-Flat-John-Steinbeck/dp/014004...

I need to stop by the jam session and find some new tunes.

jrd3820's picture

I know that is a short one, but I've never read it

As far as his short stories go though, I love Chrysanthemums. It's not really funny though.

No one really beats Twain as far as puns and humour goes in my book, but Faulkner has a really weird sense of humor that made me feel almost guilty for laughing sometimes.

Him and Flannery O'Connor focused on the grotesque and gothic/religious aspects of the south. They both have a way of making you laugh at things that really shouldn't be funny. And their descriptions are eloquent yet blunt. They are not 'PC' in their writing, yet it is more human than anyone who is trying to be politically correct. It's a different world of humor. Faulkner is too dry for some people, but again...there is an underlying dark humor.

Ok, I'll stop rambling now. Great post Billuminati 3

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

I agree about Faulkner. I

I agree about Faulkner. I read As I Lay Dying not realizing it was a comedy, until I got to that last sentence. I wonder if that's what he wanted or if I was just being dense.

Thank you

: )