The Crimes of Literature

Writers lie to you. You know this.  They lie to you, but you know it and take it into account, so you are not damaged, and can perceive reality clearly anyway.  Maybe this is actually true.

But is there really any reason why we have to tell so many lies?  When you think of it, it's odd, and a little pathetic. I think the lies fiction tells are actually cognitive errors--mistakes inherent to narrative that misinterpret the state of reality.

I'll deal with some of these in more detail later, but for now, I'll just list some of the things we tell you regularly that are completely untrue.

  • Physicians, even physicians in premodern times, actually know what's wrong with you and cure you.  That is, unless they are malign and greedy quacks, in which case they don't understand anything and will probably kill you.
  • Physicians are good, the healthcare system they work in, and which pays them, is bad and out to deny needed care to sick people.
  • If you dream something, that dream means something.
  • Prophesies say something about the future.  And if a character comes to fulfill a prophecy, that's actual an honor rather than something particularly horrible.
  • Generals who win battles are also loved by their troops.  Good commanders are not narcissistic, brutal, or lazy.
  • If the main character creates an artwork of great quality, that artwork will also be incredibly popular.
  • Obsessives and cranks are interesting people.
  • If you are a good person, people will love you.

Many of these stem from the fact that the writer knows the future of the characters and can't help but let this bleed through.  As the inked note next to the underlined words in the secondhand book you bought always says:  foreshadowing.

I'm not really giving anything away here.  But I have many kennels full of desperately barking pet peeves, and I plan to unleash them on you, one by one.