Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Song Of Many Voices

In a science-fiction or fantasy book, possibly by Sheri Tepper, a planet has an indigenous sentient species which tells its history by singing. One person might start a song about an event, but then another one joins in, adding details or counterarguments. This causes an amended duet, which is then changed by a third person singing, a fourth one joining in and so on, until at last the story is told so that everyone has had their say in the telling.

Doing that wouldn't be possible in, say, American politics, simply because the song would take too long. It would probably never end, given political pressure groups and advertising. But the basic idea has something in it which I miss, especially after spending so much time recently on reading stories which only tell one side. Or stories which present only some evidence.

I don't really like that. If a case I present is strong enough I should be able to discuss all the evidence, even the one that works against my arguments, and I should be able to explain why that evidence is either wrong or counts less than the other evidence which supports my conclusions. Reality is hardly ever clear-cut, few policies are all bad or good and nuances are important to address. But then one is boring, not passionate enough, so boring.

Still, as long as the opposition doesn't tell the whole story it's hard to see how we could, without coming across as appeasers. Heh. A double-irony there, given that we are supposed to be appeasers in one of those one-sided and biased tellings.

It's also loads more fun to write sharply and passionately and with one single story line weaving through the piece, getting stronger paragraph by paragraph. It's probably also more fun to read that than the kind of academic treatise one easily ends up with when writing nuance. Just as it's more interesting to read about some new and effective treatment for an illness than to read about the new treatment not being any better than the old ones. But the latter kind of knowledge is important, too.

So yes, I miss the song of many voices in politics. It doesn't have to be a harmony and it certainly doesn't have to end in some state in which everybody holds hands and agrees. It's more complicated and richer than the melodies (he-said-he-said) most press gives us these days.

Could it be done on blogs? I'm not sure. The maximum desirable length of a blog post appears to be shrinking all the time.