I read a very sad story today. A young man died following an accident, because he refused the blood he needed to survive . . .
I hardly know what to say about this. One’s initial reaction is to seek a remedy, to prevent lives being wasted like this ever again. But we can’t police everyone, or everything. Perhaps we should congratulate ourselves for having a society that allows us to die, so long as we claim it’s what our god wants.
But this boy, Joshua McAuley, was just 15. He could not vote, or drink, or smoke or have sex. But he could die for a fiction. Should we allow children – no doubt infected with the lies of their parents – to die in this manner?
When it comes down to it, most of the concepts we are familiar with are fictions. This in no way diminishes our willingness to kill or be killed for them.
The previous generation had “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” Now we have aphorisms like “The American soldier is the only one who has ever offered to die for your freedoms,” and “Terrorists hate that we can live freely.” To be sure, soldiers have died for America, and to be sure, terrorists hate America, but what is America?
America itself is a fiction – a mental construct. Does it have physical existence? Certainly it has beaches and shores and fertile plains, but what makes those America? It, like any other nation, exists as a set of boundaries and rules in the minds of people. If all people decided that America did not exist, and acted accordingly, it would not, and this sets it apart from something which has a truly independent physical existence (say, lightning, which can kill or maim whether or not people believe in it.)
Perhaps that’s too abstract, so let’s return to something more familiar. Statistics suggest a woman is raped in the US every minute (the oft-quoted number is 1.3 women per minute.) I write entertainment reviews. Is my audience aware of this? Yes; they’ve been told it in Health class. However, the simple truth is that they prefer not to dwell on it, because it is more important to them to get the plot of the latest TV episode.
Similarly, I could cite any number of other situations where reality takes a back seat to what people want to believe. Diabetics refuse to take their insulin at prescribed hours, and lose toes as a result. A girl sleeps with a collegiate football player who swears he’s never even kissed a girl before, and contracts HPV. A government official in Washington, DC decides police should arrest women carrying more than 2 condoms, because it means they are prostitutes. Thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook leap to believe the worst about a stabbing at the 2010 SDCC. Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi claims scantily-clad females cause earthquakes. Ultimately we are forced to conclude that it is more important that people be entertained than that they be educated about a plethora of things, ranging from their health, to the state of the economy, to the environment, to their basic rights as citizens and the features of their government.
Fiction is more important to us than reality.
So yes – McAuley’s death may be a tragedy, especially if we state that it is for a fiction, but let us not forget that we truly cherish our fictions. When I see something like ANNZac imploring anime otaku to abandon their escapism . . .
C’mon now, let’s live in reality!
I reflect upon how easy it is to ignore how people really are in favor of what you would like them to be. And what is that, but another fiction?