Wanting to visit a fantasy world isn’t always “escapism”

Escapism: “mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an “escape” or dissociation from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life.” (Wikipedia.)

Fantasy fiction can certainly be a means of escape. Leave the stresses and unpleasantness of the real world to get immersed in a book (Harry Potter, say) about a world filled with fascinating things you can’t access in reality, and where characters face greater hardships but overcome them in a compact time frame. Or a video game where you can be powerful enough to slay dragons. Or even an animation about cute magical ponies that manages to be positive enough to cheer you up every time without being sugarcoated enough to be annoying.

There’s nothing wrong with this, by the way, unless you take it to some ridiculous extreme.

It doesn’t have to be an escape, though. Escapism in the sense of an escape from something implies there’s something you want to escape from. What if there’s just somewhere you want to go to? There doesn’t need to be anything wrong with this world for you to want to go somewhere else, if that somewhere else is awesome. Fantasy arouses my imagination in ways that have nothing to do with anything but itself. Just because I want to ride on the back of an armoured bear, travel in the TARDIS, or run away from things with Rincewind, doesn’t mean I don’t also want to be here, where I a really am. In fact, I’ve found in recent years I don’t have time to read as much fiction as I’d like because I’m freely choosing to read so much nonfiction. I still like the fiction and would definitely read more of it if that were possible.

Talking about “escapism” in fantasy may be missing the point. It can be more like “voyageism” — and even when it really is escapism, that side is also present.

(PS. If you look at the Wikipedia page, you’ll find it also details a theory where there are two kinds of escapism, and “escapism in the form of self-expression” does rather sound like what I’m describing. Thus, the “voyageism” might be classified as “escapism” too, I’m not sure — but either way, it’s still not the “escaping something” kind of escapism.)

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You can’t blame people for holding unscientific beliefs (except…)

I sometimes find myself arguing with people about something or other they believe in — and saying they should not believe it because it’s contrary to what has been scientifically proven, or even because the belief itself just hasn’t been proven scientifically. I have some experience of such debates and I try to use it to follow the other person’s point of view.

And you know what? Quite often what I see from that simulated point of view is that what I’m saying must not seem believable at all. I know why you must demand scientific proof for many things, and I have little doubt about that. But to ask the other person to think so? It will often seem like asking them to blindly trust authority in place of common sense or even their own eyes.

I remember a specific time when I accepted an unscientific notion when I was a kid. The way I thought about it and reacted to what evidence I had was perfectly reasonable. I watched some documentary (in hindsight, unreliable) about UFOs. I was particularly impressed by the story of a fighter pilot who had chased a bright, flying target that was moving at an incredible speed. Continue reading

Nature vs. “natural”

Natural. It seems like almost everyone has one of two reactions to things that are being called “natural” — such as “organic” food.

First reaction: That means it’s good. It’s what nature intended for us.

Second reaction: That’s one of those empty words that are used to sell people stuff; the other opinion above is practically superstition.

Mine is usually the second reaction. That statement is undoubtedly more true. Yet, one might wonder. We are screwing up a lot of things by going “against nature” in a sense. We’re disrupting the environment and out own health by doing things purposefully, intentionally — which, strangely enough, is the opposite of natural — that go against the natural, previously established balance of things. I am not too optimistic about technology being able to fix all our problems when its use has caused them before. What we’re facing are problems of rational action. We’re having difficulty reaching our goals without causing more harm than good in the long term. And to be rational in this sense, we’d need to do things more “naturally”… in some sense.

Why, then, do I remain critical of the use of the term “natural” such as it is used in a context like that of organic farming? Continue reading