STOP TELLING ME TO “FOLLOW THE SCIENCE,” PEOPLE!
At least where COVID-19 is concerned. I’m not a science-denier, those who know me well know that I’m almost painfully pragmatic, and I’m better capable of critical thinking than 99% of the rest of the human race (and usually painfully snarky about it). But there is NO MORE SCIENCE in Corona Virus research anymore. It’s become corrupted by politics, nationalism, social agendas, and economics. The agencies and institutions that should have been responsible for conducting competent research and intelligently — truthfully! — informing the public about the virus (I’m looking right at you, WHO and CDC) were co-opted by individuals more interested in self-promotion than in public service. (FYI, the director of the UN’s World Health Organization isn’t even a physician — he’s a career diplomat!) The very people who have offered us “guidance” or “directives” or “instructions” how to best prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been repeatedly shown to not be following their own Olympian pronouncements. If you don’t follow your own rules, Dr. Fauci, why should you expect me to do so?
Meanwhile, elected and unelected politicians issue decrees prescribing and proscribing public behavior and interactions, dictate business policy, and impose “executive orders” limiting the right of citizens to peacefully assemble, all in the name of “preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” yet take no action to curb mass demonstrations or halt the rioting and looting in the cities. And they do so all the while bleating loudly that “science has shown…” their measures to be justified and effective. There is no science behind their actions, only personal ambition, lust for power, and the desire to advance the political and social ideas and ideals of one specific political party.
More to the point, for every “scientific study” and “research paper” and “reliable source” you point to which presents one conclusion, there’s another out there presenting a diametrically opposed result — it’s a process that repeats ad infinitum ad nauseum. And that’s NOT “how science works.” Science works through systematically eliminating bad data and faulty results to arrive at a conclusion which the existing body of evidence — confirmed data — cannot refute. It’s not a contest of stacking up each side’s papers and reports and deciding “Well, Side A has more paper piled up in its favor than does Side B, therefore Side A must be right.” This IS, however, the game being played within the scientific community at this moment.
Now, don’t get your knickers in a knot imagining that I’m saying that science, even COVID science, should be abandoned. I’m not. Did you hear that? I’M NOT! What I am saying is that every time someone loudly announces “Science proves…!” and trots out an article he or she found in a scientific or medical journal that seems to support their declaration, stop and ask yourself who benefits from that conclusion and why? Who sponsored the research? Who directed it? Then decide how much salt you need to take with that report, study, or article. Skepticism is the bedrock of science, and right now we all need to exercise as much skepticism as we can where “COVID-19 science” is concerned, because right now, COVID research is on the verge of turning science as a whole into nothing more than pseudo-science, which we are expected to take on our faith in the process alone. For all of the wonderful tools science and technology have given us in the past 500 years, humanity is on the verge of — intellectually, at least — returning to the Dark Ages….
And that’s the way it is, because I’m Daniel Allen Butler, and you’re not….
There’s a premise in writing called “Chekov’s Gun.” In a nutshell, it asserts that every element introduced into a story — character, object, locale, etc. — must be employed in some significant way at some point in the story. The term “Chekov’s Gun” came to be from a remark made by Anton Chekov, declaring, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
Personally, I think Chekhov is full of crap, and people only give credence to the “Chekhov’s gun” concept because “Oh, my God! It was ANTON CHEKHOV who said it — therefore it MUST be truth carved in stone!” The whole premise of “Chekhov’s Gun” is invalid in its very statement — because inherent in the assertion is the implication that every piece of set decoration must meet the same standard. Every picture on the walls, every vase and knick-knack sitting on a side table, the carpet, the table lamps, the dinner service (if the set is a dining room), etc., etc., has to be employed somewhere in the course of the action, otherwise it’s unnecessary. If carried to it’s logical extreme, “Chekhov’s Gun” would have plays performed on totally bare sets, apart from those props which are actually employed in the performance. The problem there is that it leads to predictability — if the audience sees a gun, a knife, a chair, a table, a lamp, etc., it knows that sooner or later those particular items are going to be employed by the actors and will start figuring out when, how, and why. The suspense is lessened, and with it, any impact the performance might have otherwise had.
The same thing applies to writing fiction — and, to a lesser degree, non-fiction — in that if every detail included in a story, novella, or novel exists only to “reveal character, advance plot, or support theme”, as advised by James D. MacDonald, then again the element of predictability creeps in. The reader will wind up subconsciously anticipating or even expecting Chekhov’s gun to show up again and be fired. By the very fact that Chekhov’s Gun — whatever it might actually be, animal, vegetable, or mineral — exists, it draws attention to itself, and in doing so not only lessens dramatic tension in the narrative, but also the emotional impact on the reader when the gun eventually goes off. The last thing any author or writer of fiction wants to have happen is for his or her audience to react with, “Yeah, saw that one coming since Chapter Two….”
But what about misdirection? This is what utterly undermines the “Chekhov’s Gun” concept. What about the idea of having multiple “guns” out there, presented in such a way that none of them stand out or apart from the others in apparent prominence or significance? What if the gun hanging on the wall is never used, but the letter opener that has been lying on the desk in plain sight is snatched up and becomes the murder weapon — or means of self-defense, or whatever? Assuming equal presentation of both, the audience (readers) will, quite understandably, regard the firearm as inherently more dangerous than the letter opener, so that when the opener comes into play, their reaction will be “OK, I didn’t see that one coming!”
The bottom line is this: unless you have specific stylistic or narrative purpose in adhering the concept of “Chekhov’s Gun,” don’t. It’s bullshit. Chekhov was a brilliant playwright, he employed his own writing dicta almost flawlessly, and created some incredible works for the stage. As a consequence — and also in part because he was Russian, and Russian authors are all too often given more credence and stature than they really deserve — he’s become something of a Sacred Cow among writers. The problem with that is that Sacred Cow bullshit is nowhere near as sanctified as the cow or bull that dropped it. So do yourself a favor, and don’t step in it….