31 May 2006

Wednesday May 31, 2006

Fact or fiction?


AMIDST the endless chatter about The Da Vinci Code recently, a British survey revealed that almost half of the people who had read it thought it was likely to be true. Considering that the book is billed as fiction, how can this be?

Perhaps we cannot blame these people. These days it is so hard to tell fact from fiction that anyone would get confused. Take the case of another book, A Million Pieces by James Frey, that was supposed to be biographical until it turned out that the author had made up some of the stories in it. Either way, it sold millions of copies so maybe people don’t mind being confused.

But this confusion is not limited to books. Fiction is often aggressively touted as fact so that other objectives may be achieved. The one that most comes to mind is the one about how Iraq needs to be invaded because they have Weapons of Mass Destruction. When this turned out to be irrefutably fictional, other little fairytales were trotted out as hardcore fact. The latest is that “the election of a constitutional government in Iraq justified going to war”, cheerily announced by President Bumble and Prime Minister Bee. That’s rather like saying that the marrying of the Prince justified Cinderella being careless enough to lose an expensive pair of glass slippers that night. Isn’t hindsight great?

There are numerous other examples of fiction touted as fact. Abstinence prevents HIV. Polygamy is good for women. Our schools are really good. Our MPs are intelligent and sensitive people. We have an open society. Every bit of gossip and rumour we hear is true and comes from reliable sources.

The latest marvellous one is that men can be charitable by marrying women without having to be responsible for them. This only confirms my contention that in this country we promote lots of sex and lust as long as it’s legal. A friend of mine made a good point; at least prostitutes get paid for their services. In kahwin misyar, women don’t even get that!

Then there’s fact derided as fiction. Price hikes hurt people. Our universities are not fabulous. Lelaki Komunis Terakhir is a security threat. MPs seem to get away with anything. We are nowhere near solving our drug problem. Our mainstream papers don’t report all the news that’s fit to read.

No wonder people get confused. We seem to be living in parallel worlds. One is the hunky dory one where everything seems to be going great, where one can simply adapt one’s lifestyle to suit our shrinking wallets, convince ourselves that laws are just meant for bad people and not us, pat ourselves on our backs that we can endure any misery without having to demonstrate or protest like other people. Then there is the real one where people are really finding it hard to make ends meet, where we can see obvious corruption and abuse of position, where women really have a rotten deal, where segregation is becoming an increasing reality.

The worst fiction of all, and for some reason this is one bit of fiction that almost everybody believes, is that nothing can be done and we should resign ourselves to it. We could take that as fact and then have to live with the fiction that we are a democracy. I suppose over time we can make ourselves believe anything at all.

It used to be, for example, that teachers, doctors, lawyers and the like used to get into politics because, having seen the realities of life for ordinary people, they decided that the only way to help was to get into Parliament. That was fact dealing with facts. Nowadays people aim to get into Parliament using the fiction that they wanted to help others when the fact is often that the only people helped are themselves. We should take a close look at those who make claims about helping others, usually those who have the same interests as themselves, and see what they have actually done to help those really in need. Then, based on those facts, let’s stop this fiction that they are there to serve the nation.

I don’t know about you but the fact for me is reading the news daily, our politicians are losing credibility daily. Already they are our least trusted people (wasn’t it funny that none wanted to make a comment on that?), but with all the recent pronouncements, is it any wonder that our confidence gets eroded even more? Did we actually elect these people? What on earth possessed us?

To stop living in a fictional world where we think everything is fine when they are actually not, we, as citizens, need to take more responsibility. If a politician says something objectionable or stupid, we should boo them loud and clear. We mustn’t close one eye to it all.