May 08, 2012

An Intersection of Points: Fiction, Faith, and Public Discourse

I'm grateful to the people who comment at Wonderland; often we come up with some really, really good discussions in the comment thread.

In the past week, comments have been trickling back regarding the blog post responding to Brittany Melson's piece on YA CRUSH, about what she saw as the disappearance of YA novels which included serious discussions on faith. Several of us have decided that we don't feel that faith is missing, yet both bloggers and book-writers have suggested that at times there's an unspoken, We Don't Talk About This in effect, both stifling us as writers, and making readers uneasy. We determined that it came down to judgment and moralizing - no one wants fingers in their faces, and in this culture and society, once upon a time it was good manners to discuss neither religion or politics.

In one of those weird intersections of what I read and what I think, I came across an article in The Atlantic which pointed back to our discussion. An answer to the question of why people avoid speaking of, writing about and reading about deeper issues of faith, etc., in young adult fiction? Maybe because in life outside of books, a major struggle is going on to value deeper things, to keep them as a part of our lives, and to see their worth:

"Even if you agree that we need to grapple with big questions about the morality of markets, you might doubt that our public discourse is up to the task. It’s a legitimate worry. At a time when political argument consists mainly of shouting matches on cable television, partisan vitriol on talk radio, and ideological food fights on the floor of Congress, it’s hard to imagine a reasoned public debate about such controversial moral questions as the right way to value procreation, children, education, health, the environment, citizenship, and other goods. I believe such a debate is possible, but only if we are willing to broaden the terms of our public discourse and grapple more explicitly with competing notions of the good life.

In hopes of avoiding sectarian strife, we often insist that citizens leave their moral and spiritual convictions behind when they enter the public square. But the reluctance to admit arguments about the good life into politics has had an unanticipated consequence. It has helped prepare the way for market triumphalism, and for the continuing hold of market reasoning.

In its own way, market reasoning also empties public life of moral argument. Part of the appeal of markets is that they don’t pass judgment on the preferences they satisfy. They don’t ask whether some ways of valuing goods are higher, or worthier, than others. If someone is willing to pay for sex, or a kidney, and a consenting adult is willing to sell, the only question the economist asks is “How much?” Markets don’t wag fingers. They don’t discriminate between worthy preferences and unworthy ones. Each party to a deal decides for him- or herself what value to place on the things being exchanged.

This nonjudgmental stance toward values lies at the heart of market reasoning, and explains much of its appeal. But our reluctance to engage in moral and spiritual argument, together with our embrace of markets, has exacted a heavy price: it has drained public discourse of moral and civic energy, and contributed to the technocratic, managerial politics afflicting many societies today."

- The Atlantic Magazine online, What Isn't For Sale, by By Michael J. Sandel

I'm happy to say that public discourse on this blog, at least, is still quality stuff.

4 comments:

LinWash said...

This comment totally resonates with me: "But our reluctance to engage in moral and spiritual argument, together with our embrace of markets, has exacted a heavy price: it has drained public discourse of moral and civic energy, and contributed to the technocratic, managerial politics afflicting many societies today." Oh man! Tell it! Or rather, I need to tell it. I plan to delve into this topic in my next WIP.

Laura Canon said...

Couldn't agree more. Marilynne Robinson has a new book of essays out, called When I was a Child I Read Books, which touches on some of the same themes.

tanita davis said...

@ Lin Walsh ~ WOW, wow. I cannot wait to read how you deal with such huge subject matter in novel form. I aspire to writing such important subjects. GO, YOU.

@ Laura ~ I absolutely LOVE Marilynne Robinson, and was just the other day in a bookstore poking around to see what of hers was new. I shall look for these essays; thanks for stopping by.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

To take a (related, I think) side street from this avenue of discussion: it's interesting to me how all of those social and spiritual subjects have also become politically polarized as well as polarizing. It's as if knowing someone's political party automatically tells you where he stands (or thinks he must stand) on a host of issues: the environment. the use of military force. gun control. the separation of church and state. abortion. civil liberties. gay rights. the unionization of workers.

It's amazing to me how few topics are now considered nuanced, complex, thought-provoking, or still open for debate (as opposed to arguments and putdowns, of which there are still plenty). At least, this is true in the mainstream media arena of public discourse. In some corners of the blogosphere, I still find reasoned discussion.