What Kind Of World Do You Want?

I have commented before on the music of Five For Fighting both explicitly [1] and implicitly [2], but one of the biggest hits the singer/songwriter had was a pleasant little tune called “World” where he asked the listener “what kind of world do you want?” with the appeal of being able to use an Acme Build-A-World-Of-Dreams with various options in one’s ideal world.  Included among the both profound (and silly) questions the song asked was the question of what sort of people one would want, whether one would allow natural disasters, and what kind of religion the world would have.  The general assumption of the song was that the listener had the opportunity to imagine what kind of world they would want with the opportunity to play God, and that this would allow one a great deal of authority in how the world was designed to be.  This is a common understanding, that if we create a world we have authority and can make things whatever we feel like.

And to some extent this is true.  Creation does bring with it a certain sense of authority.  One of the chief appeals of creativity to people is the belief that we are free to create whatever we think of, and so long as we make it consistent after a fashion, we can likely convince others to a sort of secondary belief that will make our creation plausible enough that someone else could live in it at least for a while.  Worldbuilding is an important aspect of fantasy and science-fiction literature, as well as the creation of video games, and both these novels and games tend to be franchise developments if they work out well.  And working well in this sense means that people want to live in these worlds, at least for a little bit of time.  If no one wants to live in a world that we have created, then our time is largely wasted because we have created a world where we remain alone, and as that is our normal existence, the creation is in vain.  Like those funny little birds that collect bottlecaps and other garbage to build their nests, we create worlds so that others may join them.

Yet creation is not always all that it’s cracked up to be.  Once that creation is shared with others, even a creator can lose some control over how that world is viewed.  Even the creator of a world can be questioned about the world they create and its logic.  An example of this is the way that a great many people argue over the canon of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  J.K. Rowling created this world herself, with a fair degree of knowledge of the magical thinking of European paganism throughout history, and the world originally in seven novels, eight movies, and various other supplementary materials became large enough and popular enough that it has spawned a (largely unsuccessful Broadway play as well as a secondary series that is a couple of films into a five film series based on a minor character in the original series.  In the case of the Wizarding World, there are a great many fans who believe that they have the right to deny that The Cursed Child (the aforementioned Broadway play) is not canon, despite the fact that it has received official sanction from Rowling herself.  One could argue that it was Rowling’s world and she can decide what is and what is not true in it, but given that the world has been shared with others, who have invested a great deal of their own creative impulses in fleshing out that world, Rowling’s freedom is more limited than might be the case had the world not been so overwhelmingly possible and also so easily accessible to others.

The creation of a world always brings questions about the nature of those creation before the creator.  There are accusations that to the extent that we create imaginary worlds that we are playing god and that this is potentially illegitimate.  It should be noted that all fantasy and scientific fiction, what is considered to be speculative fiction, involves worldbuilding in some fashion, and therefore involves some sort of playing of god.  In many respects, this is true of all fiction in general, whether we are talking about the creation of any sort of game (where, again, worlds must be built and imaginary beings inhabit them), any sort of play where we put words in the mouths of others, and any sort of novel or short story where, again, we create characters and put words into their mouths and maneuver them into and out of certain trouble.  If it is illegitimate to imaginatively create beings and create worlds to put them in, and to direct the path of these beings, then all fiction is illegitimate.  Indeed, a great deal of nonfiction involves playing God in some fashion, by prophecying great evil if a particular political party or worldview does not succeed, or by putting words into the mouth of people who, if real, are not always portrayed as they really are.

Yet a mediating position between the extremist claims of those who consider people free to do what they want with their own creative potential without any sort of responsibility to anyone else and those who believe that creativity in the sense of speculative fiction is itself entirely illegitimate is not only possible but very desirable.  It can be useful to imagine the world as different than it is as a means of better understanding, at least by contrast, the world where we happen to live.  There are many ways that this current world is worthy of criticism, and among the ways of making that criticism is to engage in a creative world that allows that part of our world to be exaggerated or eliminated in such a way that it promotes a contrast with the problematic aspects of our reality.  Likewise, to the extent that we as created are subject to authority, that which we create is similarly subject to a higher authority.  Our creative capacity can be used for the glory of God, or we can attempt to use it to bolster our own personal glory or the glory of our political worldview.  We can even attempt to use our creative gifts to deny glory to anything and to wallow in the filth and trash that our imaginations are capable of to the extent that they are corrupted by the evil that we have seen or experienced or imagined.  We can be free in one sense to create in the same sense that we are free to do what is wrong, but where we are subject to being called to account for how we have used, or misused, the gifts we have been given.  And even in our attempts to create we are often not entirely free to paint the world as we might wish, because our imagination will be limited to some extent by what we know and believe.  Whatever it is that we create will in some fashion tell on us whether we like it or not.  We had better be careful, therefore, to recognize that when we answer the call to tell others what sort of world that we want, that others will use the answer we give to better understand what we are about, and we may not always want or appreciate that.  We are known by our works, though, and what are our creations if not works.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/18/album-review-playlist-the-best-of-five-for-fighting/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/18/album-review-slice/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/10/15/movie-review-gosnell/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/14/love-shines-bright-above-the-timberline/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/01/07/leave-me-two-lights/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Music History, Musings, On Creativity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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